Special Report: Inside The MED - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Special Report: Inside The MED

By Joe Birch - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Action News 5 was recently granted a rare, behind the scenes, all access pass inside The MED, to investigate how the hospital's financial crisis could have a direct impact on you.

Looking out from The Med's rooftop heliport, the Memphis skyline looked serene at sunset on Saturday night.  But the bustling activity within told a different story.  During our visit, from 4:00 p.m. to Midnight on Saturday, six life saving Hospital Wing flights arrived at the region's only Level One Trauma Center.

"What happens when a patient comes in; it's basically organized chaos," Trauma Center Director Dr. Martin Croce said.

Among the injured people treated Saturday night were a young man from Paragould and a crash victim from Marshall County.

"We serve everybody," Trauma Center charge nurse Kerry Lyons said. "We don't ever ask about insurance. Our purpose is to take care of everybody."

"Even though you don't need the Trauma Center right now, you might in 20 minutes," Croce added.

Many ailments were treated Saturday night, including gunshot wounds.  No other hospital in the area can match the Elvis Presley Trauma Center's expertise treating victims of violent crime. The other 80 percent of trauma patients come from car wrecks, hunting, farming accidents and ATV accidents.

"If it's bent, broken, or bleeding, it'll come here," Croce said.

The Trauma Center is separate from The MED's Emergency Room, which cares for people needing medicine, like Floyd Evans, a laid off truck driver we spoke to as he suffered from chest pains.

"We don't have insurance so that's why we came here, because we know we could get care here," said Evans' wife, Sandra.

More than 44,000 visits have been made to The MED's emergency room this year, and nearly one third of those patients have no insurance or way to pay. In fact, The MED delivers about $132 million worth of un-reimbursed care each year.

"It's the mission of the hospital. We take care of the uninsured patients," said E. R. Medical Director Dr. Chantay Smartt. "We don't look whether you have money, whether you have a job or anything like that. You come here, we're going to take care of you."

This long standing policy has led to financial distress at the hospital, which is now led by Claude Watts, a consultant serving as CEO

"There are a lot of charity hospitals throughout this country hanging on by a slender thread, because they are the last lifeline for the community, especially the community of uninsured or under-served," Watts said.

The MED Board has warned that if it is unable to come up with millions in new funding early next year, the emergency room might partially or totally close.

"And people will die," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jack McCue said. "There is no question. People will be hurt and people will die."

McCue believes if The MED's E. R. were to close, nearby Methodist University Hospital's E. R. would be swamped.

"It would increase their E. R. volume probably by 50 percent, and that would affect you and me," he said. "It's not just the people who don't have insurance."

"They could not take this volume that we see," Smartt added. "People would be sitting in their waiting room for maybe days waiting for medical attention."

The 30 patients who arrived at The MED by ambulance between 4:00 p.m. and Midnight Saturday would have to go elsewhere.

"It's going to be a disaster for Memphis," E. R. worker Robert Ambrose said. "I truly believe that."

"If the Med doesn't pull through this financial disaster that we're in right now and the E. R. has to close or partially closes, that would be catastrophic for the Mid-South community and specifically for Memphis and Shelby County," Dr. Martin Croce added.

At the moment there's no easy way out of The MED's money crunch.

"I think it's going to have to be the taxpayers," McCue said. "Maybe it will be federal support. But it's got to be something that's ongoing."

And the clock is ticking on whether The Med can survive it's financial emergency.

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