George Washington University Hospital
George Washington University Hospital Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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George Washington University Hospital—the Universal Healthcare Services-owned, 370-bed facility in Foggy Bottom—is really super committed to D.C.’s healthcare.

In fact, GW hospital “remains excited about the possibilities for the residents of Wards 7 and 8,” a 20 square-mile area of D.C. where about 150,000 people live with virtually no specialty care services (including obstetrics care), no urgent care, and one crumbling facility—United Medical Center.

After years of failed D.C. government attempts to build a new hospital for residents in the city’s most impoverished area, just a few months ago, it looked as if lawmakers and the mayor were finally going to make it happen. And if they had to bend a little to the will of a major healthcare corporation, so be it.

But now GW Hospital is threatening to walk away from negotiations to operate a new Ward 8 facility after action by the Council earlier this week, as first reported by the Washington Business Journal. GW Hospital’s about-face would leave the mostly low-income, mostly African American residents in Southeast Washington in the lurch.

The D.C. Council passed two measures earlier this week that, according to a letter from GW Hospital CEO Kim Russo to City Administrator Rashad Young, “have made our continued participation potentially impossible.”

“GW Hospital cannot and will not be involved in the proposed East End Hospital if those amendments are included in any legislation,” Russo writes.

The two amendments to Councilmember Vice Gray’s underlying bill were pushed by At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Ward 8’s Trayon White. Silverman’s bill guarantees that unionized nurses and other staff at Ward 8’s United Medical Center would have jobs at the new facility, planned to be built on the St. Elizabeths campus.

White’s bill requires GW Hospital to allow Howard University medical students to work at the new hospital. The measure appeared to take Gray by surprise, as he and Councilmember Brandon Todd expected to co-introduce, with White, a weaker amendment that would have asked the city to conduct a feasibility study on creating a partnership between GW Hospital and Howard.

Gray called Silverman’s bill a “poison pill,” adding: “I’ve heard from leadership of the executive’s office and George Washington University Hospital, and if this amendment passes, there will be no deal.” The Council passed the bill 8-3.

After the Council passed White’s bill by a vote of 11-0 (to the celebration of Howard students and staff in the Council chambers that evening), Gray postponed a vote on his underlying bill.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, in a statement, criticized the amendments, saying the Council “legislated specific terms that are best left for the negotiating table.”

Gray, for his part, has been pushing for a new hospital east of the Anacostia River at least since his days as the city’s mayor in 2011. His bill, the East End Health Equity Amendment Act of 2018, is his latest attempt and would have waived an important regulatory process for the new Ward 8 hospital as well as for an additional facility GW Hospital wants to build near its Foggy Bottom location.

The regulatory process, known as a certificate of need, is a months-long study that tells lawmakers and the public if a new healthcare facility is needed and where. Bypassing the certificate of need drew criticism from Silverman, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, and some Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

Now, as the District’s partnership with GW Hospital slips away, politicking and big business interests could deny residents in Wards 7 and 8 reasonable access to quality healthcare.

Cunety Dil contributed reporting