Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,
Wellstar MCG Health emerges from partnership with the Georgia-based health system
Transformative is a word I have used more than once to describe the past couple of years at the Medical College of Georgia. That has included sweeping changes in our curriculum to both support producing more primary care physicians for our state and to enable our medical students, who are no question among the best in the land, to tailor make their medical education to optimally meet their goals as physicians. This past Friday was another one of those days. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents unanimously approved our partnership with Wellstar Health System that brings together the management strength of this Georgia-based nonprofit with the academic strength and innovation of Georgia’s only public academic medical center to multiply the significant benefits both provide. The new Wellstar MCG Health that will emerge will enable MCG, which already has one of the largest medical school classes in the country, to more rapidly expand the number of physicians we educate to better serve a state that also is among the largest in the nation in population and population growth. It is also a state where 108 of the 159 counties are defined as rural. I believe it is a partnership that will benefit Georgians and Georgia by better serving people where they live through innovations in digital health and growing telemedicine, by expanding the number of physicians we can educate, and by expanding the scope of the specialized care our faculty are already famous for. It will also be a big boost to clinical research and to the National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science award application we are submitting in May.
The Boards of AU Health, Wellstar and the University System of Georgia all approved the partnership late last week
The Wellstar Health System Board and AU Health System Board both approved this innovative merger the day before the Regents’ vote. In a nutshell, Wellstar Health System, which has been recognized as a top employer, is leasing our clinical facilities and will take over the work of the AU Health System and its board, including managing the faculty practice, now called AU Medical Associates, as well as the Children’s Hospital of Georgia and the clinical components of the Georgia Cancer Center. The new Wellstar MCG Health will emerge with the approval of regulatory agencies hopefully by the beginning of our fiscal year July 1. MCG will continue as a separate entity that is part of AU and the larger USG. The faculty of MCG will remain the faculty of MCG, meaning those who are currently employed by AU will remain employed by AU.
Governor Kemp, Chancellor Perdue and the Georgia Legislature enabled the innovative partnership
Please let me thank again Governor Kemp, Chancellor Perdue and the Georgia Legislature for understanding the importance of MCG and its health system and for prioritizing both through this innovative partnership with Wellstar. It took a lot of work, with preliminary conversations going on for years, serious deliberation over the past year and detailed negotiation in the last three months. Gov. Kemp graciously thanked all involved for their diligence and support during a press call Friday morning announcing the agreement. “I know that this agreement will lead to a new era of excellence,” the governor said, noting that AU and MCG are great assets for the state whose best days are ahead and that millions of Georgia families will benefit. It brought me great joy to hear Chancellor Perdue also say during that press call that the only public medical education system in our state, a state regularly lauded as one of the best places to do business, needs to enjoy the benefits of a modern health system. And that is one of the many, many benefits to MCG and to our existing health system that will result.
Wellstar will invest about $800 million in health system facilities and infrastructure
The agreement includes about an $800 million infusion from Wellstar over the next 10 years to strengthen the essential clinical facilities and infrastructure we have in downtown Augusta, where our extraordinary faculty and staff already provide highly specialized care, and to build a new hospital and medical office building in neighboring Columbia County. The installation of the EPIC electronic medical record system, the EMR most academic medical centers use, including Emory, will support essentially every aspect of the clinical infrastructure, further enabling interoperability amongst ourselves and with physicians and hospitals across our state and beyond, as it improves the revenue cycle, scheduling patient appointments and proper billing. I cannot thank the leadership and people of Georgia enough for providing funding for this essential tool for our present and our future. Please know as well that additional financial support from Wellstar will go to our educational programs and to support the clinical and translational research we all want to do more of, and which the new EMR also will enable.
The partnership will improve public health and expand MCG’s statewide footprint with an Atlanta campus
“We are looking forward to what we can build together,” Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders said on the press call Friday. “Transformational” is what she also called it and you know I absolutely agree. There is no question this new partnership will improve the public health of Georgia, perhaps especially the some 40 percent of Georgians who live in rural areas who regularly seek us out for the complex and sometimes more routine care they need. This move will stabilize our health system to ensure it is here for them and whoever else needs us. It further stabilizes our medical school as well by enabling us to expand our clinical work which will enable us to expand the number of medical students as well as residents who learn beside some of the best physician faculty in the land. Most of you know that in addition to a large class size of 264 medical students (and growing) we have 575 residents and fellows learning in 50 Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education-accredited residencies and fellowships. Additionally we have the statewide campus network we talk a lot about that has our students living and learning all over Georgia, which will benefit as well by enabling the establishment of an Atlanta campus based at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital. Please know that having an established presence for Georgia’s public medical school in the state’s capital region where 60 percent of the population lives is both logical and desirable. But please also know that it will strengthen, not detract, from our expanding efforts with physicians, hospitals and patients across the state we are privileged to serve. Our commitment to rural Georgia remains inviolate.
Wellstar also has a statewide impact, and shares a commitment to medical education
You may know that Wellstar shares our commitment to all of Georgia and to the education of the next generation. They already have served patients from 148 of our 159 counties and provide about $1 billion in uncompensated care annually. Most of you likely have heard about Wellstar’s flagship Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, where our students have been doing clerkships for years and where we currently have 17 third-year students. But Wellstar also has hospitals in Austell, Douglasville, Hiram, Griffin, Jackson, LaGrange as well as Roswell and a second hospital in Marietta. They have residency programs in four of their hospitals including Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, General Surgery, Internal Medicine, OB/GYN, Orthopaedic Surgery, as well as a translational year residency, Hospice and Palliative Care Fellowship and a Pharmacy Residency at Kennestone. Wellstar Cobb Hospital in Austell has an Internal Medicine Residency as well as a Pharmacy Residency, the Douglasville hospital has a family medicine residency and Wellstar Spalding in Griffin has an internal medicine residency. That is one reason I have said to you that we and they, under the leadership of Candice, who worked on the frontlines as a critical care nurse, are like-minded.
While I know each of you have many questions and we still do not have every answer, I want you to feel good that the future of our health system and of our medical school likely have never stood on firmer ground and that we have the leadership of Georgia and our university behind us. So please take a moment at least to celebrate this important milestone which each of you have helped achieve as our home base of Augusta celebrates its 87th Masters. Have a fun Spring break.
My best to you always,
David C. Hess, MD
Dean, Medical College of Georgia
Apr 21 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium
Apr 28-30 – AU Alumni Weekend, schedule
May 11 – MCG Hooding, 2 p.m., Bell Auditorium
Jun 13 – MCG Faculty Awards Ceremony, 5 p.m., Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium