Fulton County commissioners agreed Wednesday to spend up to $60 million to support an expansion of Grady Memorial Hospital.
The contribution, paid for with taxpayer funds, would be more than a third of the total cost of the nearly $165 million project.
The commitment will be a signal to private donors that local government is on board with the hospital’s plan to add a seven-story surgery center at its main campus and increase patient capacity at its Ponce de Leon AIDS and HIV treatment center, said John Haupert, CEO of Grady Health System.
“It’s very affirming to Grady,” Haupert said after the unanimous vote. “We’ve been meeting with local foundations, and they really have been asking us the question, ‘Where’s the public support?’ This will go a long way to helping us go back to them.”
Grady and the county will still have to negotiate the terms of the contract, but Haupert said he expected the deal to be finalized over the next three months.
While Fulton and DeKalb counties contribute money for operating costs, it has been 25 years since they gave money for capital improvements.
Grady is also seeking up to $30 million from DeKalb County taxpayers. Haupert said representatives from Grady will present their proposal to that board later this month.
The downtown hospital was on the verge of collapse in 2007, but in the past decade has restructured its once-crippling debt. Now, Grady officials say, the hospital is at capacity and needs more space.
Additionally, the new center will allow for more outpatient surgeries, and Grady officials are projecting that the hospital will serve an increased number of insured people, helping its bottom line.
“We see it as an imperative that we get [Grady] on a firmer foundation, and this proposal will help,” said Frank Blake, chairman of the Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation. “It will put the hospital’s assets in a far better position for the future.”
Fulton County commissioners said they supported Grady’s increased stability, particularly as questions loom about the future of health care in the country.
Fulton County Commission Vice Chairman Bob Ellis said Grady is a “great success story” and that he was excited about the impact both the surgery center and the AIDS/HIV center’s expansion could have. Commission Chairman John Eaves said he was “strongly behind” the projects, calling the proposal encouraging.
Both Haupert and Eaves said the hospital’s relationship with the county has evolved over the past decade.
“We’ve come a mighty long way,” Eaves said.
Private groups are expected to pay for half the cost of the expansions, and Fulton and DeKalb counties would pay the other half. Additionally, Grady would pay $38.3 million for a 660-space parking deck and has already paid for the former Fulton County Aldredge Health Center, where the new surgery center would be built across the street from the main hospital building.
The surgical services center would add six dedicated operating rooms for an ambulatory surgery center, to handle scheduled surgeries. It also would have dedicated rooms for gastrointestinal procedures, an outpatient imaging center and a relocated cancer center. The moves will allow the hospital to add 52 beds. Altogether, the project would increase clinic capacity by 45 percent and operating room volume by 25 percent.
The Ponce de Leon Center, which treats more than 6,000 people a year with HIV and AIDS, would be modernized and expanded.
Haupert said Grady will begin its operational planning, a process that will take about four months, while contract negotiations are ongoing. Architectural plans are expected to take about eight months and construction should begin next September. The projects should be finished in spring 2021.
Haupert said he was happy to see unanimous support by Fulton commissioners, across racial, political and geographic lines.
“It’s a giant step forward,” he said. “I’m impressed, to be honest.”
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The story so far
Grady Memorial Hospital opened in 1892. It almost closed in 2007, hamstrung by crippling debt. Today, Grady is planning an expansion. The hospital system is at full capacity and performs 13,000 surgeries a year. A new building would add six operating rooms and other needed space.