On the Brink of Extinction – Nashville Blacks Killed General Hospital Years Ago

By Rosetta Miller Perry

There are a lot of people now upset over Mayor Megan Barry’s plan to roll back services at Nashville General Hospital. Last week she said Metro would provide the hospital funding through the end of fiscal year 2017, then eliminate in-patient care, despite the fact this is the city’s only indigent care hospital. Her office feels an outpatient-only model better serves the hospital’s patients, and she pointed out in her statement only 40 of the hospital’s 120 beds on average are filled daily.

Now there are things about the way this statement was made and this situation handled that most certainly can and should be criticized, the number one being that apparently key members of the city’s governmental structure and people directly involved with the hospital’s upkeep were unaware it was about to happen. “We had no idea,” DeCosta Hastings, co-chair of the Health, Hospitals and Social Services Committee, said on television. “We didn’t get any notice about this, we didn’t even know that it was a talk. I did get wind last Tuesday that a group of pastors showed up here to the board meeting and asked the board not to shut down their hospital. I went to ask about that, but no one responded.”

That sentiment was echoed by committee chairman Erica Gilmore. “There was not any prior conversation about this new development,” Gilmore added in her response. “As the chair of Health and Hospitals, I am very disappointed and taken aback. There was much conversation from the mayor’s liaisons about the MLS soccer stadium, but none about the hospital.” Hastings added he wasn’t happy about giving a pro team 10 acres of free city property, especially since its owners are billionaires. “We have to stop and make sure things are taken care of for all our constituents and the people that live in this city,” Hastings concluded.

Also the Service Employees International Union local, the representative for many hospital employees, were also apparently uninformed. “All day, our phone is ringing off the hook with employees that work here and community leaders, just people crying, nervous, panicked – worried that they’re going to lose jobs,” Mark Naccarato, Communications Director of the union, said, adding his voice to the televised criticism. “How are they going to feed their families? How are they going to take care of their patients?”

The Tribune definitely wonders how much advance notice went out about this, although the Mayor’s spokesperson Sean Braisted maintains that some council members were told in advance. We are equally skeptical about the wisdom of committing extensive city resources to yet another pro sports team at a time where there are numerous far more important issues that need to be addressed, ranging from affordable housing and the expansion of economic opportunity to equal access to quality health care for all citizens and communities.

We are also concerned about the implications of the recent agreement reached by HCA and Meharry for Southern Hills to serve as the index hospital for the medical college. Dr. Joseph Webb, (SC., FACHE,) members of the Hospital Authority, and some members of the Metro Council were notified prior to the announcement. Stakeholders will be engaged over the course of the next few months before the end of the fiscal year to work on the details on how best to move towards a new, better model for safety net care in Nashville.

We want to be optimistic that this will be good news. But history makes us watchful and skeptical, especially when there is minimal involvement, interaction, or participation in these discussions and events by people from our community. However, it would be both inaccurate and unfair for us as a media outlet, or anyone in public office or positions of responsibility not to acknowledge an ugly reality: Nashville’s Black Community didn’t do anywhere near what it should have to keep General Hospital going. It is fine and no doubt necessary for Ministers to use their clout and media access to lament this decision, but the cold truth is neither most of them, nor enough of their flock, used General Hospital on a regular basis.

How many Greek organizations used it? Where did our Nashville African American professional and nonprofessional citizens go when they needed hospital care? It would be instructive now to see how many of those yelling and screaming about what’s happening to Metro General were going to Vanderbilt, St. Thomas and other places rather than General.

As editor/publisher of The Tennessee Tribune, I’m willing to step forward and acknowledge myself as part of the problem. I did use General Hospital when I moved to Nashville but later began using Vanderbilt. My husband, Tennessee’s 1st Black Gastroenterologist and someone who  trained  medical and nursing students, taught at Meharry Medical College but was always a  patient at Vanderbilt, St. Thomas or Baptist. Few of our children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren have ever been to General. I am sure I am far from unique in this admission. So as a community we have to admit that instead of being part of the solution, on this one we’ve been a big part of the problem.

Besides accepting part of the blame for what is happening to General, now we must turn our attention to a fight that we can still win. Let’s focus on finding positions for those employees who will have to leave soon. Will an employee with more than 15 years service who transfers to another hospital have to start over toward retirement again? That is a serious problem for me and it must have high priority. These employees must have employment priority in our SMSA. The issue for the Tribune is not General, but the employment of the employees of General Hospital.

What we WON’T do is sanction or embrace fruitless, emotional and ultimately worthless rhetoric being uttered just to make people think something will get done that won’t. It is way past time we as a community stopped thinking symbolism and loud noise equates substance. What we need right now is rational, intelligent and substantive plans for action. The Tribune will certainly be happy to participate in anything of that nature, and support anyone or any group who can show us they have a legitimate plan that can preserve what is left at General Hospital.

But in the meantime, let’s not forget about Meharry Medical College Remember the majority never sleeps in Nashville, they have plans 20 years out for our community – beware.

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