- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2017

Plans to build a new comprehensive hospital in Ward 7 or 8 moved forward Monday, when the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance executed a contract with one of the nation’s largest consulting firms to help guide the city’s hands.

Huron Consulting Group is slated to receive the nearly $1 million, six-month contract to determine how to run an acute-care hospital from top to bottom, who uses D.C. hospitals for what services, who pays for those services and where national health care might stand going forward.

The DHCF press release announcing the step forward also said Huron would provide:

“An assessment of the range of financing options available to the District of Columbia which offer the highest value with least risk;

“An assessment of the possibility of viable partnership arrangements for the District, along with an analysis of the various management archetypes for a new hospital which ultimately removes the District from its current role of hospital operator.”

Both the former and latter bulleted items should make city stakeholders and bean counters a little skittish. For one, D.C. public clinics and hospitals are notorious for wasting dollars and failing to improve the health outcomes of the people under their care.

Also, there already are more than a dozen hospitals within city limits. Does D.C. really need (to take real estate off the tax rolls for) another hospital?

Serious deliberations about adding a backstop to the United Medical Center in Southeast aired in earnest during Ward 7 and 8 campaigns for re-election to the D.C. Council. Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander lost her re-election run in 2016, as did LaRuby May of Ward 8. While there was considerable support for a new clinic or hospital in Ward 7, there also were critics who complained that building another acute hospital east of the Anacostia River would further segregate returning prisoners, low-income workers, seniors and black residents. (Out of sight, out of mind.)

Vincent Gray, who unseated Miss Alexander, needs to slow the roll of this new hospital train. The only reason to build a new hospital from scratch or to renovate a former acute facility is because acute-care demand is not meeting health-care supply — and that is not the case in the District.

One exmple, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, which is in the throes of a $560 million-plus project to grow its surgical capacity by 30 percent.

In addition is nearby Dimension Healthcare Center’s flagship site, Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, near the D.C. border, where the facility is being boosted with local and state dollars.

Mr. Gray practically oversees every health-related issue as chairman of the D.C. Council’s Health Committee, including DHCF. He also can seek pertinent health and fiscal data from the D.C. auditor, inspector general and chief financial auditor.

The politics of the new hospital mean he might have to do battle with Mayor Muriel Bowser and some of his constituents, however. He just needs to keep in mind that healthier outcomes for his Ward 7 constituents and other D.C. residents outweigh playing politics.

After all, D.C. General was closed as a public hospital because costs were exorbitant, and D.C. General was used as a family shelter because of the costs of “affordable” housing, and money is being poured in United Medical Center, but to what end?

Health care solutions, including new hospitals, are supposed to solve health problems.

D.C. has a history of exacerbating fiscal health issues and, most important of all, exacerbating human health problems.

The city needs to take a different road this go ‘round.

Metro surges ahead

Metro is winding down its SafeTrack efforts to make the rails safe. In fact, work on the Orange Line is scheduled to begin May 16 and end June 15. Segments between New Carrollton and Stadium-Armory will be closed.

Afterward, surge works rolls onto the Red Line, Metro’s oldest tracks.

On its webstie Monday, Metro said the schedule is “TBD,” so do not panic.

For the most part, commuters, tourists and bar-and-bistro hoppers have been OK. And that’s a very good thing — all things considered.

One of those things is how much downsizing needs to be done, and another is will Safetrack have abetted chronic safety and security issues.

In the meantime, financing is never off the table.

• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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