David J. Black: Help us save Shands


Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 8:45 p.m.

Following the closure of Alachua General Hospital, I became one the few physicians in private practice to personally take care of my patients hospitalized at Shands. I have been extraordinarily gratified by the experience.

Prior to the AGH closure, I had been both the chief of medical operations at AGH as well as a member of the conjoint Medical Executive Committee that bridged the staffs of AGH and Shands. Even with that level of involvement with Shands Healthcare, I was not as immersed in the system and facilities as I have become over the past two years while taking care of patients at Shands. I now have firsthand experience with an expansive system that is poorly understood and seemingly taken for granted within our community.

The presence of such a medical center with the capability to provide such quality of care in so many disciplines for the sickest of the sick translates into quality of care for all patients. I see this quality in the care of my patients.

One can only be impressed by a helicopter crew that flies into a foggy dark field in the middle of the night to return one of our children to the trauma center. The interventional team that is on standby and is capable of removing a blood clot from an artery in a stroke patient's brain saved my patient's life.

The Pediatric Emergency Room has opened to provide specialized care to the “little” patients. Burn care, organ transplantation, neonatal intensive care, maternal and baby care for very-high-risk pregnancies are available to all in need.

This medical center not only provides for the needs of our community, but its reach is statewide, national and international.

The most recently proposed State budget threatens to strip Shands of greater than $70 million through a loss of payments for the care of patients insured with Medicaid. This type of budgetary loss will be felt by all “safety net” hospitals in the state, Shands being most adversely affected. All of these facilities must have exemplary staff, systems and facilities needed to care for these patients presenting with complex illnesses and complications.

These hospitals have developed specialized programs that have taken years to establish and once lost, cannot be restarted without years of preparation and planning. They cannot be turned on and off.

Such a significant loss of funding will result in either turning away patients in dire need of care that cannot be met in the typical community setting, or in the termination of programs so unique to a teaching hospital.

I graduated from the University of Florida College of Medicine, have worked side-by-side with Shands for years, have been administratively involved with medical staff concerns — but did not come to fully appreciate what was available until I came back after many years and attended cases. I am offering what I have learned.

I am looking forward to an outcry from this community regarding the potential loss of care that is available to all of us from medical departments ranked as some of the best in the nation and are internationally recognized. Allowing these capabilities to be decimated will define who we are and what we value.

Reducing access to care for those who need it most will speak legions of the priorities of our society. I am looking forward to our local representatives expressing a clear understanding of the significance of this institution. This understanding should include the economic impact it exerts, and the attraction it has to businesses and individuals moving here and promoting growth to our local economy.

Please do not allow such a budgetary decision that has ramifications at so many levels to be made without your input.

Do not wait to become involved until your child is flown halfway across the state to a trauma center following a major automobile accident and loses precious moments in long-distance transport.

Make your voice heard before your husband has a stroke that requires immediate vascular intervention and there is not a team awaiting his arrival.

Contact your representative in the hopes your grandchild never has leukemia and needs specialized isolation and treatment.

Help mobilize the community so if the unthinkable befalls your wife, and she contracts a viral infection of her heart and needs a life-saving transplant, the capability to perform the procedure still exists.

The funding cut does not just affect “them” — it affects all of us. Of no less importance is how this decision calls to question our vision of society and how we answer.

David J. Black, M.D., lives in Gainesville.

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