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2 more hospitals closing baby delivery units

Dr. Roslyn Banks-Jackson worries about what will happen to many women of Emanuel County when the local hospital shuts its labor and delivery unit.

Dr. Roslyn Banks-Jackson

Dr. Roslyn Banks-Jackson

She’s the only ob/gyn currently practicing in the east-central Georgia county. And the practice, Emanuel OB/GYN Clinic, owned by the hospital, will soon be closing as well.

Many of her low-income patients have no transportation, and they either walk or have to get rides from friends or relatives to get to their appointments.

When the closures come, those of Banks-Jackson’s patients who do have cars will be driving 30 to 40 minutes to other counties to deliver their babies, said her office manager, Ashley Williamson. Some patients may wind up delivering in the local emergency room, Williamson added.

Emanuel Medical Center, citing high costs and low reimbursements, decided last month to close the hospital’s obstetrical program June 30.

“I’m 100 percent positive we’ll have worsening [patient] outcomes as a county,’’ Banks-Jackson said Monday. For patients without a car, “I seriously doubt they’ll get prenatal care.’’

The shuttering of the labor and delivery unit follows similar actions by other hospitals across the state. The obstetrical closures have hit especially hard in rural Georgia, where health care has been imperiled by doctor shortages and shaky hospital finances. full story

Emory, WellStar commit to planning merger

The preliminary talks are over: Now Emory and WellStar officials will move forward on creating a merged health care system.


Reynold Jennings

Trustees of Emory University and WellStar Health System have approved a resolution to start the “design phase” of a new entity, the two organizations announced Thursday evening.

The combination of Emory Healthcare and WellStar would be easily the state’s biggest health system. But a merger won’t come quickly, officials said. And the deal still has not been clinched, they emphasize.

The potential combination of the two large metro Atlanta systems was announced Feb. 9. Officials said then that the initial talks between the two systems would continue for 45 days, and Thursday’s announcement made clear that the merger idea had been given a green light.

Some of the details to be worked out during the next phase of talks include the name of the new health system, its corporate office location, governance and structure. That is expected to take at least a year. full story

Settlement ends long fight over Phoebe merger

The Federal Trade Commission and a South Georgia health system have reached a settlement in a four-year hospital antitrust case that drew national attention and was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

sealUnder the agreement, Phoebe Putney Health System will not have to jettison the former Palmyra Medical Center, which it acquired in 2011 for $195 million. Palmyra was Phoebe’s sole hospital competitor in the Albany market. It now operates as Phoebe North.

The agreement is similar to one that the two sides reached in 2013. The FTC backed away from that deal last year, but this one is final.

The federal agency has contended throughout the legal tangle that Phoebe’s acquisition of Palmyra violated antitrust laws, reducing competition and potentially raising prices for consumers in southwest Georgia.

But FTC officials, in a statement Tuesday, cited restrictions under Georgia’s certificate-of-need (CON) laws as the reason they’re giving up their effort to force a divestiture of Palmyra. CON laws in Georgia regulate the construction and expansion of health care facilities. full story

Grady, Blue Cross reach deal after long deadlock

Atlanta’s biggest health contract dispute in years is over.

Morgan Kendrick

Morgan Kendrick

Grady Health System and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia announced Monday that they have agreed to a new contract effective April 1.

Their contract lapsed in late November, when they failed to negotiate a new one before the deadline. The collapse of the negotiations was a surprise, because payment disputes between insurers and hospital systems are almost always resolved before an existing agreement expires.

And the persistence of the stalemate was equally unusual. For four months, Grady Memorial Hospital was “out of network’’ for Blue Cross health plan members, who faced higher out-of-pocket costs at the Atlanta facility.  full story

Potential merger sparks concern on prices

As merger talks continue between Emory Healthcare and WellStar Health System, a consumer advocacy group has voiced concerns about the potential impact of a deal in the metro Atlanta market.

Beth Stephens

Beth Stephens

Georgia Watch said such provider consolidation “is leading to higher prices for consumers with little to no improvement in the quality of care individuals receive.”

Beth Stephens, the group’s health access program director, also said she is concerned that the public comment period about the merger lacks transparency.

“We want to know what stakeholders are being engaged, and why consumer advocacy organizations are being left out of the conversation,” said Stephens, who submitted her organization’s comments to Emory and WellStar this week.

Emory and WellStar issued a statement Thursday that said the two organizations “remain in discussion on this initiative and anticipate providing additional information in early April. We look forward to engaging with the community throughout the planning process.’’   full story

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