MCG's new healer

Medical school's president cleanly closed an old wound



Ricardo Azziz started making things better here before he even arrived.

While the then-incoming president of the then-Medical College of Georgia was finishing up his old job at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a prominent Georgian offered to come to L.A. to discuss the problem with the MCG fund-raising foundation here.

Azziz thought so much of the problem -- and the person involved -- that, instead, he insisted on flying to Georgia to discuss it.

Mere months later, Azziz announced recently that the problem -- a rift between the medical college and its exiled MCG Foundation, as well as a lawsuit over it all -- had been solved.

His feat cannot be overstated. The foundation had, in essence, been fired by the former MCG president after a falling out over how the foundation's funds should be used to support MCG. A new foundation was formed to compete with and, supposedly, replace the old one. Egos weren't just bruised, they were broken in several places. Alumni loyal to the old foundation were disenfranchised. The two entities ended up in a federal lawsuit that seemed intractable.

It was ridiculous, and it was hurtful: At a time of reduced state revenues, private philanthropy has never been more important to MCG, now called the Georgia Health Sciences University. It couldn't have done anything but decrease the giving, this juvenile and unseemly competition between foundations.

Azziz saw that before even getting here, and started working on healing the feud.

"We are all coming together for the greater good of this academic health center and the people we serve," Azziz told a news conference Nov. 1. "We stand united. Our differences have been resolved, and the state of Georgia is the beneficiary."

"The MCG Foundation," said a GHSU statement, "will focus on the School of Medicine alumni, with the Georgia Health Sciences Foundation focusing on the broader university, including the health system." The two will operate out of a joint office.

The thing that makes the healing so exciting is the thing that made the rift so painful: "You will never find a group more loyal to its alma mater than MCG alumni," explained Dr. William Mayher, chairman of the MCG Foundation. Alienating those alumni was never a brilliant idea.

It's a good thing Dr. Azziz was on call.

"I called him in California, and told him I'd like to meet with him, and he flew to Albany," Mayher, a retired Albany, Ga., neurosurgeon, said. "We got together and talked about all the issues and we got through them."

What a statement Azziz made by going to Albany. What class.

Moreover, Azziz had to persuade the University System of Georgia to agree with the outcome. And, really -- how could the state expect him to maximize philanthropic gifts to the school while fighting a war with its former fund-raising arm?

The significance of this story with a happy ending might have been washed away with the big news events of election week. But it's huge. The likely result is that alumni and others will be infinitely more prone to contribute to the school. It will mean hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Rarely has closing a wound meant more.