Subscribe to The Pulse

Rural Health

Nursing home exec says feds’ decision stunning

A health care company CEO says he was “speechless and stunned” when the feds asked Georgia to return more than $100 million in payments made to his firm’s nursing homes.

Ronnie Rollins

Ronnie Rollins

Ronnie Rollins, CEO of Macon-based Community Health Services of Georgia, said in an interview Monday that company nursing homes had received the extra Medicaid funding in question for more than a decade without a problem. Then, this past December, a federal ruling declared the funding to be inappropriate.

A Dec. 8 letter and report from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the “unallowable’’ payments to more than 30 nursing homes were made in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

But CMS also asked Georgia to return any similarly inappropriate payments for more recent fiscal years as well, pushing the total sought, according to state officials, to an estimated $248 million.

Rollins said Monday that the extra funding under “upper payment limit’’ (UPL) regulations had been approved by state and federal agencies for his nursing homes since 2001.

Still, he said, he was not surprised at the overall federal intention to cut off these funds.  full story

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

Suburban counties rank highest in health

The suburban versus rural health divide remains the key theme in the latest ranking of Georgia’s healthiest counties.

Forsyth County

Forsyth County

Forsyth is ranked the healthiest county in 2015, just as it was in the previous two years. It was followed by Gwinnett, Fayette, Cobb and Oconee.

All are in the northern or north-central part of the state, and all are in the Atlanta metropolitan area except for Oconee, which is in the Athens metropolitan area.

Rounding out the top 10 in the 2015 rankings are Cherokee, Columbia, Harris, Coweta and Lumpkin.

The rankings were reported in the sixth annual County Health Rankings, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Here’s a link to Georgia’s rankings. full story

Food program for kids goes beyond the classroom

Every Thursday morning, more than 100 bags of nutritious food are prepared at an old brick building in rural Oconee County.

From there, volunteer drivers take the bags to schools in the county, where teachers and other school officials drop them into the backpacks of children (grades K-12) while the kids are out of the classroom. If not for the bags, many of these children might go hungry over the weekend.

“A lot of kids count on a free or reduced breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, but when they go home on the weekend there’s no cafeteria,” says Tyler Boykin, a counselor at High Shoals Elementary School, who helps to identify students in need of the program.

Volunteer students prepare the Food for Kids bags.

Volunteer students prepare the Food for Kids bags.

“It gives the kids who don’t have enough to eat some reassurance that they’re going to be OK over the weekend,” says Boykin.

Nearly 4,000 food bags were delivered in the 2013-14 school year.

It’s no mystery that a properly nourished student is a better prepared student. “When kids come into the classroom hungry, they aren’t ready to learn,” says Cindy Pritchard, director of the Food for Kids program. full story

Rural health panel offers plan to cut ER use

A special state panel created by Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed a pilot program that would use telemedicine and other techniques to bolster rural health care in Georgia.

The Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee report, released Monday, supports a “hub and spoke’’ model to relieve the burden on rural hospital emergency rooms. It would use telemedicine-equipped ambulances to facilitate remote diagnoses of patients in rural areas.

clipboardTelemedicine basically is the transmission of video and digital vital signs of a patient to a physician at another location who can evaluate that information for a diagnosis. Georgia has been a pioneer in this field.

The four pilot sites would be based in hospitals that serve different rural regions of the state: Union General in Blairsville, Appling HealthCare in Baxley, Crisp Regional in Cordele and Emanuel Medical Center in Swainsboro.

The report of the Rural Hospital Stabilization committee makes no mention of the possibility of Medicaid expansion in the state, which is opposed by Deal and the Republican legislative leadership due to cost concerns. full story

  • Sign up for our mailing list.