The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Negotiations on a new hospital in Southeast Washington have been suspended. Good.

The campus of United Medical Center in Washington in 2017.
The campus of United Medical Center in Washington in 2017. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

GEORGE WASHINGTON University’s suspension of negotiations with the District to manage a new hospital in Southeast Washington may send the city back to the drawing board. That should be welcomed. Little thinking went into the politically driven decision to build a costly new hospital at taxpayer expense. Officials should examine whether there are more effective ways to address health needs of underserved residents east of the river.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration had reached a tentative agreement with GWU Hospital for the city to build a $300 million hospital in Ward 8, replacing long-troubled United Medical Center, that would be managed and operated by GWU Hospital. The partnership was upended last week when the D.C. Council imposed new conditions — notably requiring the new hospital to honor union contracts and hire health-care workers from United Medical Center — that GWU Hospital said made its “continued participation potentially impossible.” What happens next is unclear.

The council’s sabotage of the effort by Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) to speed completion of the Southeast hospital, which the council supports, was a stunning example of its increasing disconnect from any kind of common sense. That it thought it reasonable to dictate to GWU Hospital whom it could hire and under what terms underscored its ignorance — or utter disregard — of the realities of running a business in the city.

Nonetheless, taxpayers should thank the council for its ineptness. Vulnerable populations in Wards 7 and 8 do have urgent health needs, but a $300 million hospital is more aimed at meeting political needs. Across the country, traditional inpatient facilities are making way for outpatient clinics, free-standing emergency rooms, same-day surgery centers and other modes of health-care delivery. Imagine what could be achieved if that $300 million were dedicated to preventive care, enhanced maternity and infant health programs, improved mental-health services and other programs that have shown to be successful elsewhere.

Construction of a state-of-the-art hospital complex is underway in Largo in Prince George’s County, not far from Wards 7 and 8. The failure of the Wilson Building to explore a regional partnership that could help meet the acute-care needs of Southeast residents is emblematic of the tunnel vision that has propelled the bid for a new hospital. It is time for the mayor and council to open their eyes to other — and better — alternatives.

Read more:

The Post’s View: D.C., don’t blow $300 million on a hospital just yet

The Post’s View: Should D.C. build a new hospital? Officials should be cautious.

Muriel E. Bowser: George Washington University Hospital will bring a health system to Wards 7 and 8