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Financial first aid for a mountain hospital

An unusual financial arrangement has taken Habersham Medical Center in Demorest off the critical list.

In a deal with the local hospital authority, Habersham County has agreed to make monthly bond payments on the northeast Georgia hospital’s $37 million debt, and will eventually take over the assets of the facility.


Habersham Medical Center

Habersham’s financial move “has been already beneficial to the hospital,’’ Demorest Mayor Rick Austin told GHN on Monday. “It immediately puts us back in the black.”

“This hospital is incredibly crucial to our community and our county,’’ Austin said.

Habersham strongly promotes itself to tourists and potential retirees. The availability of good health care is essential to attracting such people.

The agreement comes at what some experts consider the most pressing financial time ever for the state’s hospital industry.

Rural hospitals, such as the Demorest facility, are under heavy fiscal strain. Four hospitals have closed in rural Georgia over the past two years, with others many experiencing cash problems. full story

How will broader gun-carry law affect hospitals?

Now that Georgia’s controversial gun-carry legislation has taken effect, hospitals across the state are trying to figure out how to respond to it.

The new law means different things for different hospitals. Generally speaking, hospitals that are considered government buildings have to comply with it, while those that are privately owned do not.

Glock17And there are other exceptions, including one that pertains to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Yet the ultimate effect of House Bill 60 on hospitals and even some nursing homes may not be clear until it plays out in practice – perhaps until someone with a weapon enters a facility and is confronted about his or her right to carry it.

It’s possible that some facilities may even choose to ignore the law or test its limits.

“As is often the case with newly enacted laws, there are many unanswered questions regarding HB 60, and ultimately courts will interpret the law and apply it to specific facts,’’ said a July 1 memo from Georgia Hospital Association attorney Temple Sellers to association members, which was obtained by GHN. full story

Plan for new trauma center not welcomed by all

Hospital chain HCA’s push to have its Augusta hospital designated as a trauma center has unsettled leaders in the state’s hospital industry.

A trauma center is a medical facility that’s specially equipped and staffed to treat seriously injured people. Georgia authorizes four levels of such centers, depending on their capabilities.

The critics of the HCA effort point to the trauma center growth in the Florida market. Such centers in the Sunshine State are charging a “response fee” – essentially an entry fee into the hospital – for each trauma case that averages more than $10,000 per patient, according to a Tampa Bay Times investigation in March.

Doctors Hospital


HCA’s Doctors Hospital said through a spokesman that if it receives trauma center status, it plans to set its trauma activation fee at about $9,900 for each such case at the Augusta facility. The HCA initiative in Georgia was first reported by Tom Corwin of the Augusta Chronicle.

The two current trauma centers in Augusta, Georgia Regents Medical Center and Trinity Hospital, said they charge activation fees of $1,949 and zero, respectively, for a comparable Level III trauma patient, the Chronicle reported.

Nashville-based HCA’s bid for trauma designation has drawn strong opposition from the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, an organization of nonprofit hospitals. full story

Commentary: Tort reform can save rural hospitals

Medical malpractice reform got a big push prior to the 2014 Georgia General Assembly session, but a sweeping bill never made it out of a Senate committee.

iStock_000023217379LargeSupporters of tort reform vow to bring the proposal back again next year.

They note that four rural hospitals have closed in the past two years, and argue that savings from malpractice reform could prop up many of Georgia’s ailing rural facilities.

Under the legislation, “no doctor or hospital would ever be sued again,’’ Wayne Oliver, executive director of the group Patients for Fair Compensation, says in a new GHN Commentary.

The new patient compensation model, if enacted, “could save $6.9 billion over the next decade,’’ Oliver writes. “That state revenue could be reinvested in rural hospitals that are barely surviving.”

Here is a link to Oliver’s Commentary.


Georgia Health News welcomes Commentary submissions. If you would like to propose a Commentary piece for Georgia Health News, please email Andy Miller, editor of GHN, at

Restart of rural South Georgia hospital fizzles

A rural hospital that reopened recently after a February closure has once again closed its doors.

Lower Oconee Community Hospital, in the Wheeler County town of Glenwood, suspended operations again late last month. Phone calls to the hospital Monday were not answered.

Wheeler County

Wheeler County

A sign posted on the hospital door said Lower Oconee “will reopen in the very near future under reorganization,” WMAZ reported.

Several employees and doctors had told WMAZ that they had not been paid in a month.

Andy Cone, operations manager for the EMS company serving Wheeler County, told GHN on Monday that with Lower Oconee closed again, emergency patients were being transported to hospitals in Vidalia, which is 24 miles away, and Dublin, 33 miles away.

Lower Oconee’s closure in February made it the fourth rural hospital in the state to close in two years. But the South Georgia hospital reopened under new ownership the next month. full story

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