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Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 10:34am

State Senate Considers A Bill To Save Rural Hospitals

Another rural hospital in Georgia is closing its doors, the eighth since 2000.

Officials at Lower Oconee Community Hospital in rural Wheeler County say they've laid off employees, though they may reform as an urgent care center.

Democratic State Senator David Lucas of Macon has crafted a Senate Bill 338, a bill he says would help replace these hospitals.

The bill would encourage the establishment of what he calls "medical stabilization centers" in under-served communities. Lucas says the bill would essentially relax the state’s Certificate of Need, or C.O.N, rules on establishing a rural medical facility.

“What Senate Bill 338 does is amend the C.O.N law in Georgia, which is very controversial," said Lucas. "It adds a new section that says stabilization centers can be set up in rural communities to observe and if need be transfer patients to an acute care hospital.”

The bill is getting bipartisan support, but has run into questions about how would these medical centers be funded.

While the bill doesn't come with any money, Lucas says there are several ways to potentially fund these rural centers, and it might be possible to tap into the federal agriculture agency.

“Inside of the USDA there is over $400 million dollars to assist rural communities with development, “ said Lucas.

When hospitals close in rural areas, Lucas says some people have to travel up to 60 miles for emergency care.