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Save D.C. General
(Published August 28, 2000)

What is the value of a human life?

We aren’t hearing anybody – foremost, the people who are charged with public decision-making – ask that question in relation to the future of D.C. General Hospital, this city’s only full-service public health care institution.

We should.

What we’re hearing is the jargon of business – not government. Deficits, cost-cutting, service reductions, layoffs. That those terms have become so common in government parlance means our government leaders have lost sight of their purpose. Good government is supposed to carry a cost – which is why we have taxes in the first place.

What’s being forgotten in the mix is why D.C. General exists – to help protect the public’s health and safety. This goes to the essence of what government is supposed to be all about. The measure of good government is how well it cares for society’s least fortunate – those who cannot care for themselves.

What the disingenuous efforts to preserve the District’s public hospital starkly show is how callous the people who control our public purse strings have become. The current proposal to decimate patient care services at D.C. General is akin to destroying villages in Vietnam to save them. It is a ludicrous approach to saving D.C. General and the city’s health care "safety net."

Clearly, saving money means more to some people than saving lives.

Only weeks ago, our government leaders had no problem finding $12 million to pour into fixing roads so that our cars can stay healthy. They talk about spending millions more on a new building to house the Department of Motor Vehicles on Georgia Avenue. Safe roads and efficient services are certainly worthy and legitimate government pursuits. But are streets and automobiles more important to our political leaders than human lives? Apparently so.

Why are our political leaders standing on the sidelines, watching D.C. General die? We hear no definitive statements from the mayor or city council members asserting that our public hospital must be preserved. D.C. voters should take note.

What we hear is a lot of political rhetoric demonizing D.C. General’s former chief executive officer, John Fairman, who managed to achieve a small surplus operating the city’s long-troubled hospital for three years prior to the creation of the quasi-independent Public Benefit Corp. (PBC) to run it.

The public is hearing little factual information. We have to wonder why the fate of D.C. General is being treated by other news media as though it’s a personality battle rather than a dead serious issue of public policy concerning the city’s poorest residents.

Among the overlooked facts:

Meanwhile, instead of exercising leadership, the politicians are sitting back and waiting – paying yet another set of so-called "expert" consultants from out of town to tell us what we should do with our public institutions. Along with firing CEO Fairman, the newly constituted PBC Board of Directors – with five of its 12 members recently replaced by Mayor Williams – has placed control of D.C. General’s finances in the hands of consultant Cambio Health Solutions.

It doesn’t take expensive health care consultants to decide whether D.C. General can or should be saved. All it takes is the political will to save a full-service public hospital and build it into the premier health-care institution that the public deserves for its tax dollars – because it is the right thing for our government to do.

Copyright © 2000 The Common Denominator