Howard University Hospital, under city government orders to admit children from its surrounding community to a new expanded day-care center, has established a fee schedule that will charge community residents $20 to $27 more a week than Howard employes must pay.
Last year the District's Board of Zoning Adjustment agreed to allow the hospital to convert three boarded-up rowhouses in the 1900 block of Fifth Street NW to a day-care center for 60 youngsters, but ruled that 15 of the day-care spaces must be available to children who live in the surrounding Le Droit Park community.
Le Droit Park community leaders had supported the day-care proposal because it meant the rehabilitation of neighborhood eyesores. But they said they were shocked when they learned from hospital officials in May that community residents would be charged $87 a week for infants and $70 a week for toddlers and pre-schoolers, while hospital employes would be charged $60 for infants and $50 for the older children.
"We think what they did was pretty underhanded, pretty sleazy," said Le Droit Park Civic Association President David Parker.
"These rates are so high that the inner city residents living in the surrounding community simply cannot afford to utilize the center," Parker complained in a letter to Haynes Rice, the hospital director.
The civic association has made a counter-proposal that calls for all parents to pay $66.75 for infants and $55 for children. It would generate the same revenue as the hospital's fee schedule.
But Henry Duvall, the hospital's spokesman, said "the rates are competitive with similar day-care services in the Washington metropolitan area," a statement disputed by the civic association. Duvall promised a response to the neighborhood counter-proposal after a review by hospital officials.
Duvall defended the lower rates for employes saying, "The hospital looks upon the rate as a benefit to employes who are critical to the operation of the hospital in the delivery of quality health care. The center, with round-the-clock care, is one way to attract nurses as well as to keep them here. It will allow them to have a safe place for their babies near the hospital."
The hospital's day-care center is currently located at the Florida Avenue Baptist Church and can serve 15 youngsters.
The day-care issue is the latest in a series of clashes between the university and the Le Droit community, a small turn of the century enclave located directly south of the campus and north of Florida Avenue. Once the best address in the city's black community, by the late 1960s Le Droit Park had become shabby. But in the late 1970s it was rediscovered by young black middle-class families who, along with many of the older residents, began a neighborhood renaissance.
In 1974 Le Droit residents successfully stopped the university from tearing down some vintage Victorian homes by having the neighborhood declared a historic district.
Recently the university started tearing down some of the houses it owns in the neighborhood to build a new parking garage and expand the hospital. But Howard and the community have agreed that the university will renovate some boarded-up houses for people being displaced by the expansion.
In the current dispute, civic association officials disagreed that the rates set by the university are comparable with other day-care centers. Ronnie Edwards, association vice president, said a survey he conducted shows that rates at comparable centers usually averaged $50 a week.
John Garland, another Le Droit Park resident, said, "I'm a lawyer and I couldn't afford those prices."
Parker said the price difference would result in residents spending $1,404 more a year for infant care than hospital employes and $1,040 more a year for child care.