The Group Health Association and George Washington University Medical Center are considering building a small hospital for GHA members across 22nd Street NW from the medical center.
The facility, which would take up part of the block between the Pennsylvania Avenue and I Street NW, would provide most of the hospital care for GHA's 110,000 members. The hospital would be built by GW and licensed and operated by GHA.
Dr. Edgar Hinman, executive director of Group Health, stressed yesterday tht "This is really just the beginning of a plan. . . . It's much too early for this to really be an item that is truly newsworthy."
Area health planning officials disagreed with Hinman's assessment of the importance of the tasks.
In 1978, Group Health paid $14.5 million for 7,517 hospital admissions for its members, and planning officials questioned what impact a GHA hospital would have on other area hospitals and overall health care costs.
District health officials have projected that the city will have about 1,400 unusued hospital beds by 1985, even if Group Health does not build a hospital. Recently, however, city hospitals have been extremely overcrowded, bringing those estimates into serious question.
While health planning officials can usually control hospital expansion by refusing to issue the so-called certificates of need that are required, federal law exempts large health maintenance organizations like GHA from that process.
A health maintenance organization provided all the health care needs of its members for a set annual fee. A patient can then go to the doctor as many times as he or she wants to without ever seeing a bill, and the group, like GHA, pays for any hospitalization that is needed.
The hospital under discussion would have 100 to 120 beds and provide basic care for GHA members, but not obstetrics, pediatrics or more specialized services.
The hospital might be connnected by a tunnel to the GW hospital, which would provide services in such specialized units as cardiac care and intensive care, as well as laundry, and food services.
Although a GHA newsletter said the plan under discussion calls for GW to build the hospital for GHA, Hinman said that has not yet been decided. If such a hospital were built, he said, GHA might pay for its construction and own it, or GW might own the building and lease it back to GHA.
Either arrangement would be similar to those GW has with some government agencies and corporations in its Foggy Bottom neighborhood, arrangements under which GW has built an endowment around real estate, rather than stocks and bonds.
George Washington officials refused to discuss their talks with GHA.
Group Health had similar discussions in 1978 with Washington Hospital Center. Plan then called for the construction of a GHA hospital on the Hospital Center's land in Northwest Washington. Those talks fell through, Hinman said, when the Hospital Center said "they wouldn't be part" of the arrangement.
GHA found itself in a bind last fall when Doctors Hospital declared bankruptcy and closed. Because a large number of Group Health patients had been hospitalized at Doctors hospital, GHA had to speed up plans for long-term arrangements for hospitalizing patients.
Under the plan being discussed, neither medical students nor residents from GW would work in the GHA hospital reducing GHA's cost because its patients would not be subsidizing medical education when they pay for their care.
If such a hospital were built, it would be staffed by physicians hired by GHA, Hinman said.
Asked what impact he felt the construction of such a hospital -- which some health planners estimate would cost at least $25 million -- would have on local health planning and health costs, Hinman said, "My responsibility is for the 110,000 men, women and children who come GHA for care from a number of jurisdictions. . . . We believe in working with the community, and for the community, but our primary responsibility is to our members."