An Affair of State 

Elsewhere in this issue, we examine the several strategies being employed in county government and elsewhere to keep the Med operating as a trauma center and medical-treatment center for indigents. These are hard economic times, of course, and all governments are having trouble keeping their vital services up to snuff.

But in the sense that institutions, like people, have a life cycle and experience pendulum swings between ill health and wellness, we have to say that only some of the ills now afflicting the Med stem from natural causes. Other causes of the hospital's present financial malaise are avoidable and would be so, in good times or bad, and, further, they are attributable to either negligence or malice aforethought.

The first circumstances can be attributed to the governments of the states bordering Shelby County — Arkansas and Mississippi. Regardless of changes of regime or which party happens to be in control or other factors of that sort, neither state has begun to offer anything more than token response to the fact that the Med services numerous residents of both states on a daily basis. As far as proper financial compensation goes? Nada.

And our own state government is hardly more charitable. It is a certifiable fact that for every $3 in uncompensated care that the Med provides and for which the federal government compensates the state of Tennessee (that being how such monies are distributed from Washington), Shelby County and the Med receive back only $1. The rest of the Med-generated funding is distributed throughout the rest of the state's hospital network via TennCare channels, to public and private hospitals alike.

There is a possible rationale for such an allocation mode, based on a labyrinthine version of how TennCare operates, but Governor Phil Bredesen, like his immediate predecessors, has been careless, even indifferent, about making the case. Worse yet was the response of state finance commissioner Dave Goetz last week to a civil rights complaint filed by Shelby County commissioner Mike Ritz seeking to return more of the federal funding to the source which generated it, i.e., the Med.

What Goetz did in effect was threaten to retaliate by breaking off any pending negotiations on the Med issue between the state and any and all local officials in retaliation.

We say shame on state government for taking such a position and bravo to Ritz and his colleagues who are trying, justly, to force an issue that should have been resolved long ago.

Joe Kent

Tennessee suffered a major loss last week with the death of former state representative Joe Kent, a Memphian who throughout his lengthy tour of office was a champion of the Med and other vital public institutions and who, as much as any other member of the House ever, was a force of cohesion binding members of different parties and different regions into common cause.

Kent will be remembered this Saturday at the McWherter Senior Center in a Celebration of Life memorial service, and, while the complete list was still being added to at press time, numerous local officials will be there to pay the former legislator proper homage. We, too, say well done and farewell. Kent was a moderate's moderate and a good guy.


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