Thursday, October 25

THE DC GENERAL HOSPITAL DISASTER CONTINUES

[The media is second only to certain late Argentinean dictatorships in disappearing things it doesn't care about, albeit more discreetly. Thus, in the coverage of the Southeast Hospital story, you'll find barely a mention of its powerful roots in the disastrous closing of DC General Hospital by the Williams administration with the support of the city council. A rare exception is the sainted DC Watch.]

GARY IMHOFF, DC WATCH - Years later, the city is still paying for the costly mistake of closing our only public hospital, DC General, in southeast. After spending tens of millions of dollars propping up the former owners of Greater Southeast Community Hospital -- has anyone ever calculated the total amount of subsidies -- the government is now spending $79 million to underwrite the purchase of Greater Southeast by a new buyer, Specialty Hospitals of America.

This week, Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi warned that the $79 million may be just the down payment that DC taxpayers will be required to pay. Gandhi wrote that he had three concerns: first, that the company buying the hospital, Specialty Hospitals of America, is not financially stable. Its unaudited financial statements show that it is $34 million in debt, which it offsets by claiming an asset of $34 million in good will. He also writes, second, that SHA's five-year business plan for the hospital lacks detail, and does not provide a convincing case that it will be financially successful. Third, he warns that the District's lien on the hospital site, which it is counting on to secure its investment, will have to be at least partially released in order to allow future development on the site.
ROBYN MELTON, DISTRICT CHRONICLES, 2001 - They have protested, they have held town meetings, and now advocates of keeping D.C. General Hospital open are taking their case to Congress. . . [Loretta] Owens and several community activists and leaders held an emergency town meeting at the Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast last Tuesday to vent their anger at city officials for deciding to refer D.C. General patients to Greater Southeast Hospital, once the hospital officially closes.

According to the members at the town meeting, residents who would normally go to D.C. General would be able to get diagnosis and prescriptions by Greater Southeast. More beds will be added and a new system will be enforced; however, the bid made no commitment to build a new hospital. In efforts to accommodate Southeast residents for the loss of D.C. General, Greater Southeast Hospital was selected in an unanimous vote on Friday and Saturday by panels of officials representing the financial control board, Mayor Anthony Williams, the city's chief financial officer; Natwar Gandhi and the city council. . .

During the meeting, Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, director of Abundant Life Clinic in Washington, D.C., said he believed that Greater Southeast was a ridiculous choice. "D.C. General should be taking over Greater Southeast," Muhammad said. "Southeast already has 228 acute beds, where are they going to put 187 more people? In the basements, broom closets, parking lots or cafeterias?" Continued...

Muhammad likened the city's decision to a game of musical chairs. "Instead, though, it's musical hospital beds," he said. "And when the music stops if someone doesn't have a bed, they're going to die."

[Said Owens], "If you shut D.C. General down, it's too far for residents in that Ward to travel," she said. "If they have a gunshot wound or serious injury, they're going to die trying to get there."

DC STATEHOOD GREEN PARTY - While D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams proceeds with the privatization of D.C. General Hospital and dismantling of its services, the D.C. Statehood Green Party continues to demand, along with the Health Care Now Coalition, Service Employees International Union, and numerous other local organizations, coalitions, unions, third parties, and churches that D.C. General be maintained as a full service public hospital.

Along with thousands of other D.C. residents, Statehood Greens have grown impatient and angry at Mayor Anthony Williams' duplicity and obfuscation in pushing the privatization plan, which was ordered by the DC Financial Control Board, an unelected body imposed by Congress and the White House. Many D.C. residents are especially angry at the Mayor's vague, evasive, and dismissive responses to their concerns.

Privatization will end inpatient care at D.C. General, and farm the hospital's clientele -- mostly poor and low-income working people, for whom the emergency room serves as a doctor's office -- out to clinics and private hospitals throughout D.C., many of which are ill-prepared to receive them. Neither the Mayor nor D.C. Health Department Director Dr. Ivan Walks has offered a specific plan to ensure that primary care services will be in place.

DC WATCH - The DCHC proposal, which Mayor Williams has refused to make public, contains only vague promises of how DC residents, especially the neediest who have depended on DC General, will be served.

DC WATCH - DC Council Member David Catania has compiled documentation proving DCHC, a for-profit company, is deeply in debt and unprofitable; and DCHC has a reputation for inability to complete deals and for 11th hour demands in negotiations. Furthermore, it's illegal for the DC to do business with a corporation that owes back taxes to the city; DCHC has owed the city back taxes since it bought Greater Southwest Community Hospital.

MARGARET BARRON, DIRECTOR OF THE PROVIDENCE HOSPITAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT - D.C. hospitals do not have a 75 percent occupancy rate.... [F]rom October to March each year, the occupancy rate of available general medical-surgical beds is 100 percent on many days of the week. The same is true for intensive care unit beds in many of our hospitals. . . Greater Southeast Hospital cannot possibly develop, staff and become an accredited trauma center in three months. . . .

WASH POST, 2001 - Although the Mayor's office complained that the Mayor was 'ambushed' by Rev. Willie Wilson's criticism of the Mayor's plans at a public meeting at Union Temple on March 1, the Mayor's Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer was told in advance that Rev. Wilson opposed closing D.C. General and he would speak against it in the meeting at his church. In a meeting shortly between the Mayor and local ministers shortly after the Union Temple event, "the ministers said the mayor had insulted them by having uniformed officers remain until the pastors insisted they leave. 'To have to be surrounded by armed policemen -- it shows the insensitivity,' said the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, of Union Temple Baptist Church. 'It was despicable.'"

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 2001 - Ron Linton, former chair of the Public Benefits Corporation: "Yes, the hospital has run a deficit. Yes, it could have been managed better. It should have been replaced years ago with a modern facility. But that has little to do with the current situation. DC General receives from the city about $40 million a year. It needs $75 to meet its budget. But instead of giving DC General $35 million more, the city apparently at the Control Board's direction, will give Southeast (a profit making institution) $85 million to do less than what is done now at DC General."

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 2000 - [Privatization of D.C. General] makes about as much sense as letting the marketplace decide whether there we have a fire or police department

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