D.C. Council member Vincent Gray recently held a hearing on the United Medical Center. (WI file photo)
D.C. Council member Vincent Gray recently held a hearing on the United Medical Center. (WI file photo)

Residents east of the Anacostia River aren’t known to go to the John A. Wilson Building for city business, but they turned out in droves on Oct. 25 to let D.C. Council member Vincent Gray know how they want the United Medical Center supported unconditionally by the city government.

“The United Medical Center must be funded to provide the care that the Wards 7 and 8 communities need,” said Wala Begay, the staff attorney for the District of Columbia Nurses Association. “Residents should not be forced to travel across town or surrounding jurisdictions for quality and necessary health care.”

Begay joined 36 other witnesses to address Gray, who chairs the council’s health committee. Those testifying ranged from Gray’s political opponents in 2020 such as Kelvin E. Brown. Ward 8 cultural activist Kymone Freeman and labor leaders such as Jackie Jeter, president, Metropolitan Washington Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union.

However, the testimony from Ward 8 resident Manon P. Matchett had some members of the audience in tears.

“I am here to testify why it is essential for the District to continue to fully fund United Medical Center,” Matchett said. “On Aug. 7, 2008, I became violently ill and called 911 for help. I had gone into labor. I was fully conscious as the ambulance driver called several hospitals, George Washington, Howard, Washington Medical Center. None of them had the immediate capacity to care for me.

“I distinctly remember the despair in the driver’s voice when he told me that I would have to go to UMC,” she said. “I was in so much pain, I truthfully did not care. At that point, all I wanted was help for me and my baby.”

Matchett said when arriving at UMC, she received immediate treatment from the emergency room professionals because “my situation was dire.”

“My blood pressure was sky-high,” she said. “I was having seizures, going in and out of consciousness. My health was rapidly deteriorating and my baby girl didn’t make it and I was barely alive myself.”

Matchett said when her family started the process of having her transferred to another hospital, she protested.

“UMC saved my life,” she said.

Matchett said the UMC staff became very friendly to her, be it the porter who prayed for her, the nurse who “mothered” her family, the food service and chef who agreed to her culinary requests and the hospital aide “who parted my hair, massaged my scalp and sang a lullaby to soothe my hurting soul.”

At the end of her testimony, Matchett encouraged Gray to support UMC totally saying “our community cannot afford to wait on a new hospital.”

Throughout the hearing, Gray made clear his position on UMC.

“There will be a transition from the current United Medical Center to a new hospital,” he said. “Until then, UMC will be open.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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