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Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick announced he signed a “letter of intent” to transform the United Medical Center (UMC).

When Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick announced he signed a “letter of intent” (LOI) to enter a collaborative agreement with the District of Columbia and Paladin Healthcare Capital LLC, to transform the United Medical Center (UMC), Southeast- resident Diane Teal, breathed a sigh of relief.  After years of watching the financially strapped healthcare provider teeter on the brink of collapse, Teal began to reimagine the hospital as a beacon for those east of the river.

In previous years, Dr. Pierre Vigilance, former director of the D.C. Department of Health, applauded similar collaborations between UMC and the Children’s National Medical Center – bartered by Councilman David Catania and Children’s Hospital executive Jacqueline Bowens – that created a satellite emergency facility with UMC that specifically addressed children’s health care needs.  The goal then, as now, was to forge alliances that provided optimum health care access to District residents cut off from quality services through what Vigilance described as location disparities.

The big question now, according to Teal, is can these alliances, after years of mismanagement and neglect and a reputation among those in Ward 8 as a “facility of last resort,” finally make UMC a viable option for Southeast residents.

“UMC has been handled like a step-child among hospitals the same way as the schools in Ward 8. There is such a stigma of living in Southeast that simple city services like schools and hospitals, or quality of life needs, like a decent grocery store begin and end with conversations about crime and poverty,” Teal said.  “As a homeowner and taxpayer, I worry that those who cannot access better outside of the neighborhood will continue to suffer within it.”

Teal said both she and her family members have used UMC in the past in cases of emergency – she has a grandson with chronic asthma who has been treated there several years ago – but that the dilapidated facility, filthy common areas, and understaffed health team, kept her from embracing the services as adequate.

“I remember hearing a school administrator talk about the renovation of all of these D.C. public schools because the buildings themselves reinforced the value the city placed on the kids and their education.  What does a filthy hospital say about the people expected to utilize it and work in it? Most of us would love to see the same type of enthusiasm for tearing down UMC completely and building a new state of the art campus,” Teal said.

According to Frederick, who was joined by then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Paladin President Joel Freedman, and UMC Board Chairman Bishop Charles M. Hudson Jr. at the December signing, integrating the Howard and UMC systems operational and financial management issues, will be instrumental in securing a better quality health facility for residents of Wards 7 and 8.

“The opportunity to join partners and find a solution within an integrated healthcare system framework is key. We are an academic medical center with a mission focused on high-quality education and high-quality care for those who otherwise wouldn’t receive such care. We have an opportunity to leverage our medical staff,” Frederick said.

Under the collaboration, Howard would utilize its physicians to bring comprehensive, integrated health care to the citizens east of the river.  The California-based Paladin Healthcare Capital and Howard University would acquire the operating assets UMC and lease the hospital from the District. “The long-term success of UMC ultimately requires the hospital to enter into meaningful collaborations that facilitate the expansion of the hospital’s physician base, clinical portfolio, and market share. This collaborative agreement aligns with the plan and strategic direction that I envisioned for UMC to become financially sustainable and a premier center for health care,” Gray said.

Ironically, it is the precisely these collaborations between the District and outside management contractors that concern Teal and other Ward 8 residents, like Robert Shirley.  “No one is naïve about the business of healthcare and the mergers and collaborations that become necessary to stay financially stable, but with so many people at the table working from outside the city, as well as outside of the community they are supposed to serve, we have to advocate for bona fide quality health care for residents beyond what looks good on paper,” Shirley said.