$20 Million Stand-Alone Emergency Room Coming To DC

Washington Business Journal, March 6, 2024

Universal Health Services Inc. plans to bring a stand-alone emergency department to Southeast D.C., a new piece of a puzzle D.C. and hospital operator have been assembling to establish a health care system on the underserved east side.

The project, announced Wednesday, would stand up a roughly 10,000-square-foot facility on a one-acre parcel at the 15-acre former Fletcher-Johnson school campus at 4650 Benning Road SE in Marshall Heights. The old school building at that site would be demolished.

King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based UHS (NYSE: UHS), which owns George Washington University Hospital in Foggy Bottom, said it plans to fund the $20 million project as part of an earlier commitment to invest $75 million over a decade in a larger development. That also includes an urgent care center at the Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center under construction on the St. Elizabeths East campus, the facility slated to replace United Medical Center next year.

The freestanding ER represents a pivot from earlier plans to bring an urgent care center to Ward 7, a D.C. spokesperson confirmed Wednesday. That project, initially slated to open in 2022, never came to fruition because of various challenges, including finding a suitable location, we reported previously.

The emergency department, though, meets the requirements outlined in a 2020 agreement with the District that required UHS to open “either a medical mall, urgent care and ambulatory care facility” in Ward 7 and another in Ward 8, a D.C. spokesperson told me in an email Wednesday. And the freestanding ER, which is a type of ambulatory facility, “is a much larger facility that can see the same type of patients as an urgent care, but also serve much more complex medical needs,” the spokesperson said. “The goal is to create different facilities that can cover the full spectrum of residents’ health needs.”

The ER project, slated to deliver in 2027, also stands to create more access than an urgent care center would have, operating 24/7 rather than just during the day. Cedar Hill Urgent Care at 2228 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, for instance, is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The new facility would treat patients with illnesses and conditions ranging from “life-threatening injuries” to broken bones, chest pain and stroke symptoms, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration said in its announcement. The ER and, importantly, the services it offers, need approval from D.C.’s State Health Planning Development Agency before an opening.

Since the space would just house an ER, rather than a full-service hospital with inpatient units, patients who need higher levels of care, or who need to be admitted, would be transferred to other hospitals. About 40 people including emergency medicine doctors, nurses and techs would staff the ER.

GWU Hospital recently laid off a portion of its workforce, citing what it called a “challenging time” in health care.

The ER facility is one component of a larger effort to create what local officials have called a comprehensive ecosystem of medical services.

“Serving primarily District residents in wards 7 and 8, this facility will be vital in alleviating health care disparities throughout these important communities,” GWU Hospital CEO Kimberly Russo, also group vice president for UHS’s D.C. region, said in a statement.

Bowser’s 2024 budget earmarked $42 million for the Department of General Services to do necessary work on the Fletcher-Johnson campus redevelopment. That work includes demolishing the existing building and adding infrastructure upgrades, according to the city. Gragg Cardona Partners was awarded rights to the redevelopment in 2020. It’s likely the city would ground-lease the ER parcel to UHS.

For that site, a health care element has long been on the table — at one point, even the future Cedar Hill hospital, before it landed at St. E’s.

The plans move forward on the heels of other recent progress, including the opening of Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson Center near the future Cedar Hill hospital. But there also have been setbacks in the the city’s efforts to confront gaps in care, as it couldn’t stop St. Louis-based Ascension from closing Providence hospital in 2019 and subsequently failing to deliver a “healthy village” on its campus in Northeast.

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