After being tapped as the new CEO of Grady Health System, John Haupert spoke of the job Wednesday as “a dream come true.’’ Haupert,...

After being tapped as the new CEO of Grady Health System, John Haupert spoke of the job Wednesday as “a dream come true.’’

Haupert, the chief operating officer of Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas, told reporters, “I’m very much committed to being [at Grady] for the long term.’’

That would set him apart from his predecessors.

Haupert, if his appointment is approved by the Grady board, would be the seventh CEO at Grady in the past 10 years.

A prime  factor in the turnover clearly is the constant financial burden that Grady Memorial Hospital carries.

Grady is a high-volume medical provider for the uninsured and indigent, and as such is saddled with huge financial challenges while maintaining its mission as a safety-net hospital.

The 953-bed facility in Downtown Atlanta had experienced a turnaround in the last four years, aided by corporate and financial support and new management. But the fiscal picture has changed this year.

Facing a $17 million shortfall,  the Grady system announced recently that it is cutting 120 jobs. Officials cited reduced state and county funding to the hospital; a weak economy with high unemployment; and increasing costs of supplies, utilities, pharmaceuticals and labor.

The current job reduction at Grady comes on top of a cut of roughly 70 positions in February.

Grady has grappled with a reduction in its funding from Fulton and DeKalb counties of $6 million, and a cut in Indigent Care Funds of $13 million. Grady’s admissions are down or flat for inpatient care, outpatient services and at its neighborhood clinics.

At the same time, more people have delayed medical care because of the economic downturn, which has led to a rise in emergency room volume.

“Our volumes are driven by the economy to the most expensive place you can see somebody — the emergency room,” Grady spokesman Matt Gove said recently.

Grady also recently closed two neighborhood clinics and raised patients’ co-pays on prescriptions.

Haupert, though, has the advantage of coming from a similar organization.  Parkland is a safety-net provider like Grady that is perhaps best known for being the hospital where President John F. Kennedy died after being shot in 1963.

Haupert knows about the high ER volumes and uncompensated care that such hospitals experience.

The Grady CEO job has a political component, too. Misty Williams of the AJC quotes Kevin Bloye of the Georgia Hospital Association about Haupert’s challenges: “His position, unlike any other hospital in the state, is certainly a highly political one. He’s going to have to be a bridge builder.’’

In speaking with reporters Wednesday, Haupert discussed the uncertainties of health care reform (“The crystal ball is still fairly foggy’’) and about payments to hospitals based on the quality of medical care.

“We have to secure Grady’s financial future,’’ he said.

That will be a big job, as his predecessors will attest.


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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