Partnership Between Meharry Medical and HCA Healthcare

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Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Meharry Medical College President

Meharry Medical College has been an anchor of the North Nashville community for decades, proudly serving the healthcare needs of its citizens and the citizens of greater Nashville. Since our founding in 1876, we have advanced equity and equality in healthcare through dynamic research and compassionate health services. Our number of applicants continues to grow. Each year, we enroll 200 of the best young people in the nation who are determined to improve the health of the underserved.

In order to train this next generation of doctors, dentists and researchers year after year, Meharry requires an affiliated hospital, known as an “index hospital,” where students and medical residents can learn from established physicians. For more than two decades, Nashville General Hospital has served as that hospital. We are separate and independent institutions that have been closely linked for several decades. The operations and non-physician staffing of the hospital have been the responsibility of the City of Nashville, while Meharry has provided staff physicians under a professional services contract.

At the time our relationship with Nashville General Hospital was established in the early 1990s, it adequately served the needs of our patients and of our training programs.  But dramatic changes in the practice of medicine, the demographics of Nashville and the political climate have placed strains on the fiscal sustainability of the hospital. One factor looms large over all others – patient volume.

Low patient volumes have placed the future of Nashville General Hospital as an inpatient facility in doubt and, consequently, rendered the hospital inadequate as a teaching hospital for Meharry students and residents. The training of new physicians requires exposure to a variety of patients being treated for a range of conditions, including high blood pressure, broken bones, cancer and heart attacks.  Unfortunately, the increasingly low number of patients in the beds at Nashville General Hospital – as few as 39 patients per day – does not meet the capacity required to train Meharry’s 460 medical students and more than 100 residents.

As a result, Meharry students are currently doing their inpatient training at more than 20 hospitals across the state of Tennessee and in Ohio, Alabama, Michigan and Florida. This arrangement is far from an adequate training environment for Meharry students. It impacts our ability to ensure consistency in our instruction and cohesion among our students. The continued existence of Meharry as an accredited medical school for the training of future generations of physicians demanded that a local alternative teaching hospital be found.

Earlier this month, I was proud to announce a historic new partnership between Meharry and HCA Healthcare in which students will train at HCA’s Tristar Southern Hills Medical Center here in Nashville. Meharry has had a longstanding relationship with HCA, one of the largest and most well-run healthcare organizations in the nation. For years, our doctors have practiced at HCA hospitals, and members of HCA leadership have served on our Board of Trustees. Several thousand residents and students across the country currently receive some form of clinical training in HCA hospitals. We are now excited to collaborate in new ways that will advance our mission.

Like Meharry, HCA has an enduring interest in the care and treatment of the indigent populations in its patient base. The company provides substantial indigent care in the communities it serves and is committed to diversity in its leadership and in the provision of care to patients.

The partnership with HCA will ensure the continued existence of Meharry as an accredited medical school and provide expanded access to clinical opportunities that will enhance their training.  Furthermore, I see this relationship expanding the pipeline of African American medical trainees who enter into specialties in which minorities are not well represented, such as ophthalmology and dermatology.

The one thing this partnership will not change is Meharry’s commitment to this community. Nor will it change our mission to provide care and opportunities to indigent and disadvantaged populations.

In fact, Meharry will continue to enhance and expand the services we offer patients. Our on-campus clinic will remain open and our physicians will continue to provide the exceptional care they always have. The partnership with HCA will only bolster our capacity to teach, enrich our research capability and raise the quality of the service we are able to provide.

This is an important time not only for Meharry, but for our entire community. Our campus is motivated and energized about this partnership and the opportunities it creates. Meharry’s promise to care for all individuals, regardless of race, gender, age or wealth, remains firm. I am confident that working with HCA will only advance our resolve. The future for Meharry and for the people we serve is only bright.

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