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Hospital blue ribbon panel concludes work

Consensus is LRMC is work saving

POSTED: February 5, 2009 6:57 p.m.
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An investigation into the operations of Liberty Regional Medical Center officially is complete, but before concluding its work, the blue ribbon panel appointed to look into hospital matters offered some final thoughts to the Liberty County Commissioners and hospital officials during a Thursday morning meeting.
The advisory group, created last March by the commissioners, submitted a 13-page report, summarizing evaluations in nine critical areas.
"I think it's a viable hospital," said Russ Toal, an associate professor in the Institute of Public Health at Georgia State University. "Certainly, one of the biggest threats to Liberty Regional's viability is almost 50 percent of the people they see have no medical insurance."
"Most small hospitals are really challenged these days," Toal said, indicating the issue of declining payback from private insurance companies and diminishing federal assistance.
"What I hear from the public is trust," said panel member Julian Hodges. "They don't trust they can go to the hospital and get the kind of care that they need."
Bypassing the local hospital and seeking out-of-town medical care seems to be a long-standing trend in the county, according to Hodges.
A study by the Fanning Institute, commissioned in 2007 by the Hospital Authority of Liberty County, suggests LRMC's previous struggles with debt and budgets may have fueled public skepticism. The study was meant to help LRMC revive its image and sculpt its business practices.
Panel member Sharen Martin said she thinks most of the hospital's financial issues stem from haphazard research and decision making. Martin cited LRMC's plans to build a clinic, EMS and fire station in the Tradeport Business Center to service east end residents.
"That is so absolutely, totally absurd and unrealistic, to put a clinic out there," said Martin. "No one is going to come. It's a waste of money."
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas disagreed with the idea the clinic is unnecessary.
"At least it meets that immediate need of healthcare on that end of the county," he said.
"I'm not saying we don't need it," Martin said. "It's just the way it's being approached."
Connie Thrift suggested businesses in Tradeport and traffic along I-95 could use the clinic.
"Altogether ... there's a lot of folks down there that might can use this," she said.
Most everyone who attended the meeting agreed it's in the county's best interest to keep LRMC running smoothly.
"Without the hospital, many of the businesses that are coming would not come," Thomas said of the area's impending growth.
Toal said the entire group would like to see the hospital thrive and suggested that increasing marketing and recruiting efforts would make a big difference.
The blue ribbon panel's report suggested an addendum calling for more to be done to explain the high-profile legal proceedings involving Dr. Glenn Carter's dismissal.
Despite the hospital's assurances the case is no longer an issue, the panel indicated it is a hurdle that must be cleared.
"The public doesn't understand what it is that Carter did that was so bad he can't practice there," Hodges said.
However, privacy issues surrounding the case limit public knowledge, Thomas said. "The only person who can say it won't say it," he said.
Hodges suggested another objective review panel for the Carter case as a means to satisfy the public.
LRMC CEO Scott Kroell said he thinks the authority would be reluctant to create another panel.
Martin suggested a follow-up progress report in six months.
"Liberty Regional has a lot of potential," Martin said. "It's a nice facility ... it just needs some changes."
 

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