Williams Hails Efforts to Improve Health Care for Poor

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim McElhatton, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that the city's efforts to improve health care among poor residents are working, yet he continues to face fallout over his support of the closing of D.C. General Hospital in 2001.

"I'm still paying the political price for the privatization of D.C. General," Mr. Williams said at his weekly press conference.

The mayor said he did not regret the decision. "It was right," he said of the hospital closure.

The congressionally appointed D.C. financial control board, with Mr. Williams' support, closed the Southeast hospital before city officials enacted the D.C. Healthcare Alliance. The nearly $100 million city-funded program provides health care coverage for low-income residents who are not eligible for Medicaid.

Mr. Williams said his approval of the hospital closing cost him the support of some voters who were never "really on board" politically, but in the face of unanimous opposition by the D.C. Council he said he has given those voters "reason to stay off board permanently."

Mr. Williams has not decided whether he will seek a third term next year.

Though the hospital has been closed for four years, the issue is still divisive in city politics and likely will be campaign fodder.

In their inauguration speeches last month, several D.C. Council members - including Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat - chided the mayor for supporting the hospital's closing.Mr. Williams said he is heartened by statistics that show the D.C. Healthcare Alliance is helping residents live "longer, healthier lives."

Mr. Williams and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Gregg A. Pane said statistics show a 38 percent increase last year in visits by alliance members to primary-care clinics, and a 29 percent drop in the number of visits to emergency rooms.

The mayor said the program is meant to encourage patients to visit primary-care clinics for early detection of health problems, rather than waiting until conditions worsen and require an expensive hospital stay. …