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This article appears in the May 18, 2001 issue of Executive Intelligence Review

Death Toll Hits Already, in
D.C. Public Hospital Closing

by Paul Gallagher

[PDF version of this article]

Within the first days after the fascist-like D.C. Financial Control Board ordered the "privatization" and shutdown of the only public hospital in the nation's capital, unnecessary deaths are already occurring; they are on the hands of members of Congress until it reverses the closing, and funds the hospital.

The toll, already at least two outright deaths within the first week of the shutdown, is resulting from "medical rolling blackouts" spreading through the capital area, as overloaded hospital emergency rooms become closed to ambulances.

At the same time, Lyndon LaRouche's movement and leaders of the Coalition to Save D.C. General Hospital have dramatically increased, and internationalized, the pressure on individual members of Congress to act. Congress can reverse the deadly privatization plan imposed by the Control Board, with a vote this month on the capital's budget.

Doctors and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel said the situation will get much more chaotic and much worse, unless Congress takes action. That action must come during May, to reverse the move the Control Board rammed through on April 30, on behalf of Wall Street and Washington Post owner Katharine Graham's private financiers' group, the Federal City Council of Washington.

The closing was temporarily, illegally imposed on the elected Washington City Council, by emergency laws privatizing the city's entire public health system: a Control Board fiat opposed unanimously by the Council and by the great majority of medical societies and ordinary citizens. The Control Board usurped the Council's authority, and signed a contract with a private consortium of "health-care providers," led by a firm—Doctors Community Healthcare Corp. (DCHC)—which is already subject to racketeering lawsuits in three states.

The Control Board did its April 30 contract-signing at a card-table in the basement of a public library, whence they had fled from hundreds of protesting citizens who were being excluded from this "public meeting" by phalanxes of police and SWAT teams.

Medical `Rolling Blackouts'

City Councilman Kevin Chavous, speaking to the Coalition to Save D.C. General's 14th town meeting on May 9, graphically described how the situation appears from inside EMS ambulances in the city, in which he had been overnight during May 8-9. During one 15-hour period of the previous weekend of May 5-6, Chavous reported, every hospital in the city was turning away ambulances and patients from its emergency room. Ambulances with seriously ill patients were being put in "holding patterns" like aircraft, and sent to Prince Georges County, Maryland, and as far away as Baltimore. Chavous issued a challenge to all officials—members of Congress, the Control Board, and Mayor Anthony Williams—to "ride the ambulances before you vote, before you make any statements about how this is supposed to be working."

Mayor Williams, who discredited himself by promoting and lying about the privatization scheme on behalf of KKK-Katie Graham and her privateer cronies, made a shocking admission on May 8: The ambulance response time in the Southeast quadrant and suburbs of the capital, which usually averages four minutes, had increased to an average of 22 minutes. Chavous reported that 125 patients were turned away from D.C. General Hospital's emergency room that weekend: Under the control of the privatizer-firm DCHC, the hospital's first-rank trauma center was closed, and its emergency room stopped accepting patients without insurance.

[FIGURE 2]The emergency room of Greater Southeast Hospital, which was supposedly taking over D.C. General's operations, was overwhelmed, and had a severe shortage of doctors: Half-a-dozen ambulances stood waiting in a line outside Greater Southeast at one point on the night of May 6. In fact, it has been learned that Greater Southeast signed bankruptcy papers on April 30, the same day it "took over" D.C. General. Many patients had to wait hours in ambulances for some emergency room to open up. At one point at George Washington University Hospital, elsewhere in the city, Chavous saw an elderly woman in a wheelchair, banging on the window of the ambulance which had brought her, trying to get back into the vehicle for treatment from the medics which she couldn't get from the hospital.

The city's ambulances were travelling further and further in search of a hospital assignment for their patients; therefore, taking longer to respond to their next call. Dr. Alyce Gullatee of Washington's Anacostia district told the Coalition meeting that in recent periods, there has not been a single ambulance anywhere in this district of nearly 100,000 people; previously, it was normal for an ambulance to be stationed in every firehouse.

The Death Toll

Dr. Gullatee called the privatization "selective euthanasia;" LaRouche spokesman and Coalition leader Dennis Speed called it "a death-camp policy, marching ahead step by step." The first two deaths were laid at Katharine Graham's door that same weekend of May 5-6. A 19-year-old resident of A Street Southeast, suffering a gunshot wound only a few blocks from D.C. General, was taken to Prince Georges County Hospital in Maryland, where he was dead on arrival. A second gunshot victim, diverted from D.C. General and finally taken to Howard University Hospital, died on the way. A tourist from New Jersey, not picked up by any ambulance for 45 minutes after suffering a heart attack at the FDR Memorial, was narrowly saved only by a Park Service Medi-vac helicopter.

