DC City Council Approves Larger Subsidies for Struggling Hospital

United Medical Center (UMC), the only Washington, DC hospital east of the Anacostia River, faces severe cuts in funding during the 2020 fiscal year. The failing hospital indicated that it would need $40 million to avoid cuts in services, but recently received a slight increase in proposed city funding.

The city council approved its 2020 budget on May 28, which avoided dramatic cuts to city funding for the hospital that would have provided United Medical Center with less than half of what it would need in the following year. According to WTOP, the council approved a subsidy of approximately $22.1 million in 2020, up from the $15 million initially proposed.

Ward 8 Councilman Trayon White appealed for additional funds to sustain the vital, city-owned hospital. White noted that residents in Wards 7 and 8 use UMC every day. “As we saw from a lady who suffered a gunshot wound, with a 9-year-old in the back passenger seat suffering from a bullet wound and her daughter in another seat suffering from three shots — she drove to this hospital,” White said, according to WTOP. “So, picture it if she had to take that same ride to Upper Northwest in her car, already wounded herself.”

City officials are negotiating with George Washington University Hospital to construct and operate a new hospital, according to the Washington Post. White said that it was important to provide services to residents living east of the Anacostia River before the area gets a new hospital, WUSA reported. UMC is the only hospital in the city located out of DC’s northwest quadrant.

Prior to the council budget vote, nearly two dozen protesters from the DC Nurses Association called for sufficient funding for the hospital. Other council members argued on May 28 that cuts to staffing and supplies will put the city’s poorest, predominantly Black residents at risk. According to TalkPoverty, the hospital predominantly serves Black and poor residents, who are typically covered by Medicaid and Medicare.

“You are saying to some of our poorest, sickest residents — who are predominantly if not overwhelmingly Black — at this hospital, ‘You don’t matter,’” at-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman said.

UMC has been plagued by financial issues and budget constraints. The hospital’s partnership with Sibley Memorial Hospital, which provided oncological services at UMC is set to close by June 30, Washington City Paper reported. Meanwhile, a memo regarding hospital layoffs in the next 60 days was recently circulated. UMC nurse Arnel Jean-Pierre echoed those sentiments, telling TalkPoverty that “a lot of people are going to suffer” if the hospital is closed down.

“There’s no argument that this hospital has been mismanaged,” Silverman said. “The issue is about making sure we have hospital services that are going to meet the needs of our residents until that new hospital is built.”

Ten of the council’s 13 members voted in favor of a larger subsidy than the initial $15 million lawmakers proposed. According to the Washington Post, Ward 7 Councilman Vincent C. Gray, who chairs the health committee, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson voted against the larger subsidy. Meanwhile, Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary M. Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University, only voted “present.” The increase in funding received some pushback, particularly from Gray who asked what more funding will do in the long run. “I just know that we can’t continue to write a blank check,” the councilman said. “I really don’t see what this accomplishes in terms of addressing the future of a real health care system, which people desperately need and deserve in Wards 7 and 8 of the District of Columbia.”

A 2016 report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute found that the poverty rate in Wards 7 and 8 was three times higher than the rest of Washington, DC. The advocacy organization’s report revealed that more than 90 percent of residents living east of the Anacostia River are Black, which makes up 47 percent of the District’s total Black population. According to the Washington City Paper, the poverty rate in the area jumped from 27 percent before the recession to 33 percent in 2015.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.