On Tuesday, a committee of the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents announced drafting of a sales pitch that highlights the benefits to communities that convert their hospitals from treatment facilities to teaching centers. The document, or white paper, is slated for release in June.
The Health Professions and Education Committee also wants to convince the governor and Legislature to loosen the purse strings. The problem is that federal Medicare funds, when they become available, only cover 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost of graduate medical education, the hands-on training physicians must get after they graduate and before they can practice on their own. Currently, 16 of Georgia's 145 or so hospitals offer graduate education slots. Emory and MCG Health, both attached to medical schools, provide the lion's share.
Georgia graduates more doctors each year than the available slots, and as many as 300 graduates leave the state to complete their training. Data show those who leave are less likely to return to the state to set up practice than those who complete their training in-state.
"We're losing money-producing doctors for other states," said Dr. Tommy Hopkins, a member of the committee.
About 15 additional hospitals are large enough to have the patient volume to qualify for graduate medical education, said Dr. Ricardo Azziz, the president of Georgia Health Sciences University. The problem is that hospital boards are reluctant to come up with funds for the program -- about $2 million to start up and $300,000 yearly to maintain it.
The University System has been trying to persuade hospitals in Augusta, Athens and Gainesville to take the plunge in preparation for the expanded class of graduates coming from Georgia Health's Athens campus run in conjunction with the University of Georgia.
Committee Chairman Ken Bernard asked administrators from Georgia Health, UGA and the University System's staff to produce the white paper to highlight the benefits to hospitals and their communities. Those perks include inflated prestige and increased referrals for the hospitals. The communities see their local economy blossom as they are able to recruit more medical specialists and industries that value top-notch medical care.
Bernard also wants the state's taxpayers to pony up $16 million to fund the start-up costs at multiple hospitals so those facilities will have an easier decision to make.
"It's not that much money when you put in perspective of building a building," he said, noting that the amount is equal to a nursing classroom building planned for the University of West Georgia.