- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

With the control board no longer calling the shots, several city council members yesterday said the closing of D.C. General Hospital should be reconsidered, especially given the key role the hospital in Southeast has played as a medical rallying point in the city's handling of the anthrax attacks.

This week, more than 6,000 postal workers and private-sector employees received free treatment at D.C. General for possible exposure to anthrax.

In a move strongly supported by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the hospital was closed in May when the D.C. financial control board overruled a 13-0 vote by the D.C. Council to keep it open.

The control board, created by Congress in 1995 to oversee D.C. government, has since been dissolved. It officially went out of commission last month, returning power to the city over such issues as the hospital.

"With the control board gone now, the mayor can't circumvent the council," D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous told The Washington Times yesterday. "The council is going to push to put some kind of public health facility back on the grounds of D.C. General."

In April, the control board signed a contract with the privately owned Doctors Community Hospital. Under the agreement, major trauma care and cases involving hospitalization would be transferred to the company's Greater Southeast Community Hospital, located across the Anacostia River.

D.C. General would be reduced to an outpatient clinic, or little more than a big doctor's office. Mr. Williams fought hard for the plan as a way to save money and still provide clinics for uninsured residents, who had been using the hospital's emergency room for a range of illnesses.

Mr. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, and council member David Catania, at-large Republican, sued unsuccessfully to halt the plan. Thousands of residents protested the move to eliminate the only public medical facility in the city.

"It's more than ironic to me that the mayor and Dr. [Ivan A.] Walks pushed so hard to close it and now it's the first place they're sending people to get [anthrax] treatment. It speaks to the shortsightedness of the mayor's administration."

Mr. Catania yesterday agreed with Mr. Chavous that while it was too soon to revisit the closing of D.C. General, "it will definitely be something we'll see back on the table as soon as we're done assessing the limits of the anthrax problem it's occupied everyone."

Through legislation or through the budget process, the council will try to "carve out the resources" to reopen D.C. General Hospital, Mr. Chavous said.

Council member Sandra Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, also agreed with Mr. Chavous, saying that if a new debate over the hospital were to arise, she would push for its reopening.

"I will always support reopening D.C. General," said Mrs. Allen, chairman of the council's committee on human services. "I never wanted it to close that's my stance on it."

About 1,500 D.C. health employees from D.C. General lost their jobs when the hospital was privatized.

Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, said yesterday he was skeptical about reopening D.C. General in response to the city's handling of the anthrax attacks.

"[Mr. Chavous] will probably try to make a push for that, but I don't know if he'll have my support on it," Mr. Brazil said. "Maybe it could be used as a health related facility, but at this point, it's water over the dam whether it should or should not have closed."

Mr. Brazil said the reason D.C. General was being used now was because, "it's open space and this is an emergency and we needed open space to handle it."

But Mr. Chavous said that was precisely why the issue was important.

"In a time of emergency, what we really need to do from a public health standpoint is have more resources. We need to have as many public trauma facilities as possible," he said. "All of our hospitals in the District were stretched before September 11, and now they're stretched even thinner.

"It's not just the access of care to low-income citizens, it's also the specialized services available in the public hospital for dealing with things like biological or chemical threats like we have right now," Mr. Chavous said.

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