As part of its mission to boost health care access and outcomes, Kaiser Permanente has donated $60,000 to 10 rural hospitals, including Liberty Regional Medical Center.
The donations will be used to help increase access to primary care, reduce potentially preventable hospital readmissions, and decrease inappropriate use of hospital emergency rooms.
“It’s just core to who we are,” said Pam Shipley, president of Kaiser Permanente of Georgia.
Since 2010, nine rural hospitals in Georgia have closed, Shipley pointed out.
Nationwide, there have been 147 hospital closures since 2010, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, and Georgia has been ranked as high as third in the number of hospital closures.
“That is just not acceptable,” Shipley said.
When identifying which hospitals to help, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia used the state’s rural hospital stabilization program, set up in 2014, and added two hospitals to that list for its support.
“This program has been established and has identified a number of great rural hospitals that really have this need and could use it in a meaningful way,” Shipley said.
How the hospitals use the largesse is up to those individual facilities, Shipley added. She said they have some ideas what those hospitals intend to do with the donations.
“We trust they will apply it to the appropriate initiatives they have underway,” she said, “things like building programs, different types of supporting member needs, like behavioral health, which is a crisis not only in our state but our nation.”
Shipley said the hospitals also could use the funding to remove barriers to access to care, such as a lack of transportation.
Hospitals also have indicated the money will be used to help build capacity and create access, such as for triage rooms.
Providing care and space for mental health patient who has been stabilized also has been a focus for some of the hospitals.
“Coming in and providing some funding that could help to expand that capacity in the emergency room is a fantastic place for rural health and the hospitals to use some of that money,” Shipley said.
The funding also could help the hospitals address Georgia’s shocking maternal mortality rate, especially among minority communities. Georgia is ranked as among the worst states in maternal mortality rates, 49th overall and 50th for Black women.
“We’ve got many, many counties, over 75, without an OB/GYN. A Black woman is three times more likely to suffer mortality than the national average,” Shipley said. If we can continue to help particularly in the rural areas with maternity programs and appropriate care, how do we put together funding and programs and help moms.”
Kaiser Permanente, the state’s largest non-profit health plan, has 317,000 members in 28 metro Atlanta counties and four counties around Athens. Through Kaiser Permanente Primary Care, the group has behavioral health professionals in its pediatricians’ offices, as an example, Shipley said.
“It’s the entire continuum a patient needs. Primary care is at the core and center of that,” she said. “The most important thing for us is our mission is to improve the health of our members but to impact the communities we serve in. When you think about a rural hospital closing, it’s more than health care that is taken away there. So many things happen – doctors and nurses move, you see businesses close and the community itself is not thriving. We believe providing programs and keeping these rural hospitals sustainable and moving is also directly related to thriving communities.”