Council members, patients, staff in the dark about General Hospi - WSMV News 4

Council members, patients, staff in the dark about General Hospital plans

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The news is settling in but not sitting well with many doctors, nurses and patients who are learning Metro General Hospital at Meharry Medical College could be turning into a clinic.

Kelly Barnes said if she hadn’t made a call to Metro General Hospital after finding a lump in her breast two years ago, she might not be alive today.

"They didn’t ask me who is your primary care physician," Barnes told News 4. "They didn’t ask me who is your insurance with, they just said, ‘Can you come? Can you come right now?' And I said, ‘Yes.’”

Barnes said she’d just gotten a new job that for the first time did not provide medical insurance. That call led to a diagnosis of an aggressive form of breast cancer that August day in 2015.

"At Nashville General Hospital I had five months of chemotherapy, my mastectomy, radiation, and I might not be alive today if it weren’t for the physicians, the technicians, the staff," she said.

Thursday’s announcement from Mayor Megan Barry that the city will be ending the hospital's inpatient care services and moving to a clinic model in the next few months caught most people by surprise, including Barnes, who heard it on the radio.

"I had to make myself not cry just so I could keep driving," Barnes said.

Staff and doctors learned the news that morning. Some of the employees are represented by the Service Employees International Union, Local 205.

"All day, our phone is ringing off the hook with employees that work here and community leaders, just people crying, nervous, panicked – worried that they’re going to lose jobs," said union communications director, Mark Naccarato. "How are they going to feed their families? How are they going to take care of their patients?"

The news was coupled with the announcement that Meharry Medical College, which owns the hospital building and trains its medical students there, will now be partnering with HCA’s TriStar Southern Hills Hospital and students will train in those facilities. That wasn’t the problem, said District 2 Metro Council member DeCosta Hastings, who serves as co-chair of the Health, Hospitals and Social Services Committee. He told News 4 he doesn't know of any council members who were privy to the news.

"We had no idea," the District 2 councilman told News 4. "We didn’t get any notice about this, we didn’t even know that it was a talk. I did get wind last Tuesday that a group of pastors showed up here to the board meeting and asked the board not to shut down their hospital. I went to ask about that, but no one responded.”

Councilwoman Erica Gilmore chairs the committee. She told News 4, "There was not any prior conversation about this new development. As the chair of Health and Hospitals, I am very disappointed and taken aback. There was much conversation from the mayor’s liaisons about the MLS soccer stadium, but none about the hospital."

General Hospital has had a long history of financial instability. Some city leaders say the financial issues are partially as a result of chronic underfunding and poor marketing of the hospital beyond the notion of being a hospital for the poor.

The Hospital Authority has asked for higher subsidies from the city each year to help with bills and equipment. In June, doctors and the hospital authority pleaded with the city for more money, explaining that equipment was breaking and injuring physicians and that beds were outdated.

In 2013, an outside consulting firm recommended the hospital downsize to a clinic for financial stability. Years later, that plan is becoming reality, with more questions than answers.

"We really feel that we are not working on the same team," Hastings said. "There’s an administrative and a legislative part that goes on. We have a problem and we are going to fix that to make sure we’re doing the best thing for all of our constituents here in the city. We have to figure out what in the world is going on here. That is not sufficient for the people that we represent here in the city. This is their hospital."

News 4 reached out to Mayor Barry’s office about process and communication concerns. Spokesperson Sean Braisted said in a statement:

Mayor Barry's announcement on Thursday was made due to the inevitable questions about the future of Nashville General Hospital following the recent agreement reached by HCA and Meharry for Southern Hills to serve as the index hospital for the medical college. Dr. Webb, members of the Hospital Authority, and some members of the Metro Council were notified prior to the announcement. Stakeholders will be engaged over the course of the next few months before the end of the fiscal year to work on the details on how best to move towards a new, better model for safety net care in Nashville.

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