Gilbert Hahn

Former Chairman of the Board,
MedStar Washington Hospital Center (1967 - 1969)


Native Washingtonian Gilbert Hahn Jr., scion of the Hahn Shoe family, served twice on MedStar Washington Hospital Center's Board-from 1963-1969 and again from 1980-1983. A veteran of World War II, he relinquished his seat as the Hospital Center's chairman upon his appointment by President Nixon to run the City Council in 1969. Now 84, Mr. Hahn still goes to his office every day, where he is surrounded by photographs, citations and awards from his long and illustrious life. His ties to MedStar Washington Hospital Center run deep.

My maternal grandfather had helped found, and then served on the board of, the old Emergency Hospital, where I was born in 1921. Later, my mother Hortense picked up the mantle, serving on the board for many years. When she died, Emergency asked me to assume her seat.

Shortly thereafter, Emergency, Garfield and Episcopal Hospitals merged to create the new MedStar Washington Hospital Center. When the Center first opened, there were two sets of boards-the new one, charged with actually governing the hospital, and an honorary board composed of all the former board members of the three founding hospitals. That's where I landed before being elected to the working board in 1963.

At the time, the new hospital was dealing with an image problem. Its location was perceived as dangerous and isolated, and many patients from upper Northwest simply didn't want to come here. We needed to address that. When I became chairman, we decided upon several tactics, including opening luxury suites, unheard of at the time, to dispel the misperception that we were an inner-city hospital. We also wanted to create an inviting-looking campus and worked to convince Children's Hospital, which was looking to move downtown, to join us and the new VA Hospital on our site. Well, Children's was waffling so to sweeten the deal, I proposed that we lease them our vacant land for $1 a year. The physicians on the board were all for it, since they could see the benefit of having Children's next door, but most of the businessmen were horrified. After much debate, the board narrowly approved the measure. But I think Children's may still owe us that dollar.

We also started the research foundation, kept the Nursing School open when others were closing, and laid the groundwork for what has become one of the top heart programs in the nation. I experienced it first-hand a couple of years back when I received five stents and was awake the whole time, while the docs and nurses were sitting in front of a computer screen. It was sensational!

Today, the site actually looks like a college campus, and the Hospital Center is busier than ever. I guess it all worked out.