- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

D.C. health officials said privatization of the citys indigent health care system will leave no uninsured resident currently receiving health care without medical attention during the transition.
"We dont expect city residents to have to do anything different," said D.C. Health Department Director Ivan Walks. "Residents can continue to go to their current doctors. The only thing different will be that all the providers will now share patient data."
Most of 65,000 uninsured residents will notice little change in the next few months as they continue to utilize D.C. General and private clinics, city officials said. D.C. General will continue serving all types of patients until its trauma center and inpatient services are transferred to Greater Southeast Hospital over the next three months. During the transition, patients who require hospitalization will be taken to other area hospitals.
Health officials also continue to stress that until Greater Southeast can establish its trauma center, D.C. Generals trauma services will remain intact. They estimate that process to end this summer.
The privatization plan also provides services for children at Childrens National Medical Center in Northwest. Those patients who need services not provided by Greater Southeast will be served by George Washington University Hospital, also in Northwest.
Residents who have used the system in the past two years will automatically be enrolled in the system and can continue with their doctors. New patients can go to D.C. General, Greater Southeast or any of the former Public Benefit Corp. clinics to enroll and be assigned a primary care physician.
Mr. Walks said he expected the transition to have "minor bumps" but nothing major. Health officials are monitoring the shortage of nurses at D.C. General in case an early diversion of patients is necessary. D.C. General decided to close its emergency room to ambulance traffic because of a nursing shortage last month.
Meanwhile, the first round of pink slips to nervous employees of the Public Benefit Corp. will be delivered over the next few days, Mr. Walks said. Many of the hospitals employees will be rehired by the new contractor, particularly those who work directly with patients. It is impossible to tell what percentage of employees will be let go or have to be retrained, he added.
"There was a marked lack of cooperation on obtaining personnel data from the current management," he said. "We had hoped to be able to identify personnel changes already."
While some residents are nervous as to how the plan will work, area hospitals are taking a "wait-and-see approach."
The shutdown has forced other local medical facilities, including George Washington University Hospital and Childrens to prepare for a potential influx of adults and children who will be in need of inpatient care.
Childrens Hospital officials said they expect to see about five to six extra children at their 279-bed facility each day.
"We are easily able to absorb that extra capacity," said Jacqueline Bowens, the hospitals vice president of government and public affairs. "We dont see it as a major change. It would business as usual for us."
Others like the Washington Hospital Center in Northwest may consider closing its trauma center, one of four in the city, because officials fear they will run out of room. The other trauma centers are at George Washington University, Howard University and D.C. General hospitals.
"We may be forced to do it just to save ourselves," said William Howard, Washington Hospital Centers medical director. "We dont have any good alternatives."
Mr. Howard said the shutdown of D.C. General could cause a severe burden on the remaining hospital centers.
"We just dont have the capacity to handle the volume of people who might be coming in," he said. But, he said, medical personal will not refuse to provide medical attention to those seeking help.
"We will try our best to make sure to continue to give people the care they deserve," he said.
In Maryland, officials at Prince Georges Hospital Center said they expect some D.C. residents to be rerouted to their facility in Cheverly but could not say whether they would implement any changes to their emergency room procedures.
The 276-bed hospital has gotten used to caring for patients who are rerouted from D.C. General. Last month, the hospital cared for at least five patients from the District during the nursing shortage at D.C. General.
"At this point, we are waiting to see what the final plan will be," said Robert Howell, a hospital spokesman. "All of the hospitals in the area are connected in some way, and until we have a better idea of whats to come, we cant say whats going to happen."
"All hospitals are used to handling extra volumes of patients," he said. "So we will be able to handle it."

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