- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

Only a few months ago, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Health Department Director Dr. Ivan A. Walks stood in front of television cameras at D.C. General Hospital and insisted that there was no need for a public hospital at the centralized location only a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
Against the vocal opposition of community leaders and health care administrators, they went ahead with their ill-conceived plans, sanctioned by the D.C. financial control board, to eliminate a critical health care facility for thousands of the city’s indigent and uninsured residents and workers.
Where are they now?
As the anthrax attacks unfortunately and possibly unnecessarily claimed the lives of two local postal workers, we’ve watched all week how emphatically the mayor and his resuscitated medical director stood in front of television cameras and begged folks to “pleeeezzzze, come to D.C. General Hospital” for limited testing and antibiotics.
What hospital? What testing? Dare I go there?
“People have been coming up to me asking, ‘Whatzup with D.C. General? Is it closed or not?’” said D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, a Ward 7 Democrat. He and his colleague, David Catania, at-large Republican, mounted a mighty fight to save and revamp the medical facility renowned for its trauma care. To no avail.
“We have a public health care message but no system to implement,” Mr. Catania said yesterday.
Those of us who believed we needed a centralized, public health hospital before Sept. 11 believe it even more now. While this nation is preparing a homeland defense, this is the most opportune moment for city officials to revisit the closing of D.C. General, and demand that the federal government assist with major funding in rebuilding this life-saving facility.
“We need a homeland defense partnership realizing that we need a hospital that can handle a federal emergency that hits the federal enclave as well as the citizens of the District,” Mr. Catania said.
Exactly. Do this begging not only for the thousands of residents of the District, but also for the thousands of government representatives, employees, lobbyists and tourists who venture to the District.
Understanding that the anthrax attacks represent uncharted waters for government and health care officials, collectively, they have done an inadequate job of calming the public’s fears by failing to give basic answers to basic questions.
But it’s these leaders’ inequitable treatment of potential victims that is most inexcusable. They still haven’t provided a sufficient reason for why they waited so long to test the Brentwood postal facility or its workers. Nor have they provided good reason why postal workers were not tested but simply handed packets of Cipro and a pamphlet and sent home from D.C. General with only a 10-day supply of the drug when we are to led to believe that a 60-day treatment is mandatory.
Dr. Walks told Brian DeBose of The Washington Times that blanket distribution of the drug is not a prudent practice given that at least one worker has had an immediate allergic reaction to Cipro.
Health care for the poor is put on the back burner while the rich and privileged are protected with haste. We didn’t need the New York Post’s demonstrative graphic that succinctly listed the disparate treatment and quick response given mostly white, white-collar Capitol Hill staffers who were exposed to anthrax against the delayed response when brown and black working-class, blue-collar workers were exposed.
Someone had to know that workers at that plant, according to published interviews, had complained to supervisors, inspectors and union representatives about their fears that fell on deaf ears.
Not unlike the community supporters whose well-founded fears about the closure of D.C. General Hospital fell on the deaf ears of Mr. Williams and Dr. Walks.
Dr. Walks who, by the way, was a practicing psychiatrist before becoming the highest paid public D.C. official at $223,000 annually was the only health care official in this city who signed the mayor’s plan that sent thousands of underserved poor residents into a health care abyss even before this anthrax scare.
Since D.C. General closed, downtown private hospitals, especially Howard, Providence and Washington Hospital Center, have experienced a surge in the number of uninsured patients being treated in their emergency rooms.
Sister Carol Keehan of Providence Hospital said it treated approximately 170 patients in the ER on Monday, many of whom were complaining of anthraxlike symptoms.
It’s no wonder why people are waiting six and seven hours in a hospital emergency room. Sister Carol said that her figures indicate that nonpaying, or so-called “self-pay” patients, increased 51 percent in the emergency room and up to 204 percent with inpatient admissions since D.C. General closed.
In a disaster, where will everybody go?
Robert Malson, executive director of the D.C. Hospital Association, is also chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ bioterrorism task force. It finished a 19-month study for developing an emergency response plan on Sept. 5, a week before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. It specifies serious concern about the lack of “surge capacity” in existing hospitals if a major emergency created hundreds of victims.
In one respect, the nation’s capital was spared on Sept. 11. Few victims of the terrorist attacks needed hospital care. Next time, we may not be so fortunate. But few are openly discussing the lack of trauma facilities and critical-care beds in this city even as various groups are attempting to devise emergency preparedness plans for what are real prospects of future attacks.
Since so many folks are asking for money from the seeming pot of gold at the end of the federal government’s wartime budget bucket, the mayor and his medical mouthpiece ought to include funding for an improved, centralized full-service medical facility on the grounds that were once D.C. General Hospital.

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