Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Rural Ga. hospital's closure highlights worries about the role such hospitals play in areas hit hard by the pandemic

A hospital in rural Georgia is shutting down, highlighting the financial struggles such hospitals face, even as they play a crucial role in areas hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic.

"Officials with Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center said in a statement that the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened financial difficulties the hospital has endured for years. The Cuthbert hospital is about an hour from Albany, and is set to close its doors in October," Jim Burress and Lily Oppenheimer report for NPR affiliate WABE. "Public health experts have stressed that these hospitals miles from major cities like Atlanta are especially critical for rural seniors, or poverty-stricken communities that don’t necessarily have reliable transportation. For some, it could just mean they will have to journey much further to get intensive care. For others, it will mean inadequate care, delays, and possibly no intensive care at all."

Rural southwest Georgia, which has a high proportion of African-American residents, has suffered some of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the state. That's particularly concerning because rural African Americans who develop covid-19 are at a higher risk of serious hospitalization or death.

Jimmy Lewis, CEO of rural Georgia hospital collaborative Hometown Health, told WABE that one reason rural hospitals struggle is their communities' smaller tax base, limiting local funding. 

"That means that the sustainability under normal circumstances is tough," Lewis told WABE. But when a pandemic is added to the mix, "the surge introduces major external forces and costs that typically the small hospital is not prepared to withstand. It tries to find people to staff, it tries to find cash to supply personal protective equipment. All things considered, it becomes the intersection of all bad things."

The Senate's newly proposed $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection & Schools Act "allocates US $25 billion to the Provider Relief Fund, which is far short of the nearly US $100 billion provider associations like the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association have called for," The National Law Review reports.

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