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Monday, December 24, 2007

The Changing Political Dynamic Surrounding Grady Hospital

From a purely political junkie level the current dynamics surrounding Grady Hospital are absolutely fascinating. Here is a quick run down. Late last month, the board at Grady Hospital approved a plan to go quasi private and asked, or demanded depending on your perspective, for roughly half a billion dollars in order to stay solvent. Then, not two weeks later, the JCAHO threatened to cut off Grady's national accreditation. Now, let's take each one at a time and then look at them together.

I believe the board is playing a huge political game of chicken with the Georgia legislature. I believe this plan does NOT have the best interest of the hospital in mind whatsoever. While that is certainly important, it is unfortunately a side issue in this political battle. As a friend of mine once put it

Grady can't shut down because who would take care of all the poor folks then
Without the money called for in this plan, Grady WILL shut down. The powers that be know this, and I have said as much. While Grady Hospital has had a long history of corruption and mismanagement, much of the power structure has continued to boldly and brazenly manage it in much the same way that has landed it in its current state. The reason for this is of course quite complicated, however it is due in no small part to Grady's vital role in Georgia health care system and society at large. Remember, Grady Hospital is among the largest in the world and is overwhelmingly responsible for taking care of most Georgia's poor folks. Without it all of the many "nice" hospitals in the area would have to take care of those folks.

I have fallen in love with the Latin phrase, Res Ipsa Loquitur. (The facts speak for themselves) Given Grady's long and sordid history with corruption and mismanagement, the fact that most of the power structure in Georgia never tried to really stop it tells me that most people don't much care as long as some other entity was taking care of those that no one else wanted to take care of, THE POOR. I believe the powers that be are counting on the exact same dynamic now. I believe the only thing most of the power players in Georgia want to avoid is for the poor folks to be dropped on the rest of the health care system. As long as they are Grady's problem, in my opinion, most everyone else turns a blind eye.

Thus, we have this game of chicken. The legislature doesn't want to hand Grady Hospital anymore money. They must know that the systemic problems currently going on at Grady aren't going to be solved with this plan, however without an infusion of cash, Grady shuts down. The powers that be at Grady are counting on the legislature blinking first. The legislature meets again in January so, for now, that part of the story is on hold.Enter the JCAHO. Just last week they publicly threatened to revoke the accreditation of Grady Hospital. To put this move in perspective only one hospital, King Hospital in California, has ever actually lost their accreditation. Many of allies on this story have extolled this move as pivotal. I am a lot more skeptical. There must have been the same kind of excitement when State Senator Charles Walker was convicted of 127 felonies at Grady and beyond. Yet, he, along with his daughter and the companies they ran, were the only ones that were convicted, and of course he got the absurd sentence of ten years. In 2004, the department of Health and Human Services conducted an investigation that concluded this...

the conditions at Grady Hospital pose a serious and immediate threat to the
health and safety of the patients
That was pretty damning however besides the then CEO, Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, no one lost their job as a result of this report and the power structure stayed in place despite its damning findings.Even in the late 1990's, Georgia Attorney General found Grady Hospital guilty of Medicare fraud. All of these were opportunities lost to clean up the corruption at Grady Hospital. The reason it didn't happen is also quite complicated, however I believe much of the blame goes to the media in Atlanta, headed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

In each of these stories, the truth is quite complicated and it was never fully explained to the citizens of Georgia. For instance, in the case of the HHS report, the report itself was damning, however how many people know the specifics of the report? Four departments were singled out: oncology, cardiology, General Surgery, and obgyn, in the report. Each of these departments had heads. None of these people lost their jobs because the specifics of the report weren't ever reported properly in the media. Furthermore, the heads of these departments had one boss, the Chief Medical Officer. His name is William Casarella and he has since been promoted within Emory University. This also happened because the media didn't properly report the specifics of the case. All people knew, if anything, about the investigation was the conclusion. While that was damning enough blame was impossible for a layman to determine without understanding the specifics as I now explain them.

