United Medical Center (UMC) is taking major strides in sprucing up the Southeast part of the District by improving services and recruiting more doctors and nurses. In the last 12 months alone, UMC has added 19 new physicians and has already started recruiting specialists and primary care physicians specializing in cardiology, oncology, general surgery and orthopedics.
To combat health disparities in Ward 7 and 8, the 354-bed, acute care hospital has established numerous changes in the last six months including improving its emergency room to provide easier care and access to medical servicesand establishing an advanced wound care center.
"We want residents to understand how this improvement relates to them and their illnesses, and show them that all of these things are connected to them," said UMC's spokeswoman Natalie Williams.
The hospital recently opened a new sleep center to address the issue of apnea and other sleep disorders, which are prevalent in the African-American community.
Sleep specialist Dr. Eskender Beyene will be overseeing this initiative by presenting treatment and prevention options to patients.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleep apnea is an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs while a patient is asleep. Studies have shown that hypertension, obesity and diabetes, in many cases, can be directly attributed to a person having a sleep disorder.
“This is a huge health disparity in Ward 7 and 8 that needs to be addressed,” said Dr. Beyene.
About 26 percent of the overall population is obese and 28 percent have hypertension nationwide. In addition, over 8 percent have diabetes and that number is increasing yearly at an alarming rate. In Ward 7, the obesity rate among residents is about 40 percent and in Ward 8 it is 42 percent.
“The relationship between hypertension and sleep apnea is well established,” said Dr. Beyene. “If you look at the population of patients with difficult controlled hypertension, 80 percent of them have sleep apnea.”
When patients get treated for sleep apnea, their blood pressure is also better controlled, the doctor said.
UMC plans to house a cancer clinic that will be in collaboration with Sibley Memorial Hospital, John Hopkins Hospital and Howard University Hospital in June. The clinic will provide the Southeast residents with comprehensive cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment.
“It allows Sibley and Hopkins to place a physician and physician extender on site so that cancer care can be done here at the hospital, allowing patients to remain here,” said UMC’s chief medical officer, Dr. Cyril Allen. “Before, any patient that had cancer or needed a diagnosis, they would have had to go to one of the facilities in the District, but now this allows us to have the same abilities to do the diagnostic work as any other facility.”
Cancer mortality in D.C. is the highest in Wards 5, 7, and 8. UMC plans to build a new onsite ambulatory pavilion for community residents and two ambulatory care centers, one in Ward 7 and one in Ward 8, to bring the hospital’s services closer to the residents.
According to Williams, these improvements are a huge testament to the misconception that the hospital's future was uncertain because it wasn't paying its bills.
"People now know that we are more financially healthy too, than we were a year ago."