Gray Wants More Doctors in Eastern D.C.

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) wants more physicians to set up their practices in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. He recently authored legislation to make that happen.

Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray has introduced a bill to bring more doctors to the eastern side of D.C. (AFRO File Photo)
Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray has introduced a bill to bring more doctors to the eastern side of D.C. (AFRO File Photo)

On March 7 Gray, chairman of the Committee on Health, introduced the “Community Health Care Revolving Capital Fund Act of 2017.” The bill creates a fund for the purpose of attracting physicians and increasing the capacity of existing providers whether they practice in primary care, specialty care, or community-based care in eastern Washington, D.C.

“One of my main priorities coming out of the Ward 7 Summit I convened in Ward 7 three months ago is making sure the residents of the East End of the city have access to a world-class integrated health care system,” Gray, District mayor from 2011-2015, said. “There is a gap in the system – the physicians that are providing the care are absent from the areas of our city that have the greatest need.”

Monies in the fund would be loaned to practitioners in medically underserved areas and can be used for costs associated with opening or modernizing a health care practice. All income and interest payments made pursuant to the loan agreements between the administrator of the fund and participating borrowers would be paid back into the fund for future use.

Gray said, “Wards 7 and 8 lead the District in almost every conceivable negative health outcome and that needs to change.”

The Department of Health published a Physician and Physician Assistant Workforce study in September 2015 that showed Wards 2 and 5 have the highest numbers of doctor’s offices followed by Wards 1 and 3. The study also showed that Ward 7 is medically under-served and Ward 8 also, despite the presence of the United Medical Center in its boundaries. Ward 8, the poorest ward in the city economically, has the lowest number of primary care and specialty doctors.

Gray’s bill is co-sponsored by council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Robert White (D-At Large), Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), which constitutes a super-majority of the legislative body.

The Medical Society of the District of Columbia is the city’s arm of the American Medical Association. Pia Duryea is the director of communications and she told the {AFRO} that her organization hasn’t taken a position on the Gray bill.

But, there is community support for Gray’s bill.

“I support it,” Ward 8 community activist Sandra “S.S.” Seegars told the {AFRO}. “I recently needed the services of an orthopedic doctor and I googled to find one that is close to me. The closest one is on H Street N.E. and, of course, that isn’t Ward 8.”

Seegars said that the UMC’s presence hasn’t increased the number of doctors practicing in her ward, either. She notes that some Ward 8 residents travel to Prince George’s County to visit a doctor.

“This legislation isn’t anything new,” Patricia Howard-Chittams, who lives in Ward 7, told the {AFRO}. “It has been discussed before and included nurse practitioners. I would agree that just as there are food deserts, Wards 7 and 8 are healthcare deserts.”

Howard-Chittams noted that many doctors are affiliated with hospitals and UMC is the only comprehensive medical facility east of the Anacostia River. She also said doctors might be reluctant to relocate east of the river for other reasons.

“There is not a lot of space for a doctor in Wards 7 or 8 to set up a medical office,” she said. “We had a center at Penn Branch but it is in a derelict state now. Even if a doctor wanted to set up in this area, there is no place for them to go.”

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