A group of community activists from Wilmington, Del., came to Washington yesterday in hopes of turning a local dispute into a national cause.
At issue is the planned move of most of the facilities of the private, nonprofit Wilmington Medical Center - Delaware's largest hospital and second largest employer - from innter city Wilmington to a suburb eight miles away.
The community activists, members of an interracial, city-wide coalition called Wilmington United Neighborhoods, want to stop the move. A victory would ensure quality medical care and keep jobs for Wilmington residents, they said. But more than that, it would demonstrate the federal government's willingness to do something substantive about improving urban life, they said.
The Wilmingtonians took their case to the Department of Health. Education and Welfare, where they met with Under Secretary Hale Champion; to the Old Executive Office Building, where they met with officials in the President's Public Liaison Office, and finally to Capitol Hill, where they petitioned the Congressional Black Caucus to begin an inquiry into the planned move.
In the end, they rode away in two yellow school buses with a promise and a warning from Champion, assurances of White House concern from the Public Liaison Office, and moral support from Congressional Black Caucus representatives, who also explained that the caucus had no authority to initiate a congressional investigation.
Champion told the nearly 120 activities that he would study HEW's role in the planned transfer of the hospital facilities and would complete his review by Dec. 14. But he said the final decision on the planned relocation will be made not in Washington, but "in Delaware by local and state planning agencies."
The neighborhood coalition sued the medical center last year to block to proposed shutdown of two of its three major units in Wilmington and construction of a $73.5 million, 800-bed facility in suburban Stanton.
A medical center spokesman said yesterday that the move is necessary to upgrade the hospital's health care delivery. But the activists contend that the plan would leave the center with only 250 beds in Wilmington, impose travel hardships on the poor and elderly, and deprive Wilmington's minority residents of medical care.