MCG expansion is on schedule, getting residency slots an issue

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ATLANTA -- Nailing down commitments from three northeast Georgia hospitals is one of the main details to be completed in the expansion of the Medical College of Georgia to an Athens campus, school officials told the Board of Regents Wednesday.

Many tasks are on schedule, according to Dr. Barbara Schuster, the Athens campus dean. Renovations are nearly complete at the former mill-turned-night club that will serve temporarily as the school's building; 11 professors have signed contracts, and four more are about to; and the admissions committee will begin reviewing student applications in two weeks.

Plus, a three-person team of evaluators from one of the accrediting societies reviewing the school -- the Liaison Committee on Medical Education -- offered positive impressions after a two-day site inspection in April, she said, predicting a letter from the society would soon give the go-ahead to begin conducting classes in 2010.

The next critical component is getting commitment from area hospitals to host 109 medical residents for four to seven years after graduation. MCG administrators are in discussions with two Athens hospitals, one in Gainesville and University Hospital in Augusta but haven't pinned them down after months of dialog.

"It's all about costs," said Regent Donald Leebern.

Each resident costs roughly $130,000 yearly. Various federal programs cover 70-75 percent of that cost, but the balance has to come from either state taxpayers or the hospitals themselves.

Typically, residents treat uninsured patients who would otherwise take staff physicians' time away from paying patients.

St. Mary's Health Care System is one of the Athens hospitals being asked. Hospital spokesman Avery McLean said in a phone interview after the regents meeting that a local physician shortage makes the hospital eager to bring in residents if the state will come up with the balance of the money.

"It's going to be very critical to receive funding from the state," he said. "Hopefully, the state will come through."

But state legislators may be unwilling to pick up some or all of the costs, leaving the hospitals with a tough decision during a recession, said Dr. Dan Rahn, president of MCG.

"At the end of the day, these are the kinds of decisions you're asking these hospitals to make, a choice between this year's operating budget versus a long-term investment in the mission of the organization in the future," he said.

Hospitals with physicians on staff who have worked in other teaching hospitals will help convince their board to agree to host residents because of the challenge of working around bright young people which raises the standards for the whole facility, he said.


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