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Mayor’s plan risks city’s health
(Published March 26, 2001)

It’s becoming clearer — as more closely held details leak out — that the plan-in-progress to privatize the city’s public health-care system was not as carefully thought-out as the public has been led to believe.

After weeks of media reports about a signed contract being imminent (with those reports emanating from the mayor’s administration and the control board staff), we’re now told that the control board has applied the brakes by hiring a second firm to examine the financial health of Greater Southeast Community Hospital and its parent firm, Doctors Community Healthcare Corp.

The control board has been negotiating with Greater Southeast officials to turn over operation of services currently provided by the quasi-public Public Benefit Corp. (PBC) — which operates D.C. General Hospital, its satellite clinics and the public school nurse program.

Public protests against privatizing the public health-care system have crescendoed. And one observer recently noted there are few health-care professionals and advisers, except those being paid to work for Mayor Anthony Williams and the control board, who support the privatization plan.

Originally, the public was told it was imperative to the city’s financial health that this contract had to be consummated, for lack of a viable option, by mid-March in order to avoid having long-troubled D.C. General Hospital run out of operating funds.

Well, the politicians managing this manufactured "crisis" — read that: our "non-political" mayor, our highly paid city health director and the untouchable control board — now tell us that this whole issue is not about money at all. We’re still trying to figure out whose nose has grown the longest in this whole affair, about which the public is hearing far too few details regarding official plans for millions of their tax dollars.

In fact, it’s difficult to figure out how officials are even attaching a cost to some of the health-care services for the uninsured that they intend to contract-out when they claim the PBC’s patient numbers are unreliable. Republican Councilwoman Carol Schwartz has publicly questioned whether the control board is simply sabotaging the city’s future financial health to perpetuate its own existence.

"Transition" money has now been identified to keep the PBC operating through June 30, at the urgent request of PBC Board Chairman Julius Hobson, while the other players seemingly try to figure a graceful way out of this fine mess they stepped into.

Congress erected a roadblock in this whole affair last year by decreeing that the District’s elected officials could no longer use local tax dollars to subsidize the city’s public hospital.

The financial control board, an animal created by Congress in 1995 to essentially slap D.C. taxpayers for re-electing former mayor Marion Barry, is now slated to turn back authority to elected officials on Oct. 1. But it apparently cannot resist the urge to invoke its dictatorial authority one last time to destroy the fledgling PBC. It is the control board and former chief financial officer/now Mayor Williams who have largely prevented the PBC from operating as the public health-care umbrella intended by the D.C. City Council’s legislation that created it at about the same time the control board and the CFO’s office were created by Congress.

D.C. City Council earlier this month unanimously approved a resolution calling on the control board to butt out of this entire debate and allow the democratic "checks and balances" between the executive and legislative branches of the District’s elected government work out the PBC’s problems. The council‘s resolution supported a slimmed-down version of the current PBC as the vehicle to achieve that goal.

The mayor cannot legally sign a multimillion dollar contract giving away the public’s health-care network unless the council directs him to do so. It’s time for the control board to let the people’s elected government decide how to obligate the public’s money.

 

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator