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Atlanta hospitals putting business before health

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath traditionally taken by physicians pertaining to the ethical practice of medicine and the phrase "above all, do no harm" is usually attributed to the oath. Somebody needs to make sure the administration and leadership at Piedmont Hospital, Emory University Hospital and Emory University Midtown - formerly Crawford Long - Hospital re-read the oath and remind them they are in the business of saving lives, not harming them.

Gwinnett Medical Center's efforts to secure critically needed open-heart surgery and save countless lives from across northeast metro Atlanta was dealt a blow recently when a hearing officer reversed the Department of Community Health's decision to allow Gwinnett Medical Center to proceed with establishing an open-heart surgery program.

The action is a result of intense opposition from Piedmont Hospital, Emory University Hospital and Emory University Midtown Hospital despite the fact that the state Department of Community Health (DCH) already supported the program, saying it "will improve the quality, access and overall efficiency of adult open heart surgery services available within the local health care delivery system" and that "the creation of an open-heart surgery program at the center of the county significantly improves the ability of the residents of Gwinnett County to access timely care, thereby reducing heart damage and the likelihood of poor health outcomes."

It is deeply disturbing to see the lack of regional collaboration and support for quality health care for residents outside downtown Atlanta. In addition, considering that Emory and Piedmont, which perform less than 25 percent of the total heart operations from Gwinnett County residents, would be able to stand in the way and either delay or even derail what is absolutely essential for us in Gwinnett County and across northeast metro Atlanta is simply unacceptable.

Amid all the false rationalities surrounding their positions, the facts are simple as to why local open-heart surgery is vital. First, Gwinnett is the largest county in the U.S. without an open-heart program. Second, paralleling our explosive growth, Gwinnett residents now rank second in the state just behind Fulton in the number of heart attacks and therefore need local care. Third, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Midtown Hospital and Piedmont Hospital do nothing to support the health of Gwinnett's citizens. They do not provide trauma services, indigent care to Gwinnett residents and, even now, are not doing all they can to make the most urgent cardiac patients a priority. Their motivation is based simply on greed and monopolizing market share.

Finally, this should be a wake-up call for our peers in metro Atlanta's collar counties. These actions are the latest in a number of actions taken by downtown Atlanta hospitals to block high-quality health care in the fast growing suburbs of Atlanta. Most recently, these same hospitals blocked open-heart surgery efforts by WellStar Hospital in Cobb County for its residents for several years.

Residents and leaders in Forsyth, Barrow, Walton and other counties should also take note, because chances are, your future efforts will be blocked, too. We should all remember these hospitals' actions against the health of our citizens when they ask for our future support.

We are encouraging every resident, business and community leader in Gwinnett and the metro Atlanta suburbs to connect with their elected officials and media to express disappointment in the opposition from these downtown Atlanta hospitals. Specifically, contact Gov. Sonny Perdue and DCH Commissioner Rhonda Meadows by July 17 and thank them for their continued support for Gwinnett Medical's certificate of need for open-heart surgery and encourage them to overturn the appeal and reaffirm their original decision.

Your very life or the lives of your loved ones may depend on it.

Jim Maran is president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.