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Capitol Hill briefing on PBC decries privatization

(Published March 26, 2001)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER and PATRICE DICKENS

Staff Writers

U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and a leading advocate of universal public health care, has weighed in with support for maintaining D.C. General Hospital as a public entity by providing a Capitol Hill forum for opponents of its privatization.

Over reported objections by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Detroit Democrat hosted a public briefing March 22 at the Rayburn House Office Building, entitled "National Public Hospital Safety Net in Crisis: D.C. General Hospital in Focus."

Norton did not attend the briefing and her press secretary did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment. Norton was criticized during the briefing for her public silence on the proposed privatization of the Public Benefit Corp., which operates D.C. General, six neighborhood health clinics and the public school health program.

A congressional ban imposed last year on the D.C. government’s continued subsidization of D.C. General to cover budget shortfalls precipitated the city’s current funding "crisis" for its public health-care system.

"The District’s delegate to Congress once championed the cause of civil rights for all – your constituents are looking for you to step up to the plate and say, ‘Stop this!’ Will you help us, please?" implored D.C. General registered nurse Charlene Gordon.

Lynne Fagnani, vice president of the D.C.-based National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (NAPH), said D.C. General is not alone among urban safety-net hospitals in "facing serious challenges to their existence." But she said the District’s public hospital provides care to more uninsured and underinsured persons than most of the more than 100 other large urban hospitals her association represents.

""Unlike other safety net hospitals around the country however, D.C. General’s reimbursement from Medicaid and local government falls far short of this level of need," Fagnani said. "Local subsidy and Medicaid DSH cover half the level of uncompensated costs borne by D.C. General as these sources of financing cover for NAPH member hospitals around the country."

She said it is "unlikely that any other provider of care in this city would be able to meet these financial burdens with the level of resources that the District has provided D.C. General."

Conyers and the Democrats’ Congressional Universal Health Care Task Force he chairs are proposing the "Working American Families Health Insurance Act of 2001" to provide greater access to health care for individuals and families. The proposal also addresses the strengthening of public safety net hospitals located in inner cities, such as D.C. General.

Among others offering support for D.C. General’s maintenance as a public hospital during the briefing was Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general. In a written statement, Elders said closing the public hospital in the nation’s capital "contradicts national health goals, and common sense."

"D.C. General Hospital – a hospital that has long served the inner city urban population of the District, a hospital that serves the uninsured, a hospital that serves a minority community – is exactly a hospital we would not want to close if we are serious about these national health objectives, and national concerns," she said.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator