New Anacostia center improves access to health care, but nearby residents unaware, hesitant to change
Bread for the City, a nonprofit based out of northwest Washington, opened a new medical center in Historic Anacostia this October to provide accessible health care for residents of Wards 7 and 8.
“The need for access in [these wards] was just so robust,” CEO George Jones said of the decision to choose its location at 1700 Good Hope Road SE.
Residents using the center won’t have to pay for medical care or endure a long trip on public transportation. This was the main motive for opening the new Michelle Obama Southeast Center of Bread for the City, spokesperson Kenrick Thomas said.
Before, residents east of the Anacostia River typically had to travel across the river to receive quality health care. The only hospital in the region is United Medical Center on Southern Avenue near the Metro station of the same name; in addition, there are a few Unity Health Care branches. The D.C. Department of Health’s list of health care providers shows that options in Wards 7 and 8 are scarce, and most require some form of health insurance.
Data collected by Transit Center also show there are limited accessible health care options east of the Anacostia River. Both the nearest urgent care and closest hospital are a 12-minute drive. For an area where more than 43% percent of homes do not have a car, that’s unrealistic. The research found many residents use public transportation, which takes 37-38 minutes to reach either medical facility.
Since 1974, Bread for the City has provided primary care, dental, vision, and behavioral services to residents and accepted anyone regardless of their health insurance status. Bringing these services to the most needy area has been a goal of the center for a while, Thomas said.
“It brings a better connection with people,” said Danielle Stout, a nurse risk manager at Bread for the City, said of the new building. She added that the location of the center helps the focus on a geographically needy area.
Creating this accessibility has been critical for a population that does not have many other options for medical care. During 2019-2020, before the southeast location opened, Bread for the City had 14,479 patient visits and 953 telehealth visits, according to its annual report. Thomas said that the majority of patients use Medicaid or don’t have health insurance.
Despite the new location and the high level of accessibility it creates, the halls of the two-month-old building remain empty. Dr. Kimberly Mohabir said she sees only a handful of patients each day at the southeast location. About 5 miles north and a 50 minute bus ride away, Bread for the City’s northwest D.C. medical center doesn’t have an empty chair.
Thomas credits this to a lack of awareness. He said that to increase attention, flyers are placed in every bag of groceries that gets handed out at the southeast center.
Designed to serve more than 3,000 people, the new Anacostia center stands mostly unused. They anticipated a slow start, Jones said. A major factor reducing interest in on-site appointments is hesitancy with the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why vaccine distribution is a priority, Jones said. Jones said he hopes for a steadier flow of patients once more of the local population is vaccinated . D.C.’s official vaccination data estimate only 33% of Ward 8 residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19; 37% of residents in Ward 7, the other district east of the Anacostia River, are fully vaccinated. The total estimated vaccination rate for the city is 64%.
Another factor in low attendance at the new southeast facility is that some northwest patients said they wish to continue receiving care at the northwest site because prefer the consistency of their provider.
Selena Martinez has been traveling from her home in southeast Washington to the northwest Bread for the City medical center for as long as she can remember. Her entire family sees the same doctor, without having to pay.
Martinez said the 50 minute trip each way is worth it. She said the front desk staff recognizes her upon arrival and the entire staff is friendly toward everyone. She said she is comfortable with the doctor she sees and doesn’t want to switch.
“I will feel out of place if a new doctor sees me,” she said. For this reason, Martinez said she will continue to travel to the northwest center.
Stout said she is hopeful the new location will soon serve the full capacity it was made to serve. It is a step in bridging the gap of accessible medical care, she said, but there is still a lot more work to be done.
“I wish there was a greater drive to connect communities with health care. I think that there is a disparity,” Stout said.
This article has been updated to correct the name of United Medical Center. It previously said “University Medical Center.”