By Anita Wadhwani, Tennessean
Article courtesy of The Tennessean
NASHVILLE, TN An overwhelming majority of Nashville residents support increased funding for Nashville General Hospital, the struggling safety net facility for the poor and uninsured that relies on taxpayer subsidies to stay afloat, according to a new Vanderbilt University poll.
The poll, released Sunday and conducted Feb. 8-19, found 62 percent of Nashville residents thought the city should increase funding for the hospital; 31 percent said hospital funding should remain the same; and 6 percent supported a funding decrease.
Among African-American residents, support for increased public funding for the city-owned hospital was a resounding 86 percent. Just 14 percent of African-Americans said public funding levels should remain the same, while none supported a decrease.
“African-American support is sky high,” said John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor who helped oversee the poll for the school.
“That’s not a surprise.”
“The big takeaway is this community broadly supports Nashville General,” Geer said.
The poll comes after several tumultuous months for the hospital, which is located in North Nashville and has deep roots in the city’s African-American community but serves a diverse patient population from across Davidson County.
Last year, officials at the hospital — which receives a $35 million annual subsidy from the city — said it couldn’t pay its bills without additional funding.
In November, Mayor Megan Barry made a surprise announcement that she would seek to end inpatient care at the hospital, a step that drew community backlash. Her announcement came at the same time Meharry Medical College, which has long trained students at Nashville General Hospital, announced a new training partnership with HCA’s TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center.
By January, Barry was forced to reverse course, announcing a “reset” while she completed an “investigatory and decision-making process” to determine a viable future model for the hospital.
In February, Metro Council approved a $17.1 million stopgap funding measure for the hospital, which also receives about $35 million in city funding annually.
Dr. Jan Brandes, chair of the Hospital Authority Board, said the results “show the kind of community that Nashville is.”
“It’s really reassuring to know that people have this as a priority,” she said. The council also voted to create a strategic planning committee that will examine the hospital’s future. The committee has yet to hold their first meeting even as city officials are gearing up to formulate a budget late this month for next year.
“Efforts to cut (funding) might be the right policy, but it’s not something Nashvillians support,” Geer said. “You can see support in general is for a hospital that supports the less well-off.”
The poll, which has a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points, was a phone survey of 800 Nashville residents both on cell and land lines conducted by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University.
The poll asked half of respondents whether the city should increase, decrease or keep the same amount of funding for Nashville General Hospital.
The other half polled were asked the same question, but without referring to the hospital by name.
When the hospital wasn’t identified by name, support for a funding increase dropped to 54 percent, with 35 percent saying the city should keep the funding levels the same and 9 percent responding that they thought the city should decrease funding.