Health Care

By Ron Sailor

Vol. 1, No. 3, 1978, pp. 25

Southwest Community Hospital currently has only 125 beds - but it wants to build a new wing with 75 additional medical-surgical beds. The construction request, however, has been repeatedly turned down by the state health planning and development agency whose approval the hospital must have if federal dollars are to be used in the construction.

The Black Atlanta hospital claims a 90 percent occupancy rate for its medical-surgical area, but the agency discounts this and concerns itself with the hospital's over-all occupancy rate of less than 85 percent. Still, the biggest contention is being fought over the definition of what a "community" is.

The hospital has applied a practical definition of community as the 3.5 mile radius contiguous to the hospital. The agency uses an expansive definition including much of the southern, southwestern, and northwestern portions of Fulton County, where the hospital is located. Using its definition, the agency is steadfastly insisting that there are available beds in the immediate "service area" of the hospital.

Southwest Hospital administrator A.W. Mumford, in a recent meeting with Georgia Gov. George Busbee, sounded, what for him has become a familiar refrain, "We are concerned that if Southwest is not allowed to expand, then it will die for lack of growth and insensitivity will be the cause."

Hospital administrators see the problem they are experiencing as being typical of the kinds of struggle facing Black hospitals around the nation and particularly in the South. In less than 20 years the number of Blackowned hospitals across the nation has dropped from just over 100 to 26. The remaining 26 all face a number of the same problems.

At least three factors are responsible for their rather precarious plight:

(1) All of the Black-owned hospitals must have the approval of state regulatory agencies if they hope to expand or improve their facilities. Without the approval, federal dollars cannot be used to reimburse cost. These agencies are shielded from any direct control, and are autonomous and independent. Yet, while these agencies are independent they are subject to pressure from the formidable medical and convalescent industries' lobbies. Blacks have little clout and small representation on the agencies' boards, thus it follows that Black interests are often subordinated.

(2) Most of the remaining Black hospitals are in need of expansion and face-lifting. Many were built during the days of segregation as a response to the refusal of White hospitals to care for both indigent and non-indigent Black patients. Even then the physical plants were not impressive and the full range of programs underdeveloped. They face the most critical need to expand and improve their operations at a time when federal restraints have been placed on the construction of new hospital beds.

(3) Group insurance programs have brought beds in newly constructed suburban hospitals into the reach of the Black community. In Atlanta, in less than 10 years, at least five such hospitals have opened. They come complete with wall-to-wall carpeting, papered walls and prestige. Black hospitals are forced to compete with community pride or historical reverence because as in the case of Southwest Community, they must fight to improve.

Ron Sailor is an editor for the Atlanta Daily World and a commentator for WAOK Radio.