A Cold and Uncertain Future for Grady Memorial Hospital

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 1/17/2014, 6 a.m.
“Grady is our hospital,” Chairman of the Board Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. said Tuesday, Jan. 14 at The FDHA’s media ...
Grady Memorial Hospital

The biting wind of an unforgiving winter can carry a harsh truth.

For The Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, the truth could come in the form of more than $50 million in total being cut to its overall medical operating budget, which overwhelming affects Grady Memorial Hospital.

“Grady is our hospital,” Chairman of the Board Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. said Tuesday, Jan. 14 at The FDHA’s media breakfast briefing. “It is almost $1 billion asset for the community…and we have a duty to make sure Grady’s healthy.”

The early morning meeting was an opportunity for The FDHA’s key members to explain the current state of affairs, while drawing attention to a clear and present danger that will have a domino-like collateral damage in Fulton and DeKalb County.

The proposed Fulton County cut is estimated at $25 million. DeKalb County’s cut is estimated at $6 million. Fulton gives $50 million annually, whereas DeKalb gives $12 million.

These cuts come at a time when Grady and other medical facilities are dealing with declining Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements due to state and federal budget cuts.

Grady is the largest public hospital in Georgia, as well as the heart of metro Atlanta’s health-care system. It is also primarily dedicated to treating and serving the poorest and most ill in the community.

Thus, Grady had found itself operating in the red for many years. That is why the hospital was privatized in 2008, when The FDHA took over operations, and since then has been helping Grady climb out of the red abyss of debt.

“Grady has about three years of operating in the black,” stated Lewis Horne, the attorney working with The FDHA said in the briefing.

“The first three years were very tough,” Dortch added. [There’s] a lot of red ink still at Grady.”

Grady’s turnaround has benefitted from its ability in converting a higher percentage of uninsured patients to Medicaid. But Governor Nathan Deal’s recent refusal to opt out of statewide Medicaid limits Grady’s ability to continue its efforts.

Nearly 200 people rallied outside the state Capitol building Monday, Jan. 13, calling out Gov. Deal, in effort to get the state to expand Medicaid, which is a major component of the Affordable Care Act.

The “Moral Monday” rally featured various organizations with a list of demands that include Medicaid expansion, which would extend health coverage to an additional 650,000 low-income Georgians.

According data given by The FDHA, 16 percent of the population in Fulton and 17 percent of the population in DeKalb lives below the federal poverty line of $23,550.

In addition, 18 percent of residents in Fulton are uninsured and 23 percent in DeKalb, compared to only 19 percent of Georgia residents are uninsured statewide.

Georgia is one of 22 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion, which Deal has said is too costly. Deal has estimated the expansion would cost the state $4 billion over a decade.

The federal government pays for the full cost of newly eligible Medicaid recipients under expansion for the first three years, under the Affordable Care Act. Its share then drops to no lower than 90 percent of the cost.

But as things are currently situated, sans Medicaid expansion and with the proposed county-by-county budget cuts, Grady and other medical facilities in Fulton and DeKalb will suffer.

Hemorrhaging funds and resources without a clear viable alternative option will put the medical facilities under The Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority on life support.

Dortch outlined the worst-case scenario would see closed clinics, cuts and limits to staff and services, and not to mention elongated hospital/clinic waiting periods during routine and emergency visits

The biggest hit will come to the mental health care services, which is potentially facing cuts with or without the financial backing of the county commissioners.

According to Grady, an estimated 80 percent of the hospital’s mental health patients are Fulton residents.

The commission is expected to make a final budget soon, as well as outline possible legislation that could further hamper Grady.

The Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority is hoping for good news or Plan B will go into effect.

What’s Plan B?

“We’re looking at [going to] court,” Dortch said.

For more information, visit www.thefdha.net.