D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), center, ceremonially breaks ground, along with executes from Universal Health Services, George Washington University, Children's National Hospital, and other honored guests and politicians at the name reveal of the new hospital. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

A hospital slated to rise east of the Anacostia River takes its name from the nearby estate of abolitionist Frederick Douglass: Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center, GW Health.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and health-care leaders on Thursday broke ground on the city-funded $375 million, 136-bed facility and unveiled the nod to Cedar Hill, a national historic site less than two miles from the campus, as part of a mission to target health disparities in the surrounding underserved, predominantly Black communities.

“There are a lot of people here who know what this means for Washingtonians and particularly people who live east of the river,” Bowser said, as she stood in front of a giant rendering of the hospital and earth-moving equipment.

City officials who have been pushing for years to build the hospital celebrated the start of construction, which is expected to take about three years.

“I plan to come and cut the ribbon as mayor,” Bowser said.

Vincent C. Gray, a member of the D.C. Council and a former mayor of the District, joked about the bureaucratic hurdles the project had to overcome and trumpeted the two urgent care centers that will be built with the hospital.

“We can probably smile at this point because, boy, did we have some tough days,” he said.

Wayne Turnage, D.C. deputy mayor for health and human services, called the start of construction of Cedar Hill “a seminal watershed moment in health care for the residents of Wards 7 and 8.”

“There can be no more appropriate name for this hospital than one that embraces not just the life of Frederick Douglass but the struggle poor Black people have had since we were dragged through the streets in chains,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Douglass descendant Kenneth B. Morris Jr. spoke at the event and thanked Bowser for honoring the iconic abolitionist and the women who helped preserve Cedar Hill.

The new hospital, set to open in late 2024, will replace United Medical Center, the public hospital beset by financial problems and mismanagement for decades. The lack of access to adequate services, including obstetrics care, has contributed to the disproportionately high mortality rates and poor health outcomes highlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic, Turnage said. He stressed that UMC will not close until Cedar Hill is open.

City regulators shut down United Medical Center’s obstetrics ward in 2017 after discovering the hospital’s staff made dangerous mistakes with multiple pregnant women and newborns. A 47-year-old AIDS patient died that year after being ignored by his nurse while he was shouting for help.

At a troubled D.C. hospital, fewer patients and looming cuts in funding, services

“Over the years, the residents of Wards 7 and 8 have paid the price of a public hospital run by a government,” Turnage said. “Without question, the lack of convenient access to the care they need to address their health conditions has been a major factor in perpetuating these major health inequities for these residents.”

Universal Health Services, which runs George Washington University Hospital, will operate Cedar Hill at St. Elizabeths East campus for 75 years and contribute $75 million over 10 years, Turnage said.

Kimberly Russo, vice president of the D.C. region for Universal Health Services and chief executive officer of GW Hospital in Foggy Bottom, said the health system will work to reverse long-standing inequities.

“This is simply unacceptable,” she said at the event. “We must do better and together we will.”

Physicians and graduate medical students from George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates and George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Children’s National Hospital and community physicians will provide care to patients.

In addition to the inpatient facility, the first to open in D.C. in more than 20 years, the hospital will have an ambulatory pavilion for physician offices, clinics and community space, a 500-car garage and a helipad for emergency transports, according to the mayor’s office.

“This is the start of a new chapter for health care in Washington, D.C., especially for our neighborhoods east of the river,” Bowser said in a statement. “And I hope the message we’re sending is loud and clear: while D.C. Government is rightfully getting out of the business of running a hospital, we are fully present at St. Elizabeths East and fully committed to all the Washingtonians who will come to the Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center GW Health to get world-class care.”

Children’s National, which serves 30,000 children in the pediatric emergency department at United Medical Center, will move its operation to Cedar Hill.

The D.C. pediatric hospital, where the neonatology program is ranked first in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, will also operate a six-bed neonatal intensive care unit at the new hospital. Officials expect more than 2,500 babies to be delivered at the new hospital in its first year.

At the event, Kurt Newman, president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, quoted Douglass, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

The adult emergency department, which will not have the volume to support a Level 1 trauma center, will be equipped to handle 90 percent of severe trauma cases as a Level 3 trauma center, including gunshot wounds, stab wounds, car accidents and head trauma, Turnage said.

Sixteen inpatient beds will be designated to treat voluntary and involuntary behavioral health patients. The campus will feature outpatient services, including physical therapy, dialysis and chemotherapy, and specialty offices for orthopedic, liver, heart, kidney, brain, bones and joint care, according to the mayor’s office.

“It has the potential and the promise to radically change a community in so many ways that can be sustaining and uplifting for so many residents,” Turnage said.