D.C. residents east of the Anacostia River recently expressed their strong opinions on the proposed hospital that will be built on the campus of St. Elizabeths East campus.
The Ward 7 and Ward 8 Democratic Clubs convened a forum — “East End Hospital: Equitable Care or Prescription for Chaos?” — in the auditorium of the United Medical Center (UMC) in Southeast on Jan. 19.
Regina Pixley, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for district 8C04 in Ward 8 and a Ward 8 committee member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, voiced her support for having a new East End hospital.
“Why should my [ailing] mother have to go 30 minutes in an ambulance to George Washington University Hospital instead of five minutes to a local facility?” Pixley said.
Pixley said the time it took for her mother to go to George Washington could have been the difference between life and death, adding that the GW staff seemed indifferent to her mother’s needs and her concerns.
Pixley’s views had a lot of support from the audience of about 75. Residents across the District have long called for a state-of-the-art hospital in the East End, particularly at the St. Elizabeths East campus.
D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D) has long been an advocate for building a new hospital in the East End and reiterated that at the forum.
“I have been on this journey for a while,” said Gray, who proposed the idea of a new hospital during his lone term as mayor. “We should have been cutting the ribbon this year on a new hospital at St. Elizabeths, but when I lost the mayoral primary in 2014 and left office, the money allocated for the hospital was divvied up by the D.C. Council.”
Gray said when he re-elected to the council in 2017, he fought to get money for the new hospital and received the support of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration. In August, the administration announced that George Washington University would be the operator, along with Universal Health Services, of the new St. Elizabeths East hospital.
However, Universal mandated that to pay for the new hospital, it needed to build a new tower to add to the George Washington Hospital — an idea that drew passionate disapproval from the George Washington University, the advisory neighborhood commission near it and the civic association in the immediate neighborhood. Plus, the students and faculty at the Howard University College of Medicine expected to play a role in the new hospital and it appeared that Universal didn’t want that.
The union rights of the new employees of the new hospital remain questionable because Universal has a documented record of being hostile to organized workers, according to Djawa Hall, an organizer for the Service Employee International Union #1199.
On Dec. 18, after much public wrangling, Gray said at a council hearing that he would work on issues such as Howard Medical School’s participation and union issues at the new hospital for about six months. He said if Howard didn’t have a suitable arrangement with other area hospitals, the East End hospital project would fail.
Gray said UMC suffered because of poor management and ran a $30 million to $40 million deficit that the city would have to pay. The former mayor explained the health needs of East End residents could not be met by a single facility.
“What we need in the East End is a health care system and Universal is willing to provide that,” Gray said. “In Wards 7 and 8, we have the worst health disparities in the city and the 150,000 people who live in the East End need this.”
Dr. Edwin Chapman, a longtime physician in the District, said hospitals that serve people of color, such as D.C. General Hospital, UMC, Providence and Howard Hospital, are either shuttered or in financial trouble.
“In my 40 years of practicing, I haven’t seen it like this,” Chapman said. “It is disgusting that people cannot practice medicine in the neighborhood they grew up in. This deal with Universal as is stands doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Ambrose Lane Jr., chairman of the Health Alliance Network in Ward 7, noted the crisis in health care in the District affected Blacks much more than Whites. He listed issues such as the lack of maternal care and obstetrics work in the East End, as well as the police department’s dearth of kits for people suffering from opioid overdoses.
“In a few years, we will have a crisis of health with illnesses such as sugar diabetes, hypertension and being amenable to heart attacks and strokes in the East End and we have no facility to address that load,” Lane said, adding that while he supports the idea of a St. Elizabeths hospital, there should be a smaller facility in Ward 7, too.