Is the Medstar, Star Worthy?


The Medstar Washington Hospital Center is located on 10 Irving St NW Washington, DC 20001. Upon reaching the address there were a multitude of thoughts that popped into my head. The first was the colossal nature of the buildings that encompass the area. With six distinct arrival options the area can be a hassle to manage and work your way around. The Medstar itself has four different buildings which are the main office, emergency room, Washington Cancer Institute, Physicians Office Building, and the East Building. Luckily the architecture for each varies a little so it not impossible to determine the difference between one another.

Apart from the complexity that is exhibited, I also noticed that the hospital had elements that were very contrasting. The hospital was built in 1958 and the architecture of the building clearly represents a Cold War time. The building material is grey concrete which gives the building a very depressing and ominous vibe, (I never understood why hospitals always went out of their way to multiply the sadness that is already present in a hospital). However it is interesting to note that the other buildings that were created later differ from this style. The Washington Cancer Institute uses a beautiful beige and white color scheme which makes the building seem very luxurious and high class. On the other hand, the East Building uses red brick, which blends the building in with the surrounding area as most buildings within the community of the hospital utilize this form of architecture, it feels like the hospitals attempt to integrate themselves within the community.

Another aspect that I found extremely interesting was the use of nature and flowers. The main entrance has an ovalesque roundabout for cars to drop off people, littered with flowers: reds, pinks, yellows, blues; an array of beautiful colors welcome the patients as they are dropped off.  It is reassuring and telling the family and the patient that everything will be ok; the rhetorical implications of using the flowers are definitely interesting. The flowers themselves are a direct contrast to the grey nature of the building, it is almost as if the flowers are there to distract the observer from the pale color scheme of building, in which case shows a progression from the past.

The hospital itself is a microcosm. White lab coats, blue scrubs and patients can be seen throughout the hospital; it was clearly a closed niche that was not a part of the surrounding area, but rather focused on the activities within the hospital. The grandiose nature of the hospital alienates it from the surrounding community. While it has aspects of it that are community inclusive and welcoming, the sheer complexity can be a deterrent for people. Personally, I found myself struggling to locate where I was and where I wanted to go.  I can only imagine what others would feel like when attempting to navigate the area. Once this is taken into consideration it is interesting to analyze whether the complexity of the space was made on purpose and if it was made to deter people from visiting, especially since the hospital is located in a lower socioeconomic region.

The hospital is stuck between the past and the future. It still sees a plethora of patients that have been victims of gun violence. This is evidenced by the article on WUSA9 which highlights how a mother was the victim of a stray bullet in a gunfight, and due to that she lost both of her twin daughters. These types of incidents are exactly what the hospital wants to distance itself from. Wikipedia states that “In 2012-13, the MedStar Washington Hospital Center was named among “America’s Best Hospitals” for Cardiology & Heart Surgery by U.S.News,” which is the type of publicity that is more along the lines of what the hospital wants accredited to its name.

However the Hospital has also been scrutinized for the way that it has been trying to evolve. In October 2015, Medstar was caught in a false claims settlement, in which the hospital was forced to pay five million dollars for violating coverage requirements. Another incident that has been prevalent is with regards to the staff. In an employee survey of the hospital, many expressed elevated anxiety and stress levels that are the cause of what they believe to be underemployment. Another important takeaway from the survey was the safety level concern that employees vocalized, all of which raise concerns as to the practices and situation of the hospital. In fact, in 2014, the nurses of the hospital organized a strike in which they addressed the issues of understaffing, unsafe working conditions and underpay.

The hospital, as stated previously, has been attempting to innovate and pioneer.  Dr. Mark Smith, the Chief Innovation Officer of MedStarHealth and Director of the MedStar Institute has been attempting ways to empower and inspire millennials. InnovationHealth for America (HFA) at MedStar Health is a yearlong health innovation fellowship for young Americans within three years of having earned a bachelor’s degree, which focuses on applied health and research for type 2 diabetes, heart failure and child asthma. This program focuses on empowering the community and inspiring the youth to make a difference and learn from experience and from leading experts. In a way this program is symbiotic in the sense that it is beneficial for the hospital as well as for the community. On top of this, the Hospital has recently made itself more easily accessible. Many of the patients in the area do not have a form of personal transportation, thus getting to the hospital and arranging appointments can be a hassle, due to the lackluster public transportation system. Because of this, MedStar has started to implement Uber rides for their patients so that they can have access to the hospital and appointments.

In essence, the hospital is stuck in a period of transition. It is interesting to note how the community has reacted to the transitional phase of the hospital. The built environment of the hospital in synergism with the actions that the hospital has taken can be seen in a multitude of different lights and ways. The question then becomes if the hospital has done its community a good service or if the goal of the hospital has been monetary gain and personal growth. The tale of the Medstar Washington Hospital Center is definitely an interesting one that should be further analyzed as it could prove to be a gateway to analyzing the surrounding community.

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