Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has launched a three-prong proposal to protect the state's rural hospitals after a number of medical centers have shut their doors.
The proposals would lower the bar for rural hospitals
to keep operating by allowing them to offer fewer services
while still keeping their licensure. Rural hospitals that are in danger of closing or have closed in the past year can operate as freestanding emergency departments that will be able to stabilize patients until they can be transferred to a full-service hospital no more than 35 miles away.
The proposal also allows those hospitals to offer a limited number of other services, such as elective outpatient surgery, certain diagnostic procedures that do not require an operating room and obstetrical services for uncomplicated deliveries.
It also calls for placing a designated point person for rural hospitals in the Department of Community Health, and establishing a Rural Hospitals Stabilization Committee.
The health department's most recent hospital financial survey found that 55% of the state's rural hospitals had a negative operating margin
in 2011, compared with 38% of state hospitals overall.
Georgia, which is not expanding Medicaid, has seen a number of hospital closures over the past year, including last month when Lower Oconee Community Hospital
, a 25-bed critical-access facility, shut its doors. Another three rural hospitals shut their doors in 2013.
The Georgia Hospital Association said the governor's plan will allow rural hospitals to increase their operational efficiency by tailoring services to meet the needs of local residents.
“We are confident that this plan will enhance the financial viability of these major economic engines in our rural communities,” Earl Rogers, the group's president and CEO, said in a statement.Follow Beth Kutscher on Twitter: @MHbkutscher