Op-Ed: The DC Council must include Howard University Hospital in the United Health Services agreement

Howard University (photo: NCinDC)

by Velva Taylor Spriggs
guest contributor

The DC Council should reconsider the current plan for the East End hospital as it does not include provisions for Howard University’s doctors, residents and medical and other health professions’ students to provide services and training.

Howard University College of Medicine and Howard Medical Center Hospital have been excluded from the proposed affiliation agreement with United Health Services. Howard University faculty and students have traditionally provided medical services to patients in Wards 7 and 8 and other Wards, as well as training for hundreds of health care workers for over a century, (e.g., doctors, nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, and pharmacists). Their exclusion removes these critical functions from their charge, in favor of transferring them to George Washington University (GWU) Hospital.

The divestment of these core responsibilities from the auspices of Howard University Hospital and College of Medicine will have a devastating impact on the institution, the nation’s only teaching hospital located on the campus of an historically Black university. This hospital has been an essential hospital in the city since its inception in 1862 as Freedman’s Hospital when it served African Americans who were newly freed from slavery. Over the course of its 145-year history of providing the finest primary, secondary, and tertiary health care services, Howard University Hospital, a level-one trauma center, has become one of the most comprehensive health care facilities in the DC metropolitan area.


Furthermore, the lack of a full-service hospital in proximity to the citizens of Wards 5, 7, and 8 endangers the health and well-being of the residents of those areas and, by extension, the entire city and metropolitan region. The loss of Howard’s hospital and medical school would result in an enormous vacuum, which cannot be filled by one institution, even with the planned augmentation of its services.

A significant percentage of the patients receiving medical services at Howard come from Wards 7 and 8. As quoted in the Washington Post, “Howard officials complained that GWU Hospital’s expanded presence could put Howard’s hospital out of business.” The closure of Howard Hospital would be devastating for the city.

Without a continuation of Howard University’s training functions, which have allowed this institution to train more African American doctors than any other academic institution in the United States, the loss of this resource will be monumental. We should support building a new, full-service hospital on the East-End, but not at the expense of losing the patient care services and well-established training resources and expertise that are currently provided by Howard University. The purpose and motivation of this inept plan, which threatens the very existence of Howard University Hospital and the University’s School of Medicine, and thereby significantly impacts the medical care and health of DC citizens, should be questioned.

To accept this affiliation agreement will annihilate an institution which has diligently and expertly cared for the poor and working-class people of our city and has educated generations of African American healthcare workers.

In view of the closures of DC General Hospital, the imminent closure of Providence Hospital, and the potential closure of Howard University Hospital due to the loss or minimization of patient and training services for healthcare professionals, the current plan will have a devastating impact, citywide and regionally, on service quality and access. To accept and implement the current plan will have a dramatically adverse impact on healthcare access and perpetuate the disparity in healthcare services for DC residents. Therefore, we ask that you develop a revised plan which assures that Howard’s doctors, students and residents will practice and train in the East End hospital with substantial involvement and responsibility.

About the author:

Velva Taylor Spriggs, a Petworth resident since 1979, is an adjunct professor in the Department of Social Work at Coppin State University in Baltimore. She is also the Program Director for the FamilyLinks Outreach Center, Inc., an organization formed twelve years ago to serve adults with serious and chronic mental illness in DC. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), of which Howard University is one (there are more than 100 in the U.S.) are now vulnerable to the political belief, as demonstrated by Betsy DeVoss, Secretary of Education, that they are no longer necessary as educational institutions. I view this effort by our DC Council to divest Howard of its educational role in the field of medicine as a dangerous precedent to the possible future elimination of African American colleges and universities.

Cosigned by members of FamilyLinks Outreach Center, Inc.:

  • Merion D. Kane, President,

  • Cynthia Lewis, Vice President

  • Dr. June Bland, Board Member

  • Dr. Walter Bland, Advisory Board Member

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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