In the past 12 years, several of our nation’s most storied public hospitals have closed, including DC General (2001), New Orleans’s Charity Hospital (2005), and Martin Luther King, Jr. hospital in Los Angeles (2007). When Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital was featured on the front page of The New York Times on Jan 8, 2008, it was widely assumed it would be the next to go. However, at its darkest hour, Grady received help from an unexpected quarter.
In the June issue of Health Affairs, a young physician, Dr. Kate Neuhausen, describes how she and other leaders of a little-known student organization mobilized hundreds of health professions students from around the state of Georgia to join the fight for Grady’s survival. It is difficult to overstate how perilous the hospital’s situation was at the time. Because Grady provides such a disproportionate share of uncompensated care in the state of Georgia, it would have been impossible for metro Atlanta’s hospitals and private health care providers to absorb the sudden loss of more than 900 inpatient beds; the highly specialized trauma, burn and psychiatric services Grady provides; or the displacement of tens of thousands of inpatient days and hundreds of thousands of outpatient visits. The resulting social, medical and financial upheaval would have sent shockwaves throughout the region—the economic engine for the state and a vital financial, commercial and transportation hub for the Southeastern United States.
Fortunately, Atlanta’s business community and philanthropies grasped the gravity of the situation. So did Georgia’s governor, the leaders of Georgia’s General Assembly, the Commissioners of Fulton and DeKalb Counties, the appointed members of the Hospital Authority that ran Grady, the leadership of Emory University and Morehouse School of Medicine (which provides the hospital’s medical staff), Grady’s employees, and its patients. But each group had a different concept of what needed to be done. Urban-rural, partisan and racial politics came into play. Time was running out.
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