GU Mulls Moving Medical Campus

Photo by Ehpien.

Speculation and rumor is heating up over the possible relocation of Georgetown University’s medical campus (i.e. the Medstar-operated hospital and the medical school). Back in March, the Washington Business Journal reported that GU was in early talks with the developer of Capitol Crossing, a five acre planned project to be built over I-395 downtown. The speculation heated up more last week when the Post put a little meat on the bone and tied the expansion to the medical campus.

It’s no secret that Medstar wants a new hospital. In early drafts of the school’s ten year plan, the university included placeholders for a brand new hospital to be built on campus. These sections were ultimately cut because the plans were too undecided to specify.

The model that has been batted around for some time involves a new hospital being built either on the current parking lot or north Kehoe Field, with the school taking over the old building in exchange. This would significantly ease the school’s space problem (minus the loss of the field, that is).

GM has heard from multiple sources that this is no longer the working plan and that GU is indeed seriously considering moving the hospital and the medical school off the main campus to, well, somewhere. These recent reports would suggest Capitol Crossing, but in the past other possible candidates have been suggested such as Reservation 13 (where the old DC General Hospital was) and St. Elizabeth’s.

GM can’t really add anything to the speculation, but it is worth discussing what impact this change would have on the Georgetown community.

The most immediate impact a move like this would have is on the never ending campus plan. Creating satellite campuses is exactly what the comprehensive plan encourages for universities and that was also the message from the Office of Planning. Even the most pro-GU partisan would admit that space is tight on the main campus, and that satellite campus would relieve that pressure. And it’s not for nothing that this speculation over the move of the medical campus arose right as the school and the neighbors are entering mediation with hopes of reaching a settlement.

Besides the possibility that the move would enable more on campus dorms to be built, there is at least one other reason why some neighbors would be happy with the move. Without a hospital, there would probably be far fewer ambulance sirens blaring on by. Also on a broader note, opening a hospital in the eastern parts of the city would be great for the public health of poorer neighborhoods. And locating such a large employer in those neighborhoods would be an additional benefit. Finally, regardless of where they move it is likely that it would be metro accessible.

But there are plenty of reasons why Georgetowners would be¬†disappointed¬†by the move. Most significant of those reasons is that Georgetowners would lose the benefit of having an emergency hospital so close by (with free ambulance services provided by students). Additionally, GM knows a lot of parents use the pediatric center at the hospital. The next closest emergency hospital that has a pediatric specialty is Children’s Hospital way over on North Capitol St. Finally, some residents work there and likely appreciate the short commute.

GM bets that if a poll were taken of Georgetown residents asking if they want the hospital to move or not, the results would be mixed. Those living near the hospital and those living among higher concentrations of off-campus students would likely support the move. Those further away from the ambulance routes and group homes would probably dislike the move.

One final note: it very well might be the case that GU would be considering this move even if the campus plan were behind us. And maybe it’s myopic to think the school would make the move just to satisfy the neighbors. But mark GM’s words: if the school moves the medical campus, it will go down into city lore that the move was done to satisfy petulant neighbors. Like the myth over rich Georgetowners keeping poor people out by stopping the creation of a Georgetown metro stop (not true!), this interpretation would perpetuate because it would reinforce how many think about the neighborhood and who lives here.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “GU Mulls Moving Medical Campus

  1. Gregg

    Our community should remember the old adage that there are more tears spilled over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

  2. Walter

    I don’t believe it feasible to separate a medical school from its basic teaching hospital; and not by a few blocks, but by a few miles. I can’t think of an example where such a separation exists.

    And I don’t believe building a new teaching hospital in Southeast Washington makes economic sense; the patient population will largely be on Medicaid/Medicare, and those programs are unlikely to cover the costs of operating a teaching hospital relying on those programs for cost reimbursement.

    However, moving the medical school to the Washington Hospital Center might make sense, and one could also downsize the GU hospital as a result.

  3. kchoya

    @Walter: you should google WWAMI sometime. That program has turned out to be pretty feasible.

  4. Walter

    kchoya. thanks for the reference. That’s seems to be a situation where in largely rural areas, one can’t get hospitals with sufficient size to support a medical school being next door. Dartmouth, for many years, was a two year medical school.

    I would assume if GU were to move the medical school, it would also move the school of nursing. That school has 900 students currently..

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  7. Chris

    Why don’t they cut a deal with the city over United Medical Center on Southern Ave? The city is losing money on it and mismanaging that place left and right.

