Monday, January 19, 2015

Crisis in rural Georgia hospitals means state is 'approaching Third World care,' network chief says

Stewart-Webster Hospital has closed.
Eight rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2001, "and dozens more are hemorrhaging money at an alarming rate — ultimately threatening access to critical health care for nearly 1 in 10 Georgians," Misty Williams reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Georgia lawmakers, hospital executives and community leaders are scrambling for ways to stem the financial bloodletting. But the truth is that some hospitals are simply beyond saving. And because of that, some people, inevitably, will die."

Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, a network of rural Georgia hospitals, told Williams, “We’re approaching Third World care in the state of Georgia. The future has pain in it; there’s just no way around it.”

"Of Georgia’s 61 remaining rural hospitals, nearly two-thirds lost money in the year for which they most recently reported results," Williams reports. "Twenty-one suffered budget shortfalls — many in the millions of dollars — for at least five years in a row, according to an AJC analysis of the latest hospital financial data from the state. Another 17 ended four of the five years in the red. Only seven made a profit each year."

Threats to rural hospitals "have intensified in recent years — falling patient volumes, aging populations, payment cuts by government programs and commercial insurers alike, large numbers of uninsured and new regulations created by the Affordable Care Act," Williams notes. "The health law is also reducing support to hospitals under the assumption that they will have more paying patients under Medicaid expansion. But Georgia has rejected expansion," as have most other Southern states. "Unlike its counterparts in other states, the Georgia Hospital Association has not been seen as actively advocating for Medicaid expansion," Andy Miller reports for Georgia Health News.

Williams wrote a three-part series, which is behind a paywall but can be accessed with a one-day subscription via the first installement. A complete version of that story is here.

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