GW Hospital’s plan to build facility in Ward 8 could be an uphill battle

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Photo courtesy of The GW Hatchet.

By: Davis Kennedy

George Washington University Hospital’s plan to build and operate a new 100 to 125-bed hospital on the St. Elizabeths campus in Ward 8 follow a problem that plagued health service history for Ward 7 and 8 areas.

“The new facility,” City Administrator Rashad Young said, “will be fully integrated with the GW Hospital network of care and its affiliated faculty practice plan.”

“GW Hospital and its academic and physician partners have a long history of serving residents in Wards 7 and 8. With this partnership, we will once and for all create a self-sustaining, state-of-the-art hospital that provides residents with the care they need and deserve.”

GW Hospital is 80 percent owned by the publicly traded Universal Health Services, which is headquartered in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, according to Susan Griffiths, the hospital’s assistant marketing director. United Health Services manages more than 350 hospitals nationwide.

Furthermore, the other 20 percent is owned by the university. According to PR Newswire, the reported net income attributable to Universal Health Services in 2017 was $752.3 million, or $7.81 per diluted share.

Back in 2014 when Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray was the District’s mayor, he put $336 million in the proposed city budget to fully fund a new hospital with 150-200 beds. This hospital was going to replace the 50-year-old United Medical Center building.

The plan was for it to open in 2019. The City Council did not approve the funding. And they specified that any available capital funding was to be used to renovate the existing United Medical Center structure.

Last year, Gray worked with Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh and Council Chair Phil Mendelson to establish a $300 million capital project to build a new hospital. And the Council mandated that it was to be located on the St. Elizabeths campus.

Meanwhile, Jeff DeWitt, the District’s chief financial officer, declared Veritas, which had a sole source contract to operate United Medical Center in Ward 7, was “functionally bankrupt” following three potentially preventable patient deaths.

When the United Medical Center board eliminated obstetrical services, Gray called for an acceleration of efforts to select a permanent partner and to open a new hospital “no later” than the end of 2021.

Gray, who heads the Council’s health committee, called the letter of intent with George Washington “a welcome announcement.” But he said the 100-125 inpatient beds are “too small”.

“Hospital officials emphasized that 150-200 beds is the ideal size for a full-service hospital to function at its optimal level,” he explained.

Health officials told The Current Newspapers that in recent years many hospital services are available through video conferencing. So, some patients are able to be served at home by specialists. Thus, some hospital authorities believe smaller hospitals are the key to the future.

Gray noted in a news release that “ownership of the hospital building is not specified in the letter of intent. If the District is contributing $300 million in capital funding to construction of this new hospital, it should maintain ownership of the land and the new hospital building.” Negotiations are underway between the hospital and the city government on this and several other questions. There is a possibility no city funds will be used.

Under the proposal, GW Hospital would be fully responsible for the operation and management of the hospital. Gray called GW Hospital “a world-class hospital operation.”

But according to his news release, Gray said, “detailed performance measures should be negotiated regarding the scope and quality of services provided. In the hopefully unlikely event that these performance measures are not met, the District could select new hospital management. This allows the District to fulfill its commitment to be in a position of assuring there will be a safety net available to residents.”

There is a good chance, according to a health department source, that GW Hospital, through Universal Health Services, will finance the building that would not be appropriate for the District to select new hospital management under any conditions.

Among the planned services are orthopedics, neonatology, general medicine, behavioral health, neuroscience, nephrology/urology general surgery, pulmonary, a newborn nursery, and non-high-risk obstetric services. Once negotiations are complete, there could be some changes in what is offered.

Gray also complained that the timetable for opening the hospital is “at least one to two years too long.”

“The District needs to show the same all-hands-on-deck urgency that it demonstrated to perform the site work and construction to build the Nationals baseball stadium.”

A District health department official, who asked not to be named, pointed out that a road to the proposed site would have to be built. The source also said sewer lines, cyber infrastructure, a large garage for the hospital, and other new area facilities are needed. A homeless shelter is planned for a neighboring site.

Gray mentioned the letter of intent calls for an agreement to be finalized for City Council review by December 31, 2018. Given the “abbreviated timeline,” he called for the working group to establish the agreement to include representation for the City Council, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and the Office of the Attorney General “to ensure it can be adopted quickly upon submission to the Council.” Attempts to reach a spokesperson for United Medical Center were unsuccessful.