D.C. Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon tried yesterday to raise the hopes of Capitol Hill Hospital workers who face losing their jobs next month by meeting with hospital officials and pledging to seek congressional help to bolster the financially troubled facility.
But her efforts apparently didn't change the minds of the hospital's owners, who say they plan to convert the general-care hospital to a more specialized operation.
Also yesterday, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., head of Dixon's transition team, wrote Mayor Marion Barry asking that he seek $150,000 from the D.C. Council for transition expenses.
Dixon met with administrators of Capitol Hill Hospital and its owners, Medlantic Healthcare Group, along with union officials, council member-elect Harold Brazil (D-Ward 6) and Howard T. Jessamy, president of the D.C. Hospital Association. She urged that the hospital remain open as a full-service facility.
Dixon said she fears that scaling back Capitol Hill Hospital might create a "domino effect," resulting in other hospitals, forced to assume responsibility for indigent care, also being driven out of business.
"She said the words I wanted to hear," said Betsy Lovelace, who for 30 years has cleaned and changed beds at the 102-year-old hospital at 700 Constitution Ave. NE.
Dixon said she is considering seeking funds from Congress to offset a sharp rise of uncompensated care costs in D.C. hospitals that she said is fueled by the drug crisis.
William L. Meyer, president and chief executive officer of the hospital, said he appreciated Dixon's interest, but indicated that the hospital will continue with plans to convert to a long-term nursing and psychiatric facility.
Of Dixon's plan to seek rescue from Congress, he said, "I think the likelihood of that happening over the next couple of months is problematic. We cannot make an open-ended commitment to stay open . . . . We are not making money."
Rick Ehrmann, vice president of Local 1199E-DC of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 300 workers at the hospital, said an audit shows that the hospital is a "cash cow" for Medlantic.
Meanwhile, Jordan urged Barry to seek emergency legislation at the council's meeting next Tuesday for funds "to promote the orderly transition of the executive powers."
The money would be used to pay transition staff, rent office space, provide phone service and travel expenses for perspective appointees.
Lurma Rackley, Barry's press secretary, said, "We are working to identify resources to accommodate the needs of the transition team."