Innovation, economy will grow with greater ‘Eds and Meds’ collaboration
By Guest Columnist SAM WILLIAMS, Georgia State University professor of practice and former Metro Atlanta Chamber president
Metropolitan Atlanta’s universities and hospitals (“Eds and Meds”), with more than 340,000 jobs, make a larger contribution to the metro area economy than its Fortune 500 headquarters. These anchor institutions are rooted in place, not likely to relocate and relatively immune to economic swings, and help establish the economy and culture of the city.
As shown by best practice cities, increased collaboration among metro Atlanta’s Eds and Meds would result in more innovative synergy, research grants, startup companies, city sustainability and improved health for our citizens.
Atlanta Eds and Meds: Collaboration or Competition is a two-year research project of the metro area’s 15 largest colleges and universities and nine major hospital brands that account for more than 90 percent of the region’s Eds and Meds capacity. It presents an analysis of proprietary data for each institution, through charts and diagrams, and summarizes more than 125 interviews with Atlanta’s university and health care stakeholders as well as similar institutions in best practice cities including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Diego, Baltimore and others.
The research found our universities frequently work together on research, and many offer students the opportunity for joint degrees. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation granted local Eds and Meds $647 million for medical-related research in 2019. While the state of Georgia gives funding for teaching to university system colleges, only $11 million is granted to the Georgia Research Alliance for research universities.
Hospitals are more competitive than the universities, except for a few that share doctors who are medical school faculty, many of which are engaged in research or teaching. Hospitals are also a big growth factor in the region with more than $4 billion under construction in the last three years.
In 11 major collaborative projects, three or more universities and hospitals are engaged in solving problems or discovering new treatments or pharmaceuticals. Several of these projects are decades old and have produced multiple returns on the investment.
The pandemic exposed major weaknesses in the working relationship among public health agencies, hospitals and the public. These gaps, had they been rectified, would have helped the state detect and treat the disease’s impact, helping to prevent Georgia from being among the lowest vaccinated states.
Parallel but separate education for public health and clinical health workers poses a challenge unless they have significant experience working with each other before a crisis. Atlanta’s Eds and Meds research shows what collaboration can achieve when, for example, several Eds and Meds worked together on Operation Warp Speed, the federally funded initiative to develop COVID-19 testing procedures and vaccines.
Coopetition in other industry clusters where competitors work as a team – logistics, biomedical, fintech and film – results in workforce recruitment and training, government lobbying and grant requests. For example, the shortage of nurses due to pandemic stress, low salaries and retirements is creating a huge crisis in hospitals. Metro Atlanta’s universities and hospitals could collectively tackle this problem by offering more training and recruiting incentives across the board.
Best practice cities have robust collaboration agreements for specific research between universities and hospitals. Several such cities follow a “Grand Plan” where local governments and Eds and Meds actively collaborate and share assets to create innovation districts that foster startup ventures.
Our Eds and Meds report offers proposals to significantly increase collaboration and the value of these sectors to the Atlanta economy, suggesting:
- Public health agencies, hospitals and public health schools develop a strong working relationship, learning from the current pandemic and preparing for the next crisis.
- State and local governments and chambers of commerce recognize Eds and Meds as a business cluster, with a significant increase in state investment to the Georgia Research Alliance.
- State investment in the Georgia Research Alliance be significantly restored.
- Metro Atlanta university nursing schools work with hospitals and legislators to improve the recruitment and retention of nurses.
- Atlanta Eds and Meds along with business and government leaders tour best practice cities, similar to current working trips sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission, and consider adopting a Grand Plan where local governments and regional economic development entities develop and maintain a formal agreement with the regions’ Eds and Meds leaders.
- An organization such as the Georgia Research Alliance, Georgia Clinical and Translational Alliance or a new organization take the lead in bringing together potential collaborators to join existing partnerships or create new ones without demanding these institutions partner across the board.
- Atlanta Eds and Meds, similar to private sector companies, recruit and train local workers for entry level jobs and help develop affordable housing.
Coopetition among Atlanta Eds and Meds will result in more research funding, making Atlanta a center of innovation. It will lead to improved health for metro Atlanta citizens and more jobs from the region’s largest employer, helping to reduce the huge income disparity that is a burden to the region.