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The D.C. Council will take up an emergency measure tomorrow that stands to send up to $6 million in city money to the struggling United Medical Center.
The bill introduced by At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania, long a stalwart ally of the District’s only east-of-the-river hospital, would direct the money to the former Greater Southeast Community Hospital from a dedicated city health care fund.
That fund was set up by Catania and the council in 2008 as part of an effort to fund a universal health care proposal. Because of the recession, the proposal has thus far come to naught, but the funding mechanism has kicked in, generating about $20 million per year from tobacco and insurance taxes. The bill would authorize up to $6 million this fiscal year to help United staunch its cash bleeding; an additional $3.5 million from the fund was already scheduled to go to the hospital to set up a pediatric emergency facility. In the following fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, Catania said today he will recommend spending as much as another $6 million.
This morning, Catania sold the bill to reporters as a local version of the federal “disproportionate share” funding given to hospitals that treat largely needy and uninsured patients, although UMC would be the only hospital that would have access to the funds. In the first year, according to a Catania staffer, $2.9 million would be immediately injected into the hospital to solve cash flow problems, with the remainder of the $6 million available through reimbursements.
In any case, the legislation represents an ongoing public fiscal commitment to the Ward 8 hospital that was not foreseen when the council injected nearly $80 million in the hospital in 2008.
Catania today praised UMC’s “very solid management” and described how the 2008 money helped improve the hospital’s facilities and care. He also pointed out that Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital—-another facility serving a low-income populace that once shared ownership with UMC—-is now under the wrecking ball.
“Has it turned out exactly as we hoped? No. But are we on the right track? Yes,” Catania said. “It is a work in progress, but it is worthy work.”