Georgia's rural hospitals continue to deteriorate

Hospital services in Georgia are deteriorating due to the rural healthcare financial crisis, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Nearly two-thirds of the state's 61 hospitals lost money in the past year, and roughly a third have experienced serious budget shortfalls for five years running, according to the publication. 

As a result, hospitals in Georgia's rural areas have continued to shut their doors. Among the most recent facilities to do so:  Charlton Memorial Hospital in Folkston, which closed in August 2013. 

Patients have suffered due to the closing. Some patients in the region who required immediate critical care have been unable to do so. The newspaper features the case of Pam Renshaw, who was critically injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident. With Charlton Memorial shut down, there was no ambulance to respond. It took family members who arrived at the scene of the accident to transport Renshaw to another hospital. The delays likely led to infections that kept Renshaw in a hospital in Gainesville, Florida for more than seven months.

"We're approaching Third World care in the state of Georgia," Jimmy Lewis, chief executive officer of HomeTown Health, a group of rural Georgia hospitals, told the newspaper. "The future has pain in it; there's just no way around it."

Lewis noted that it takes about 40,000 residents in a region to keep a hospital operating. But Georgia has more than 100 counties with fewer than 35,000 people, and many have less than that. The crisis has led the state to experiment with standalone emergency rooms.

Meanwhile, hospitals that remain in operation absorb more uninsured patients. And Georgia's decision not to expand Medicaid eligibility as part of the Affordable Care Act has also created a financial strain on providers. 

Other Southern states such as Tennessee--which has also not expanded Medicaid--have been trying fiscal experiments that boost the bottom lines of rural hospitals. Insure Tennessee, a modest attempt to expand Medicaid coverage, has cut uncompensated care costs at a hospital in Oregon by 59 percent during the first three quarters of 2014, the Nashville Tennessean reported.

To learn more:
- read the Atlanta-Journal Constitution article 
- check out the Nashville Tennessean article