Struggling rural hospital closing doors

Print Friendly and PDF By: Andy Miller Published: Mar 20, 2013

Another rural hospital in southwest Georgia is closing.

Stewart-Webster Hospital in Richland closed its emergency room Tuesday, and rest of the hospital will suspend operations at noon Friday.

The for-profit, 25-bed “critical access’’ hospital is the largest employer in Richland, according to WRBL News.

It follows the February closure of Calhoun Memorial in Arlington, 50 miles south of Richland.

Stewart-Webster’s president, Randy Stigleman, cited several factors, including high unemployment and low payments from Medicare and Medicaid, WRBL reported.

Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, an association of rural hospitals, said Wednesday that the hospital serves “a remarkably remote section of Georgia.’’

“It’s truly a health care access disaster,’’ he told GHN.

“They just ran out of cash,’’ Lewis said.

The closure of Stewart-Webster, Lewis said, shows “we’re on a downhill trend that can escalate because of [poor] Medicare and Medicaid payments.’’

The hospital said most of its revenue comes from Medicare.

“The future for rural health care is fragile in trying to accommodate mandated health benefits without payment,’’ Lewis said.

Residents of rural counties tend to have poorer health than their urban counterparts.

Stewart County, which Richland is located, ranks 158 out of 159 counties in Georgia on health outcomes in the newly released 2013 County Health Rankings, from the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The bottom 10 Georgia counties are mainly rural, while the counties with the best health in the state are urban/suburban and are in the Atlanta or Athens areas, the rankings show.

Stigleman of Stewart-Webster said the hospital did not receive a $1 million incentive payment from the federal government for the facility’s switch to electronic medical records, WRBL reported.

He said there is a possibility that the hospital could reopen in the future if officials find a way to bring in more services. Patients are being diverted to Columbus hospitals.

The community will lose about $10 million in revenue per year with the hospital shutting down, Stigleman said.

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