Muriel E. Bowser, a Democrat, is mayor of Washington, D.C.
There is nothing more important to my administration than the health and well-being of Washingtonians. Without our health, we cannot live up to our potential as individuals or as a community.
In 2018, the District is one of many places across our nation facing a reality that can no longer be accepted: Despite the best intentions and hard work of decades of leaders, experts and health-care professionals, health outcomes continue to reflect the inequalities and inequities that have plagued our society for centuries.
Here in the District, where we boast one of the highest rates of insured residents in the nation, report after report tells us that our low-income residents and our communities of color have, among other disparities, disproportionately high HIV rates, infant and maternal mortality rates, and cancer death rates.
These disparities are unacceptable. We cannot see them as inevitable or intractable. To give all Washingtonians a fair shot, we can and must do better.
Last year, I announced that we would open a state-of-the-art medical center on the St. Elizabeths campus. This hospital has been a long time coming. While our city is home to some of the best hospitals and specialty-care centers anywhere, our comprehensive health-care centers are concentrated in Northwest. People travel from across the District to these hospitals, but they are least accessible to the residents who face the largest disparities in health outcomes: the residents of Wards 7 and 8. With this new hospital, we can, at the very least, take on this geographical disparity and make access to fully integrated health-care systems easier for thousands of Washingtonians.
Now, I am proud to announce that we have signed a letter of intent with George Washington University Hospital to make it our partner in operating, maintaining and governing the new hospital in Ward 8. While the D.C. government plays a critical role in regulating the delivery of health care to ensure quality and protect patients, the government is not well-suited to be in the business of operating hospitals. GWU Hospital and its parent company make up a financially strong institution whose core mission is to provide the highest-quality health care.
GWU Hospital and its academic and physician partners have a long history of serving residents in Wards 7 and 8. They are the partner our community deserves; and, together, we will build a fully integrated medical network. This is an opportunity for a robust conversation about the health needs of our residents; the hospitals, the specialties and the beds we have; and the gaps that need to be filled.
That said, one thing we know for certain and want to be clear about is that a new hospital east of the river will not single-handedly end the disparities that exist in our city or address all the social determinants that cause poor health outcomes. Instead, this new hospital is part of a larger plan to rethink how we get Washingtonians connected to the care they need when they need it.
We’re not waiting until the new hospital is built to do the important work of transforming how health care in our city is accessed and delivered. In April, we launched Right Care, Right Now, an innovative initiative that connects 911 callers with less serious and non-life-threatening injuries and conditions to primary-care providers near their homes. We also launched My Health GPS, which helps residents with serious and persistent illnesses get the primary and specialty care they need.
Additionally, next month, I am hosting the District’s first Maternal and Infant Health Summit. At this summit, mayors, leaders and health experts from across the nation will come together to discuss best practices in infant and maternal health and to develop a nationwide agenda that addresses the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality experienced by people of color, particularly black women. I invite the community to join us for this important dialogue so that, together, we can do more for women and children in the District.
Understanding and dealing with the disparities in our city — whether those exist in our health outcomes, crime statistics or academic achievement — require us to understand and deal with the social and political factors that got us to where we are. They require a commitment to equity and justice and a belief that a better future is possible.
If I know Washingtonians, I know that we have what it takes to do better.
Together, let’s take a 20th-century health-care system and transform it into a 21st-century system that gives all Washingtonians access to the right care at the right time.