The Time is Now: A New Day for Indigent Care in Nashville

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

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

A recent Vanderbilt University poll has revealed what those of us who champion health care for Nashville’s most vulnerable citizens have long hoped to hear: a majority of residents surveyed support Metro funding for Nashville General Hospital.

This means they support a safety-net facility that will take care of the uninsured and the underserved. This means they support a health care model that is designed to address chronic diseases that disproportionately impact poor and minority communities. And importantly, this means they support using taxpayer dollars to make this all possible.

The poll, which was conducted in February among residents citywide, found that a full 62 percent think the city should increase funding for the hospital, and 31 percent think funding should remain the same. This is great news. Equally encouraging is Mayor David Briley’s strong statement that he is committed to a publicly-funded safety-net hospital in Nashville.

Great news, yet also a great responsibility. As all eyes now turn toward Nashville General and an entire community finally rallies behind its mission, we who have worked for generations to serve the needs of Nashville’s most vulnerable – whatever their race, creed or religion – must not only bring efficiency and accountability to our discussions about the hospital’s future. We must bring vision.

The partnership with Nashville General has been critical to our mission at Meharry Medical College for decades. Meharry’s doctors, residents and students are on the front lines of delivering care to the patients there. The hospital also provides Meharry with unique opportunities for education, training and research.

For that reason, the leadership of Nashville General and Meharry have worked together for the past several years to expand and improve the overall care we provide. We have engaged with community partners in conversations about ways to take a more comprehensive approach to care that includes nutrition, exercise and mental health. We have sought ways to better address our patients’ total health, not just their immediate physical conditions.

These discussions took on a more urgent tone in November, when the future of Nashville General became uncertain. To find a path through that uncertainty, Meharry convened the Stakeholder Work Team, a group of community leaders from throughout the city, to examine the city’s entire health care ecosystem. For several months now, we have been looking at how prevention, ambulatory services, behavioral health care, community clinics, and access to nutrition and exercise programs fit into indigent care.

Naturally, Nashville General Hospital and its future have been at the center of our conversations. And now that public officials and private citizens have affirmed their support for the hospital, our team is emboldened to push forward and arrive at a new, comprehensive model of care that fully includes the hospital while maximizing city dollars for the care of the poor.

We strongly encourage everyone who cares about the fate of Nashville General and indigent care to attend our Work Team listening sessions. Give us your ideas, give us your feedback, give us your passion. The next session is Saturday, April 21; we will post the details on our website and on social media.

The time is now. Nashville citizens have risen to the occasion and made clear they want to care for the poor of our city. We are rising to the occasion – as we have done on behalf of the marginalized for 142 years – to provide the vision necessary to honor that support. Our most vulnerable residents are depending on all of us. We must not and will not let them down.

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