For Hall County, the bad news was receiving a surprise bill for $2 million. The good news was learning it didn’t have to pay it.
Hall County was among many metro area counties that got a letter from Grady Health System in Atlanta asking for the amount of money spent caring for its residents in 2008.
“Anytime you get a $2 million request for payment on something you weren’t expecting it gets your attention,” said Hall County Administrator Charley Nix.
Included in the letter was an outline of the amount spent on each of the 177 Hall County residents treated without payment at Grady. The price of care varied greatly— from a mere $2.50 to a single bill that topped the list at more than $840,000.
The Atlanta hospital, which provides uncompensated care to patients throughout the state and is the only Level I trauma center in the area, experienced a $140 million operating loss in 2008.
Grady spokesman Matt Gove said the letters were sent in January as a way to raise awareness of how much uncompensated care Grady provides to residents outside of Atlanta.
“Fulton and DeKalb counties fund us very generously to help support the care we deliver to citizens of their counties. So what we are doing with these letters are helping the other counties understand how much care we deliver to their citizens that goes unpaid for,” Gove said.
Assistant Hall County Administrator Phil Sutton said the county will not provide any compensation to the hospital for 2008.
“It’s not legal,” Sutton said. “The county commission can’t pay that bill unless it had a pre-existing contractual arrangement with Grady Hospital.”
Gove said none of the counties contacted have agreed to support Grady.
“We understand they are under no obligation to do so but we would love for them to consider it. Grady serves as a resource for the entire state. As the safety net hospital here in the metro area, we understand our obligation to serve patients who cannot afford to pay. But as those numbers grow every year, our hope is that the other counties in the metro area will recognize there’s more they can do to help shoulder that burden,” Gove said. “Maybe in better financial times there would be more willingness to pay.”
According to Gove, Hall County ranked eighth in the state for total charges. Gove said because of Hall’s proximity to Grady Hospital, it is logical that it would have a higher number of patients.
Hall County currently does not provide funding for indigent health care at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, but does provide money for the county health department.
“We do fund quite a bit of the health department’s activities. We provide the health department buildings and provide some funding to the health department which is used to pay for folks who might otherwise be considered indigent, but it’s not so to speak indigent care,” Sutton said.
Gove said the hospital hopes to sign contracts with other counties in the future.
“They’re in difficult financial times already,” Gove said. “We can’t continue to go to (Fulton and DeKalb) and ask them for more money for their patients without also asking other counties if there are ways they would be willing to pay.”
Sutton said it is unlikely that Hall County will ever support Grady financially.
“It would be an enormous obligation there, we’re not going to look at that,” Sutton said. “That’s never been the role of local government.”