- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I called D.C. Council member David Catania to see whether he was wearing his "I told you so" T-shirt and beating his chest, but he informed me he didn't have time to crow.
"I'm more concerned with how to fix the problem we've got than at pointing the finger," the popular at-large Republican said about the health care crisis facing the District's poor. How noble. Someone should hoist a red-lettered banner in front of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' penthouse office suite in the John Wilson Building that screams, "Told you so; now what?"
Sometimes, the naysayers are right.
Despite the dire warnings of the D.C. Council, especially Mr. Cantania, numerous hospital executives and medical personnel, countless community activists and a few commentators, Mr. Williams and the dormant D.C. financial control board closed D.C. General Hospital with all manner of mighty assurances that health care in the District would not suffer.
In fact, they promised a new and improved Health Care Alliance for the uninsured with the teetering Greater Southeast Community Hospital at the far end of the city as its flagship provider of services once delivered by the hospital that became renowned for its trauma care.
Now, all know better. But this critical care crisis does not come as shocking news to those who knew better all along. The larger question, as Mr. Catania poses it, is how to mend this medical mess as soon as possible. Triage and long-term treatment must be prescribed. The mayor must come to terms with this miserable mistake by first and foremost resuscitating a public hospital that will be under city control. He must finally listen to local health care officials and experts, and work with them in devising a better system that all, provider and patient, can manage.
The Catania proposal for an urban health campus system on the D.C. General grounds is a good start. But where are control board Chairman Alice Rivlin, former executive director Francis Smith and former D.C. Health Director Dr. Ivan Walks, who pushed this ill-conceived, ill-fated privatized health care plan?
Mr. Smith, in fact, works for Greater Southeast's parent company, Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., which is also in bankruptcy. It serves no one well, either, for Mr. Williams and his shallow city administrator, John Koskinen, to play down the seriousness of this sick situation.
What seems to be lost in the discourse is the fact that health care providers throughout our region are already stretched to the limit.
Two weeks ago, I spent 12 hours in the emergency room of Washington Hospital Center with a friend who has Hodgkins disease, couldn't breathe and had a high heart rate. Mind you, we entered on a Sunday morning. For my part and my patience, I picked up a wicked strain of the flu that I still haven't been able to shake.
At one point, it was so crowded in the waiting room and the emergency room with ailing patients and anxious loved ones that it looked like Wal-Mart during a holiday sale.
Even before Greater Southeast sought bankruptcy protection it was clear, as Mr. Catania noted and others have experienced, that the mayor's health care alliance was not living up to its promised goals, and the faraway hospital was having trouble delivering services.
Remember, by their own calculations, D.C. officials said they would be able to provide better services for 80,000 uninsured people in promoting this plan. But now they mayor brags of caring for 28,000. You do the math. Folks just don't have the time to go across town for medical help when they are so sick.
One reason the mayor is able to boast about saving money under the health care alliance is because it is serving fewer people. The big secret is that private hospitals are taking up the slack in caring for indigent patients who once went to D.C. General. It is no wonder that Washington Hospital Center officials announced that they would no longer accept elective patients from the alliance because they have not been paid.
Don't forget, the D.C. Hospital Association had to sue the District once before to collect $27 million in unpaid reimbursements. If Greater Southeast does not secure a new lender to keep operating, the District will have to bail it out again. That will cost far more than the money D.C. General was costing. If the District does not step into the breach, what will happen to ER patients? To alliance patients? To the elderly, indigent long-term patients being served at Hadley Hospital, the other facility facing closure under this bankruptcy? None can absorb the overflow.
The mayor and others tried to deflect detractors, portraying them as uniformed folks who have an emotional attachment to a dying institution. Not so. Privatizing the health care delivery system was always a bad business deal.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to calculate, but it shouldn't have passed by a touted bean counter, Teflon Tony, that the contractors had a history of suspect deals. Someone has to explain why the due diligence was never disclosed in this matter. The District just keeps throwing good money after bad and for little benefit.


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