Saving Greater Southeast Community Hospital was a major victory for residents of the District. The hospital, already in bankruptcy, was about to be liquidated because neither the District nor potential buyers were willing to provide funds to keep it open until a sale could be arranged.
Losing Greater Southeast Community Hospital would have been a disaster for the community. Its 1,500 employees make it the largest employer east of the Anacostia River and the only comprehensive health care provider for the city's most medically underserved area. Closing the hospital would have threatened the financial stability of the vendors, contractors and other businesses that provide it with goods and services.
On Oct. 26 community advocates and residents held a forum at Bethlehem Baptist Church and formed Health Care Now-The Greater Southeast Community Coalition to fight the closure of the hospital. The coalition retained lawyers to raise issues in court about the disastrous impact the hospital's closure would have on the community, but perhaps more important, the coalition took its case to the public, the city's political leadership and the media. Rallies, demonstrations and lobbying opened up an otherwise hidden process and raised awareness of how important the hospital was to east-of-the-river communities. This contributed significantly to the city's eventual decision to accept terms for the sale of Greater Southeast that made a deal possible.
Of course, serious challenges remain. The hospital's proposed purchaser, Doctors Community Healthcare of Arizona, is a for-profit, investor-owned corporation that operates hospital facilities across the country, including Hadley Hospital, also in Ward 8.
Doctor's may want to convert the hospital from a community cornerstone into a bottom-line institution by marketing to affluent communities in Maryland and the District and perhaps neglecting people in its own backyard. Some fear that Doctor's may change the hospital from an acute-care facility with a 24-hour emergency room and a range of essential services to a "niche" hospital that provides only select, profitable services. Doctor's could even decide to close Greater Southeast.
This must not happen. Health Care Now remains committed to making the hospital part of the revitalization of Ward 8 and of Anacostia in general. This community has suffered many blows, but new housing is going up near the hospital and elsewhere in the area. These homes are renting and selling briskly, bringing in residents who will support a hospital.
We and other community representatives look forward to meeting with the new owners of Greater Southeast Community Hospital to begin the discussion on how we can work together to address the serious long-term health needs of area residents. Only by working in partnership with the residents, workers and community organizations that helped keep the hospital alive can Doctor's ensure that Greater Southeast will thrive and be part of a revitalized community.
-- Howard Croft
-- Michelle Thompson
are, respectively, the field coordinator for Health Care Now and the director of the hospital division of the local unit of the Service Employees International Union.