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Grady on guard

With more than $100 million up in the air, Grady's future depends on critical policy decisions - third of three parts

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ILLUSTRATION BY WES DUVALL
  • Illustration by Wes Duvall

If Deal refuses to act on Medicaid, deferring contract negotiations may be necessary. "It puts the support of the counties into focus," says Hicks. "If the feds say no and the state says no, the only place we can turn is back to the counties."

Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation chairman A.D. "Pete" Correll has witnessed the hospital's evolution from debt-ridden monolith to profit-making health care institution. Today, he's far less concerned about the hospital's future than he was six years ago. "Grady will be there, no matter what people decide, for another 10 years," Correll says.

The hospital's financial turnaround came about as corporate business leaders and public facilities banded together to prop up the institution. "What happened with Grady is one of the most remarkable public sector stories in the U.S.," says Reed. "[The] community [came] together to provide a $250 million cash infusion to its largest public hospital. ... You walk in Grady now, you're really in a best-in-class facility. I'm going to support that."

JUST SAY NO: Gov. Nathan Deal has repeatedly said he will not expand Medicaid.  He even rejected CL's interview requests to discuss the matter.
  • Joeff Davis
  • JUST SAY NO: Gov. Nathan Deal has repeatedly said he will not expand Medicaid. He even rejected CL's interview requests to discuss the matter.

But unless Reed can persuade Deal, who has stood by him for both the new Falcons stadium and the Savannah Port, Grady's future as a safety-net hospital may be out of his control. The mayor hasn't entered the ring on the touchy issue yet. If he were to stick his neck out for Atlanta's iconic infirmary, Medicaid expansion proponents say it would be justified.

Zeldin says that expanding Medicaid not only helps Grady and its patients, but it can also be a "good investment for the economy." She points to Georgia State University health care economist Bill Custer's recent study, which found that, over 10 years, the Medicaid expansion could create about 70,000 new jobs and have an $8 billion economic impact across the state. It could also bring 25,900 new jobs to metro Atlanta, give the city a $3.3 billion boost, and generate an estimated $276 million in state and local tax revenue.

When all is said and done, Cohn says states such as Georgia will eventually realize that Medicaid expansion is too good of a deal to pass up. "When you turn away that Medicaid money, you're really sticking it to your own hospitals," Cohn says. "Hospitals tend to have a lot of influence. They're big economic players, big employers, they provide a vital public function."

At his annual state of the city address in February, Reed preached that Atlanta needs to move past "a posture of near survival." After talking about the city's tourism corridor, backlogged infrastructure repairs, and new Falcons stadium, Reed closed his remarks with a simple request: that Atlantans "always be in the posture of choosing the future."

Reed's comment was delivered in the context of the controversial stadium deal, but Haupert thinks that same sentiment should be applied to Grady. He says major metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Dallas, and Charlotte, are vying to attract employers. To do so, metropolitan areas need the right infrastructure to convince families and business to relocate.

"Grady, to me, is part of that infrastructure," Haupert says. "You want to know that there is a world-class trauma burn center, you want to know that there's good schools, you want to know there's good roads and infrastructure."

Like roads, schools, parks, or sewers, Haupert says the health care institution needs continued support to remain Atlanta's lifeline for years to come. Grady needs Atlanta as much as Atlanta needs Grady.

"You've got to be able to be a viable, healthy community in order to grow and thrive as a community," Haupert says. "Atlanta needs that [and] all these big cities need that. That's where the essential nature of Grady comes in — no one else fills or will fill that role."

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