Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off construction of a long-awaited Southeast D.C. medical care facility staffed by GW’s medical enterprise at a ceremony held alongside top University officials Thursday.
Bowser announced the facility will be named Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center, a reference to the D.C. estate of abolitionist Frederick Douglass located a short drive away from the hospital in Anacostia. The facility, set to open in 2024 at St. Elizabeth’s East campus, will be operated by the GW Hospital’s majority owner, Universal Health Services, and is the first trauma center constructed east of the Anacostia River.
“We are honoring an iconic Washingtonian, but we’re not just honoring one person,” Bowser said at the ceremony. “We are honoring all the people who have fought to preserve his legacy and tell his story. We are honoring the family and generations of women, Black women in particular, who persisted, persevered and eventually succeeded in preserving the Douglass family home.”
D.C. Council members Vincent Gray of Ward 7 and Trayon White of Ward 8, interim University President Mark Wrighton and GW Hospital CEO Kimberly Russo, who represented UHS, all spoke at Thursday’s ceremony. Former University President Thomas LeBlanc, who led GW during the project’s negotiations, was also in attendance for the ground-breaking ceremony.
Health care disparities have long affected Southeast D.C. residents, who are majority Black, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials who spoke at the ceremony said they hope the addition of the new facility will be the first step in addressing inadequate access to health care in eastern parts of the District.
“I just want to thank you for being dedicated because there’s hundreds of thousands of people that’s going to benefit from this quality health care system right here in Ward 8,” White said.
The ceremony marks the culmination of years of debate surrounding the need for a hospital in Anacostia after Bowser announced plans for a new facility in 2018. Officials halted original negotiations after receiving backlash from Foggy Bottom community members and Howard University, which submitted a proposal with Sibley Memorial Hospital to operate the facility before GW was chosen, voicing frustration with its diminished role in the process.
“I am extremely proud that today we will break ground on the next premier hospital in the District of Columbia right here at St. Elizabeth’s,” Bowser said.
Bowser announced a new agreement in 2020 to build the St. Elizabeth’s facility in addition to a hospital run by Howard in Ward 1.
Russo, GW Hospital’s CEO and UHS’ group vice president for the D.C. region, said Southeast D.C. residents have received insufficient healthcare for “too long.”
“Far too long, residencies for the Anacostia River have had inadequate access to important health care services, resulting in health care inequity and lower health care outcomes,” Russo said. “This is simply unacceptable, and we must do better. And together, we will.”
Wrighton thanked LeBlanc, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Mark Diaz and Barbara Bass, the CEO of the Medical Faculty Associates and dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, for their contributions to the project.
“We have a great team, and we have many outstanding members of our faculty,” Wrighton said. “Those medical clinicians are going to make important contributions to the well being of our entire community.”
Bowser said she met Wrighton in person for the first time before the ceremony on Thursday.
“I had the opportunity to meet with him virtually and in person today for the first time in person,” Bowser said. “He clearly understands GW’s huge role in the District, and I look forward to getting to know him and his vision for the University a little bit more.”
This article appeared in the February 17, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.