Originally created 01/27/99

Committee to consider partnership



ATLANTA -- Augusta Sen. Charles Walker told colleagues and Medical College of Georgia officials Tuesday he plans to file legislation setting up a committee to consider possible partnerships between MCG and other area health-care providers, including University Hospital.

Mr. Walker, who expects to file the resolution today, said such partnerships may be necessary to help several ailing hospitals in the Augusta region, including MCG.

At the same time, Mr. Walker told University System of Georgia Chancellor Stephen Portch he doesn't want MCG Health Inc. -- which was set up to make the school's hospital more competitive -- to enter into any long-term contracts.

"MCG Health is an answer, but it is not the only answer," Mr. Walker said. "It's like the fox guarding the henhouse. We need to have a farmer with a shotgun. The legislature needs to be involved."

Mr. Walker's proposed joint study committee is an attempt to do just that.

Lawmakers felt left out by the University System Board of Regents' decision to create MCG Health, which was aimed at helping the college's hospital and clinics in a health-care environment not necessarily friendly to teaching hospitals.

"It seems to be a one-sided partnership around here," Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, told university officials.

The meeting Tuesday between MCG and Augusta-area lawmakers was called to talk about the school's decision to close its outpatient pharmacy, which provides low-cost prescriptions to the poor.

Treating the poor is part of the school's mission, but MCG is being forced into budget cuts, in part because of declining reimbursements from the government's health-care programs.

MCG Hospital and Clinics Executive Director Patricia Sodomka said the facility will stay open, although changes may be made.

Officials said four other MCG programs had been evaluated for possible reorganization or "out-sourcing": adult psychiatry, lithotripsy, the eye bank and outpatient dialysis.

The budget for MCG's hospital and clinics is $246.5 million this year. The facility will receive $14.9 million from the state's Indigent Care Trust Fund. That's a drop from a high of $26.2 million in 1992, MCG officials said.

The actual cost of charity care this year is expected to be $52.8 million, not including outpatient pharmacy costs.

Mr. Walker hopes to get his study committee proposal through the General Assembly in a few weeks.

The committee will evaluate the findings of past MCG study commissions, look at the school's mission and evaluate possible partnerships between the hospital and clinics and other area providers.

The committee would come out with a plan of action by September, Mr. Walker said.

James Salzer is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.