By AFRO Staff

Patients and staff at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, the District’s public psychiatric hospital, have been without drinking water for an extended period. This issue was discovered during a routine scheduled water-testing where the hospital is located on the east campus. Upon discovery, the leadership at St. Elizabeths Hospital was advised by a private inspection contractor to use water for purposes other than drinking until further assessments were completed. 

Ward 7 Councilmember and Committee on Health Chair Vincent C. Gray has been working with the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) leadership and expects this issue to be completely resolved within the next few days followed by a 48-hour testing period after treatment.  According to DC Water the issue of no drinking water and contamination is confined to the specific parcel where the hospital is located, rather than the entire St. Elizabeths campus. 

Patients and staff at St. Elizabeths in Ward 7 have not had drinking water for an extended period. (Courtesy Photo)

In response to the drinking water emergency at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Council member Gray released the following statement:

“I have been in constant communication with leadership at DBH.  According to updates received from DBH, a solution has been implemented to address the bacteria issue as it relates to drinking water at St. Elizabeths Hospital,” stated Councilmember Gray.  

“More importantly,” said Gray, “DBH expects the drinking water issue to be resolved completely within seven days followed by a 48-hour testing period as required after treatment.  DBH has also continued with emergency measures to ensure the safety and hygiene of its 273 patients, including installing portable showers, providing plenty of bottled water, body wipes and hand sanitizers.”

“I intend to address this issue during my upcoming oversight hearing in Ward 7 on the Department of Behavioral Health,” Gray added.  “The hearing will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 5:30 p.m., at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, located at 3000 Pennsylvania Ave., SE.  I join Dr. Bazron in expressing appreciation to the hospital’s staff who steadfastly continue to provide quality health care for the patients during this difficult time,” continued Gray.

“We are receiving daily updates on conditions at the hospital and look forward to receiving a comprehensive report on what triggered this problem and how this can be prevented in the future,” concluded Gray.   

Despite District officials assuring residents the issue will be addressed, the ACLU of the District of Columbia  is calling for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to relocate residents during the water crisis.

What is happening at St. Elizabeths right now is a crisis,” said Monica Hopkins, Executive Director, ACLU-DC in a statement sent to the AFRO. “We call on Mayor Bowser to put an immediate halt to new admissions to the hospital and take all necessary steps to quickly transfer current St. Elizabeths patients to other local health facilities until the water problem is resolved, starting with the most vulnerable patients as identified by the health-care staff of the hospital.”

The ACLU-DC also has recommendations for the City Council to do further investigating of St. Elizabeths water crisis and troubleshoot any further issues.

“In addition to removing patients from the hospital while the water supply is fixed, the ACLU-DC calls on the D.C. Council to hold a public oversight hearing to fully examine how the hospital’s water supply became contaminated, what emergency protocols DBH had in place to protect patients and staff, and what steps the District will take to ensure this life-endangering situation does not happen again,” the ACLU-DC statement said. “In addition, given the recurring problems with St. Elizabeths, the Council’s Committee on Health should require regular reporting from DBH on the physical condition of the hospital’s infrastructure.”