- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

A conference of Baptist ministers yesterday joined the clamor to save the bankrupt 195-year-old D.C. General Hospital, which is facing almost certain closure and privatization.
"Don't make D.C. General a sacrificial lamb," said the Rev. James Coleman, pastor of All Nations Baptist Church in the 2000 block of North Capitol Street NE.
"We are here to give a moral report," Mr. Coleman told the 250-member Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference. "We feel it is immoral to reduce services … for people who can least afford it.""
The latest protest comes as the D.C. financial control board appears ready to approve a five-year contract for $415.8 million with Greater Southeast Community Hospital to take over D.C. General and its six clinics.
D.C. officials say the hospital has been spending $30 million more than its budget each of the last three years. It overspent its monthly budget by $2.5 million last year. D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said D.C. General has run $197 million in the red during the last decade.
The prospective contractor has indicated it would close D.C. General's inpatient services immediately, and operate the outpatient, or emergency, services for only a few weeks until an area-wide emergency plan is ready. The proposal would lay off 1,250 employees by April 1 of the 1,750 staff members of Public Benefit Corporation, which now operates D.C. General.
The Baptist ministers said they will join clergy of other denominations, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Methodists, in a protest at 10 a.m. Thursday outside the offices of the mayor and D.C. Council in the 400 block of Fourth Street NW.
The Baptist ministers castigated Mayor Anthony A. Williams for supporting the plan that would close D.C. General.
"The mayor confounds us with a lot of statistics," said A. Michael
Black, pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church in the 1800 block of Capitol Avenue NE.
"We need to hold the mayor and city council responsible… . We're marking down who is opposed and who is not," Mr. Black said.
The eastern half of the District would become a "health care wasteland" if D.C. General is closed, the ministers stated. They said closure of the hospital in the 1900 block of Massachusetts Avenue SE would deprive poor, needy and underinsured residents in the area, of medical care, both emergency and long term.
"We are concerned about the poor," Mr. Coleman said, adding that D.C. General has been a "bedrock institution" for people who can least afford medical care and treatment.
D.C. General is in a "strategic location," said John D. Chaplin pastor of Pleasant Lane Baptist Church in the 500 block of E Street SE, adding that if it closes, "We'll see people dying on the way to the hospital."
Pastor George C. Gilbert of Holy Trinity United Baptist Church in the 4500 block of Gault Place NE said D.C. General is nearest to his congregation.
Describing a potential emergency, Mr. Gilbert said a parishioner suffering a heart attack at a Sunday morning service could be at D.C. General in five minutes.
It would take twice as long to transport a patient to the next nearest hospital, Mr. Gilbert said, and "10 or 15 minutes in a life-or-death situation is critical."
D.C. officials also are overlooking the fact that D.C. General takes care of 40 percent of the trauma cases in the District, he said.
Also, D.C. General is rated 94 on a scale of 100 in quality care, while Greater Southeast is rated 10 points lower at 84, Mr. Gilbert said.
Instead of privatizing and closing D.C. General, Mr. Coleman wondered, "What is wrong with rebuilding the hospital and getting comprehensive care?"
The ministers also criticized contracting with Greater Southeast Hospital, which is really owned and operated by Doctors Community Healthcare Corporation of Scottsdale, Ariz.
"What do we know about the Arizona group?" Mr. Gilbert asked. "Somebody ought to do an investigative report on this outfit."
After taking over Greater Southeast, which is in the 1300 block of Southern Avenue SE, the Arizona company also took over nearby Hadley Memorial Hospital. Mr. Gilbert said medical treatment was eliminated and Hadley became a nursing home.
The Baptist ministers said they have been advising their congregations about the status of D.C. General during Sunday services.
Maintaining D.C. General is supported by the American Medical Association, Medical Society of D.C., American Public Health Association, National Association of Public Hospitals and D.C. Nurses Association, according to Community and Caregivers United to Save D.C. General Hospital.

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