In the case of Medicare fraud in the late 1990's, three departments were also identified: cardiology, obgyn, and oncology. Again, these departments have heads and a Chief Medical Officer above them. All of them including the CMO should have been and would have been fired if the media had properly exposed that case. As you can see the same departments are now coming up in multiple reports. No one outside the Grady structure knows this because the media, either through incompetence or worse, doesn't report the specifics of each case.There is one other case that the media did an atrocious job of reporting. That is the case of Dr. Sam Newcom. He was for about a year, the head of Oncology at Grady Hospital and Emory University Professor. He tried to speak out about the corruption and poor patient care at Grady Hospital and he was fired and ultimately paid off and silenced, but before that he wrote an article entitled Fighting Class Cleansing at Grady Memorial Hospital. You won't find this article in any mainstream Atlanta publication. As head of Oncology, you would be right in concluding that much of his indictment centered on his own department. In other words, oncology is the subject of a great deal of indictment from people of varying motivations and knowledge.

Nothing much has happened to clean up the oncology department and that is because the media has been asleep in reporting the specifics of what is going on at Grady.Then, there is Emory University. When the heat gets hot on Grady, Emory does a great job of distancing itself. In fact, they are doing their own disappearing act now. The truth is that they are for all intents and purposes one and the same. Each of these departments indicted by several different groups was run and almost fully staffed by staff at Emory University. The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. William Casarella, during much of this malfeasance has since been promoted within Emory. In other words, when there is sytemic problems at Grady Hospital, the blame must be laid at Emory University since it is staffed overwhelmingly by Emory professors and students. When Dr. Newcom indicted oncology, he was indicting his own colleagues since oncology is overwhelmingly staffed, like most of Grady Hospital, by Emory University personnel.

Now, what about the JCAHO findings? We know they are threatening to cut off accreditation however why? That, we don't know because for reasons unknown (I plan on calling the JCAHO on Monday for further explanation) the specifics of the findings aren't known. We can assume that multiple specific departments are the cause of it. It might be oncology, General Surgery, obgyn, cardiology, etc. The heads of any of the departments involved must be removed. If your department contributed to an investigation that ultimately lead to the accreditation of your hospital being threatened, THAT IS GROUNDS FOR REMOVAL, in my opinion at least. The current chief medical officer, Curtis Lewis, must be removed. If you are overseeing a hospital and the hospital is threatened with the removal of its accreditation, THAT IS GROUNDS FOR REMOVAL. The Current CEO of Grady Hospital is Otis Story, Sr. He must be removed for the same reasons. In fact, the entire board ought to be removed, however the board is overseen by Vernon Jones, and anyone that knows anything about Jones knows not to expect that to happen. Of course, how many Georgia folks know the real story behind Vernon Jones? That would require the media in Georgia to actually competently report the whole truth.

This whole case proves why the first amendment, the free press, is first not second or tenth. I hope everyone sees what happens when the media itself cedes its own freedoms and doesn't bother to report the whole truth. In order for this cycle to stop, the whole truth of the JCAHO findings must be reported by the media in Georgia. The media must keep the pressure on until all parties are held responsible. That is what has to happen.

Here is what will probably happen. There will be no more then a few more articles in the AJC about this report. Anymore reporting will be on the eventual deal made between Grady and the JCAHO, a deal that will no doubt be made in some back room. The major media in Georgia will NOT reveal the specific departments responsible for this latest investigation. They won't name names and they won't demand for heads to roll. Finally, they won't call Emory out when they distance themselves. Emory University will throw its significant weight around the Georgia Legislature and no one will report it. Grady will be given a golden parachute and none of the obvious systemic problems I have pointed out will ever be reported on or addressed. I hope I am wrong and I will be watching.

For more information on this case, please read this article. Also, please read the recommendations that my colleagues have come up with and compare them to the current plan.

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