Rural Healthcare’s Noble Fight to Survive (Part 1)

by webadmin on February 13, 2013

Like many of its fellow providers around the country, rural hospitals in Georgia are facing the definite possibility of shutting down as economic burdens worsen and the number of uninsured patients needing care increases, Joshua Stewart of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports.

On Feb. 1, Calhoun Memorial Hospital in Arlington will close, and Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, the Georgia-based association of 56 rural hospitals, said, “It’s the first of what can, and probably will, be several to come. We’ve got several other hospitals that, even as we speak, are in crisis situations trying to stabilize financing just to stay open within the next couple of weeks.”

A three-pronged problem exists for these hospitals. First, Stewart writes, the increase of uninsured patients who are also unemployed is weighing down these providers. Second, the insured patients are unable to afford higher co-pays and deductibles. Third, Medicaid and other government programs are offering less and less help, as reimbursements diminish.

This three-pronged problem then becomes a perfect storm known as “uncompensated care.” In 2010, $1.5 billion was spent by Georgia hospitals on uncompensated care, and in 2011, 64 hospitals operated at a loss, Stewart reports.

Because the economic downturn has been so protracted, many of the rural hospitals have no financial margin, so even when the state board is able to extend Medicaid’s hospital bed tax, a move lawmakers have attempted in an effort to aid these hospitals, it still has little overall effect.

Matt Caseman of the Georgia Rural Health Association said, “Georgia has one of the highest rates of uninsured and underinsured in the country and a lot of those residents reside in rural areas. Treating the uninsured is very costly.”

So what are rural hospitals in Georgia and around the country to do when faced with such demanding odds? Tomorrow, we’re going to be spotlighting this article by John Commins at HealthLeaders Media in which he details many of the implemented and proposed reforms that the federal government is employing as a means to save rural care.

However, we would be interested in first hearing your stories about rural healthcare. How are you surviving these times?

In the past, HCE has profiled several rural organizations, including Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton, N.C.; Clara Barton Hospital in central Kansas; Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, N.H.; Davis County Hospital in southeast Iowa; Garfield County Hospital in Pomeroy, Wash.; and Pikeville Medical Center in Kansas.

In covering these and other rural facilities, we have been struck by the determination and dedication of rural healthcare leaders, especially during an era that is both turbulent and transformational. We would love to hear your stories.

Are you facing closure like many hospitals in Georgia? Or are you still open, but you’re not sure where you’ll be five or 10 weeks from now? How are you being innovative in the face of daunting financial challenges? And above all, how are you rallying the community around your cause?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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