Nashville General Hospital – 1/14/18 thoughts

Here are my Nov. 29, 2017 thoughts about NGH. My main thought then was that there were too many people with firm, preconceived ideas about the hospital’s future and not enough working together. I said:

There are too many chefs in the kitchen. I’ve been trying to stay relatively quiet about the hospital because there are already a whole lot of people who are actively pushing various  ideas about how to “save” the hospital. Unfortunately, most of the efforts are uncoordinated and there is not a basic agreement about what “save” means.

and

I don’t want to add to the “too many chefs” dynamic. That said, my number one wish this evening is that the Hospital Authority and the administration would find a way to be teammates. If they don’t, I’m concerned that we’re going to end up watching a fiery wreck.

A few weeks ago, in my year end wrap-up post, I added that I think it will take an outside expert to guide the parties to a great solution:

If I were allowed to choose a path forward I would want to re-boot whatever process is currently underway. My strong sense is that a whole lot of people have preconceived and conflicting notions about what the proper end-game should be for the hospital. What’s needed is an independent third-party subject matter expert (probably from outside of town). This person would need to have expertise in solving hospital financial problems AND also have the ability to act as a mediator. The person would need truly to have an open mind about where we will end up, and the person would need to be trusted enough to engage in shuttle diplomacy among the many groups. If the hospital is going to end up in a place where all or most of the constituent groups are going to be happy, I think it will need to be an outside person who guides us there.

Since then, the Mayor has sent a letter to the Metro Council saying that she wants to “reset” the process and find a solution by the end of 2018. This is a good first step…but doesn’t guaranty success. Here are some of the ingredients that I think it would take to find a good win-win for indigent medical care in Nashville, Meharry, NGH, and the broader community:

  • Everyone must keep an open mind about what a solution looks like. Everyone must keep an open mind. That’s not “everyone else”…it’s “everyone.”
  • I don’t believe a process led by the administration will succeed. I don’t believe a process led by an administration consultant will succeed. I don’t believe a process led by Meharry will succeed. I don’t believe a process led by NGH will succeed. At this point, I think the right person is an independent third-party subject matter expert (probably from outside of town) with expertise in solving hospital financial problems AND also have the ability to act as a mediator.
  • When both the administration and the majority of Council members voted last summer to keep the hospital’s annual operating budget at $35 million, Meharry prudently interpreted that as a shot over its bow that NGH was becoming even less stable. Remember, some Council members pushed to fund the full $55 million requested budget. That effort failed. As a backstop, I tried to get another $5 million added to the budget. That effort failed. In this context, Meharry is entitled to have self-interest as one of its many motivations. Also, expect Meharry to push hard for more control about what happens in the hospital (a building that Meharry owns with a lease to Metro that is ending in another 6 years). They can’t be faulted for this.
  • On the issue how public the process is, I think that there simply isn’t a way to get this to the finish line with a good result and have the entire process be public in real time. And there is no legal requirement for this. Certainly, the Hospital Authority and Council members are required to deliberate publicly. My sense is that parts of a successful process would have to include private conversations with the non-government parties that are involved. Obviously, this has to be balanced with having full transparency as required by law when government officials are involved.
  • I have mentioned to multiple parties involved that I think there is another possible ingredient to a long term solution. Significant development is knocking on the door of the Meharry/Fisk neighborhood. If there were ever a place for a traditional economic redevelopment district, it is in the immediate neighborhood of the hospital. I think there is a way to make sure the universities are the primary beneficiaries from the rise in real estate values that is coming soon to the area.
  • The final ingredient I will mention is about process. Whatever process evolves to find a solution will need to be one that is trusted so that not every single party feels like they have to personally participate. Just from the Council, there are at least 5 or 6 perspectives about how to approach hospital issues. The Hospital Authority has at least 2, maybe 3, distinct perspectives. This is why I think it will take an independent person or group with no preconceived strategy to guide us all to a true win-win. With the right person and process, this might get down to being an 8 to 10 party negotiation instead of a 50 party negotiation.

I feel somewhat more optimistic (or less pessimistic??) about the prospects for the hospital now that we are hitting the reset button. If we start to see some of these other ingredients, we’ll be on a good path.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.