WASHINGTON -- There are plans to build a new hospital east of the river, but students and staff at Howard University are curious how they will fit into the project's plans.
In August, George Washington University Hospital [GWUH] signed a letter of intent to oversee the management of a new hospital to be built on the St. Elizabeth's East Campus.
The purpose of the hospital is to provide Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents with state of the art health care in a 100-plus bed facility.
On Tuesday, the DC Council is expected to vote on the East End Health Equity Act of 2018, which would ensure that the new hospital be affiliated with, and integrated within, the GWU Hospital system.
While the legislation will not finalize specific terms regarding construction and operations of the hospital between GWUH and the District of Columbia, it is expected to expedite the process of making the hospital a reality.
While Howard University officials are happy to see a new hospital be built east of the river, they say they are worried its construction, under current terms, will lead to the decline of both the Howard University Hospital and the Howard University College of Medicine.
"When that hospital is established, there will be a natural migration of patients to the closest hospital, which will be in Wards 7 and 8," said Dr. Hugh Mighty, the dean of the Howard University College of Medicine.
Mighty held a town hall meeting with Howard University College of Medicine students and staff to discuss that concern Monday night. In that meeting he revealed that Howard University receives 35 percent of its patients from Wards 7 and 8. However, there is currently no agreement in place to allow Howard students and staff to work and train in the new hospital.
Mighty said Howard University wants an agreement put in place with the District of Columbia that would define a clear affiliation for Howard students and staff to train in the hospital.
"When they go to that hospital, it will reduce the volume of patients that Howard has to support it's training program," he said.
Howard students echoed a concern that a drop in patients will also result in a decrease in the number of African-American physicians that Howard University produces in the future.
"We would have to significantly downsize the amount of students that we accept," said Johnothan Smiley Jr., a 3rd year medical student at Howard. "Our class right now is about 125 medical students that we accept each year. That could go down to 75 or 50. So, then, we are producing less physicians on the national scale that go back to their communities and help the underserved."
Mighty told the audience that Howard University officials and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser have held talks regarding the situation.
WUSA9 obtained a letter Monday night detailing some of the discussion Bowser had with Howard University President Dr Wayne Frederick last Friday.
Part of the letter offered solutions for Howard University leadership to grow the hospital's revenue and viability.
One solution, offered by the mayor, included an "opportunity for Howard to acquire greater market share in light of the recent decision by Ascension to seek to close Providence Hospital" in Northeast Washington DC.
Another solution said, "The District can help broker academic affiliation agreements with local and regional hospitals so that Howard medical students, residents and fellows have a range of clinical training opportunities".
However, the letter reiterated that the East End Health Equity Act of 2018 will not represent the final deal terms of a partnership between GWUH and the District of Columbia. The letter added that more legislation will likely follow and that any agreement will likely not come until the beginning of 2019.
Mighty is aware that Tuesday's vote will not be the last time D.C. Council discusses the hospital construction project. However, he said it will dictate much of the path that council takes in the future regarding the project.
He added that the council needs to seriously examine what it will be voting for.
"I think the council has a large role to play in terms of examining what the real impact is of what they're asking from that bill," Mighty said.
D.C. Councilmember Trayon White said he plans to introduce an amendment Tuesday that will allow Howard to conduct training and enter into an academic affiliation agreement with the new hospital.
Howard University students plan to protest outside of the Wilson Building Tuesday morning ahead of the D.C. Council's vote.