And the Southeast district has the city's highest incidence of low birth-weight babies: because D.C. General's unique facility for caring for babies born before the eighth month of pregnancy will not be replaced elsewhere, more newborn infants will die.

LaRouche associates are investigating other reports of deaths said to have occurred—and nearly occurred—as a result of this direct denial of medical care. Causing deaths on a large scale, by denial of medical care, is a form of genocide, as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal. City Council members Chavous, David Catania, Sandy Allen, and others are asking doctors and other medical professionals to keep careful diaries and notes as the incidents multiply. In effect, the strategy is to "mobilize the citizenry to get the death count, in order to force Congress to stop the death count," as Speed put it. Chavous said that any member of Congress, even a member of the Control Board, can be made accountable to their own conscience, if they directly observe the human suffering and loss of life the "privatization" is causing.

An International Fight

In the face of widespread media claims that "the fight was over" as of the Control Board action on April 30, the LaRouche movement, and other Coalition leaders, escalated, realizing that Graham, her Post, and the Control Board had taken openly corrupt actions which stank, before the whole country. The fight to save D.C. General has become the leading edge of the battle for the General Welfare in the United States, and intersects the battle for leadership of the widespread ranks of the Democratic Party nationally. Congressional offices have been bombarded with calls and resolutions from around the country (see box, for one of the most prominent of these). Local elected officials are notifying Congressmen that they want them to meet with Coalition leaders and D.C. City Council members; and scores of such meetings are taking place.

The question for members of Congress is a simple one: Are you in favor of killing people, or will you reverse the shutdown of public health in the capital?

In Washington, weekly town meetings, rallies, and marches have continued; one rally at the hospital, on May 9, was held to "re-instate" CEO Michael Barch and the other hospital directors fired for opposing the shutdown. Meanwhile, Coalition leaders Dennis Speed, Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, and nurse Charlene Gordon travelled to Germany to a Schiller Institute Eurasia-wide conference, to address a panel on the D.C. General fight.

Returning on the afternoon of May 9 to speak at the Coalition town meeting that night, Dr. Muhammad told a crowd of 200 that he had spoken in Germany to representatives of 40 nations; he had heard German doctors' descriptions of the shutdown of Berlin's famous Moabit Hospital, and recognized all the same "privateers' " techniques of deception and withholding of public funds, as with D.C. General. "Now that the Control Board have played their hand, and it is a weak hand," he said. "They will go down to ignoble defeat. . . . We are making history. . . . As Christ said, `Even as you have done to the least of these my children, you have done unto me.' "

The Pressure Grows

At the town meeting, Chavous described two types of pressure he had received from the business community, to drop his and Catania's lawsuit and make peace with the Mayor. But, Chavous said, he is also getting another kind of pressure—from his constituents: several calls every day, telling him of desperate medical situations, urging him to fight to reopen D.C. General. He described a call from an 82-year-old woman, who has heart problems and lives alone, and doesn't have a car. She asked what would happen, if she had heart problems and went to D.C. General. The Councilman could not give her a satisfactory answer.

Chavous also reported an anonymous call from an EMS technician, who wanted to tell him about the first weekend under the new system. "It's not going to work," the technician said. Chavous called the Mayor's office and told them about this, and the Mayor thereupon had the Health Department issue a statement saying that everything was going fine with the "transition," and that Greater Southeast Community Hospital was absorbing the load.

That was when Chavous made his decision to ride the ambulances himself. Even though the EMS technicians on duty weren't supposed to talk to him, he picked up from their conversation what was going on. "There's no way this is going to work," they said. "Wait until Summer. People are going to be dying in the streets." The technicians were spending a great deal of their time figuring out where they could take patients so they would be admitted for treatment.

He said that he and his colleagues are agreed on three things. First, that they are going to keep fighting. "If we stop fighting, our people are going to suffer." Second, that Congress has to stand up and be counted, and every member must feel the pressure. Third, "We are not dismissing our lawsuit," and have issued subpoenas to take depositions from all the members of the Control Board, including Chairman Alice Rivlin. Chavous called for a turnout of hundreds at the next court hearing, on June 8.

Ambulance re-routing, starting when the D.C. General shutdown began May 1 and overwhelming other hospitals' emergency and trauma centers, led to chaos—and to at least two needless deaths by May 8.