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New CEO: Maintain full-service D.C. General

(Published November 20, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

D.C. General Hospital’s newly hired administrator has proposed a sweeping overhaul of the financially troubled institution that would keep a full-service hospital at the site by creating a partnership with various federal and private entities to provide health care services to city residents.

But the board of directors of the Public Benefit Corp. -- which oversees D.C. General, the city’s public health clinics and the school nurses program -- warned that unless the city council acts quickly, financial pressures may force the hospital to close Jan. 15.

PBC Chief Executive Officer Michael M. Barch, who took the reins of the health care system at the beginning of November, is proposing an "Urban Health Campus on Capitol Hill" that would include building a new, modern hospital to replace the aging facility. The new medical campus would include long-term acute care, mental health and substance abuse centers.

Barch’s proposal also would merge the eight community clinics with Unity Health to provide primary and managed care in the District’s neighborhoods.

The new CEO’s proposal is a stark contrast to the plan put forward by the mayor’s administration, which wants to close D.C. General and replace it with an "emergency stabilization and access center" that would not be able to treat patients for longer than 23 hours. Almost all of the functions and services currently provided by D.C. General, including trauma services, would be eliminated under the mayor’s plan, and patients seeking those types of treatments would be referred to other private hospitals in the city.

The PBC has run up debts of $109 million in the past three years and earned the ire of Congress, which forbade it this year from borrowing any money from the D.C. government to cover its operating shortfalls.

The financial situation at PBC was used by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to persuade Congress to free the D.C. budget from political wrangling over the still incomplete federal budget. Congress passed the city’s budget bill by unanimous consent Nov. 14, which will allow city officials to finally begin spending local tax dollars that were budgeted for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The city council must now quickly pass a supplemental appropriation bill to fund D.C. General or it will run out of money in the middle of January, the PBC board warned. Earlier this year, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Ghandi warned that the city’s only public hospital would run out of money in March, but cash shortfalls have increased and the hospital is projected to eat through its full budget in January.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator