The discussion on how to save the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (the Med) is heating up. The Med's Board has indicated that it will close the emergency room, 70 medical/surgical beds, and outpatient clinics if $32 million is not found by February 2010.
An idea floated by Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz is to add a 2% tax on all hospital services in Shelby County (click here). A letter to the editor from Gary Shorb, CEO of Methodist Healthcare calls for "public support" of the Med (click here), but is unclear as to what form that support should take. Gary Gunderson and Scott Morris, in a special Viewpoint column today (click here), call upon us to "pray with all of your might for the health of our city, for those who will be affected if The Med emergency room is closed. We also call on all to pray for the strength to make wise decisions that will lead Memphis to be a city where rich and poor alike have the benefit of being cared for when we are most vulnerable."
This last call by Gunderson & Morris is a call to action to make "wise decisions". But what is the wisest decision? To burden those who are paying the high cost of health care by adding an additional 2% tax to their already high bill could have dire unintended consequences. One of those consequences could be pricing health care services out of reach of even more people, adding to the community burden of the uninsured. The call for public support could possibly take the form of a broad-based strategy to raise revenue for the Med. After all, if it is indeed a community resource or "utility" then don't we all have a role to play in keeping it viable?
One last thought: as I wrote to the CA back in August 2008 (click here), the Med owes us something in return for our financial support. It owes us a well-run, efficient hospital offering our community the highest quality care for the services it provides. As Gary Shorb points out, the Med has made progress in these areas. However, the Med should make a commitment to be held publicly accountable for the cost and quality of their care by agreeing to publicly report their progress in implementing critical patient safety and quality improvements by reporting, like the other Memphis-area hospitals, to The Leapfrog Group Annual Hospital Survey (click here).
We are being asked to dig deep into our pockets as citizens to support the Med, and the Med should prioritize showing us that it is worthy of this support.