Gov. Nathan Deal has released the final report of recommendations from his Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, which was created last April to identify and provide solutions for the needs of Georgia’s rural hospital community.
“When a rural hospital struggles, a community struggles,” Deal said. “Back in April we stood at a critical juncture for some of our state’s rural health care systems, and this committee was just one of the paths taken to ensure that Georgians, no matter where they live, have the ability to receive adequate care. These recommendations, a result of countless hours of dedicated analysis and review of a system that affects not only our citizens’ wellbeing, but also our local economies, will serve as a strong starting point toward providing high-quality health care throughout rural Georgia.”
Included in the recommendations is the establishment of a four-site pilot program, based upon an integrated “hub and spoke” model, to relieve cost pressures on emergency departments and ensure patients receive treatment. The program aims to increase the use of new and existing technology and infrastructure in smaller critical-access hospitals, wi-fi and telemedicine-equipped ambulances, telemedicine-equipped school clinics, federally qualified health centers, public health departments and local physicians. The four proposed hubs of initial implementation are Union General, Appling Health System, Crisp Regional and Emanuel Regional Medical Center.
“Just as a medical emergency can’t wait, neither can we wait to act upon these recommendations,” the governor said. “An additional $3 million will be allocated in this year’s budget to the state Office of Rural Health within the Georgia Department of Community Health to fund the necessary tools the four hubs need to effectively implement this pilot program. It is my hope that these efforts are not a temporary fix, but rather the beginning of a long-lasting road to recovery for our rural health systems.”
The committee, which included health care professionals, legislators, local officials and business owners, also recommended the maintenance of existing certificate-of-need laws to protect existing rural hospital infrastructure. Other legislative fixes include the expansion of the scope of practice for midlevel providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who could help bolster care in rural communities.
Committee co-chairman and state Sen. David Lucas said, “Since April, we have worked to put together meaningful solutions to address these needs. On behalf of the entire Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, I thank Gov. Deal and his staff for instituting programs to start the process of trying to address health care in rural Georgia.”