General Hospital

By the

March 22, 2001

A long festering problem in the District seems to finally be coming to a head, and the health of many of our city’s poorest residents is at stake. D.C. General Hospital, the financially unstable public hospital that has for months has been teetering on the brink of fiscal ruin, seems finally ready to take the plunge into the abyss, once and for all. Still no one has taken firm action to rescue the hospital. Without congressional intervention, it seems that D.C. General will close its doors next month.

Some District councilmembers have petitioned the members of Congress who oversee the District, Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD, and chair of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District) and Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI, and chair, House Appropriations subcommittee on the District) for outside help in rescuing the hospital. Until now, no steps have been taken. And presently there is no indication that there would be any congressional assistance in assuring that the District’s only public hospital stays open for business.

D.C. General has been headed towards bankruptcy for the last few years, and so this latest round of dire predictions comes as no surprise. Instead, what is so shocking is that, after so many articles and after so much coverage, still no one has taken it upon themselves to formulate a cogent plan to save D.C. General.

As the District’s only public hospital, it provides a valuable service to residents of the community that cannot afford to go to the hospitals associated with Georgetown or George Washington Universities. Instead, D.C. General serves to maintain a level of health within the underserved part of our population.

But in the last few years the hospital has been headed towards collapse, as a large number of indigent patients and poor financial management have led the hospital down a course of fiscal ruin. This problem has been recognized by many, both within and outside of the hospital’s administration. For the last year, at least, many within the medical community and many outside, as well, have been studying ways to return D.C. General to self-sufficiency.

A prominent part of many of the plans offered to fix the hospital centers around turning it into an outpatient center. While many in the community oppose this, and suggest that in doing so the new management would be killing the hospital, the story at present remains as such: without further action, the hospital will die off in a matter of weeks, and many of our city’s under-served will lose all access to medical care. So, where does that leave us?

It is imperative that something be done to fix D.C. General and return it to a state of operability and self-sufficiency. Turning the hospital into an outpatient center will apparently go a long way towards salvaging its financial stability.

While this proposal is enticing in that it would allow for the preservation of the hospital as an institution, it ignores the fundamental problem. In the age of exorbitant drug and health care costs and HMO highway robberies, it is of fundamental importance to any city that there be a public hospital that will serve all of its people, from the old money to the indigent. If we sit by and watch D.C. General crumble to the ground on our watch, we are allowing one of the great travesties in public health to happen right in front of our eyes. It is time that a coalition of local and federal agencies, both public and private, step up to ensure the future solvency of D.C. General.

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