GW and UHS unveil plans for new hospital

GW will cut the ribbon on a $96 million state-of-the-art hospital in 2001, University and medical center officials announced Thursday.

The 400,000 square foot hospital will be constructed across 23rd street from the existing facility, which has stood in Foggy Bottom since 1948.

hospital Officials said they hope it will be the most modern hospital in the District, boasting a comprehensive women’s health center, an expanded emergency room and private rooms with bathrooms for all patients.

GW Hospital CEO Philip Schaengold said GW officials hope to break ground on the new building by the end of 1998, pending the approval of the State Health Planning and Development Agency and the city’s zoning board.

“The prospect of a new GW Hospital is truly an exciting development,” GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg told an auditorium packed with hospital personnel. “This announcement should be embraced by anyone who cares about the future of the District of Columbia.”

The announcement is the first major move by the medical center since GW sold an 80 percent stake in the facility to a for-profit hospital chain six months ago.

Last April, GW agreed to a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services Inc., the third largest for-profit hospital management chain in the nation.

As part of the $125 million partnership agreement, Universal pledged to pour money into upgrading GW’s aging facilities.

John Williams, GW’s vice president for medical affairs, said Universal will contribute about $80 million of the funding for the new hospital, and the GW-UHS partnership will pitch in another $16 million.

The project will generate no debt, Schaengold told The Washington Post last week.

Renovating the existing facility was a possibility when Universal came on board last spring, but Trachtenberg said building a new hospital proved to be a more financially sound decision.

“It was going to cost pretty near $80 or $90 million to give the old hospital a facelift, and then all you’d have is an old hospital with a facelift,” Trachtenberg said. “But we realized we could spend $96 or $100 million on a new hospital and we’d have a new hospital.”

Trachtenberg said it remains unclear what will happen to the current hospital once the new facility opens its doors in January 2001.

“It’s not clear if we’ll renovate the old facility, tear it down and rebuild it, use it for commercial purposes, use it for academic purposes. I simply don’t know,” Trachtenberg said.

The new facility will be licensed for 400 beds, down from about 500 in the current facility. The decrease in beds is in line with a trend across the District – the number of acute-care beds in the city fell from about 4,000 in 1994 to 3,100 in 1997, D.C. Hospital Association Senior Vice President Joan Lewis said.

But the District’s hospitals have a high vacancy rate – meaning many beds in the city’s hospitals stand empty – and GW officials said a state-of-the-art facility could draw patients who previously have gone to the suburbs for health care.

Nearly half of GW Hospital’s patients came from outside the city in 1997, according to figures from the medical center’s office of public relations.

“With the substantial vacancy rate in the District, we need this kind of facility,” UHS CEO Alan B. Miller said. “It will help us keep a lot of patients who have gone elsewhere because of a lack of these kind of facilities in the city.”

GW and Universal officials said the new hospital will continue the three-fold mission of education, research and quality care, but they emphasized the modern facility will include many new features that will make it stand out among District hospitals.

In the existing facility, 80 percent of patient rooms accommodate more than one patient, but all patient rooms in the new building will be private, and each will have a private bathroom with a shower.

“Private rooms mean we can provide a universal treatment for all patients,” said Donald Pyskacek, Universal’s assistant vice president of design, construction and facilities.

An entire floor of the facility will be dedicated to a comprehensive women’s health center – an area of care that has been a priority at many of Universal’s 70 health care facilities nationwide.

Included in the women’s center will be private rooms where mothers can stay during all phases of childbirth – labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum. The rooms – called “LDRP rooms” by hospital insiders – also will be large enough to accommodate family members during the birthing process.

The focus on women’s health comes after GW and UHS unsuccessfully proposed to purchase the financially struggling Columbia Hospital for Women, hoping to incorporate the nearby hospital’s neonatal and maternity services into GW’s facilities.

But Columbia’s board of directors unanimously rejected the partnership offer.

UHS and GW officials said at the time, however, that plans were in the works to further develop women’s health services.

“In the end, there will be a new facility for women’s health at GW,” UHS Vice President for Development Richard C. Wright told The GW Hatchet in October.

Schaengold insisted the new hospital will not be only “a maternity facility,” but the concentration on women’s health represents another prong in the medical center’s plan to attract patients who might previously have gone elsewhere for care.

The new hospital will feature computerized records, a system that will allow physicians to access patient charts from terminals throughout the building.

Michael Servais, senior vice president at Universal, said expanded emergency facilities will be another advantage to the new building, a remark that produced cheers from the physicians and nurses gathered for the announcement.

GW’s emergency department notched almost 43,000 visits in 1997, and the existing facilities often are cramped and overcrowded.

GW officials said the new hospital will fill the same niche as the existing facility – to treat patients from U.S. presidents and foreign heads of state to the city’s lower-income residents and homeless population.

To ensure regulatory approval from the District for its partnership with Universal, GW pledged last spring to maintain for five years the same level of charity care it had averaged in its last two years as a not-for-profit health care provider.

Lewis said District hospitals face high levels of uncompensated care at a time when 20 percent of the city’s population are uninsured. She said the problem will escalate as the cost of health care shoots up because the number of insured patients decreases as costs rise.

“It’s important for hospitals to go back and look at why they went into the business,” Lewis said. “To be successful, you have to have a clear perspective of who your community is.”

Trachtenberg said the prospect of a new hospital is the next step in GW Hospital’s century-and-a-half-old commitment to health care in the District.

In 1844, physicians treated patients at the Washington Infirmary, a former poorhouse and jail that became the first general hospital in the nation’s capital.

Fifty years later, the Columbian University Hospital opened in a former prep school at 13th and H streets. The existing Foggy Bottom facility was dedicated in 1948, the largest private building in the District when it was built.

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