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Vanessa Dixon, DC Health Care Coalition
Statement at press conference to recall Anthony Williams
January 20, 2004




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DC Health Care Coalition

Community and Caregivers United to Restore a Public Hospital in the Nation’s Capital


January 20, 2004

Good morning. I am Vanessa Dixon of the DC Health Care Coalition. On behalf of the coalition, I stand in support of recalling Anthony Williams from the position of mayor of this great city.

There’s a saying that I want to share with you, "Politicians are like diapers and should be changed often because they are both full of the same thing." This is certainly not true of all politicians, but I believe there’s ample evidence to show that this is true of Anthony Williams.

Under Anthony Williams, Washington, DC does not have the leadership that we need in the office of mayor. The closing of DC General Hospital is a prime example that Williams has neither the good judgement nor integrity that Washington, DC requires and deserves of its chief executive.

Closing DC General is a prime example that Williams, the accountant, is not a good bean counter. Williams promised that by closing DC General he could provide better health care for less money. Instead, it now costs more money to provide health care than before DC General closed. An Inspector General report (10/02) noted serious concerns about the cost effectiveness of the program that replaced DC General. And in 2003 the DC City Council had to approve a $34 million emergency expenditure to infuse needed resources into Williams’ cash cow, the privatized health care system that he defends.

Closing DC General is a prime example that Williams does not use good judgement. It was simply foolhardy for Williams to have opposed the American Medical Association, the Medical Society of DC, the American Public Health Association, the National Medical Association, the National Association of Public Hospitals, the DC Nurses Association, and the DC Hospital Association.

Although Williams justified closing DC General on the pretext that health care could be delivered more effectively, in actuality the delivery of health care services has steadily declined and the situation has reached a crisis level. We now live in a city where ambulances have had to hunt for an open emergency room and private hospitals are overwhelmed.

Under the health care system this mayor has created, there are eight full service hospitals in the western half of DC, yet one hospital to serve the entire eastern half of DC although this is the area with the greatest level of injury and illness. Given this level of insensitivity, closing DC General was racist because it created a truly separate and unequal health care system in which people of color and the poor receive inferior health care.

The continued closure of DC General is a prime example that Williams’ is unable to correct his course in the face of overwhelming evidence that he’s made a mistake. The predictions about the dire consequences of closing DC General have come to pass. Despite this, Williams remains steadfast in his refusal to undo the tragedy of closing DC General. Instead, he toys with another half-baked idea – having Howard University build a hospital at the DC General site.

Closing DC General Hospital is a prime example that Williams disregards city organizations. For example, the DC Hospital Association noted of the system that replaced DC General, "…the Alliance has created significant difficulties for hospitals to maintain the high quality care they deliver" which jeopardizes access to care for all District residents – those with and without insurance (City Council, Department of Health Hearing, February 24, 2003). And on September 14, 2003, a Washington Post opinion editorial by the CEO of George Washington University Hospital stated that the health care system the mayor created is an "abject failure." This statement was supported by other private hospitals in the city.

In addition to the medical community, new voices warn of dire consequences as a result of DC General closing. In particular, the Greater Washington Board of Trade noted that the closure of DC General Hospital has wreaked financial havoc on the region (Washington Business Journal, 12/13/02). "…Health care is how we define a high quality of life, which is linked to a vital economy," said Bill Lecos, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

For many, the problems that have resulted from DC General closing could set back some of the city’s plans for revitalization, and the region’s hopes for a health care safety net (Washington Business Journal, 12/13/02). Steven Grigg, president of Republic Properties, says that the hospital situation "threatens" the momentum of the recent efforts to reinvest in wards 7 and 8.

At-Large Council member Mendelson noted, "I think we do need to go back to having a public hospital" (Washington Business Journal, 12/6/02). And Robert Malson, Executive Director of the DC Hospital Association, noted at the Mayor’s Healthcare Summit for Hospitals (12/9/02), "The one thing I want people to know is that this effects everyone in Washington, DC," even those who are not low-income.

Closing DC General is a prime example that Williams is a pro-privatization mayor who doesn’t get it that privatization doesn’t work. A City Paper article (2/25-21/02) noted, "Six months into the experiment into privatization, the issue continues to haunt the mayor: the DC Health Care Alliance so far has been largely unaccountable and unmanageable." Reports by the United Nations and the CIA provide compelling evidence that privatization has not worked in countries around the world. And attempts in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois show privatization to have been a dismal failure in industries ranging from school bus maintenance to hazardous waste management.

The evidence is overwhelming that the privatized system that replaced DC General is a disaster. The hospital that receives a generous city contract to provide the services formerly provided by DC General lost its accreditation for four months, was recommended to lose its license, and was found responsible for six unnecessary deaths – including two infants. Prior to its closure, DC General Hospital had received a 94 quality of care rating, which is higher than the most recent rating received by Georgetown University Hospital. And, DC General was ranked the third most efficient hospital in DC by the DC Hospital Association.

