- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

D.C. government and Howard University officials yesterday agreed to split the cost of building a Level 1 trauma hospital in Southeast, but said the project still hinges on the approval of financing, lease and land-transfer arrangements.

Plans for the National Capital Medical Center call for building a roughly $400 million medical complex on the grounds of D.C. General Hospital, which the District closed except for outpatient services in 2001. A newly created nonprofit entity backed by Howard would run the new hospital.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he “strongly urged” the D.C. Council to approve the 22-page agreement between Howard and the District to avoid delays. The document was released yesterday.

“Howard University enters this [project] with enthusiasm and continued commitment,” Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert said yesterday at a press conference where the deal was announced.

Mr. Swygert said he expects “sharp” questioning from D.C. Council members over the project, which would transfer to the new facility 230 beds from Howard’s existing hospital on Georgia Avenue in Northwest.

The new hospital would not result in the closure of Howard’s current facility, which is licensed for nearly 500 beds, he said.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the council’s Committee on Health, declined to comment on the agreement yesterday, saying he was reviewing the document.

Mr. Catania said he will conduct hearings on the project, which would include looking into concerns over Howard’s financial stability.

The hospital recently laid off about 125 employees. It reported a $17.3 million deficit to D.C. Medicaid regulators for fiscal 2005, according to hospital financial information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“I’ll be going over Howard’s financials very closely,” Mr. Catania said.

Mr. Swygert said yesterday the hospital’s 2005 financial loss marked its first deficit in about a decade after “a pretty good roll.”

He said Howard had the financial strength to operate two hospitals under the planned deal to bring both facilities under a single nonprofit entity.

D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat who is a member of the council’sHealth Committee, said he strongly backs the project because it would improve health services for 140,000 city residents east of the Anacostia River.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb said the plan does not include seeking approval through a certificate of need process review. The regulatory review involves studying the financial impact of a new health care project on existing facilities.

The project still requires approval from federal officials on financing and land-transfer issues, officials said. In addition, the D.C. Council must vote to approve a lease, grant agreement and a formal exemption for the project from a certificate of need review.

Howard and D.C. officials have capped their construction and development costs at $212 million each, and the District has said it will not provide any operating subsidies once the hospital opens.

The agreement also states that Howard must provide uncompensated care for uninsured patients equaling at least 3 percent of the hospital’s operating costs.

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