- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Mayor Williams, the D.C. Council and the control board have the city in a bind after many months of deliberations regarding the fiscal health of the Public Benefits Corp. (PBC), the ailing D.C. General Hospital and the satellite clinics.

The bind is this: Private companies have until Jan. 2 to submit competitive bids to the city on outsourcing certain services at the hospital; the city has until Jan. 15 to select a bid. This high-risk plan makes several huge assumptions, chief among them that the city's contracting authorities have the ability to handle such tight deadlines. Nonetheless, the plan moves the city away from the issue of whether the hospital should close or remain open.

Consider the alternative. The hospital, clinics and in-school nursing program face certain jeopardy when the PBC's $45 million subsidy ends in mid-January. If they were to close, about 2,000 health-care workers would be jobless, unemployment demands would skyrocket, and the neighborhoods where those facilities are now located would lose their medical facilities.

Consider the human side of what is at stake. Tens of thousands of D.C. residents depend on the clinics and hospital. Most of those people who depend on those services, including school-age children and patients with catastrophic illnesses, are either underinsured or uninsured. Where would they seek care and who would pay their bills? Georgetown University Hospital? Howard University Hospital? George Washington University's hospital? Maybe. Then again, they might not seek any health maintenance whatsoever.

The goal of any restructuring plan, including the privatization plan now under way, should have one goal: access to affordable and dependable health care. Interestingly, that is basically what the law which created the Public Benefits Corp. says. What it does not say is such health care must be provided through a government hospital.

The city's stakeholders and union leaders should emphasize those points at the Nov. 29 town hall meeting, where the privatization plan and other health care issues will be discussed in detail. At the meeting, which is jointly sponsored by D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous (Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (Ward 8), the city's stakeholders will also brief the public on plans to work with the National Institutes of Health to reshape not just D.C. General Hospital, but the city's urban health care scene as a whole.

Indeed, mismanagement and poor planning, not the lack of money, threaten the life of the public health care system in the District of Columbia. At this juncture, privatizing certain services surely beats the prospect of losing the hospital altogether.

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