Foundation to donate $200M to Grady

ATLANTA - Grady Memorial Hospital on Monday moved closer to completing an agreement that is expected to bring $300 million to the public trauma center, while the hospital's board tries to deal with some disappointments involving government support.

At its second meeting on Monday, the hospital's nonprofit board signed a lease agreement that included a $200 million commitment from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.

The donation will help pay for much-needed infrastructure improvements, which Grady officials have said total up to $600 million. What is unclear is how trauma care and ambulance services will be affected by recent decisions by the Legislature and Fulton County.

The first $50 million payment from the Woodruff Foundation is expected to be in the bank around May 1. After months of secrecy and speculation, the donor was made public on Monday in a letter signed by Woodruff Foundation President Russell Hardin dated April 2. It was one of several requirements to be met before the Grady Hospital Corporation signed the lease agreement that will transfer daily control of Grady to the newly formed nonprofit board.

Among the other prerequisites to the lease was a $100 million fundraising commitment signed by board Chairman Pete Correll, written agreements from the Emory University and Morehouse medical schools to renegotiate their contracts with Grady and assurances of state support from the Georgia Department of Community Health.

Correll said after Monday's meeting that the board has had meetings with a fundraiser to map out a campaign to approach more potential donors, and that he expects the Woodruff donation to be a catalyst for more capital.

Grady had also hoped for legislation that would have provided $73 million in permanent trauma funding for hospitals across the state - of which Grady could have seen as much as $33 million - but the deal fell through on Friday, the last day of the session.

'To have it not pass was devastating to Grady,' said Pam Stephenson, interim chief executive officer of the Grady Health System and chairwoman of the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, which still runs the hospital.

'We would've been in the black last year with that funding,' she said.

Correll agreed, adding that the bill could have added up to $60 million in funding for Grady.

Instead, the Legislature agreed to a one-time payment of $58 million for statewide trauma, with about $24 million to go to Grady, and another $22 million in increased annual Medicaid reimbursements for hospitals across the state, including $10 million estimated to go to Grady.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, was furious over the decision.

'You told us if Grady was being taken over, the state would provide money,' Fort said during an outburst at the meeting. 'That money is needed now more than ever.'

Correll said he was also 'severely disappointed.'

'The challenge ahead of us in next year's session is to get that trauma bill passed,' Correll said. 'At no point did I ever commit this state to do anything. I committed on Pete Correll to do my best, and that's what I did do.'

After the meeting, Fort said the state's coming up short could be a dealbreaker for the lease.

'The governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, they threatened Grady for 10 months, and on the 40th day, this slipped through our fingers like sand,' Fort said.

Grady's ambulance services could also be forced to make tough choices in the next several months if Fulton County's board of commissioners does not reconsider a decision to cut $6.7 million in funding to the agency. The cuts take effect on July 1.

Dr. Arthur Kellerman, who practices at Grady, said he did not believe the commission made a cavalier decision, but instead may have been misinformed of how critical the ambulance service is.

'I would submit to you that this is a very big deal,' Kellerman told the board.

Fulton County Chairman John Eaves responded to the issue during the meeting, and said that the county remained committed to saving the hospital.

'It's unfair that the finger is being pointed at Fulton County,' Eaves said, adding that the cities in the county should shoulder some of the responsibility for ambulance services.

With the lease agreement signed, Correll said the board plans to file for its nonprofit status within days, another important benchmark before the lease can begin.

The Grady Hospital Corporation is scheduled to meet again on May 5.