The Metro Council is on track to defy Mayor Megan Barry, who discouraged giving Nashville General Hospital the $19.7 million it asked for to plug a gaping budget hole. The council budget committee moved to fully fund its request, rather than scale it back as Barry suggested.
The facility is on course to run out of cash in the coming weeks, and leaders say the mayor's initial proposal to close the hospital has made their money trouble even worse.
The hospital's top accountant, chief financial officer Bruce Naremore, expected to lose some patients after Mayor Barry announced in November that she wanted to soon close in-patient services in an effort to save taxpayers money. He budgeted for revenues to drop 15 percent. Instead, they've fallen twice that much.
"I still have people that call that think the hospital is closing, has closed. They didn't hear the reset button that the mayor pressed," Naremore told the Metro Council's budget committee Monday afternoon, referencing Barry's recent slowdown on restructuring. "So we're still suffering."
More than $2 million of the request was for "stay pay" to offer bonuses to employees considering other job opportunities because of the hospital's uncertain future. Right now, Naremore said hospital officials "spend way too much of our time justifying what we do rather than just taking care of the patients."
Hospital Authority chair Jan Brandes gave an impassioned plea, appealing to the council members' sense of civic duty to care for the city's poorest residents.
"It's really time for us to quit futzing around as a community and be who we are, I think," she said. "It's time for us to move on with this."
Despite General Hospital's nearly $20 million request, Mayor Barry said she'd give them $13 million with strings attached, including a hiring freeze for most Metro departments and cuts to an affordable housing program.
The council's budget committee opted to give the hospital what they asked for — though pushing some of the money into the next fiscal year — and not institute a hiring freeze. The full Metro Council will vote Tuesday night on whether to approve the committee's recommendations.
Several members pointed to pricier spending items passed in recent months that they thought were less important, including the new Major League Soccer stadium.
"There have been some egregious things that have happened," council member Erica Gilmore said, citing what she called "reckless announcements."
"At this point, we have to decide, are we going to fund the hospital fully?" she said. "I think we need to get our priorities straight."