The year was 2008, and Atlanta’s largest safety-net hospital was failing.
Grady Memorial Hospital, a 900 bed facility in downtown Atlanta, cares for the most critically injured, chronically ill, indigent, and uninsured patients in Georgia.
But due to a myriad of factors and being hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, it was facing closure. And without Grady, surrounding hospitals and clinics would have to try and absorb the massive patient load, which would result in overflowing waiting rooms, emergency rooms bursting at the seams, and longer delays in receiving care.
It’s not everyday that a hospital needs saving, but at this time and in those circumstances, Grady needed a hero. And the whole community, led by medical school students and local business leaders, came together to bring this hospital back from the edge of collapse.
It was run for decades by a public authority governance structure, and in 2008 was facing mountains of debt, antiquated facilities and equipment, and only 8% of it’s patients were privately insured. The rest were on Medicaid or Medicare, or were uninsured.
On top of that, the hospital consistently ranked near the bottom in almost all quality metrics. There was a constant worry that the hospital wouldn’t be able to meet payroll, and the public authority which owned and operated Grady had been through 4 CEOs in 5 years, with the newest CEO being a state representative with no hospital administration experience.
And only a few years before, it came to light how a state senator had used his influence to force Grady to only hire workers from his temp agency, and to over-charge them considerably.
It was obvious that something had to change.
“As the hospital balanced on the edge, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and other civic groups assembled a task force that recommended day-to-day management of Grady be taken away from the hospital authority and turned over to a nonprofit management corporation.”
“The head of the task force, former Georgia-Pacific CEO Pete Correll, spent months lobbying elected leaders at the state and local level. By turning Grady over to be run by an independent board — not political appointees — the hospital stood a good chance of restoring faith with the community, he said.”
“If the hospital could reform its management, Correll promised to work toward raising $200 million in foundation and philanthropic grants so that Grady could modernize equipment and refurbish whole departments of the hospital while it was getting back on its financial feet.” (http://www.georgiahealthnews.com/2016/05/curtain-story-gradys-narrow-escape/)
But there were fears from the community that the new governance plan would abandon Grady’s historic mission, or even potentially sell the hospital to a for-profit company.
Despite their concerns, the community leaders and county commissions signed off on the plan. The current public authority retained ownership, but the new governing board, led by Pete Correll, would run the hospital.
He turned out to be the right man for the job, in many ways. At one point, he had to write a personal check for millions of dollars to ensure the hospital could make its payroll.
“Over the next several years, the new leadership would overhaul the institution’s operations not only to keep the lights on, but to make sure they stayed on for good. The road to solvency began with the hospital’s privatization.”
“From there, changes brought dramatic power shifts, unpopular cuts, and public backlash against those in charge. Tensions boiled, death threats were made, and jobs were lost. The first year of restructuring resulted in a more than $75 million turnaround. Despite the uproar over how best to move forward, the hospital still stands today.” (https://creativeloafing.com/content-170678-how-grady-memorial-hospital-skirted)
It hasn’t been an easy road for Grady, or it’s employees or patients. But through the chaos and riots and upheaval, the hospital is in a much better place than it has been since it’s founding in 1892.
The story of saving Grady is a powerful reminder of what can be accomplished when a community comes together to preserve and fortify a hospital that serves those who need it most. It also serves as a striking example of the importance of leadership, and how impactful one leader can be.
A leadership coach named Drew Dudley once said, “We’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it. And if you change one person’s understanding of it, understanding of what they’re capable of, understanding of how much people care about them, understanding of how powerful an agent for change they can be in this world, you’ve changed the whole thing.”
Hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions of patients will benefit from the rescue of Grady. And while we may not all have millions of dollars to help save a failing hospital, we can work on becoming the kinds of leaders who care more about others, and invest our time and efforts into becoming the best leaders we can be. And when we do that, our influence and service will echo far into the future and change the world.