- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

District of Columbia Council members yesterday continued to assail Mayor Anthony A. Williams, but some said they weren't surprised at his hardening resolve to close D.C. General Hospital and try to redevelop Southeast.

"It's a land grab," said D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7, describing the takeover. "He makes it sound like it's not connected, but the plan is what it is."

The plan would close all but a portion of D.C. General Hospital, which provides services to the uninsured, and transfer most services to Greater Southeast Hospital, leaving the city's poorest people vulnerable, say opponents.

Proponents say that the alternative is to leave a troubled hospital in limbo while not increasing the quality of health care.

The D.C. financial control board is scheduled to decide today whether it accepts the plan.

"The cost for the proposal is more than the current budget subsidy," said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.

"My fear is that it is going to end up costing us more money without expanding our health care," Mrs. Cropp said.

Meanwhile, sources say the mayor is still reeling from a beating he took over the issue Wednesday night when 500 residents packed Union Temple Baptist Church and boomed their opposition to his proposal.

But he is remaining firm.

"This is not a budget-cutting exercise, but an exercise in health care reform," he told opponents. "I am elected to represent and listen to all residents. But then I have to use my best judgment to do what is in the best interests of our people."

"I don't see it as that," said Mrs. Cropp, a Democrat, who opposes the mayor's plan. "There isn't any evidence."

Mr. Chavous said the mayor's refusal to listen to the "people" constitutes the height of "the politics of stubbornness."

The majority of the council is standing firm, too against the proposal.

The financial control board, whose authority ends Sept. 30, is currently considering whether to approve a proposal by Doctors Community Healthcare Corp. (DCHC), which runs Greater Southeast Hospital, to provide health care to uninsured D.C. residents for about $88 million a year for five years. Private medical offices will serve residents in place of the 200-year-old hospital and its six clinics.

The plan would end almost all services at D.C. General and cause the loss of 1,750 jobs on April 1.

The council wants Greater Southeast to provide a first-level trauma center as required by the request for proposal. That is currently being negotiated. Opponents to the deal say providing the trauma center would jack up Greater Southeast's price.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican, has raised concern about the company's financial standing and business practices. These include a large debt, unprofitable status, incomplete deals and 11th-hour demands in negotiations, according to Mr. Catania and news accounts.

DCHC officials were unavailable for comment.

The control board is expected to approve the contract, but it is not clear if the board will present it to the council for approval. All but two council members have said they would reject the deal in its current form.

Regardless, the city has to act soon because funding for the hospital runs out March 15.

"I will vote against the plan because I haven't been given adequate explanation or details," said Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

"Elected officials always have to balance good government with what the people want. In this case, it's too huge a risk."

He added: "Why would he ignore something the people are so clear on and something they are getting angrier about?"

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