Originally created 09/15/99

Group votes on authority for medical center



Working closer with the Richmond County school system on a health sciences magnet school to steer children into health professions will be recommended by a joint study committee looking at regional health care in Augusta.

The Joint Study Committee also voted Tuesday night to recommend the legislature create an authority that could run the proposed Georgia Medical Center at Augusta to promote Augusta's health care providers and allow them to meet and discuss partnerships and joint ventures.

The ideas spring from a trip some committee members made last week to the Texas Medical Center, a collaboration of 42 institutions in and around Houston, including 13 hospitals and two medical schools.

Committee members were impressed by the level of cooperation among institutions that remain separate entities and still compete fiercely for patients.

That cooperation is reinforced by leaders in the business community, who serve on hospital boards and also pressure institutions to settle their differences, said committee chairman Julian Osbon.

"It was truly driven by the community leaders that want to make it work because they look at it as an economic process" and asset, Mr. Osbon said.

That same desire in Augusta to preserve and expand the health care industry is one of the driving forces behind the committee's proposed Georgia Medical Center at Augusta.

Committee member and state Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, said he thought the legislature would approve the authority and perhaps $2 million in initial seed money, gradually reduced over the following years, as a way to help Augusta's economy catch up with the rest of the state.

"Savannah's growing, Atlanta's growing, Columbus is growing," Mr. Williams said. "We can go out there and look for BMW or we can go out there with what we've already got (and market it). We've got the resources, we've got the assets, we've got the personnel. All we're going to do if we don't do this is lose it."

Committee members also admired a partnership between the Texas Medical Center and the school system to create a health sciences magnet school that also helps steer a diverse group of children into health care careers. Augusta already has A.R. Johnson Health Professions School, and committee members said they wanted to build on that.

"We have so many of the pieces here," said committee member J. Larry Read, president/CEO of University Health Care System. "We just have to put them all together."

If approved, "I think it could be done pretty quickly," said Darrell Kirch, senior vice president for clinical activities and dean of the School of Medicine at MCG.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.