Closing DC General is a prime example that Williams has sold Washington, DC to his highest campaign contributors. We believe it’s no accident that Williams vigorously defends the clearly failed health care system that replaced DC General due to generous campaign contributions from Doctor’s Community Health Care Corporation, which provided more than 20 percent of the mayor’s campaign chest. According to a City Paper article, "…the Williams campaign received contributions from 13 out of 15 members of Doctor’s Community senior management team. Doctor’s Community owns the hospital that receives a lucrative city contract to administer the services previously provided by DC General.

THIS is the legacy of Anthony Williams: an abysmal health care failure, public education in disarray, and a housing situation so dire that new teachers in DC have been forced to move to Prince George’s County to find affordable housing.

The mess that Williams has created by closing DC General Hospital is only one reason that recalling this mayor is the right thing to do. Washington, DC deserves a mayor who uses sound judgement and who does not stubbornly and stupidly plough ahead with misguided ideas, yet persist in defending those ideas even against overwhelming evidence that he has made a mistake. DC deserves better.

Following in the footsteps of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that we observed yesterday, I’d like to consider what Dr. King might have said about Williams’s treatment of health care in the Nation’s Capital.

Regarding health care as a human right, and believing that no one’s conduct was above criticism, I believe Dr. King would have chastised Williams for his actions that are devastating health care in the Nation’s Capital. I believe Dr. King might have said, "Mayor, why did you close the ONLY hospital in the Nation’s Capital with the legal obligation to serve everyone regardless of ability to pay? Mayor, why did you close DC General although the professional medical community told you that it was medically wrong? Mayor, why did you close DC General when the unanimous City Council told you that Washington, DC would be held hostage by giving control of public health care to a private organization? Mayor, why did you close DC General against the admonitions of the clergy who told you it was morally wrong and would hurt DC residents – especially seniors and children?" And I believe Dr. King would have said, "No lie will live forever."

Just as Dr. King sparked the conscience of a nation, I believe he would spark the conscience of DC residents to rise up and hold our leaders accountable to ensure that our quality of life is not compromised by poor health care, inferior public education, and lack of affordable housing. Changes do not have to happen to us; they should happen because of us.

To save our city, vote to recall a mayor who squanders tax payer dollars, devastates health care, has sold this city to his highest campaign contributors, talks the talk but does not walk the walk regarding education, and has pillaged affordable housing.

In a Democracy we have the option of recalling a bad leader. What we need in the Nation’s Capitol is a mayor who has the capacity to recognize priorities – health care, education, affordable housing– and not focus obsessively and blindly on building buildings. Economic development is needed, but this must be balanced with human needs. We deserve better and we can have better. Vote to recall Williams!

Does Privatization Work?

(Does Globalization Help the Poor?", AlterNet.Org, 1/10/02): "A report by the United Nations (UNDP, 1999) found that inequalities between rich and poor within countries, and among countries, are quickly expanding, and that the global trading and finance system is one of the primary causes." "Even the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency confirms the UN conclusions, agreeing that globalization brings massive inequalities. The benefits of globalization do not reach the poor, says the CIA…" "The ideologies and rules of economic globalization… – including privatization – have destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people often leaving them homeless, landless and hungry, while removing their access to even the most basic public services such as health and medical care, education, sanitation, fresh water, public transport, job training and the like. The record shows that economic globalization makes things worse for the poor, not better."

("Bush’s Challenge: Globalization Good for the Poor," AlterNet.Org, 10/3/01): "The Washington, DC-based Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) has published compelling data comparing growth rates from 1980 to 2000 (during the period of ascending IMF/World Bank power, when countries throughout the developing world adhered to the IMF/World Bank structural adjustment policy package of slashing government spending, privatizing government-owned enterprises, liberalizing trade, orienting economies to exports and opening up countries to exploitative foreign investment) with the previous 20 year period (when many poor countries focused more on developing their own productive capacity and meeting local needs.) The results: 89 countries – 77 percent…saw their per capita rate of growth fall by at least five percentage points from the period (1960 to 1980) to the period (1980 to 2000)."

The evidence overwhelmingly shows that privatization is a false promise on the global level. However, is it possible that privatization works here in the US?

We know that privatizing public services has economic and social consequences. Implicit in the choice to privatize is the assumption that government is inherently inefficient and private sector solutions are superior. Here are a few examples of privatization in the U.S.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, an $11 million contract for school bus maintenance privatization was plagued with problems from the outset and canceled within six months. Increases in broken down buses left children waiting on street corners and required borrowing buses from a neighboring jurisdiction.

In Philadelphia, the private management of food services in the city’s prison system failed health department inspections due to spoiled food, unclean equipment, and structural problems. The contractor abruptly ceased operations, which caused a disruption in critical services.

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, hazardous waste management by a private firm resulted in felony violations of environmental law and millions of dollars in penalties for inferior clean up of a Superfund dumpsite.

In Illinois, custodial services for a state university were privatized for less than a year before faculty, students and employees mounted complaints about cleanliness levels, poor management practices, and other problems.

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