Friday, February 27, 2015

Georgia unveils rural hospital pilot program; eight rural hospitals have closed since 2001

A committee of lawmakers, advocates and stakeholders handpicked by Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal unveiled a proposal this week to address the state's struggling rural hospital population, Jonathan Shapiro reports for 90.1 WABE. The plan "calls for a pilot program in which hospitals, ambulances, schools and nursing homes would get new equipment allowing doctors and nurses to remotely diagnose patients." The committee is asking for $3 million for the program, which will be initiated in four rural hospitals. (Charlton Memorial closed in August 2013)

Eight rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2001, and another 15 are struggling to remain open. Hospital closures are being blamed on a drop in patients, aging populations, payment cuts by government programs and commercial insurers and the state's refusal to expand Medicaid under federal health reform.

Jimmy Lewis of the advocacy group Hometown Health "says telemedicine will reduce costs and help hospitals stay afloat," Shapiro writes. Lewis told him, "In rural Georgia, probably 50 to 60 percent of ER visits shouldn't be ER visits. They’re primary care visits. There are ways we can go into triaging to reduce those. It’s very advanced, state-of-the-art equipment that can help determine what that patient is going to need." (Read more)

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