May 21, 2001
The mayor and city council in Washington have officially ended the 200-year history of D.C. General Hospital. In May they phased out its in-patient services, sending layoff notices to 1500 employees and turning its remaining clinics over to the private Greater Southeast Community Hospital.
Last year, the city council voted D.C. General 45 million dollars, and then had to come up with 75 million dollars more dollars to pay for its services.
Health care in this country has been turned into a "business" which is supposed to make a profit. The number of public hospitals has dropped by 50% in the last 20 years, from 1778 hospitals to 1197.
For D.C. Mayor Williams and others like him, a city is comparable to a business. It has to provide services but it is not supposed to lose money. But for years D.C. General has bled money. This hospital began as an alms house for the poor and it ended as the emergency room of last resort, where no one has to be turned away. And Washington is like every other big city: thousands lack health insurance. Some 65,000 to 75,000 people in Washington have no health insurance, not even Medicaid, which is supposed to cover poor people's health care needs.
Washington D.C. is a particularly poor city because its main "business" is federal government, from which it collects no taxes. The city's population has among the worst health in the country –in part, the consequence of poverty which breeds malnutrition, disease and alcohol and drug use. But it is also a consequence of the lack of decent medical facilities
The closing of D.C. General, as bad as it might have been, simply condemns more people to an early death without medical care.