By Maria Saporta
What a difference $50 million can make.
Since 2009, Billi and Bernie Marcus have donated a total of $50 million to Grady Hospital.
Their donations have gone towards the creation of the Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center as well as the Marcus Trauma Center.
On Wednesday, Grady’s leaders invited leaders who have played an important role in the rebirth of Grady Hospital to witness the unveiling of the large sign on the top of the hospital to let people know of the new-and-improved Trauma Center and Emergency Room.
John Haupert, the president and CEO of the Grady Health System, said the emergency room had been designed in the 1970s for 70,000 patients a year, but it actually had been handling 120,000 patients a year – most often with hospital beds lined up along the walls.
The renovated and expanded emergency room will have a capacity for 135,000 patients, including enough trauma bays to handle 25,000 patients a year, up from the 18,000 it currently handles.
The emergency room at Grady has been known as a place that provided some of the best medical care in the region – but the dingy environment and the crowded conditions did not live up to the quality of the medical care.
Before the sign unveiling ceremony, Marcus took a tour of the new sections of the emergency room – declaring they were beautiful. As a tour leader said, Grady has the third largest trauma center in the country.
“I call this the miracle of Grady,” Marcus said.
A decade ago, Grady’s future was far from certain. That’s when Atlanta’s business and philanthropic community stepped in to save the hospital, which has a large portion of its payments that are either uninsured or underinsured.
The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation provided a $200 million gift to kick off the reinvention of the hospital into a nonprofit organization in 2008. Many other corporations and foundations joined in the effort, but the Marcus gifts were in a league of their own – $20 million in 2009 and another $30 million in 2014. The new and expanded facilities should be fully open in 2017.
Pete Correll, retired CEO of Georgia-Pacific, chaired the Grady board, also became a significant donor. On Wednesday, he thanked Marcus, the Woodruff Foundation and all the major donors – including the federal government.
“Whatever federal God is out there, thank you for the New Market Tax Credits,” Correll said.
Even before he started the Home Depot, Marcus said he and his wife had always intended to give back to the community.
“Grady is saving lives every single day,” Marcus said. “God forbid something happens to you. But if it does, for God’s sake, go to Grady.”
As Marcus was talking, his son, Fred Marcus, was reminded of his father’s greatest disappointment in life.
Bernie Marcus had been accepted to the Harvard Medical School, but his family didn’t have the money to attend. Harvard already had reached its 10 percent quota for Jewish students, and his family didn’t have $10,000 they needed to pay the tuition. So Marcus ended up becoming a pharmacist before entering the world of home improvement retailing.
“We didn’t have any money,” Marcus said of his family. “I really missed out on a chance (to become a doctor). I could have been somebody.”
Marcus then quit joking, and said in all seriousness, said: “We are back in the medical business and saving people’s lives.”
Billi Marcus chimed in: “We just want to do what we can while we’re still here.”
“It’s “bashert” – one of Bernie Marcus’ favorite Yiddish words that means destiny.
For Steve Smith, a civic leader who is a consultant with the Pendleton Group, gave a personal story about how Grady had changed his life.
His older brother, Anthony Rushin, was in a serious accident that caused him to be paralyzed from the neck down in addition to a number of other injuries. Rushin, a veteran and a police officer, spent 33 days at Grady, 31 of which were in a medically-induced coma. He then went to the Shepherd Center and was able to get out of his wheelchair four months after his accident.
“I’m about at 85 percent, looking for 100 percent,” Rushin said. “I’ve been blessed. Grady set me up for success. I was literally messed up from head-to-toe. I have been afforded the opportunity to recover because of Grady. I’ve been given a second chance at life.”