Rural hospitals in danger of closing

ARLINGTON, GA (WALB) - Many small and rural hospitals in the state are in immediate danger of closing.

People in Calhoun County might have to drive an hour away for emergency medical care, if their hospital doesn't get some financial relief soon.

Calhoun Memorial Hospital is a 25 bed Critical Access non-profit Hospital. But officials say it won't be here much longer without some outside funding.

Even though Calhoun County is one of the smallest counties in Georgia, it has a hospital, but officials say not for much longer if they don't get the funding they need.

"It is hand to mouth, day to day, week to week, if the volume doesn't pick up this fall then we and several other hospitals are in danger of closing," says Earl Whiteley, Hospital Authority CEO.

The county has an 18% unemployment rate, and about 29% of its residents are living below the poverty level.

Calhoun Memorial Hospital serves all of these people which is why their indigent care averages up to $2,000,000 each year.

Add in new Medicare and Medicaid laws and cuts, and the hospital is in a financial bind that threatens its future.

"In south Georgia where we find a higher unemployment rate and lower per capita, income per family, which means there is more needy people for services," says Whiteley.

If the hospital closes, Hospital Authority CEO Whitely says 200 jobs would be lost and emergency healthcare would be non existent. The closest hospital would be more than 40 miles away.

Denise Stewart, Business Office Director/patient, says "lf your in the middle of having a heart attack, and this hospital is not here to save you, will you make that hour drive?"

"People will have to drive longer and that golden half hour will be lost in terms of life threatening issues," says Whiteley.

The economy would also suffer, not only in Calhoun County but in surrounding communities as well.

"In terms of the economic impact, it is close to $14 million loss to the community, it would be a devastating blow," says Whiteley.

And he says it would also deter people from moving to the county without close access to healthcare.

Hospital officials hope the state or federal government will step in to help their critical funding issues.

Copyright 2012 WALB.  All rights reserved.