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.
Gov. Nathan Deal has directed his community health commissioner to do something for rural hospitals, nine of which have closed in Georgia since 2000, leaving whole communities without quick access to emergency care.
In the wake of some recent closures of rural Georgia hospitals, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Wednesday an initiative to help such facilities survive tough financial times. Deal said he is proposing a change in licensure rules that would allow a struggling rural hospital — or one that has recently closed — to offer downsized services that would include an emergency department.
Rural health care may get a needed boost under a proposed regulation change that would allow a hospital to downsize its services, the commissioner of a Georgia health agency said Thursday. Clyde Reese, commissioner of the Department of Community Health, said he would ask the board of the agency to promulgate rules for such a “step-down” facility.
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 Senate Bill 338, a bill he says would help replace these hospitals.
Lower Oconee Community Hospital in southeast Georgia has closed due to financial problems, becoming the state’s fourth rural hospital to do so in the past two years. The 25-bed “critical access” hospital in Glenwood, in Wheeler County, is looking to restructure, its CEO said in a statement.
Georgia health care had more than its share of drama and surprises in 2013. Some of the big stories were linked to the Affordable Care Act. This far-reaching federal law, passed in early 2010, was still generating changes and attracting controversy as if it were brand new. But the ACA wasn’t the only hot topic in Georgia health. Issues ranged from drug scares to complex policy disputes and funding battles.
What happens when a rural community loses a hospital? Jobs disappear. Hopes for economic development fade. Residents look for a new route to the nearest hospital. Georgia has seen three rural hospitals close this year: Charlton Memorial Hospital in Folkston; Stewart-Webster Hospital in Richland; and Calhoun Memorial in Arlington.
A hospital emergency room in central Georgia will soon close its doors. Flint River Hospital in Montezuma plans to close its emergency department on Sunday. Some Macon County residents fear that closing the emergency room will mean longer ambulance trips for injured and ill patients to Perry or Americus.