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Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - 8:48am

Possible Solution To Rural Hospital Closures: Free Standing Emergency Rooms

The committee tasked by the governor with stemming the tide of rural hospital closures in Georgia has some big challenges ahead.

They met for the first time Monday. One solution may be a system of rural, free-standing emergency rooms that would be cheaper to operate than full-fledged hospitals.

Jimmy Lewis, a lobbyist for many small Georgia hospitals, says he was dismayed to learn that such emergency rooms would not be able to charge a "facility fee." That's the money patients owe a hospital just for walking in the door.

"As a result, absent the money, we're gonna see further curtailment of healthcare services across the board in the state, and especially in rural Georgia,” said Lewis.

However, Lewis says the committee is off to a good start.

"This is much more the macro discussion of, 'What's the delivery system of tomorrow gonna look like for a large part of Georgia.' We need to think higher level and we need to think totally and completely out of the box."

Georgia Community Health Commissioner Clyde Reese is leading the committee. He calls the proposals currently under consideration a "first step."

Nine rural hospitals have closed in Georgia since 2000.