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City Pages

Medical care for poor people—and those without insurance—is provided more efficiently in Athens-Clarke County than in some other places, says Athens Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Elaine Cook. Unlike in Atlanta, where citizens are taxed to support Grady Hospital, citizens in Athens pay no taxes to support ARMC, which is a nonprofit, “quasi-public” hospital. Still, anyone who comes through the emergency room doors (paying or not) gets medical care that’s “a lot more than just patching somebody up,” says Cook. She recalls a patient last year who had no running water at home, yet had successful open-heart surgery and followup care. At ARMC, about $40 million in medical care is given away annually. The smaller St. Mary’s Hospital provides $7 million yearly in unpaid care, says its website.

“It is an expensive venture,” Cook acknowledges, costing more each year. Efficient management—”We’re very conscious of our expenses,” she says—and support from the hospital’s foundation, plus a state-mandated “bed tax” that’s redistributed to hospitals for indigent care make it possible. A patient’s needs can spiral if he or she puts off getting medical help, Cook adds. Unhealthy lifestyles, uninsured patients and unemployment all complicate health care these days, but “I rarely see someone who goes into bankruptcy because of their medical bills,” she says. “Every case I’ve known of, they were able to work out a reasonable payment plan,” even if it’s only $10 a month.

Athens has “amazing medical care,” Cook believes; ARMC has been rated among the nation’s top-100 hospitals and retains a high ratio of nurses to patients. “We have some of the finest doctors in the country right here in Athens,” she says. Locally grown doctors and nurses have returned from schools like Harvard and Yale to practice in Athens, and UGA’s medical program—now in its second year—helps supply staff to local hospitals.