When it comes to Gov. Roy Barnes' Georgia Cancer Coalition, Augusta seems like a natural choice as a home for one of its major components. We have hospitals, researchers, a medical college and, across the river is the Savannah River Site and all of its technological developments. Augusta also has Veterans Administration facilities and Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon.
So Augusta thought it was a shoe-in for the cancer center, an $800 million initiative by Barnes to put Georgia on the map as a major cancer research destination.
But some on-the-ball folks in Savannah have issued a challenge to Augusta and leaped ahead with a public-private partnership. Under the leadership of a few talented people, they're fighting hard to bring one of the three major cancer research centers to Savannah, which has committed $50 million toward the proposition.
Augusta was asleep at the switch. The president of the Medical College of Georgia was stepping down, and wasn't leading the charge to put Augusta's name at the top of the governor's list. The chancellor wasn't moving quickly enough to name a replacement for MCG's president. Now, people in the medical community are waking up in a panic to discover that the gauntlet has been thrown down by Savannah.
It's not too late, even though right now the medical community and political leadership seem to be running around like Keystone Cops, trying to solve a problem that has no set parameters. They don't have any idea about what this cancer center should be or where to start on such a project, so they're heading off in different directions, yelling, "Somebody do something!"
What needs to happen is this: Chancellor Stephen Portch must appoint a president to take over the helm of Medical College of Georgia - and quickly. University System of Georgia Regent Tim Shelnut, who has already taken the proverbial bull by the horns, needs to appoint a blue-ribbon commission charged with putting together a plan for what Augusta would propose for its part of the "research triangle."
That group needs to work with the fledgling Georgia Medical Authority, which is endeavoring to create a biotechnology research park in Augusta. The synergy from these efforts could propel both of them forward.
Furthermore, Augusta leaders need to think outside the box regarding this opportunity. The $50 million that MCG Foundation says it will pony up is headline fare - a knee-jerk reaction to Savannah's $50 million - and has not even a vague plan attached to it.
What these folks need to do - and they have time to do it if they hurry - is come up with a plan and then figure out what infrastructure, money and human resources can be dedicated to it.
There is nothing magic about $50 million; in fact, if Savannah, much smaller and with much less of a medical focus, can come up with $50 million, Augusta should be able to do a whole lot more.
In other words, Augusta should stop playing "monkey see, monkey do" with Savannah, and instead use the talents we have here to make this opportunity a reality. There can't be squabbling and turf-defending between the medical entities or the entire effort could fall apart.
Augusta has the means and the talents, but needs to have all the players leave their egos at the door and march in the same direction.