Sending Joseph home

Geeta Sunkara
Respiratory therapist Geeta Sunkara is part of an elite team at Wesley Woods Hospital known for its expertise in weaning patients from long-term ventilation therapy. 



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Twelve years ago, during the bloodiest days of Liberia’s civil war, businessman Joseph Gardee arrived in Atlanta with nothing but his family and his determination to work.

America took us in when we were in danger, he told his children. We must do well and give back. His small business grew, and he was often the first to whom neighbors turned for help. 

Last year, after tripping for the 20th time that month, Joseph joked that he was getting clumsy in his old age. He had just turned 50. His arms twitched, he had problems buttoning his shirts, sometimes his words slurred. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he was scheduled to go to Emory’s ALS Clinic the following Friday. On Wednesday, he was admitted to Emory University Hospital in respiratory failure. The doctors intubated him, and a ventilator took over the labor of breathing. After he was stabilized, clinicians tried unsuccessfully to take him off the ventilator. After a month in intensive care, he was transferred to Wesley Woods Hospital’s long-term acute care unit. If anyone could wean him from the ventilator, it would be the respiratory therapy team there. 

But his disease had progressed too much. After six months, his doctors said yes to Joseph’s fervent desire to go home. Respiratory therapy manager Geeta Sunkara and her team began the complex task of getting him there. The family had no money left. Their health insurance did not begin to cover hospitalization or physician costs. Although completely legal, with official refugee status, Joseph had not worked enough quarters to be eligible for Social Security or Medicaid. Emory Healthcare had long since declared the mounting bills as charity care. The Gardees would not have to pay the more than $446,000 his care had cost. Now Wesley Woods bought Joseph a $10,000 ventilator for use at home and contributed another $1,400 worth of ventilator-related supplies. When Sunkara called Wesley Woods vendors, they all stepped up to the plate, supplying a compressor, suction machine, and nebulizer. She and her team also trained Joseph’s wife how to operate the complex system, and the Gardees finally went home. Amazingly, since his discharge, he has not been hospitalized. His doctors follow Joseph closely, and he frequently phones Sunkara and social worker Helen Larson, who handled his discharge. Using a device to help him speak, he always says the same thing: I am so grateful to this country and to everyone at Emory. 


Among the thousands of patients seen at Wesley Woods Center each year, many have stories similar to that of Joseph. Their care often began somewhere else and then reached the point where they required the type of long-term acute care in which Wesley Woods specializes. Many are elderly, with complex, often overlapping health problems. Or they are younger, in need of expertise in wound care, rehabilitation, and respiratory care. Many also have exhausted their financial resources. During fiscal year 2011-2012 expenses at Wesley Woods exceeded revenue by $5.3 million, but patients continue to need the services provided there with expert skill and compassion.



Facilities at Emory’s Wesley Woods Center

  • Wesley Woods Hospital, 82 acute geriatric care beds, 18 long-term acute care beds
  • Wesley Woods Clinic, outpatient primary care for geriatric patients
  • Budd Terrace, a 250-bed skilled nursing care facility
  • Wesley Woods Towers, a 201-unit residential retirement and personal care facility
  • Wesley Woods Health Center (includes Center for Health in Aging, Fuqua Center for Late-Life Depression, geriatric dental services)
  • Emory Healthcare also manages Wesley Woods Senior Living retirement facilities located throughout north Georgia.


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Community Benefits Report Cover 2012