A new health care center that will offer specialty medical services is set to open in the heart of the District’s Ward 7, an effort to address needs in a part of the city that has long battled disparities in health and medical care.
The center, a collaboration of Unity Health Care and Howard University Hospital, is set to open in January. It will host primary care doctors and those who specialize in providing badly-needed services like prenatal care, mental-health care and addiction treatment.
“It’s almost like a specialty desert,” said Vincent A. Keane, Unity Health Care’s chief executive, referring to the lack of health-care facilities in Ward 7. “This is an attempt to respond to that.”
The need east of the Anacostia River is clear: Wards 7 and 8 have the city’s highest rates of infant mortality and the lowest access to mental health professionals, a health department report shows.
Last year, Providence Hospital in Northeast closed its maternity ward and regulators shut down the maternity ward and nursery at the city-owned United Medical Center in Southeast after an investigation found the hospital mismanaged the care of a pregnant woman who died shortly after being admitted.
The closures left expectant mothers — especially those most at-risk — with few accessible care options.
“When you look at some of the conditions that people experience on this side of the river, it is really unconscionable,” D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) said at a news conference announcing the center.
Howard University president Wayne A.I. Frederick called the effort “a significant investment in closing the gap.”
The health care facilities will occupy two floors in the Conway Center on Benning Road NE, a mixed-use development built by the nonprofit So Others Might Eat that also offers affordable housing and job training programs. Obstetricians at the center will be trained to work with high-risk patients. Being in the same building will make comprehensive care easier, officials said.
“When people come to us, they don’t come to us with a medical problem,” said Janelle Goetcheus, chief medical officer at Unity Health Care. “They come to us with all the social circumstances that impact their lives.”