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MSDC Leads the Fights to Preserve Inpatient Care at DC General
February 28, 2001




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FEBRUARY 28. 2001 VOL. 8, No. 4

Published for members of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia

MSDC Leads the Fight to Preserve Inpatient Care at DC General

During the past few weeks, MSDC has been on the front lines-at press conferences and town meetings-to bring the following message to a large audience: We must preserve inpatient services at DC General Hospital. The following is an edited version of an op ed letter that MSDC sent to The Washington Post on February 15:

For centuries, physicians have adhered to the oath, Primum non nocere — First, do no harm. It is against this standard that we must measure the City ojftcials' plan to dismantle DC General Hospital. After months of study, it is clear that the plan to substantially reduce hospital services at DC General will, in fact, cause harm to patients.

If the plan is implemented, we are concerned about the impact on the remaining hospitals in the District. We know there will be spill over, although of an undetermined magnitude. However, given the precarious financial situation of most DC area hospitals, those institutions will be placed at risk if the only safety net hospital — DC General — is dismantled.

DC General, our City's public hospital, as the only hospital with the legal obligation to provide care for everyone who lives and works in DC. DC General is an essential part of the safety net, which is a broad system of health care providers, traditionally supported by the government, to protect the health of the public.

The rising number of uninsured Americans  — 100,000 in Washington, DC — makes it imperative for safety net institutions such as DC General to be preserved given the critical role in delivering health care to the medically indigent, and working poor.

The proposal to dismantle the services provided at DC General appears to be driven by a financial, bottom-line mentality that, however well intentioned, puts patients at risk. The deadline for dismantling DC General was scheduled in accordance with dire predictions that the City would face a $240 million deficit. However, as of the January 2001 audit, the feared deficit was revealed to be a $240 million surplus.

DC General is like many safety net hospitals in the country facing serious challenges to their existence. Several factors exacerbate these circumstances for DC General, including the dubious distinction of being one of the highest providers of care to the uninsured and underinsured. Many safety net hospitals are rising to the challenges they face. However, they require adequate financing, and eliminating political interference, among other factors.

City officials must use this crisis as an opportunity to build an improved health care system, not to tear down an essential component of our safety net — DC General Hospital.

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