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I am compelled by the March 27 Loose Lips column to provide an accurate accounting of the emergency center at D.C. General Hospital. The need for clarity would not exist had Loose Lips conducted a fact check before critiquing the busiest ER in the city. An honest examination of the hospital’s ER would reveal that D.C. General treats the highest volume of trauma patients in the District. Annually, some 60,000 people cross our threshold to receive emergency care. Contrary to random observations, a recent survey indicated the average total treatment time in our ER is four hours. Within minutes of arrival, a patient is medically evaluated by triage personnel to determine the appropriate response. Those persons whose conditions are assessed as emergent or critical are treated immediately. Patients experiencing nonemergent health problems receive appropriate medical attention in a time frame commensurate with their need or level of acuity. Unlike grocery store checkout lines, we do not operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Priority is given to critically ill or injured patients.

The patients interviewed by Mr. Catania during his impromptu ER visit had already been evaluated and found to be noncritical. As a result, they experienced the longest wait for treatment while more severe cases received attention.

In the emergency center, we have a responsibility to serve emergent patients first. The center is not a primary care unit, although many of our patients use it as such because they lack insurance. However, we don’t turn them away.

The need to deliver a continuum of quality health care to uninsured and underinsured District residents was the impetus for creating the District of Columbia Health and Hospitals Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), which comprises D.C. General Hospital, the public school health program, and eight community health centers. Located in the city’s poorest communities, the health centers offer low-income residents convenient access to primary care. As use of the centers increases, nonemergent use of D.C. General’s emergency center is destined to decline.

I encourage Mr. Catania, other elected officials, and members of the public to perform due diligence on the PBC, as did the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). JCAHO, the independent accrediting agency for the nation’s hospitals, recently ranked D.C. General in the top 10 percent of hospitals nationwide. Our laboratory department, which serves the emergency center, scored 96 percent on JCAHO’s on-site survey.

I can only believe earnest inspections will result in abiding support for a health care system that delivers quality, accessible care to the residents of the District of Columbia.

Chief Public Information Officer

Public Benefit Corporation