State-of-the-Art Health Center Opens

Barrington M. Salmon | 5/11/2012, 11:06 a.m.

Marks New Chapter in Ward 8 Health Care

For as long as she's worked in the health care field, Sharon Baskerville has stood on the frontlines and toiled in the trenches seeking to bring parity to a health care system she frequently describes as broken, unequal and inhumane.

The W Street Clinic in Southeast offered one of the clearest examples of that reality: Anyone who was ill and wished to see a physician had to do so in an old, rusty, uninviting, windowless 12,000-square-foot World War II-era Quonset hut that sweltered in the summer and forced staff and patients to bundle up indoors during the winter.

But the health outcomes for Ward 8 residents took a great leap forward this week with the grand opening of Unity Health Care-Anacostia Health Center next door to the Frederick Douglass House in Anacostia.

Baskerville, CEO of the District of Columbia Primary Care Association (DCPCA), and several hundred guests gathered at 1500 Galen Street in Southeast, on Monday, May 7, to celebrate the opening of the center. Guests included Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D); Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; Health and Human Resources and Services Administration Regional Director Joanna Grossi; Councilmembers Marion Barry, Jr., (D-Ward 8), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), David A. Catania (I-At-Large); D.C. Department of Health Director Mohammad N. Akhter, and local developer and former U.S. Olympic gymnast Jair Lynch, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Muhammad, health care professionals and community leaders.

Baskerville, 60, said there were times over the previous seven years when it was doubtful if the 28,000-square-foot facility would ever be built.

"It is a pretty amazing day," she told the crowd during opening and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. "Nobody but God knows what it took to get here. Six or seven years ago, we had a dream ... we were committed to ensuring that health care was available over here. Unity stepped in, it was a struggle but we knew we had to do better."

"Nothing was held back in this building. The aim was to end ghettoization of health care. The building is beautiful, people are treated with dignity and patients no longer have to [step] over boxes."

The day's activities took place in a relaxed, festive atmosphere. Vincent A. Keane, president and CEO of Unity Health Care, Inc., provided comic relief in his banter and comments which left much of the crowd in stitches. Then Gray electrified the crowd when he bounded onto and off of the stage.

"I still play baseball," Gray, 69, said by way of explanation. "I'm delighted to be here with Norton, Cheh, Catania, Barry and the people responsible for this, that is Baskerville and Vince Keane. Three years ago, I was the proud recipient of a public service award. The quote from Martin Luther King was that of all forms of inequality and injustice, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane. This is a fundamental right of every citizen in D.C."

"The time for the W Street Center to have closed was 1910. I put this [new] center against any health care center here or in the United States. I've been here many times to check on the progress. I came last night to check. I wanted to make sure reality had reached."

Gray and Catania said city officials did something "creative and radical" by investing money into health care as opposed to funneling money into roads and other infrastructure projects.

Barry, 76, noted that in the past, any discussion about health care in Ward 8 would invariably turn to the disturbing truths about the prevalence of certain diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

"I gave up on the clinic. It may come, may not come, may come, but I never gave up on Sharon," said Barry, who joked that some of the guests needed GPS devices to get to the event. "She's one of our champions. None of us are responsible for where, how, or when we're born, or the color. So it is with poor people. People born in poverty have a lot of negatives associated with that. Some of the sickest people wait until the last minute to go to the doctor. Some don't know where the doctor is."

"We have a responsibility to do better. Low-income people should have the same five-star health care other people enjoy ... this has been a long time coming."