North Georgia Medical Center in Ellijay closed last week, becoming the latest rural healthcare facility in Georgia to stop doing business. As reported in Georgia Health News, the facility’s owner, Sunlink Health System, will lease its emergency room and medical building to Piedmont Healthcare of Atlanta, which will operate the facility as a satellite of Piedmont Mountainside Hospital in Jasper. Piedmont hopes to re-open the emergency room by November 1st.
A statement on North Georgia Medical Center’s website explains the reasons for the shutdown:
Over the past 24 months, NGMC has experienced a major decrease in the number of patients using NGMC and a large increase in charity and indigent care. In the last 10 months, these changes have resulted in substantial financial losses. Many factors have contributed to the demise of NGMC including reduced state and federal government reimbursements, a major decline in commercial insurance patients using NGMC, the reduction of federal and state subsidies for indigent patients, and regulations which have increased costs.
Jimmy Lewis, the CEO of Hometown Health, which lobbies for rural hospitals told GHN that the Ellijay facility isn’t the only one in trouble.
Rural hospitals are dealing with high levels of uncompensated care, he said Wednesday. “Even people who appear to be insured are underinsured because of high deductibles.”
These facilities also deal with a heavy administrative burden from dealing with reimbursement complexity, Lewis added.
“Because of the tremendous cash crunches,” Lewis said, “there is the clear possibility that other hospitals can close this calendar year.”
Finding a solution that will allow Georgia’s rural hospitals to keep their doors open has been a challenge at the Gold Dome over the last few years. During the 2016 session, Rep. Geoff Duncan sponsored a bill that allows individuals and companies to receive tax credits for donations to specific rural hospitals. The measure was signed into law by the governor.
Lawmakers are expected to consider additional measures to prop up the fortunes of rural hospitals during the 2017 legislative session. As it stands, the federal government plans to phase out a type of funding to rural hospitals called Disproportional Share Payments at the end of September 2018. These payments, which are intended to help cover the difference between the cost of providing care and the reimbursements from Medicaid, are being phased out because the authors of the Affordable Care Act believed that additional revenues following Medicaid expansion would make up the difference.