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Children’s National staff to provide pediatric care at new D.C. hospital

Children’s National’s staff will provide pediatric care at the city’s new hospital, leaders plan to announce Wednesday, a development in the effort to bring extensive hospital-based care for children back to Wards 7 and 8.

The $375 million full-service hospital at St. Elizabeths East, which is set to open in 2024, will include 24 pediatric emergency rooms, city and hospital officials said. Twelve of those rooms will be delivery beds, with six for regular deliveries and six for neonatal intensive care.

“Children’s was selected because they are one of the premier providers for pediatric care in the country and there are no needs that would surface in the East End that they cannot handle as a part of their normal pediatric care,” said Wayne Turnage, D.C. deputy mayor for health and human services. “They’re one of the best in the country.”

City and hospital officials are working to finalize a contract with George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates to provide maternal care at the hospital, including the delivery of babies, Turnage said.

The opening of the new hospital will mark the first time since 2017 that people who live east of the Anacostia River will have access to a facility where they can give birth and receive neonatal care outside of emergencies. 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.

The bulk of people who live east of the river seeking maternal care currently travel to Washington Hospital Center, Turnage said. And those residents travel all over the city, including to Children’s, for pediatric care.

“This agreement is going to change the health care landscape for moms, babies, and families not only in Ward 8, but across DC,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a statement.

The announcement of the letter of intent for Children’s National to operate pediatric care comes on the first day of Bowser’s fourth annual maternal health summit. District residents can attend the summit in person at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Wednesday, and virtually on Thursday.

The summit came to be in part because of the city’s high maternal and infant mortality rates. The maternal mortality rate in D.C. was 35.6 per 100,000 live births in 2019, compared with 29.6 nationally, according to the latest data available from the United Health Foundation, which has been tracking these figures for more than 30 years. And the rate for Black people was almost double that: 71 deaths per 100,000 live births in D.C., compared with 63.8 nationally.

The city’s dire maternal and infant mortality rates are caused in part by the prevalence of undiagnosed chronic underlying conditions and people’s low comfort levels with providers, said Lisa Fitzpatrick, the founder of Grapevine Health, a health literacy organization.

She recently interviewed pregnant women and providers in D.C. Some women told her they felt disrespected by their providers, or felt that the information they received was not useful. The providers told her they were diagnosing chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, during visits because some of the pregnant people didn’t have primary care doctors.

“That sets them up for poor health outcomes if they have untreated health conditions, and they’re getting pregnant,” Fitzpatrick said. “How do we provide the preventive services people need before they get pregnant, or identify them early enough in their pregnancy so that we can help get them through a healthy pregnancy?”

City and hospital officials hope that the new hospital will be one avenue to achieve that. But advocates hope that the hospital will employ people with a rich knowledge of the community, which will make residents more comfortable going in for help.

The D.C. Nurses Association, which represented many nurses providing maternal and pediatric care at United Medical Center, hopes that some of the people who were laid off when the hospital stopped providing that care outside of emergency situations will find employment at the new hospital.

“We do hope that they will consider those who have done the work for years,” said Wala Blegay, a staff attorney for the D.C. Nurses Association. She noted that one of the women who was laid off, for example, lived in Southeast and had worked in the community for over 30 years. “Somebody like that should be brought back immediately, without question,” she said.

Those interested in working at the new hospital will have to apply like any other new applicant, Turnage said.

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