Meharry Medical College took public comments about the future of Nashville General Hospital on Tuesday night, and the message was clear. Community members — most with some kind of personal ties — said they want the city to spend more money on the hospital, not less.
Some tension has built up between between the hospital and Meharry after the school decided to move its medical students to Tristar Southern Hills, citing low patient volume at General Hospital. But Evelyn Means, who works at the city's safety net facility, encouraged the crowd to find a common goal: lobbying the city for more funding.
"Rather than us standing here and bickering against each other, let's attack the city," she said to applause at First Baptist Church Capitol Hill. "Let's ask them, and make them give us what we need to fund our hospital and take care of our patients."
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry was called out by name and accused of ignoring the needs of the city's poorest residents. In recent weeks, she has slowed down efforts to close inpatient services at the hospital. But the Metro Council still needs to approve a $20 million mid-year cash infusion next month in order to keep the facility afloat.
"Many of the articles that have been posted in the paper, I'm not even able to read them because it's so heavy on my heart, the idea they could be considering closing the hospital," said Rosalyn Word, a graduate of the dental hygiene program at Meharry who teaches at Tennessee State University.
If the problem is too few patients, politicians should focus their energy on finding some, Word said. "Elected officials, get on your job."
The listening session was organized by the Meharry panel assembled to find more efficient ways of caring for indigent patients in Nashville. The group came under fire — even from the mayor — for its closed-door meetings and general lack of transparency.
Tuesday's community meeting was meant to give the public a voice in the process. No officials from Meharry or General Hospital spoke.