Howard University's College of Medicine is hoping that an amendment introduced during a D.C. Council meeting Tuesday can help save their program from a deal that sought to exclude them from practicing at what would be the city's newest hospital.
Back in August, the city entered an agreement with Universal Health Services, the company that operates George Washington University Hospital, to create a new hospital on the St. Elizabeths East Campus in Ward 8.
The facility would the first new hospital to open in D.C. in nearly 20 years, according to WTOP.
Under the original agreement, George Washington University Hospital requested an expansion of its Foggy Bottom campus, The Washington Post reported.
The D.C. Council was scheduled to vote Tuesday on legislation that would have exempted the expansion project from a review process typically required of medical facilities, and expedited the opening of the new hospital in Ward 8, a neighborhood that has been without adequate health facilities for many years.
The deal would have also excluded physicians and medical students from other institutions from seeing patients at the new hospital — a move that could hamper Howard University's ability to train its students and threaten the viability of its program.
In the days leading up to the vote, the hashtag #HowardMedicineMatters spread across Twitter as students called for supporters to make sure Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council heard their call for help.
For years, Howard University Hospital has served as the primary training site for Howard's medical students and residents. Patients from Wards 7 and 8 make up 35 percent of the hospital's patient volume.
While Dr. Hugh Mighty, the dean of Howard's College of Medicine, agrees that Ward 8 "needs and deserves" a hospital, he says the city's deal could result in his school losing accreditation.
For a medical school to maintain its accreditations with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the hospitals in which students train must maintain a certain patient volume. The opening of a new hospital in Ward 8 would cause the patient volume at Howard University Hospital to drop by 35 percent or more, Mighty said.
"If we don't have access to that new hospital, we cannot, therefore, maintain the volumes that we need to maintain our accreditation," Mighty said.
Mighty said the plan would also threaten an important pipeline for minority physicians.
Howard University's College of Medicine trains more minority medical students annually than many of the area's medical schools combined, Mighty added.
"Howard accepted 84 medical students into this year's incoming class who were black. George Washington accepted 15. They have a larger class, they accepted much fewer," Mighty said.
If the deal goes through, the effects on Howard's College of Medicine will not be seen immediately.
"It will take a couple years to build that hospital, so it's not going to be instantaneous. The contracting and the rules that are being set in place now, they have an immediate effect even though their impact will not be felt until the hospital opens," Mighty said.
As Howard students dressed in white coats filled the council's chamber Tuesday, a number of amendments were introduced, including one introduced by Councilmember Trayon White that would insure Howard has a seat at the table.
"The D.C. Council should vote yes on Councilmember White's amendment which is based on amendments Howard offered weeks ago," Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick said in a statement.
Kimberly Russo, the CEO and managing director at George Washington University Hospital, said physicians and students from Howard would have the ability to train at the new hospital, but they would have to be credentialed to join the George Washington University Hospital medical staff.
"We have been open with Howard about our willingness to discuss a range of partnership opportunities to help support their medical students and residents," Russo said.
A spokeswoman from Howard University says the school needs "something in writing."
George Washington University Hospital said their conversation with Howard is ongoing.
Philise Williams, a fourth year medical student at Howard, hopes her dream of becoming a physician is not jeopardized by the plan.
"Every black physician that you see went to Howard, or was mentored by someone who went to Howard, or was first seen by a physician who graduated from Howard," Williams said. "Everyone is touched by a Howard alum in some way."
The D.C. Council is scheduled to vote on the amended bill later this month.