Thursday, May 29, 2014

Georgia tries to salvage rural hospitals as limited ERs

Susanna Capelouto reports from Folkston, Georgia, population 2,502, where the 25-bed Charlton Memorial Hospital closed last summer.  Indeed, four of Georgia's 65 rural hospitals have closed in the past two years, while many more have cut services due to shrinking budgets.  Capelouto describes the dynamic that led to Charlton's closure:  "a lack of high-tech specialty care, a big drop in local funding and populations that were getting older and poorer."

The hospital was the second largest employer in Folkston, but now it's down to a skeleton staff keeping track of medical records.  Indeed, the hospital director says they have 
maintained hope that we're going to open back up.  We've not sold any of our equipment. Everything is ready.
Now, the folks at Charlton Memorial may get the chance to re-open, on a limited basis.  Georgia is offering a new kind of license that would permit hospitals like Charlton to become "rural free-standing emergency departments" to handle "run-of-the-mill urgent care, such as broken bones."  In addition, these ERs would stabilize patients before they are transferred to larger, better equipped hospitals.  

Clyde Reese of the Georgia Department of Community Health explains:  
The intent here is to have some kind of health care infrastructure in a community, as opposed to nothing at all.
This is a first step of not just looking at hospitals but at health care in general in our rural areas. 
As far as Reese knows, Georgia is the first state to try this approach.  He doesn't know how the units would be funded except that Medicaid and Medicare could pay for some of the services, at reduced, non-hospital rates. Indeed, the politics of Medicaid expansion (or lack thereof, in Georgia) play into all of this, but you'll have to read the rest of the story for more details on that.

Folkston is the county seat of nonmetropolitan Charlton Countypopulation 13,255, in far southeastern Georgia. 

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