In 2014, then-D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray endured a failing contentious battle to build a new hospital east of the Anacostia River.
Three years later, Gray, now the newly elected Council member in Ward 7, is once again prodding his fellow legislators to act.
During a council hearing on Tuesday, March 21, Gray, chairman of the council’s Committee on Health, proposed a packaged legislation that would create a new East End Medical Center at St. Elizabeths East, a 183-acre campus fronting Martin Luther King Jr. and Alabama avenues in Ward 8 and the closing of the city-owned United Medical Center.
Believing many neighborhoods in Ward 7 and 8 to be in extreme need of additional highly qualified physicians, as both wards lead the pack in health care disparities within the District, Gray did not mince words on the matter.
“There are major health care disparities within the city, particularly as it pertains to Wards 7 and 8,” Gray said. “This new hospital that I am proposing isn’t just a new medical building, but a catalyst for a better health care system and it is important for residents to know that this initiative is possible and that we can and need to do this.”
Gray initially proposed the bill on March 7, along with the Community Health Care Revolving Capital Fund Act of 2017, to create funding with the purpose of attracting more physicians and increasing capacity of existing providers including primary care, specialty care and community-based care east of the Anacostia River.
“One of my main priorities coming out of the Ward 7 Summit I convened three months ago is making sure the residents of the east end of the city have access to a world-class integrated health care system,” Gray said. “Other wards have high prestige medical facilities like Georgetown, George Washington, and Howard University medical centers, but there seems to be a physician’s gap in the areas of the city that need it the most.”
In September 2015, the Department of Health published a Physician and Physician Assistant Workforce study that showed Wards 2 and 5 having the highest numbers of doctor’s offices, followed by Wards 1 and 3.
The study also showed that Wards 7 and 8 are medically underserved, despite the presence of the United Medical Center within its boundaries. Ward 8, the poorest ward in the city economically, has the lowest number of primary care and specialty doctors.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson forwarded the bill to the council’s finance and revenue committee. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Anita Bonds (D-At large), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) co-sponsored the bill.
Representatives from United Medical Center and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office did not respond to requests for comment.