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Another secret hospital deal?
(Published October 17, 2005)

Politics, rather than lack of need, closed the city's only public hospital more than four years ago. While many people especially those involved in making that egregiously wrong decision would like to sweep that fact under the rug as a moot point, it is highly relevant to the current debate over building a proposed $400 million National Capital Medical Center.

Closing D.C. General was an action that starkly revealed an elite, ruling attitude that remains among many of the District's elected leaders and political appointees. The people's representatives chose to ignore almost universal opposition by residents and the local medical community, as well as common sense, when they shuttered the hospital. And much of the detail about how and why the public's representatives reached this life-and-death decision in the public's name remains unknown and undiscussed in public forums.

What did the public see in the aftermath, even before the dust settled?

More than $100,000 in campaign contributions flooded into Mayor Anthony A. Williams' campaign treasury from the very people who stood to gain by D.C. General's closing.

More than $11 million in public property housed at D.C. General was removed without proper public accounting of its disposition.

To this day, rampant rumors remain in the community about alleged intentional misappropriation of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements from the federal government that had they been properly accounted for would have shown the public hospital's books to be in the black.

Yet, no one in a position of government authority seems to care to investigate what went on.

Given all of the questions that remain in the community over that secretive deal, the Williams administration and D.C. City Council are repeating the same mistake in judgment by shutting the public out of negotiations with Howard University over building a new publicly financed hospital on the D.C. General grounds.

How can this secrecy be justified? There are no competing parties, who might jack up the price of the deal if its parameters were known. If Howard University, or any other private entity, wants to do business with the public, the public deserves to be at the table when the deal is struck.

Too often in this city, as the mayor's bad deal over building a baseball stadium shows, the public gets brought in only after government officials have made their private deal and are ready to sell its "virtues" to an unsuspecting public that knows little, if anything, about the real deal.

Does the District need another hospital serving its east side residents? Most certainly, it does. Due to poor health care planning decisions that allowed too many hospitals to be concentrated in Northwest Washington, much of the city's first-rate emergency and in-patient care is located too far away from the bulk of the population most in need.

But many community members are raising serious questions about whether the current National Capital Medical Center proposal stretches Howard University's resources too far, potentially crippling the university's current hospital, which is sorely needed right where it is located.

The public needs its questions answered now before a final deal is struck. If government officials' deals can't stand up under intense public scrutiny, they shouldn't be made.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator