Howard University will cover the first three years of expected operating deficits of a new $400 million hospital complex through its own financing, City Administrator Robert C. Bobb said last night, in a preface to a complicated agreement that the university and the District are negotiating on the joint project.
At a forum in Ward 6 on the proposed National Capital Medical Center, Bobb repeated the pledge of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) that the District will not provide Howard with an ongoing subsidy to own and operate the 250-bed medical and research facility. But he did not discuss what might happen after the third year if the medical center, as many critics predict, runs multimillion-dollar deficits.
The university and the District intend to build the complex on the former D.C. General Hospital site at 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, with the city committing as much as $300 million. Supporters have said the project would provide hospital beds and critical-care services in a part of the city where those are lacking, and would serve as the hub of a community health network.
Financial details are expected to be released next week in advance of an Oct. 28 hearing before the D.C. Council's health committee, but officials said last night that a signed agreement with Howard would not be ready then. Howard officials recently asked that the hearing be delayed because its trustees are not scheduled to meet until mid-November. Committee chairman David A. Catania (I-At Large) rejected that request last night. "It's time to put up or shut up," he said.
Whether the university board will provide the resolution of support that Williams has requested is unclear.
The forum at Lemon G. Hine Junior High School focused largely on whether the city's huge investment in the project would best address the gaps in health care that particularly impact the District's eastern half.
Howard would move its Level 1 trauma services from its existing hospital on Georgia Avenue NW to the site in Southeast Washington. The medical center's beds also would come from the same source, with the most generous formula leaving behind about 200 beds.
"Howard is still evaluating" what other services would remain on Georgia Avenue, Bobb said. He emphasized that the university had "no desire" to abandon Howard University Hospital.
He acknowledged that the new facility could have a negative financial impact on Greater Southeast Community Hospital on the border of the District and Prince George's County. Amid obvious skepticism in his audience, Bobb said the city was working to ensure Greater Southeast's viability through a memorandum with its private owner.