GW Hospital must focus on Southeast health center

Over the past several months, the community has been split on a contentious plan to create a new bed tower at GW Hospital and a new health care facility in Southeast D.C.

Community members, the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission and the D.C. Council have all gotten involved. The issue has become exceedingly complex, but both projects are important as they affect the lives of students.

GW Hospital agreed in August to partner with the District to create a new hospital that will serve Wards 7 and 8 on the St. Elizabeths East campus. The hospital was planned to open in 2023 and would be staffed by GW Hospital employees. In tandem with the new hospital, GW Hospital was set to construct a new tower with 270 extra beds to alleviate crowding and there have been attempts from the GW Hospital and D.C. Council to expedite the time it would take to construct the project, neighborhood residents and the ANC were adamantly opposed. Much of the opposition of the expedited services had to do with the extra noise and traffic that would fill Foggy Bottom during construction.

Last week, the D.C. Council shelved the bill after passing four amendments to it. The amendments scaled back the tower’s size, prioritized constructing the hospital in Southeast D.C., protected employees’ jobs and created a partnership between the GW and Howard University hospitals. But GW Hospital suspended negotiations with the District to build and run the East End facility, after telling the city that the amendments from the D.C. Council “have made our continued participation potentially impossible and placed this project in jeopardy,” according to The Washington Post.

The move to construct a new hospital in Southeast D.C. will benefit the population in an area of the city that needs it the most. Building the facility in a region of D.C. that need quality care must be GW Hospital’s biggest priority and they can not let small parts of the agreement prevent it from serving the community.

D.C. has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country. The closing of maternity wards in two different hospitals do not make the odds any better for expectant mothers.

Although adding more beds to GW Hospital via the tower would enable more patients to be served, it has become increasingly clear that the area that needs more support is not Foggy Bottom.

Although United Medical Center currently serves many Southeast residents, the health center has been plagued with issues including a questionable death in the facility’s nursing home and the suspension of the hospital’s baby delivery services.

In one of the poorest areas of the city, infant and maternal mortality rates are much higher than the rest of the District. This illustrates the greater need for a permanent solution. Without proper medical care for pregnant mothers, which United Medical Center cannot currently provide, this health crisis will continue to disproportionately affect the District’s poorest residents.

Shuttling residents who don’t live near Foggy Bottom to GW Hospital to alleviate the issues with United Medical Center is not a permanent fix – it just puts a Band-Aid on a worsening wound.

While GW should focus on the new hospital location, eventually the bed tower should be approved. Residents of Foggy Bottom, including students, might worry that an expansion to the hospital will increase noise and ambulance traffic. But those concerns are minimal in comparison to the concerns of people living without emergency medical services.

The GW Hospital expansion to Southeast D.C. is urgently needed to alleviate the health crisis in the poorest part of the city. Without a fully functional hospital, residents in Southeast will continue facing longer wait times, less access to primary care doctors and other racial and socioeconomic disparities in health care. Building this hospital should be a priority for the city and GW. If the University wants to expand the Foggy Bottom hospital, it must not use this public health emergency as the reason for doing so. Building this hospital will positively affect more people than building or not building another tower on the GW Hospital. GW, the city and its residents need to understand this and fix their priorities accordingly.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Margot Dynes.

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