Nashville’s vulnerable populations depend on General Hospital’s holistic care, unique economic model

By NIARA SAVAGE | Nashville Voice

A year ago, Nashville General Hospital at Meharry seemed to have been on the brink of eliminating its inpatient care.

A decision by then-Mayor Megan Barry to shutter the public-funded hospital’s inpatient services was based partially on the fact that only 40 out of 120 bed were being used. The closure would have caused community members who depend on General Hospital’s services to seek care elsewhere.

Dr. Joseph Webb, the CEO of Nashville General Hospital, said that General Hospital’s primary goal is to get patients treated, and back to their regular healthy selves as soon as possible.

The hospital’s chronic care model addresses the needs of people suffering from diseases prevalent in Tennessee, including diabetes, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Webb explained that closure of inpatient services at General Hospital would ignite “major fragmentation of care,” among Nashville’s most vulnerable citizens. Those patients who depend on NGH for treatment — and have for years — would be forced to seek care elsewhere across the city, he said.

According to Dr. Webb, the City of Nashville committed itself in its charter to provide healthcare to the community. For 129 years, General Hospital has helped Nashville achieve and maintain this commitment, while training future physicians from the historically-black Meharry Medical College.

Fortunately, Mayor David Briley has publicly endorsed the important role General Hospital plays to combat chronic health problems in one of the nation’s sickest cities and has been supportive of providing the hospital with the subsidies required to keep inpatient services open.

“We treat the whole patient and make them a part of their own care, “ Webb said, explaining that General Hospital plays a vital role in the health and wellness of Nashville’s most vulnerable communities.

Forty-percent of the patients treated at the full-service hospital are uninsured, and cannot pay for the care they recieve. This is where the hospital’s economic model comes in: the cost of care for non-paying patients is covered by those who are able to pay for their care.

This system has been proven successful—over the past four years, General Hospital has improved its financial balance sheet by $26 million.

Webb attributed this significant economic improvement to the hospital’s “efficient operations and streamlined expenses.”

Webb also pointed out that the hospital’s low number of inpatients is no indication of poor quality of services, explaining that “a hospital full of sick patients doesn’t equate to good care.”

For example, the hospital’s Food Pharmacy program demonstrates Webb’s idea of personalized care and treatment. In fact, General Hospital’s Food Pharmacy is a unique, one-of-a-kind system that cannot be found anywhere else across the country.

Through the program, patients are prescribed nutritious foods based on their dietary needs, and according to the diseases they suffer from.

According to Webb, Food Pharmacy recommendations are “prescriptive to our patient populations” and produce “excellent outcomes.”

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