Georgia's Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has launched a three-prong proposal to protect the state's rural hospitals after a number of medical centers have closed 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 free-standing 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 state's 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. Three other rural hospitals in the state closed in 2013.
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