A community briefing last night on the status of Greater Southeast Community Hospital turned into a gripe session about Mayor Anthony A. Williams's decision last year to close D.C. General Hospital to inpatients and privatize the city's indigent health care system.
The briefing, held in the auditorium of Greater Southeast, was billed as a "town hall" meeting to assure residents who live east of the Anacostia River that the city supports -- though it cannot guarantee -- the continued existence of the financially troubled hospital.
But almost all the audience members focused on the closure of D.C. General and dissatisfaction with the D.C. Health Care Alliance, which provides charity health care through six private hospitals. They expressed their views to the officials in attendance, who included Williams (D), D.C. Council members Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), Health Department Director James A. Buford and Greater Southeast's chief executive, Karen Dale.
One resident suggested that Williams join the alliance to see firsthand the frustration of waiting months to get an appointment with a primary-care physician or being limited in prescription coverage.
"How would you like it if someone came into your city and tore your public hospital down?" asked Fatima Johnson, 10, who stood at the microphone with her father, Michael Johnson.
"Answer the question, Mr. Mayor," Michael Johnson demanded.
Greater Southeast declared bankruptcy late last month, a victim of a bankrupt lender that stopped providing operating cash to the hospital's owner, Doctors Community HealthCare Corp. of Arizona, to keep Greater Southeast running.
The lender, National Century Financial Enterprises of Ohio, collapsed amid an FBI investigation into allegations of financial wrongdoing. National Century's failure has endangered the viability of four other Doctors Community hospitals, including Hadley Memorial Hospital, a long-term care facility in Southwest Washington.
Buford, the city's health department director, acknowledged that "the long-term fate of [Greater Southeast] is yet to be determined." He said that if the bankruptcy proceedings led to the demise of the hospital as it is operated currently, the District would look for another hospital to operate Greater Southeast "as an extension of its own facility" or would contract with a hospital management firm to take it over while seeking investors to finance the institution.
"The ultimate goal is to keep the hospital operating and providing care to citizens east of the river," Buford said. Greater Southeast is the city's only acute-care general hospital east of the Anacostia River.
"When I see this hospital, I think about health care. I think about a lifesaving facility," said Janathel Shaw, who lives in Oxon Hill, just across Southern Avenue from Greater Southeast. Hospital officials say that about 40 percent of Greater Southeast's patients at any given time are Prince George's County residents.
"I don't want my mother to die while I'm trying to get to another hospital," Shaw said.