A D.C. Council committee on Wednesday scrapped plans for beginning to fund a new hospital east of the Anacostia River, dealing a blow to a key priority of Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), one of Gray’s most loyal backers, led the effort not to fund the first year of a plan for a $300 million hospital, which the mayor floated a week before he lost the Democratic primary to council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).
The news dealt a blow to Gray’s agenda, and his hope for a legacy in health care, as he winds down his term. Because of the early date of this year’s primary, Gray will serve through an unusually long lame-duck period of nine months, with uncertain consequences for his administration’s agenda and ability to manage the city. The mayor already has lost three top agency heads.
The mayor had called for an initial city investment of almost $24 million beginning in the budget year that starts in October. The new hospital Gray envisioned would have brought a major new medical center to the St. Elizabeths campus and replaced United Medical Center, the city’s long-troubled and only full-service hospital in Southeast Washington.
Gray called for the funding to jump-start the project even though the city had yet to identify partners to develop or operate the hospital. “While a new hospital may be the route to take, this is not the way to get there,” wrote Alexander, chairwoman of the council’s health committee, which voted on its annual budget recommendations Wednesday.
Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), David Grosso (I-At Large), David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) joined Alexander in the unanimous vote. Alexander recommended sending much of the earmark to other capital projects in her district. The committee left placeholder funding for the hospital for the future.
Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro blasted the committee’s decision.
“Building a modern, new facility to replace the aging, outdated hospital there now is the only way to ensure that a hospital remains open on the east end of the District,” Ribeiro said. “The committee’s actions today were ill-advised and unhelpful.”
The full council must approve the decision to kill the hospital funding next month, when full funding of several other Gray priorities also may be at risk.