Structure of the Week: Grady Memorial Hospital
Since moving into the old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, we've spent far too much time on the rooftop deck or in front of our windows simply staring at the skyline. Every time a helicopter makes its way across the vista, we stop talking and silently track the chopper's flight path. Is this going to be an obnoxious display of wealth (hip-hop mogul en route to the helipad at the W Atlanta-Downtown? Newlyweds making a dramatic exit from their reception at Ventanas?). Or are we bearing witness to a life-and-death drama about to unfold as the helicopter heads for a landing at Grady Memorial Hospital? (For a few weeks this fall, there was a third alternative, cops swooping in to keep an eye on Occupy Atlanta, but those missions have abated of late.)
When we realize that the helicopter is headed for the Grady rooftop, we reflexively hold our breaths for a moment, sending goodwill wishes to the people in the aircraft and the medical crew waiting on the rooftop to receive them. If you’re en route to Grady via airlift, you’re likely in a bad state. Until recently, Grady was the only Level 1 Trauma Center within a hundred miles of Atlanta, and treated more than 3,000 of the worst emergency cases annually, receiving patients from all over Georgia. In June, Atlanta Medical Center, a mile away from Grady, was also given Level 1 designation.
Grady has come a long way since its 1892 founding — and I’m not talking about the obvious switch from horse-drawn ambulances to helipads. When it first opened, the $100,000 hospital had 100 beds — segregated evenly between white and black wards — ten private rooms — for white patients — and a single operating room. In 2010, according to its annual report, Grady Health System treated more than 600,000 patients and responded to 95,000 emergency calls. The Grady emergency medical system is the oldest in Georgia, and has operated continuously since 1892.
From the outset, Grady was designed to serve Atlanta's poor. (Aside to my neighbors: one of the founding benefactors was Fulton Bag and Cotton tycoon Jacob Elsas.) It has continued to address that mission, while rising healthcare costs and the economic downturn threatened its solvency a few years back. Along with serving patients who can't get care elsewhere, Grady has developed a number of specialties. Along with trauma care, it's nationally known for stroke, neurosurgery, diabetes treatment, dialysis, and more. It's a teaching hospital, training doctors in both the Emory and Morehouse medical schools.
Like every Atlanta institution, Grady’s commendable history is clouded by Jim Crow racial policies. By 1910, bonds were issued for a separate, whites-only facility, while a hospital serving blacks was relegated to old buildings on the Atlanta Medical College campus. An infusion of WPA funds in the late 1930s led to improvements in the hospital that included tunnels allowing support staff to move between the black and white facilities. But maintaining segregated staffs, clinics, even supplies, was a “costly detail,” notes historian Harold Martin in Atlanta and Environs, Vol. 3.
In one instance of the author’s experience, a white male who sought to give his cook’s son a person-to-person infusion of a rare blood type was told this could not be done. The white man could not be brought to the black side and the black patients could not be treated in the white section. The white man insisted, and a compromise was reached. The men were laid side by side on stretchers in a neutral corridor and the transfusion was made.
When a new, $24 million, twenty-story Grady building opened in 1956 (two years after the Brown v. Board ruling) Jim Crow was a factor. The hospital’s 1,000 beds were still segregated and patients treated by separate staffs. It took a court order – handed down in 1962 following a suit filed by the local NAACP, to start Grady’s de-segregation process. Grady did not accept its first African-American intern until June of 1963.
Grady in 1896, and the 1956 building that was erected for $24 million. Both courtesy Special Collections, Georgia State University Library.
Grady Memorial Hospital:
80 Jesse Hill Jr Drive SE, Atlanta, GA 30303