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Take me to Grady

A look inside the state's largest hospital right now with the people who know it best

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URGENT TREATMENT: A Grady staff member rushes a distressed patient through the Marcus Trauma Center.
  • Joeff Davis
  • URGENT TREATMENT: A Grady staff member rushes a distressed patient through the Marcus Trauma Center.
FAITHFULLY COMMITTED: “Grady baby” Yvonne had her knee replaced at Grady in January, but was readmitted after complications arose.
  • Joeff Davis
  • FAITHFULLY COMMITTED: “Grady baby” Yvonne had her knee replaced at Grady in January, but was readmitted after complications arose.

Yvonne is a "Grady baby." She was born just more than a decade before the hospital was desegregated in 1965. The 59-year-old African-American woman from Decatur has returned to the hospital over the years for medical treatment. Doctors replaced her knee in January, but she needed to be readmitted after complications arose. When we talked in her sixth-floor room, she felt hopeful about returning home that evening.

Grady's going to take care of you. I was born here. Grady's what I prefer. In [my] 59 years, Grady's changed a lot. It's come from being a hospital where poor people [came] and had to wait, to [being] a caring hospital.

I had an aneurysm in 2011, [so] my memory isn't quite clear [from that visit]. This time I came for a knee replacement. I caught an infection in the knee replacement and had to come back. I've been here for eight days. The sixth floor has been great for me. They are caring. The nurses do their job physically and mentally. When you feel down and out, they lift you up.

Grady saved Kate Spahr-Walchle's life. In 2007, the 36-year-old Decatur resident spent five weeks hospitalized in Grady's burn unit — one of only two in Georgia — after Emory University Hospital doctors diagnosed her with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and potentially deadly skin disease typically caused by an adverse drug reaction.

The malady causes blisters that must be removed, leaving the body highly prone to infection. She says the meticulous skin-cleaning process can be excruciating — like a Brillo pad scraped against raw flesh. Imagine the sharp discomfort of gently touching a dime-sized blister on your foot. She felt that pain exponentially across four-fifths of her body.

Spahr-Walchle experiences some long-term SJS impacts. She's constantly fatigued and literally unable to cry. But she is alive because of the medical care she received at Grady. Now a mother, Spahr-Walchle lives approximately two miles from the hospital. She can't drive on the Downtown Connector's Grady curve without feeling reverence for the infirmary.

Grady saved my life. I love Grady. I considered naming my son Grady. It is a really important place to me. I've gone back to visit, in particular, a few of the physical therapists and Dr. [Walter] Ingram, who is the head of the burn unit. He is a saint. ...

... [SJS occurs when] the body doesn't know how to effectively eliminate the medicine, so the only way it can come out is through your skin ... [You're] set on fire and stay on fire for weeks. All they can do is keep you from dying from infection. When your skin comes off that much, you basically have zero immune system. I would have pain beyond the maximum amount of painkiller they can give. They had to work fast before I went into shock and possibly died. They put me into a medically induced coma for around three weeks.

Once I had begun my recovery, there was a week where my skin would keep trying to grow back and then would burn back off. We guessed that it was because the medication I was on had a very long half-life. During that week I had about a 30 percent chance of survival, so I walked that edge. If I had gotten an infection, I wouldn't have made it.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that 85 percent of Grady's admissions in 2011 came through the emergency room and averaged 7.2 hours per stay, exceeding the national average. Long waits rarely make for happy patients.

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They also fail to inspire glowing survey responses, which now help dictate how much federal money Grady receives. At hospitals nationwide, patients receive a 27-question Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey about the quality of the staff, treatment, and facility maintenance. As a result, Grady officials estimate that an additional $4 million will be spent on efforts to raise survey scores so that the hospital can receive more federal funding. Chief Nursing Officer Rhonda Scott says the money will help improve overall patient experience, even if it is used to purchase everyday comforts.

We serve the famous, not-so-famous, the rich, the poor, insured, uninsured. We get everyone here. We're challenged to meet everyone's needs. ... When you have 350 people coming to your ER every day, there are only so many beds in the emergency department. It's very difficult when you get 460 people at your door.

I need to make sure that the room is cleaned, it's quiet at night, your pain is being managed, that you like the food and that it is served at the appropriate temperature. [Food] quality was a big issue for us. Based upon the patients' feedback ... we're having taste tests ... different pastas, meatloaf, salmon. It actually is good; I tasted it myself.

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