Union-led public pressure forces DC Council member McDuffie to back keeping Providence Hospital open
Union-organized public pressure forced a key D.C. City Council member, Ward 5's Kenyan McDuffie (right) to publicly pledge he would fight to keep Providence Hospital in Northeast open. And the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO is arranging meetings with other council members to lobby them to back the hospital, one of only two acute-care hospitals in almost all of the eastern half of the city.
National Nurses United, NUHHCE/AFSCME 1199 DC and Teamsters 639, which represent Provident’s registered nurses and workers, and community groups called the Sept. 13 meeting at the Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ in northeast DC. It’s their latest step in the “Fix it, don’t close it!” campaign to keep Providence open.
Approximately 100 people showed up to protest the highly profitable Catholic-run Ascension Health Care System’s plan to close Providence by Dec. 20 and sell the land to a developer.
Patients from wards 4, 5, 7 and 8, most of them paid for by Medicare or Medicaid, would have to scramble for care when Provident closed. Ambulances would have to transport emergency patients twice as long to the nearest acute-care hospital, Washington Hospital Center (WHC).
WHC emergency room nurse Joseph Katz reported WHC is already strained and stuffed with patients. The Providence closure plans “caused astronomical concern” there, he said. NNU also represents the Washington Hospital Center registered nurses.
Speakers outlined plans for a mass call-in on Sept. 25 to all council members’ offices – plus Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) -- urging them to stand up for Providence, its patients and its jobs. They also circulated petitions in the crowd and urged attendees to bring themselves, friends and neighbors with them to an Oct. 10 council Health Committee hearing on the closure.
Metro DC Central Labor Council Legislative and Political Director David Dzidzienyo reported he previously discussed the negative impact of closure with McDuffie and with Councilman Vincent Gray (Ward 8). “And I’m working on meetings with McDuffie again, with Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1),” he added.
Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Councilman Robert White (D-At Large) sent aides to the meeting, but they did not speak. An NNU representative said informally that Councilwoman Elissa Silverman (At-Large) strongly supports keeping Providence open.
Meanwhile, McDuffie sat quietly as doctors, patients, nurses and community members denounced the plan, which would leave the eastern side of the city only with one acute-care facility, the United Health Care hospital in far southeast. At the end, he got up. Facing a barrage of tough questions and demands that he answer in plain English, McDuffie finally admitted: “I don’t support what’s happening. I don’t think this city or our nation can afford to have Providence Hospital close.” He too urged attendees to jam the Oct. 10 Health Committee meeting.
- Mark Gruenberg, PAI News; photos by Natasha Acevedo
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