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Q&A: Vince Gray on why a new hospital needs to be built at St. E’s

Posted on Thursday, March 23, 2017
This week, D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray, D-Ward 7, raised the stakes in the standing question about what to do about the struggling District-owned United Medical Center.
This week, D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray, D-Ward 7, raised the stakes in the standing question about what to do about the struggling District-owned United Medical Center.

webmayorgray 1114201214Councilman Vincent Gray is pushing to build a replacement hospital for United Medical Center on the St. Elizabeths campus.
The former mayor introduced legislation on Tuesday that would require the city create a new hospital, urgent care center and ambulatory care clinic on the campus of the fast-developing St. Elizabeths campus. The bills would turn the 21-acre UMC site into a new space for retail and grocery options and require the city to put aside future surplus funds to pay for the project.

"This isn't just about a hospital to me. It's really trying to find a way to create a real health care system on the east end of the city and this hospital can be a catalyst for helping to do this," Gray said.

However, he's wading into tricky political territory as he challenges Mayor Muriel Bowser's ongoing work to assess the feasibility of building a replacement hospital east of the Anacostia River. I caught up with Gray recently to ask him about why he's pursing the legislation and the challenges it faces:

What convinced you a hospital in Southeast would be financially feasible? We've got a payor mix there that's not broad, I understand that. But we've got a payor mix through Medicaid and Medicare that I think will allow us to make these services available to people and I think if we create a first-class community hospital and a set of clinics like an urgent care center and an ambulatory care center, I think actually it will broaden the number of people who use services at the east end. I don't think residents in Wards 7 and 8 want to go to Prince George's County for health care. They want something in their own city.

Some would argue that UMC has already undergone a lot of renovation already and that many of the elements of the facility that are problematic have been fixed and that it would make more sense to make the hospital work where it is.I don't think it is going to work because I don't think anyone is going to take it over. A lot of health care providers have had the chance to take over the operations of UMC up to now. No one, no one has stepped up to say they want to do it. The main factor, in my mind, is that antiquated archaic nature of the facilities.

Why do you keep pushing for the hospital to be on St. E's campus? It puts you in close juxtaposition with the psychiatric facility and also, frankly, the housing development that will take place on St. E's. There will be lots of people living in close proximity ... You've got Metro transportation with the Congress Heights station right there. You've got good bus service that is right there. And look at the opportunity it creates by moving the hospital. We can spend time looking at how we use the 21 acres down where UMC is now.

It's long been speculated the reason UMC has been such a political football is because of the development interest in its property. Would you agree? I think it is. That's not what's motivating me, though. What's motivating me is to create a world-class set of health services in an area that desperately needs these types of services.

Does the fact the Washington Wizards practice facility is also going out there raise concerns about whether a new hospital would fit on the campus? You know, 183 acres is a large tract of land and that doesn't pose any concerns for me. I was talking to the developer a few months ago and they showed me a parcel on that site that would be a perfect site for a hospital to go, because I raised that specific question.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is already working on feasibility studies for a place to put a new hospital. Why aren't you waiting to see what plan Bowser's study comes up with? I don't need another study. I've had plenty of time to look at this issue. I looked at it when I was mayor and came to the conclusion we needed a new United Medical Center to catalyze the development of a new health care center on the east end of the city. People have waited long enough.