ATLANTA - No matter how Grady Health System restructures its management, Georgia's largest public hospital must have $125 million or shut its doors, DeKalb County's chief elected leader said Monday.
And such a huge bailout can only come from taxpayers across the Atlanta region and even the entire state - not just from the two counties now footing the bill - DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones told an audience of more than 300 that packed a downtown Atlanta meeting room.
"If you want to create a nonprofit board, so be it," Jones said to members of the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, who convened what was billed as a summit on Grady Memorial Hospital's financial woes.
"(But) let's not confuse people into thinking that if that board is created, Grady's problems will be solved. ... (Without) $125 million, you can bring Lee Iacocca in to run Grady and it will still be closed."
Grady's financial difficulties came to light in June, when a task force assembled by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce warned in a preliminary report that the hospital would be forced to close by the end of the year unless it received a major infusion of funds.
An auditor hired by the hospital authority supported those dire conclusions Monday.
Kip Plowman said the costs of providing health care to indigent patients at Grady has doubled during the last decade, while revenues from paying patients have fallen dramatically.
Just between 2005 and 2006, he said, net revenues from paying patients fell $25 million, while charity care increased by $73 million.
Grady serves more indigent patients than any other hospital in Georgia.
The chamber task force, in its final report last month, recommended that the hospital authority board turn over its day-to-day management responsibilities to a private, nonprofit corporation.
Many state and regional business and political leaders have supported such a restructuring as a way to encourage more investment in Grady, the only large urban hospital in Georgia that is not run as a nonprofit.
"We've got a crisis," said John Eaves, chairman of the Fulton County Commission. "We have to have some fundamental changes if we want a different result."
But DeKalb County Commissioner Connie Stokes said members of her board still have an open mind on whether Grady should go private.
"Just because one group made a recommendation is no reason for the rest of us to go running off a cliff behind them," she said.
Stokes' remarks drew thunderous applause from community activists in the audience who oppose privatizing Grady.
However, Monday's crowd also included a large contingent of white-coated doctors, who walked the few blocks from Grady. Many of them applauded in support of restructuring the hospital's management if it means improving Grady's financial viability.
Decisions on Grady's future are being formulated on many fronts.
Besides the ongoing deliberations of the hospital authority and Fulton and DeKalb county commissions, a special legislative committee created by House Speaker Glenn Richardson also has begun work.
"I'm asking them to listen, learn and make a recommendation," Richardson, R-Hiram, said at the start of Monday's summit. "I'm serious about getting something done."