  8. DCTR

    Chris – that is a great idea. This is exactly what Johns Hopkins did with the old Francis Scott Key Medical center which was a city-owned hospital in Baltimore. JHH took it over, turned it into Johns Hopkins Bayview and is now making money on it hand over fist. Also, like UMC, when JHH took over FSK, the employees got a much better employer, and more jobs were added at that location due to the expansion made feasible by the vastly improved management of the hospital. Working in southeast would also be congruent with GU’s social justice mission!

  9. Dizzy

    Although I don’t think I fit the definition of “most pro-GU partisan,” I think what such a person would say – and what I would say – is that while it is widely recognized that space is tight and a satellite campus would relieve that pressure, the Georgetown undergraduate experience is inextricably linked to the Hilltop and should remain so. This is why the proposals that neighbors have floated from time to time that Georgetown simply buy up apartment space in Rosslyn or Courthouse and shuttle students in each morning are not serious.

    Said partisan would also point out that Georgetown already has two satellite campuses, the Law Center and the Center for Continuing and Professional Studies in Clarendon. It also has office space scattered across parts of DC, including off of Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park and the Health Disparities Initiative office at 1000 New Jersey Avenue, SE. So clearly the University does not have some sort of irrational opposition to satellite campuses as a concept. But moving half the undergraduates out to Ashburn, as one neighbor suggested, is simply not an option, and I don’t think one has to be the “most pro-GU partisan” to accept that.

    With regard to Walter’s question: I’m guessing that the Nursing and Health Studies (NHS) graduate programs – AG-ACNP/CNS, Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthesia, Nurse Midwifery/Women’s Health NP, and Post Master’s Certificate – utilize the faculty and resources of the Medical Center much more than the NHS undergrads. Moving them wouldn’t be a very big deal, I don’t think, although the amount of kvetching from faculty who would have to go to two different places would surely be high.

    In terms of the undergraduate experience (and graduate as well, though the graduate sciences are quite small right now), I think the biggest loss would be the opportunities for biomedical research on the Med Center campus that currently exist. Dedicating one of the existing buildings – say the Basic Research Building? – for that purpose might help offset this. Still, one of the benefits of smaller, shared spaces is ‘cross-pollination,’ and I do think some of that would be lost. It is probably inevitable, though, so the time to start thinking about how best to manage it would be now.

  10. Dizzy

    DCTR: While Hopkins is in the hospital business – they own Sibley among others – Georgetown got out of that game because the GU hospital was hemorrhaging millions of dollars each year. Something like what you propose simply could not happen without the involvement of MedStar or another partner, as I cannot imagine the University wanting to try its hand at sole operation of a hospital, especially one that is on the other side of the city and is almost guaranteed to be unprofitable due to location.

  11. Birdie

    If the hospital goes to Reservation 13, it will be adjacent to both the SE and NE sections of Capital Hill, close to the Ward 7 border AND be Metro-accessible to patients from across the city, So I would expect its patient base will be very diverse in income/insurance coverage. Even at its current not-so-easily Metro-accessible location, the other patients I’ve seen there are very diverse. The Capitol Crossing location is even better since it’s centrally located as well as Metro-accessible. GUH has an good reputation–people will follow.

  12. Dizzy

    Birdie: I was only referring to the suggestion involving United Medical Center on Southern Ave. I should’ve made that clear. Reservation 13 or Capitol Crossing would both be promising, I think, although I think the involvement of MedStar would still be condicio sine qua non.

  13. Walter

    For those interested in how much GU was losing on its hospital before it sold to MedStar, the numbers can be found in this presentation.

    http://www.upenn.edu/ldi/KastorSlides.pdf

  14. Chris

    Interesting points Dizzy!

  15. Adam

    Medistar would have to be insane to move the hospital to St. Elizabeth’s. There’s a reason there are no for-profit hospitals anywhere near Anacostia and its environs- they would be the first stop for emergency visits from people who can’t pay or are on Medicaid and they would be barred by federal law from refusing care or transferring them. That’s not a recipe for profitability.

  16. asuka

    Wow. According to those slides, GU lost a quarter of a billion dollars trying to manage it’s hospital, and lost nearly $100 million in 1999 alone. In just five years after they bought it, Medstar had the hospital turning a profit.

  17. Dizzy

    Well, it sure didn’t take long for MedStar to throw some public cold water on this discussion: http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/2012/05/georgetown-hospital-not-moving.html

    @asuka: Since MedStar is a not-for-profit, “turning a profit” is perhaps not the right turn of phrase. It is true that the hospital is now in the black and no longer incurring losses, as far as I know.

  18. asuka

    @Dizzy

    Looks like this blog needs some new, more reliable “multiple sources.”

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