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Health care is another flop

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POSTED: July 17, 2007 5:02 a.m.
I owe Atlanta’s Grady Hospital a debt  I can never repay. More than 55 years ago, when I was a student at Emory, the Atlanta Journal dispatched me to Grady as a part-time reporter to cover the emergency room on Saturday nights. I would never again witness such bloody chaos and medical heroism as I did during those nights long ago. I learned lessons and saw life-and-death events that have served me throughout my career. Whenever I visit a doctor now and see a Grady training certificate on his wall, I feel more secure. I figure this physician has seen it all.
So perhaps I am taking the current Grady Hospital financial crisis too personally. The hospital doesn’t serve many folks in my circle, unless they’ve been involved in a wreck downtown or have sustained serious burns. As it did when I worked there, Grady mainly takes care of the poor — people on Medicaid or without insurance, homeless men, women and children.
An attendant’s instruction from a long-ago midnight still rings in my ears as I watched a line of patients plead for help in the old emergency room: “You’re shot? I know you’re shot. I can see that. But you must fill out this blue sheet. Now just sit down over there and fill it out. We’ll get to you in a minute.”
This wasn’t callousness. It was triage. And vastly overcrowded Grady had to have its blue sheets to get government reimbursement.
Right now, Grady itself is in dire need of emergency care. It is hemorrhaging money and facing financial collapse. It is expected to end the year $120 million in the red. The facility can’t go on with such deficits.
If Grady is allowed to go under, it would create a tsunami throughout Georgia’s already dysfunctional health-care system. If Grady closed its doors, look what our state would lose:
• A hospital that handles more than 900,000 patients a year, many of them indigent and unable to find care elsewhere. Without Grady, other hospitals would be crushed by throngs of new patients and added costs.
• The only Level I trauma unit between Macon and Chattanooga.
• A worldclass burn-treatment unit.
• A training facility for more than 25 percent of Georgia’s doctors.
More important than that, the Grady crisis stands as just another reminder that Georgia has taken a sharp turn down the wrong path on one more quality-of-life issue: health care.
Just a few years ago, Georgia set out to become a national leader in health care. We launched the National Cancer Coalition to become a pioneer in combating cancer. The Medical College of Georgia, Emory, Morehouse, Mercer, Tech and UGA worked together on the project.
We leveraged the presence of the CDC in Atlanta. Our medical educators and state leaders envisioned a biosciences corridor from Augusta to Athens to Atlanta that would propel the Peach State to a leadership position and bring thousands of good-paying jobs in growth industries to our state.    
Now look at us. Our state leaders stand mute as Grady sinks from sight. They are too preoccupied with trying to determine how many more children they can deprive of health-care insurance. While other states are working to make health coverage available to every child, Georgia’s current leadership is worse than silent — they are hostile to the idea.
Indeed, just a few years back, Georgia was not satisfied to rival other New South states like North Carolina and Virginia. We were determined to position ourselves to lead the nation. Now we are content to fade into the backwaters of states that have been left behind, like Mississippi and Louisiana.
Our mantra is no longer to lead; it is to settle.
When Gov. Sonny Perdue junketed to Europe recently, he told reporters that Georgia’s economy was much like booming Ireland’s. Poor guy, he must have lost his bearings. Or else he can’t tell the difference between Ireland and Alabama.

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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