A Redemption Opportunity for Georgia Baptist

“Your mother is on the phone. She’d like to speak with you.”

My 19 and one day old self looked at the clock while rubbing the sleep from my eyes that morning as my friend’s mother handed me the phone before day break on March 15, 2001. I think I asked why she was calling me so early in annoyance. I sat up in bed as I heard the shakiness of my mother’s voice telling me that my father had been in a car accident and was in old Georgia Baptist. I would learn later he was life flighted there because of the extent of his injuries, sustained by a head-on collision that occurred as someone was trying to pass in a turn, on a two lane highway in Newton County. 

My mother and I were lucky. My father’s business partner’s family was not. My birthday is celebrated every single year with the knowledge that the gift I have was taken away from another in the same 24 hour period.

A lot of that time in my life was a blur, but that morning and being woken up the day after my birthday will stay forever burned in my mind.

The first time I visited my father in the hospital he was in a halo – not a c-collar around the neck, but a physical barrier around his head that was affixed to his shoulder and chest. The steering wheel had bruised his sternum and broken so many of his ribs, he was in tremendous pain and needed to be sedated by morphine to allow his body to heal without him moving things too much. 

If you ever wonder why I can’t sit still well, you should meet my parents.

It took Daddy six months to be able to step out of the wheelchair he was confined to and I can still remember the visceral feeling of the rug underneath my knees when they hit the floor in thanksgiving for that news on the phone from my mother. He spent 3 months at what is now referred to as Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center before being moved to a rehabilitation center in Gwinnett County. 

To lose this medical facility is not a loss solely to Atlanta, but a loss to the state of Georgia. In my life, it would have meant the death of my father. 

I find that people who’ve never experienced trauma like this can wax very philosophically about the P & L statements of trauma centers and hospitals. I do not doubt a lot of the Governor’s gray hairs were sustained by balancing the very real knowledge of how many Georgians were dying as we had to place them at the Georgia World Congress Center because our hospitals were already overflowing. I would think legislators would have learned from that, but I guess that’s hoping for too much, sadly.

I didn’t need a white paper. I have some life experience that can speak directly to the difference that ‘Golden Hour’ rural hospitals talk about in soft tones around our state. They know the ticking of seconds in accidents, violence, and myriad other unexpected health episodes determines the difference of life and death. The scales hang in the balance and Death waits for no one. 

With this in mind, when the vote for an extra $10 on my tag fee came up in 2010 to fund a trauma center in central Georgia, there was no question in my mind. If my $10 meant the difference between someone losing their loved one or not, it seemed a small price to pay. Sadly, the majority of Georgians didn’t agree that scraping their loved ones off the pavement on I 75 was worth sacrificing a few dollars. I wonder if that vote was taken during the first year of the pandemic if there would have been a different determination. 

What I also know is that this stupid us vs. them ideology that Atlanta and GOOA are separate entities is really unhelpful for the care of our actual citizens. I have long hoped for a Governor who sees the intertwined nature of Georgia to her cities and their resources. I keep hoping for legislators who look beyond their own noses to govern for the good of the state. I understand very keenly how people don’t want to pay for care that they will ultimately need on that “rainy day” and I keep hoping conservatives will remember their own advice of planning for it, yet I see repeated cutting off of our own nose to spite our face. 

The Medicaid expansion debate is likewise foolish. 

There’re many short-comings I can lay at Governor Kemp’s feet due to his own decisions. But Democrats are being disingenuous in that lack of Medicaid expansion should be attributed solely to him. Medicaid has expanded (albeit in small, almost imperceptible ways) here via postpartum care and even at the end of the Trump administration.  The Biden administration didn’t like the work requirements Georgia placed on expansion, and perfect became the enemy of good once again. 

I don’t wish my experience on anyone. Quite the opposite, I hope and pray that all Georgians have life sustaining care when they need it most. I’m just unconvinced our legislators have the foresight to make strategic funding decisions that will enable our citizens to be cared for anymore. They have removed all doubt to me that when Georgian’s lives are on the line, they will sacrifice it for the dollar that can be saved. We shall see if the electorate feels the same way in November. 

Wellstar’s abandonment of Atlanta Medical provides an opportunity. Our state still lives with the archaic, counterproductive, and generally foolish certificate of need program. Even the feds abandoned it decades ago, yet it still lives, and quite poshly, here. There are 17 different services that need government blessing in order for a hospital to offer them. The opportunity before us is for some disrupter to come into the Atlanta Medical Center campus. Clearly a variety of CONs were issued, and you can’t tell me that now the hospital is closing and that there is no longer a “need.” I look forward to that disrupter coming in and doing things differently. Healthcare costs are ridiculous and it’s time to shake up the stale and stagnant nature of Georgia Hospitals.

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