IF YOU REMEMBER the terrible conditions that existed at D.C. General Hospital barely seven years ago, you can appreciate a remarkable and important recovery. From a status only a notch above dungeon back in the days of neglect and mismanagement under the old D.C. Department of Human Resources, the hospital has just received a full accreditation by the national authorities who make such decisions. This climb back to acceptable and accepted medical status illustrates, encouragingly, that a municipal agency can bounce back from the effects of years of administrative inertia and ineptitude.
Today, even those who were among D.C. General's roughest critics generally agree that the care delivered there compares quite favorably with that at most city hospitals in the country. That is not the greatest care in the world, and it always stands in need of improvement. But that can hardly be surprising given the hospital's enormous mission (unmatched by an enormous budget.)
D.C. General is charged with treating all District residents, regardless of ability to pay: alcoholics, abandoned elderly people, anybody without medical coverage--more than 200,000 patients a year--plus those who are sent to its busy emergency room.
Credit for the improvements begins with the D.C. Council in the mid-197Os, when chairman Sterling Tucker and member Polly Shackleton led the campaign to get D.C. General out of city hall's clutches. The hospital's management was shifted to an independent citizen's commission that ever since has been under the energetic leadership of Gilbert Hahn Jr. This group as well as hospital administrator Robert B. Johnson deserve high marks for insisting on administrative improvements. Construction and renovation also have improved the atmosphere.
Another good sign was the dismissal by U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker of a suit filed in 1975 accusing the hospital of maintaining poor facilities. At that time, Judge Parker--whose sustained interest and judicial pressure contributed to the improvements--said the quality of care was "well below any acceptable level . . . Good administration would almost mandate that someone be on top of this."
There is always room for more improvements, including more management authority over finances, personnel rules and other operations that can get bogged down in dealings with other agencies. But at a time when clinics and other neighborhood services are feeling the financial pinch and having to retrench, the existence of a reliable and accredited public hospital is good, if overdue, news.