Fulton County Approves $15 Million for Grady, With Strings Attached
(APN) ATLANTA — The Fulton County Board of Commissioners approved $15 million for the Grady Health System on Wednesday, September 05, 2007, but it did not happen easily, or without strings attached.
The debate among Commissioners was a tempest, featuring angry speeches, passionate opposition, and embarrassing tirades. The debate came hours into the meeting, and itself lasted well over an hour, ending with a fragile, perhaps insidious, compromise.
Members expressed completely opposing views on Grady’s governing structure, with one side lobbying for privatization and the other fighting to keep Grady public.
Commissioners rejected a resolution sponsored jointly by Chairman John Eaves (District 1, At-Large) and Commissioner Lynne Riley (District 3) that would have required the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority (FDHA) to shift to a private, nonprofit management structure in order to receive emergency funding.
“We are all under the obligation to have accountability before we authorize extra funds,” Riley said.
Commissioner Emma Darnell (District 5) and Vice Chairman Bill Edwards (District 7) delivered the most scorching attacks on the Eaves-Riley resolution and demanded FDHA remain accountable to the taxpayers.
“You’ve got to give the hospital what it needs and that’s money,” Edwards said.
“The very people on this Board who say we should shut down Grady are the same ones who have voted to cut Grady funding,” Darnell said.
She added she has “no problem” letting the “good people of Fulton County” control how Grady spends money.
“I’m tired of getting hit over the head by the Chamber of Commerce,” Edwards said, referring to the Chamber’s recommendation the hospital go to private management. “The people have already said, we don’t want this scam.”
“I think the current Hospital Authority members did their best, but I want a change in the governing structure,” Commissioner Nancy Boxill (District 6), who offered four amendments to the Eaves-Riley resolution, said.
Darnell said the amendments and the resolution were basically the same thing and that none of her colleagues were presenting evidence that could show her constituents how privatization is better.
“We are not taking care of the people’s business,” Edwards said. “We’re finding ways to get a $1 billion asset in the hands of the business community.”
“This ain’t nothin’ but robbery,” he continued, “And people in these Districts won’t tolerate it.”
Commissioner Tom Lowe (District 4) raised the specter of cutting off funding entirely after an altercation with other Commissioners over control of the floor that drew hisses and laughter from some audience members.
“I will not vote for one more dollar until people can come to the table and wake up,” he said. “This outfit is going to continue to waste money. The only way to straighten this out is to deny funding.”
Darnell then offered a measure that would have approved $15 million in emergency funding, provided the health system cut operational costs by $10 million by year’s end or risk losing $15 million out of their budget next year.
But that gained only three affirmative votes, nearly grinding proceedings to a halt.
Eaves finally allowed the emergency funding vote, only after Members approved Boxill’s second amendment recommending the Grady governing board create a committee to explore the private management option.
This appears redundant considering the FDHA has already hired a law firm to study the idea of a private, nonprofit corporation, which is expected to report its findings at the end of the month, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper (AJC).
However, the exploratory committee could be just the first step towards the Fulton County Commission supporting privatization.
After the dust had cleared, Otis Story, CEO of the Grady Health System, said he was “very appreciative of the Commissioner [and] their actions.”
“This $15 million gives us a tiny amount of breathing room,” he said. “This is the first step.”
Story hopes DeKalb County will provide $5 million in emergency funds soon and that Commissioners will consider supporting–essentially co-signing for–the $100 million loan which is also part of the FDHA’s $125 million plan.
The Fulton County Commission will meet again on September 19, 2007, and possibly discuss the loan plan while it is still unclear when DeKalb County will move on providing emergency funds.
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