News & Politics

Hospitals 2005: George Washington University Hospital

In 1997, a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, a for-profit healthcare corporation, bought an 80-percent interest in George Washington University Hospital. In 2002, the GW hospital left its old quarters--now razed--for a new building across the stree

Some physicians believed the sale of GW to a for-profit corporation was a betrayal that would place profits above academics. But according to Dr. Richard Becker, who became CEO of GW hospital after the sale, that has not and will not happen. He says the change forced GW to be more financially rigorous and notes that other for-profit hospitals have successfully merged with academic centers. Becker also says the quality of GW's medical students and their training and residency programs are as good or better than before the merger.

"The sale of GW did not diminish its academic quality," agrees Arling, the DC physician and clinical professor at GW and Georgetown. "It's the corporation's flagship hospital, and they value academic medicine. They're not just bean counters."

Some of the same tensions that plagued Georgetown have been at play at GW. Many doctors have complained that GW doctors were possessive of their turf and made it hard for private-practice doctors to gain privileges there. This issue grew so heated that a number of private doctors considered suing GW. As in the case with Georgetown, tensions have diminished because GW needs area doctors to admit patients there.

GW has long been considered an institution that emphasized patient care more than research. One physician on GW's clinical faculty calls it "a solid, journeyman type of institution with no big stars but reliable patient care." Its intensive-care unit and emergency department are considered especially strong. GW has begun to introduce new information technology, including computerized medication ordering in its emergency room, and is now using bar-coded "smart pumps" to administer medications in the ICU, a system that will cost at least $1 million.

While the physician survey ranked GW the third-best area hospital for medical equipment, GW also came in second, barely, to Georgetown as being the worst-managed from a patient-care standpoint. Physicians also named GW as having the second-weakest hospital staff among area hospitals, meaning techs, nurses, and other support staff. As with the survey's criticisms of Georgetown, this may reflect some payback from area physicians who had problems with GW.