- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Sparks flew yesterday at the D.C. Council's public oversight hearing on the D.C. Health Care Alliance, a group of private health care contractors hired by the city last may to replace D.C. General Hospital as the District's main provider of public health services.
Council members grilled the city's top health official, Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, stating that a report he provided proves that promises of more health care at a cheaper price within six months of D.C. General Hospital's closure haven't been met.
When D.C. General closed, the residents of the District "were promised 34 percent more care at 25 percent less cost what we're getting instead is 18 percent less care than we were getting last year at no cost reduction," said council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican.
"We've not built the infrastructure within our own health care system to absorb the closure of D.C. General," he said.
In a move strongly supported by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Dr. Walks, D.C. General was shut down in May when the D.C. financial control board overruled a unanimous vote by the council to keep it open. The control board, created by Congress in 1995 to oversee the D.C. government, went out of business in September, returning power to the city over such budgetary issues as public health care.
"We have lost the battle on D.C. General Hospital, but we're going to win the battle of getting reliable health care services for the citizens of the District of Columbia," said council member Sandra Allen, Ward 8 Democrat.
Political personalities were simmering yesterday as the hearing before the council's Committee on Human Services began. The hearing, originally scheduled for Dec. 10, had been postponed by Miss Allen, chairman of the Committee on Human Services, who was "outraged" by the amount of time it had taken Dr. Walks to deliver requested statistics about the city's new health care system.
Mr. Catania had submitted 28 questions to the health department on Nov. 15 about the success of the Health Care Alliance and requested a response by Nov. 30. Miss Allen said she didn't get her 400-page answer-filled binder until Dec. 9. As a result, she rescheduled Dr. Walks' testimony for yesterday, drawing increased media attention to his tardiness.
In his testimony before the committee, Dr. Walks did not apologize for the late delivery of the report, rather he largely argued that it is too early to evaluate the success or failure of the alliance.
He said the numbers represented in the report do not accurately reflect the future of the city's new public health care approach because they are a "snapshot" at the very infantile stages of the transition to Greater Southeast Community Hospital.
"Six months into this first of its kind public health care system, we are doing well," he said.
Heated words flew during the moments following the testimony, with council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, shouting at one point, "This interplay does illustrate the difference between [Dr. Walks] and those of us on the committee."
Seconds earlier Dr. Walks had questioned the relevancy of an inquiry Mr. Chavous made about the plummeting efficiency rate of the city's emergency rooms since the closure of D.C. General.
"Isn't it true that the average ambulance ride in this city is longer than it was before D.C. General closed?" Mr. Chavous had asked.
"Whether an ambulance ride is longer or shorter does not have an effect on whether or not someone dies," Dr. Walks responded. "I say this because at one time I was an ambulance driver and I know I'm struggling to understand the relevancy of your question."
"You don't have to understand the relevance," shouted Mr. Chavous. "You just have to answer the questions."
By closing D.C. General, "we took the second busiest trauma center in the city out of commission without putting into place any proper accommodation for it," Mr. Catania said. "You've not reduced the number of emergencies just because you've closed that hospital. You've deflected the emergencies to other hospitals."
Washington Hospital Center had a 200 percent increase in the number of hours its emergency room was closed per week due to heavy demand that followed the closure of D.C. General, he said.


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