On the Record


  • Total patient visits in 2012: More than 642,000
  • Fulton County residents: 57 percent of visits
  • DeKalb County residents: 32 percent of visits
  • Other: 11 percent of visits
  • Fulton County contribution: $50 million
  • DeKalb County contribution: $11.2 million

Grady Memorial Hospital is one of the largest providers of mental health services in the state. According to a recent story by AJC reporters David Wickert and Misty Williams, Grady loses between $6 million and $8 million each year caring for roughly 10,000 mental health patients. Fulton County residents make up nearly 80 percent of those patients. The hospital spends about $200 million each year caring for the poor and uninsured.

Now Fulton is threatening to cut funds to Grady’s mental health care. That could put much of the burden on county-funded clinics. Grady CEO John Haupert is skeptical. “I seriously doubt they (the clinics) could take on the volumes (of patients) we’re talking about, ” Haupert said (AJC Nov. 20).

Until now, Grady has absorbed previous funding cuts from the counties without sharply cutting services. But that meant putting off repairing deteriorating facilities and replacing aging medical equipment. That’s not an option anymore, Haupert said.

“We’re not going to run this place into the ground, ” he said. “We have to keep Grady viable. We have to keep it healthy. It’s concerning to me that the neediest in this community are the ones paying for budget shortfalls.”

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said there was a strong possibility “an alternative revenue source” will be found to make up the shortfall — meaning a new tax.

But it’s unclear whether a majority of commissioners will support a new levy. And if they do, it could spark a backlash in the General Assembly, which prohibited Fulton from raising property taxes earlier this year.

State Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, doubts Fulton can legally impose a new tax. He thinks the county can balance its budget by other means. “There’s ample funds there,” Willard said. “Twenty-five million dollars is a mere drop in the bucket.”

Fulton and DeKalb counties have long supported Grady’s mission of caring for needy patients. This year, Fulton will contribute $50 million to the hospital’s operations; DeKalb will pitch in $11.2 million.

Eaves proposed a tax last summer to restore Grady funding, but commissioners rejected the proposal, saying it was a bad idea to raise taxes while the economy was still sputtering.

A new tax likely would cause another confrontation between county Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly. The Republicans say Fulton spends too much. Last spring, they passed a series of measures — including a property tax freeze until 2015 — to force Fulton to cut spending.

Willard said Fulton is using the threat of a Grady cut as public relations “leverage.” He said state lawmakers may take additional steps to reshape county government next year. “We’ll have to see what their (tax) scheme is, ” he said.