Budget fuels new fight on MCG growth

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ATLANTA --- The debate over expanding the Medical College of Georgia with a satellite campus in Athens is about to start all over again after seemingly being settled three years ago.

Augusta lawmakers are lobbying colleagues in the House and Senate to postpone work on the Athens campus and divert those funds to the main campus, which is suffering from the same budget cuts as every state agency.

"I don't think it makes any sense to weaken the flagship institute in Augusta at the same time they are moving at breakneck speed to hire faculty and prepare facilities that will teach students who have not yet been enrolled," said Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta. "We have students now who are arguably in a better position to help us meet our future need for physicians, and they seem to be ignored."

One veteran Athens legislator suspects the real motive is the battle between the two cities over where the intellectual base of medical research should be.

"Coming from people who were already against it, that's just another excuse to kill it," said Rep. Keith Heard, D-Athens. "Don't hide behind the budget."

Mr. Tarver raised his concerns Thursday when University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis spoke about budget matters with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

He questioned why Mr. Davis would impose the systemwide belt-tightening at MCG and stop funding a $5 million annual research initiative while spending $3.8 million to hire faculty for the Athens campus and $4 million to expand residencies in Albany and Savannah.

Mr. Davis said sometimes temporary cuts have to be made to keep long-term goals on track.

"What I'm hopeful for is that we can maintain our medical programs at where they are now in Augusta as well as continuing to expand," he said.

The budget also includes $6 million for a building in Augusta that the medical and dental schools will use, Mr. Davis said.

"We have made a pretty robust commitment to Augusta ... and it will forever be our home base," he said.

Having a campus in Athens will foster more cooperative research between the University of Georgia and MCG, increasing joint research funding by 10 percent to 15 percent, which will help offset tuition, the chancellor said.

He hasn't convinced the Augusta legislators, who say they're acting independently.

"It's kind of a no-brainer for us,"said Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta.

She said Athens and nearby Gainesville don't have the same enthusiasm for MCG as Augusta. As evidence, she points to the lack of contracts with the hospitals in Athens and Gainesville to accept medical residents from the satellite campus.

MCG President Dan Rahn fielded questions about the residency contracts during the budget hearing Thursday. The consultant hired to secure them should have them by July, he promised.

Mr. Heard argues that stopping the progress now would make little sense, especially with valuable property in downtown Athens, at the site of the former O'Malley's nightclub and the Navy Supply Corps School.

"When are you going to have another chance at getting another property like that, as valuable as that property is?" he said. "I think we need to go on with this. We still have a need for doctors, no matter what the times are."

Ms. Sims counters that the existing program in Augusta will produce new doctors quicker.

"It's not about a turf war. Everybody tries to play it that way," she said. "It's about sensible use of the money and what we have available at the present."

Mr. Tarver is more blunt.

"Is this medical campus nothing more than a monument to the legacy of Sonny Perdue and (UGA President) Michael Adams, and not really designed to meet the physician needs in this state?" he asks.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com

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Riverman1 01/25/09 - 07:10 am
Any cost benefit analysis

Any cost benefit analysis will prove it is much cheaper to train more physicians by expanding in Augusta. The committment to more residency programs all over the state is a good idea, however, and what many have said was needed all along to increase the number of physicians in Georgia. Another school does nothing to accomplish more residency slots. In this time of draconian cuts in the state budget, another medical school in Athens is going to end up costing hundreds of millions in construction and salaries. Realize what the staffing, administrative and maintenance costs will be, not even counting the construction of the permanent school after we go through all these temporary facilities. I'm glad to see the AC and local delegation finally wake up and join the fight in earnest.

jgdarling 01/25/09 - 08:18 am
Mr. Tarver calls it like it

Mr. Tarver calls it like it is: a monument to the legacy of Sonny Perdue and Michael Adams!

bigdogsrule 01/25/09 - 11:39 am
Remember that Sonny is a UGA

Remember that Sonny is a UGA grad and a former UGA football player,that puts him in the catagory of fanatical UGA athletic supporter and a major source of backing for anything else the Dog nation wants anywhere it wants it.

aaa 01/25/09 - 02:32 pm
Mr. Tarver is right.

Mr. Tarver is right.

justus4 01/25/09 - 02:44 pm
Of course it's a payback to

Of course it's a payback to the governor, so what are you gonna do about it? Becaues you knows the true motives, does not change your dilemma. Leadership requires influencing others to believe that your decision is best for the state. On that point, Augusta may have a problem.

Batman 01/25/09 - 08:11 pm
Putting a MCG campus in

Putting a MCG campus in Athens is about as smart as Ga Tech putting a satellite Engineering campus in Augusta. Synergy saves money - keep it all in Augusta.

SargentMidTown 01/25/09 - 11:37 pm
If MCG expands into

If MCG expands into Harrisburg where will all the poor go? This would be gentrification. No we must stop the maddness. We must protect our city poor and homeless....Send them to Evans where there is a high Christian population of upwardly mobile people who can help there brothers and sisters in need. God Bless Evans.

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