- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

The District’s emergency medicine system is among the best in the nation, according to a study released today, with high grades for access, quality and safety, but low marks for public health and medical liability.

The District ranked fourth in the study by the American College of Emergency Physicians, with an overall grade of B. Only California, Connecticut and Massachusetts ranked higher. The national average was C-minus.

The city received an A-plus for access to emergency medical care because of its high number of board-certified doctors, registered nurses and hospital beds. The report also noted high levels of government spending for health care, public funding for health insurance and a relatively high rate of insured residents, about 90 percent.

“Overall, I’m pleased but I’m not surprised,” said Dr. Gregg Pane, an emergency physician and the city’s health director.

The city also boasts more hospitals than most other areas of the country, including three university hospitals, a major children’s medical center and the massive Washington Hospital Center.

“We end up with a very well-trained emergency medicine work force,” said Dr. Robert Shesser, chairman of emergency medicine at George Washington University Hospital.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams plans to introduce legislation next month to spend as much as $212 million to build a new hospital in partnership with Howard University.

D.C. officials have argued that residents in the eastern part of the city have to travel farther for care because the city’s major hospitals are clustered in the Northwest quadrant.

The mayor is pushing a plan to move a trauma center from Howard University Hospital to the proposed National Capital Medical Center in Southeast on the grounds of the former D.C. General Hospital, which was closed in 2001.

The study noted that four hospitals in the District have closed in the past 10 years. If that trend continues, the report said, city officials should consider reopening or building new emergency care facilities to maintain the high standard.

Also in the study, the District received an A-minus for quality and patient safety, which included preparedness for disasters and biological or chemical attacks.

The city received a D-plus for public health and injury prevention, which included immunization rates among children along with automobile-safety and injury-prevention programs.

The study reported that only 72 percent of children younger than 3 are immunized, but Dr. Pane disagreed, noting that immunization rates in the public schools have improved to about 98 percent. The city is working on an injury-prevention initiative, including a focus on gun violence, Dr. Pane said.

The city received an F for its medical-liability environment. The study noted that the city has no limits on medical-malpractice damages.

Dr. Pane said Mr. Williams has argued for caps on damages to help lower health care costs.

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