- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

It is my pleasure today to share with you some particulars in light of the gestures the city's own trigger-happy lot collectively known as the D.C. Council have made recently regarding D.C. General Hospital and health care for the poor.
To have them and only them tell the story, Mayor Williams and the control board are trying to clip the city's so-called safety net by privatizing certain services. They gave the mayor and the board a tongue lashing earlier this week, then unanimously adopted a resolution that calls for streamlining the hospital's operations and expanding its six clinics. The 13 lawmakers proposed no law to reform things, which is what lawmakers do and what the control board has constantly urged them to do. So the heavy lifting is again left to others.
Mr. Williams and the control board are trying to do what two former mayors and the council should have done many moons ago, and that is deinstitutionalize the city's health care programs.
Allow me to simplify. Recall the film, "The Shawshank Redemption" and the unforgettable characters played by Morgan Freeman and James Whitmore two inmates so institutionalized by the ruts of prison life they could barely cope once they won their freedom? Now imagine D.C. General and its 24-hour emergency room filled with poor folks who, economically speaking, are unfamiliar with the freedom of choice. Get the picture?
These are people who, if managed care were in place and if certain services were privatized, would be given the freedom to chose their own physicians and their own dentists and eye doctors, choose where their babies are born, and choose a pediatrician for those babies as they grow older.
Unfortunately, every time the council has had an opportunity to free those poor folks from D.C. General, the council chooses instead to keep them shackled. That means the council not only is driving the costs of health care out of this world but, and this is vitally more important, endangering the lives of the very people it is intending to help.
These are sick folks who, like my family, probably have a history of certain illnesses. In my family it is diabetes. But I knew that and watched out for all the signs. More importantly, my doctor knew it because my doctor treats not only me, but my mother, my sister, my sister-in-law and one of my daughters. If I had not been so blessed, I might be like some of those folks who are in and out of the emergency room at D.C. General or some other hospital, leaving bits of their medical information in their wake and being treated for symptoms instead of the underlying cause.
To be sure, some of you consider my analogies about the movie and the family medical history rather, well, pedestrian. Go ahead. Because I know patients must have a continuing relationship, which is impossible to do in an emergency room even for poor folks.
The District's health care crises, however, is about neither me nor you. It is about a bunch of politicians who, for too many years now, have continued to provide the most expensive form of health care and repeatedly rejected change out of hand.
It is expensive in terms of dollars, and it is expensive in terms of lives lost. And know what? I cannot believe that the black movers and shakers in this city think otherwise when blacks are dying to their left and to their right of undetected cardiovascular disease, cancer, substance abuse and diabetes.
To the left, my liberal black "friends" say better the emergency room than no room at all. My heart bleeds for them, like it bleeds for those poor sick folks, for they know not what they say.
Council member Kevin Chavous is a drum major of the they-want-to-close-D.C.-General-bandwagon. He and his band of crusaders verbally spank the mayor and the control board at every turn on health care. Some of them, including Mr. Chavous and council member David Catania a card-carrying Republican support an alternative plan, what is being touted as PBC2. That plan would revamp D.C. General, create a public-private partnership and rename it Unity Health Center, among other things.
I look forward to discussing the details of PBC2 with its supporters. But at this juncture I can't say whether it's more of the same, or a better plan than the one currently on the table. I can say this, though: Health care for the uninsured and the underinsured does not necessarily have to begin and end at D.C. General Hospital.
Email: simmons@twtmail.com

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