Opinion Columns & Blogs

Big Macs may be bad for you, but what’s happening to a Macon McDonald’s is even worse

One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Thus it is that Navicent Health has folded like a cheap suit against the moral busybodies opposed to a McDonald’s at the Medical Center. For more than two decades, that McDonald’s has provided warm meals and cold drinks to worried families and more than a few patients tired of hospital slop. The people who worked there will now be out of work and the people forced to go to hospital in trying, stressful circumstances will now have to go searching for something further afield to eat.

A national campaign sprung up a few years ago trying to shame hospitals into abandoning fast food restaurants. Many hospitals have bravely stood their ground. But we should not be surprised that a hospital chain that poured millions into rebranding the well known “Medical Center of Central Georgia” brand into the sterile corporatism of “Navicent” would be more fixated on image than on those it cares for. After all, it is now merging with Atrium Health, which is actually the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority.

Our noble stewards of our nonprofit health-care system are handing our local nonprofit care over to a North Carolina quasi-governmental entity that has been under federal investigation for allegedly illegally reducing competition in the health care market. I must wonder how much more money will be spent to yet again rebrand a hospital system that was never in need of rebranding in the first place.

It might seem ridiculous to tie all of this to closing a multidecade-old outlet of a fast food restaurant, but I think they are all related. A lot of corporations get so fixated on image that they ignore their customers. Having a national group of busybodies run ads harassing the hospital over a McDonald’s only to have it then close the McDonald’s is an indication that the hospital really is not so concerned with its customers.

Oh sure, the hospital will undoubtedly argue that fast food restaurants are not healthy choices. But no one disputes that. What cannot be disputed, however, is that the McDonald’s is a comforting choice. It is more comforting than the cafeteria options and does not require a worried family member to depart from the hospital to get something else.

We are lucky to have hospital competition in Middle Georgia. I worry, though, that the merger between Navicent and Atrium, especially given Atrium’s behavior elsewhere, will cause problems for care and competition. My one hope, however, is that if Navicent will so easily cave to a pressure campaign over fast food, perhaps it will worry about community complaints, too.

Erick Erickson is host of Atlanta’s Evening News on WSB Radio.