Will Governor's plan to help rural hospitals stay open work? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Will Governor's plan to help rural hospitals stay open work?

Betty Murdock, Arlington Resident Betty Murdock, Arlington Resident
Robin Rau, Miller County Hospital CEO Robin Rau, Miller County Hospital CEO
Calhoun Memorial Hospital closed in February 2013 Calhoun Memorial Hospital closed in February 2013

Many rural hospitals are having a hard time staying open.  Governor Nathan Deal has a plan he hopes will change that, but will it work?  

The Miller County Hospital CEO says rural hospitals are the backbones of small communities. She commends the Governor for trying to help them but says his idea of limiting their services is not the answer.  

Calhoun Memorial Hospital remains vacant in Arlington after it closed last February. Hospital officials say they couldn't afford to stay open due to the growing cost of charitable care on top of other debt. Now, Governor Nathan Deal says he has a plan that could prevent other rural hospitals from going down that same path by "down-sizing" and only offering certain services such as emergency care.    

"I think that's a great idea, I know there were not enough patients to fill the beds at our hospital but the emergency room really saw a lot of people. So I do think that would be worthwhile," said Betty Murdock.  

Not everyone agrees. The Miller County Hospital CEO says it would be impossible for a hospital only to operate as an emergency unit.  

"An emergency room in order for it to function still has to have laboratory staff, sophisticated medical equipment it's got to have cat scans," said Miller County Hospital CEO, Robin Rau.

Miller County Hospital purchased Jennings Medical Clinic in Arlington and the Calhoun nursing home in Edison that used to be operated by Calhoun Memorial, reducing the number of employees who lost their jobs.  

"There would've been another 70 to 80 but we quickly came in. We secured the nursing home, and then we re-hired all of the staff from the clinic," said Rau.  

Rau says operating an emergency unit is expensive.  

"Whether you close a hospital and keep an emergency room open the burden is still going to be that there is an abuse of those emergency rooms and people are still going to use them for non-emergency services and those hospitals will not get paid for those services," said Rau.

Rau commends the Governor for his plan but doesn't think it will work in every rural community. Governor Deal has been developing this down-sizing plan over the past year.  

Rau says she is working with a group of people to reopen Calhoun Memorial Hospital for crisis stabilization, substance abuse and mental health, hoping to revitalize the Arlington community and bring back jobs.

Here is a statement released from the Governor's Office on the plan.


Gov. Nathan Deal, in partnership with the Department of Community Health, today announced three new proposals to improve rural access to health care.


"Rural hospitals are struggling financially and have been for many years; we have witnessed a handful of them close in recent times," Deal said. "When they shut their doors, it's not only bad for health care access but also for the local economies. In many instances, a rural hospital is the largest employer in a community, and it's difficult to attract new jobs to an area lacking this key quality-of-life ingredient. These important reforms will help rural hospitals stay operational and continue providing at least the most essential services to their communities, rather than shutting down entirely."  


Deal is implementing changes to the rules and regulations affecting licensure for hospitals. These modifications will permit rural hospitals to offer fewer services if they are in danger of closing or if they have closed within the past year. These rural freestanding emergency departments will provide emergency services to stabilize and transfer patients to existing full service hospitals located no more than 35 miles away. They could also offer, if they choose, elective outpatient surgery, basic OB/GYN services, including normal baby deliveries, and certain procedures that do not require an operating room, such as an endoscopy.


To increase the flow of communication between hospitals and the state, Deal is designating an employee within the Department of Community Health to serve as a point person for rural hospitals. He will establish a Rural Hospitals Stabilization Committee to identify needs of the rural hospital community and provide potential solutions.


"I recognize the critical need for hospital infrastructure in rural Georgia, as these resources save lives and maintain our communities," said Deal. "These communities should not have to go without crucial services, many of them lifesaving. I am confident that these proposals will increase communication between stakeholders and ensure that every Georgian is reasonably close to a health care provider should a need or emergency arise."

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