- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

The D.C. Council will introduce emergency legislation today that lays the groundwork for building a new hospital on the site of D.C. General Hospital in Southeast.

Three years after its closure, D.C. General would be demolished and replaced with the National Capital Medical Center, a “new, modern hospital built from the ground up,” Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert said yesterday.

“We’re not interested in a retrofitted facility,” said Mr. Swygert. “If it’s going to work, it’s going to have to work as a modern facility.”

The emergency legislation proposes that Mayor Anthony A. Williams begin negotiating with Howard to build the new facility, though university and D.C. officials said talks have been ongoing for several weeks.

“We’re very excited about this,” said council member David Catania, at-large Republican. “We wanted to be sure that Howard’s leadership knew the city was committed to this.”

Mr. Catania said he and council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, have been in frequent contact with Howard officials.

City officials said there are stark differences between the proposed facility and D.C. General, which caused the city to lose tens of millions of dollars before it was closed.

“We are not proposing to build a public hospital,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams. “Howard University approached us with the idea that they would relocate all or most of their hospital and teaching facility to that site. We’re saying that it’s a very interesting idea and so let’s explore it further.”

The proposed deal between the District and Howard was first reported by NewsChannel 8.

The Howard University Hospital Construction Emergency Act of 2003, slated for consideration by the council today, calls for Mr. Williams to pursue a long-term lease deal with Howard, with the agreement due back to the council for approval by Jan. 15.

The measure also says the agreement “shall provide that the District shall not own, manage or operate the new hospital.”

Though no cost estimates are available yet, Mr. Swygert said Howard probably could finance construction of the hospital without additional city financing.

“We will need help, but what form that help will take is something that we’re going to explore over the next 90 days,” Mr. Swygert said, referring to negotiations with city officials.

“We’re trying to avoid the use of words like ‘subsidized’ and ‘set asides,’” he said.

The prospect of Howard University taking over the D.C. General campus is nothing new. Mr. Swygert said university and city officials have discussed the possibility for several years.

The idea resurfaced when Howard recently pulled out of negotiations to take over Greater Southeast Community Hospital, which is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings.

Howard had placed a preliminary bid of $22 million to buy Greater Southeast, but the university announced last month that it was pulling its proposal.

Mr. Swygert said Mr. Williams and several council members who lobbied Howard to take over Greater Southeast were disappointed by the university’s decision.

“Then we started looking at other alternatives,” Mr. Swygert said. “I think a consensus was reached rather quickly not to pursue Greater Southeast, but to build a new hospital.”

Under the legislation, the District would lease land from Reservation 13 in Southeast to Howard, which would build and operate the National Capital Medical Center.

The center would include the hospital, a new school of public health, a research complex and medical offices for D.C. physicians. How much of Howard’s current hospital campus on Georgia Avenue in Northwest would continue operating after construction of the new facility remains unclear.

Mr. Swygert said the university would likely seek financial help from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to operate the new 110-bed facility.

“We’ll certainly reach out to the federal sector to see what kind of help is out there,” Mr. Swygert said. “Building the hospital is only one step.”

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