Since the deal to sell Greater Southeast Community Hospital to Specialty Hospitals of America was announced in August, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and Health Committee Chair David Catania have made a big deal about gaining unanimous support for the deal. Their pitch to their colleagues: If you don’t get behind this, the only hospital east of the river has no hope.

Such unanimity was nearly foiled this afternoon, as Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. raised questions about whether Specialty was equipped to run a hospital that serves mainly black patients. At one point, Barry introduced an amendment requiring Specialty to come up with a plan to ease his concerns that would then require another council vote, further delaying the approval of the deal.

Catania instead suggested that the Council attach a condition that Specialty work with the mayor’s office on “cultural competency” issues. After Catania’s substitute passed, but Barry’s didn’t, Barry threatened to vote against the deal with a company he said has “no experience with managing a majority African-American population.”

“I’m not gonna have someone coming in experimenting on us,” he said. “Reminds me of Tuskeegee.”

Barry also invoked the Brown v. Board of Education decision, to no particular effect, and promised that if the Specialty did not show progress on these issues within 30 days, he would lead a campaign on behalf of his constituents to boycott the hospital.

Councilmembers Carol Schwartz and Harry Thomas Jr. implored Barry to change his mind, which he did. The bill passed by acclamation.

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