Ahead of the D.C. Council vote on May 28, protesters hold a sign on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Ahead of the D.C. Council vote on May 28, protesters hold a sign on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

The District of Columbia’s only public hospital received a boost despite a proposed cut in its subsidy and the city’s leading academic high school will move to a new location in the near future.

Tensions flared as members debated over increasing the budget for the ailing United Medical Center (UMC), the only hospital serving residents in Wards 7 and 8 in Southeast. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) proposed an amendment to increase the subsidy to UMC from $15 million proposed by Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) following an impassioned appeal related to an extraordinary increase in gun violence over the Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re in a situation where it’s a matter of life and death for residents east of the Anacostia River,” White said. “So the hospital conversation is a priority for us.”

Scores of people wait to get into the D.C. Council Chambers at the John A. Wilson Building to advocate for increased support of the United Medical Center, and plans for Banneker Academic HS, along with Shaw MS during the Council’s final vote on the 2020 budget. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

The $22 million came from the $15 million that Gray wanted, $4 million that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) found in the budget and $3 million that White cobbled together from various programs and presented to the council in the form of an amendment. Despite Gray’s opposition to White’s amendment and his reservations about Mendelson’s $4 million, the council supported the Ward 8 lawmaker with 10 votes, two opposed (Gray and Mendelson) and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) voted present due to an employment conflict of interest.

Shaw area residents filled the council chambers to hear the final decision on a proposal to relocate Banneker Academic High School to a site off Rhode Island Avenue NW. where a Shaw middle school was promised years ago. A vote of 7-6 sealed the move. Shaw will move to Banneker’s Euclid Street NW location, also.

The council’s unanimous approval of the 2020 budget totaling $15.5 billion budget now moves on to the U.S. Congress for review. If the Congress has no objections, the budget, it will take effect Oct. 1.

Cheh works as a professor at the George Washington University School of Law and George Washington’s Hospital seeks to manage the proposed St. Elizabeth’s East community hospital.

Gray’s proposed cut of UMC’s subsidy of $25 million two weeks ago ignited protests from unions and some East End residents. The result, some say, would have meant UMC would close in roughly four years while a firm deal to build the St. Elizabeths East community hospital hasn’t been finalized as of yet.

Gray disputed that assertion before White’s amendment vote.

Members of the District of Columbia Nurses Association (DNCA) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1199, came to the John A. Wilson Building earlier before the budget vote to make it clear that cutting UMC will harm Ward 7 and 8 residents and employees of the embattled UMC.

“We must stand together,” Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, told a crowd of 50 people that rallied outside of the Wilson Building. “We need to make sure that D.C. doesn’t have an apartheid medical system where the poor don’t have access to quality care and the rich do. We cannot wait until 2023 to know if the residents of Wards 7 and 8 have a hospital; we need to know now.”

Members of the DCNA and the SEIU sat in Room 500 as the council considered the budget. DCNA members wore black T-shirts with white writing of their organization’s name while the SEIU wore their signature purple T-shirts.

Washington Teachers Union president Elizabeth Davis showed her support for the UMC union workers by wearing a DCNA T-shirt.

When the council passed White’s amendment, the DCNA and union members expressed wary satisfaction.

“It is not enough,” Alma Ames, who works at UMC and a member of SEIU, said. “Thirty-two million would have been better.”

Ames said council members don’t understand the impact of financially undermining UMC and how it will affect residents and employees.

“Many of our patients get their insurance from the government, Medicaid and Medicare,” she said. She also said the operator of UMC, Mazars USA, doesn’t seem sensitive to the needs of patients and employees.

“We [the employees] work hard to give the best care we can,” Ames said.

White said East End residents have a deficit in health care services and the $22 million “is a drop in the bucket” in what is really needed to meet patients’ needs.

The Ward 8 council member noted that schools in his ward received cuts of about $10 million from the Bowser budget “and we restored that partially.”

“Our students are falling further behind and that hurts our community,” said White, a former D.C. Board of Education member representing his ward.

Overall, White voted for the budget though he had reservations.

“With a $15.6 billion budget, we can do more to help those who need it the most,” he said. “It seems like we laid out the red carpet for new residents.”

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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