DC Hospital Development Deal Puts Howard U. Hospital, School of Medicine in the Crosshairs

Officials in Washington D.C. are advancing plans to build a new hospital in the severely underserved Southeastern part of the nation’s capital. The new hospital, which with full approval will be opened in 2023, figures to deliver healthcare services to more than 150,000 residents within a 20-mile radius; many of them from low-income households.

The project sounds a lot like an existing healthcare operation just seven miles to the northwest of the proposed site. Howard University Hospital, in the eyes of city leaders and advocates, is light years away from DC’s development goals for Southeast; like an ambulance weaving through DC rush hour traffic to get a patient to emergency surgery or labor and delivery, or corporate and political sharks darting through choppy political waters.

But HUH has historically aligned with the city’s healthcare needs and the associated economic factors which accompany that big responsibility. DC’s poorest and sickest neighbors find care through HUH that they can not afford, and specialized treatment they probably wouldn’t receive at other regional facilities.

When other hospitals cannot or will not serve disadvantaged patients, most of them black, HUH takes them in. For years, the payoff for that mission has been negative publicity and operational outcomes typically suffered by organizations serving the poor; not enough money, not enough personnel, not enough technology and not enough oversight.

But Howard has reversed the course of the challenges. New partnerships have made Howard University Hospital profitable, and it still functions as the nation’s premier historically black teaching hospital having graduated more than 10,000 trained physicians and 1,700 of those practicing in the Washington-Metropolitan area alone.

Healthcare options in the city are shuttering as its leaders prepare to waive rules on contract procurement and impact studies typically required for bringing multi-million dollar health services, jobs, contracts and grants to the area with the support of taxpayer dollars. City officials are balking at Howard having a stake in the new project, and it isn’t clear why Chocolate City and its matching mayor and city council are so keen on denying the nation’s flagship HBCU the opportunity to extend its important work.

Statistics show that HUH has long served a sizable number of patients seeking care from DC Wards 7 and 8, the same wards the new hospital will seek to attract. When other hospitals and care centers have closed due to shrinking resources, Howard has stood in the gap and extended efforts to reduce infant mortality rates, growing incidents of heart disease and diabetes, and led several of the city’s successful preventative health awareness campaigns for African Americans.

Blocking Howard from the GW partnership could cost the city and its residents a resource for producing the minority physicians who could treat minority patients. It could reduce the number of doctors and nurses living in the area who can add to its economic impact, and to DC padding its profile as one of the best places for African American professionals to live and work nationwide.

Most importantly, it threatens the accreditation and enrollment at Howard’s medical school, a global point of entry for African American access to medical professional fields.

To some community activists, it is more than a notion. From the GW Hatchet:

Residents raised concerns that adding beds at the hospital would worsen the health care situation in the East End because the addition would divert demand away from Howard University Hospital, the traditional provider of primary care in the area.

“The institution that will be most adversely affected if they build those beds here will be Howard because all of their referral beds will be captured by this hospital,” West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chairman William Kennedy Smith said. “The dean of the medical school there testified that it will put them out of business in six years. So, if you lose Howard, you lose the primary trainer of health care providers of color in the city.”

Washington D.C., George Washington, and partnering companies have nothing to lose by allowing Howard into a network designed to revitalize services for vulnerable communities in the city. If the deal won’t work for Howard or DC residents, then stakeholders from the university and Southeast D.C. deserve more answers on how exactly it figures to work out for the city council members seemingly driven to push the project through by any means necessary.