A New Hospital East of the Anacostia River

Saturday, February 7, 2009

TWO YEARS AGO, panicked physicians at what was then Greater Southeast Community Hospital wrote city officials about deteriorating conditions at the facility. They detailed broken equipment, shortages of supplies and a lack of staff so serious it imperiled patient care. That year, the hospital's accreditation was yanked. Today, much about the hospital has changed, including its name, and therein lies a success story in which the D.C. government plays a starring role.

If not for the District's willingness to take a risk -- to the tune of $79 million -- there is no doubt the troubled facility would have closed, leaving residents east of the Anacostia River without a hospital. City officials helped to engineer a sale from the company that had mismanaged it and entered into an innovative public-private partnership with Specialty Hospitals of America. Renamed United Medical Center, the hospital has undertaken major capital improvements, upgraded its equipment and added 100 employees. It expects to add more workers by the end of the year. Last month, the hospital regained its all-important Joint Commission accreditation and, most significant, it is poised to provide medical care that had been unheard of at Greater Southeast. For the first time in decades, heart attack patients can receive treatment east of the river; a pediatric emergency room is being planned in partnership with Children's National Medical Center and a wound-care program is underway.

To be sure, there are still problems, and it remains to be seen whether the hospital will be able to turn a profit. It's encouraging, though, that the improvements were done within budget, a monthly loss of $1 million has been virtually eliminated and, to date, the hospital has made its repayments to the District. At a time when many public officials are throwing their hands up at the seemingly intractable problems of health-care provision, credit goes to D.C. officials who stuck their necks out. Most notable are council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) who, as chair of the health committee crusaded to save the hospital, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) whose administration put together the deal and continues to monitor the city's investment. One only has to look across the border at the struggles of Prince George's Hospital Center to know what this incipient success means for the well-being of people who live in Wards 7 and 8.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company