Innovation and economy will grow through greater collaboration “Eds and Meds”

By guest columnist SAM WILLIAMS, Professor of Practice at Georgia State University and Past President of the Metro Atlanta Chamber

Metro Atlanta’s universities and hospitals (“Eds and Meds”), with more than 340,000 jobs, contribute more to the metro area’s economy than its Fortune 500 headquarters. These anchor institutions are rooted local, unlikely to relocate and relatively unaffected by economic fluctuations, and help establish the city’s economy and culture.

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As best practices from cities show, increased collaboration between Metro Atlanta Eds and Meds would result in more innovative synergy, research grants, start-ups, city sustainability, and better health for our citizens.

Atlanta Eds and Meds: Collaboration or Competition is a two-year research project of the 15 largest colleges and universities in the metro area and nine leading hospital brands that represent more than 90% of Eds and Meds’ capacity to the region. It presents an analysis of proprietary data for each institution, using graphs and charts, and summarizes more than 125 interviews with stakeholders from the University of Atlanta and health care, as well as similar institutions. in best practice cities including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Diego, Baltimore and others.

The research revealed that our universities frequently work together on research, and many offer students the opportunity to earn joint degrees. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation awarded local Eds and Meds $647 million for medical research in 2019. While the state of Georgia funds education at colleges in the university system, only $11 million dollars are awarded to the Georgia Research Alliance for research universities.

Hospitals are more competitive than universities, with the exception of a few that share doctors who are on the faculty of medical schools, many of whom are engaged in research or teaching. Hospitals are also a major growth driver in the region with more than $4 billion being built over the past three years.

In 11 major collaborative projects, three or more universities and hospitals are engaged in solving problems or discovering new treatments or pharmaceuticals. Many of these projects are decades old and have produced multiple returns on investment.

The pandemic has revealed major weaknesses in the working relationships between public health agencies, hospitals and the public. These shortcomings, if corrected, would have helped the state detect and treat the impact of the disease, helping to keep Georgia from being among the least vaccinated states.

Parallel but separate training of public health workers 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 accomplish when, for example, multiple Eds and Meds worked together on Operation Warp Speed, the federally funded initiative to develop COVID testing procedures and vaccines -19.

Co-opetition in other industry clusters where competitors work as a team – logistics, biomedical, fintech and film – drives workforce recruitment and training, government lobbying and grant applications. For example, the shortage of nurses due to pandemic stress, low salaries and retirements is creating a huge crisis in hospitals. Universities and hospitals in the Atlanta metro area could collectively tackle this problem by providing more training and recruitment incentives at all levels.

Best-practice cities have strong collaborative agreements for specific research between universities and hospitals. Many of these cities follow a “Grand Plan” where local governments and Eds and Meds actively collaborate and share assets to create innovation districts that foster startups.

Our Eds and Meds report offers proposals to dramatically increase the collaboration and value of these sectors to the Atlanta economy, suggesting:

  • Public health agencies, hospitals, and schools of public health are developing 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 in the Georgia Research Alliance.
  • The state’s investment in the Georgia Research Alliance be substantially restored.
  • University nursing schools in Metro Atlanta work with hospitals and legislators to improve recruitment and retention of nurses.
  • Atlanta Eds and Meds, along with business and government leaders, visit best-practice cities, similar to current work trips sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission, and consider adopting a Grand Plan in which 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, the Georgia Clinical and Translational Alliance, or a new organization takes the initiative to bring together potential collaborators to join existing partnerships or create new ones without requiring these institutions to partner at all levels .
  • Atlanta Eds and Meds, similar to private sector businesses, recruits and trains local workers for entry-level jobs and helps develop affordable housing.

The coopetition between Atlanta Eds and Meds will result in more research funding, making Atlanta a center for innovation. This will lead to improved health for citizens of Metro Atlanta and the creation of jobs by the region’s largest employer, helping to reduce the huge income disparity plaguing the region.

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