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Sagging rural hospital tries to get an urban boost

A struggling rural hospital in east-central Georgia hopes to gain firmer financial footing  through a new partnership with University Health Care System in Augusta.

University Health Care will manage Washington County Regional Medical Center in Sandersville beginning Jan. 1, under an agreement announced Monday.

univSuch rural hospitals and their survival have been a focus for political leaders in Georgia after the closure of four of these facilities in the past two years.

Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals in Georgia, said recently that besides the four closures, 15 more facilities are “financially fragile.” Six of those, he said, “could go tomorrow due to low cash.”

Those financial pressures led Gov. Nathan Deal to appoint a Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, which last week concluded its hearings with a public comment period.

Earlier this year, Washington County Regional Medical Center  discontinued non-emergency baby deliveries because of financial losses, joining the more than 40 hospitals in rural areas in Georgia that have given up deliveries due to costs. full story

State Medicaid chief stepping down

Jerry Dubberly is leaving his position as Georgia’s Medicaid director, effective Jan. 2.

Jerry Dubberly

Jerry Dubberly

He’s stepping down from what experts consider a vitally important job in Georgia health care.

As Medicaid chief, Dubberly oversees the services for about 1.9 million Georgians in Medicaid and PeachCare, with a state budget of more than $2.5 billion.

Dubberly could not be reached for comment.

The Department of Community Health said in an email statement to GHN that Commissioner Clyde Reese is working on filling the vacancy.

It’s difficult to find someone to do the job well, experts say. full story

Grady, Blue Cross at impasse as contract expires

Contract standoffs between hospital systems and health insurers typically have a way of being resolved — often right before a deadline.

But high-stakes negotiations between Grady Health System and Georgia’s biggest insurer failed to produce a new contract before the midnight deadline Sunday.

Grady Memorial Hospital

Grady Memorial Hospital

That means Grady Memorial Hospital is now “out of network” for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia members. Patients with Blue Cross insurance will face higher out-of-pocket costs at the Atlanta hospital and its clinics.

Both Grady and Blue Cross expressed disappointment that a deal was not reached. Contract negotiations had been under way for a year.

Grady recently had launched a publicity campaign to call attention to low reimbursements from Blue Cross, saying those payments were lower than the insurer’s rates for other comparable hospitals in Atlanta and throughout the state. full story

Georgia health centers get funding to expand care

A federal agency has awarded $6.9 million in Affordable Care Act funding to 30 community health centers in Georgia that will help expand their primary care services.

Sylvia Burwell

Sylvia Burwell

That funding was part of $295 million awarded nationally to 1,195 health centers by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“Health centers are a key part of how the Affordable Care Act is working to improve access to care for millions of Americans,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell in announcing the grants Friday. “These funds will enable health centers to provide high-quality primary health care to more people including the newly insured, many of whom may be accessing primary care for the first time in Georgia.”

The money will go to hiring new staff, including new health care providers; staying open for longer hours; and expanding services,  including oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy and vision services.  full story

2 nonprofits share $3.3 million in ‘navigator’ grants

Two nonprofit organizations will divide $3.3 million in federal money to provide “navigators” to help consumers enroll in the Georgia health insurance exchange this fall, the federal government announced Monday.

Sylvia Burwell

Sylvia Burwell

Navigators provide face-to-face, in-person help for consumers seeking information about the exchanges.

SEEDCO (Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation) will receive nearly $2.2 million, roughly the same as it received last year as a navigator grantee.

The second grantee will be an alliance led by Macon-based Community Health Works and consisting of cancer coalitions and other organizations. It will get $1.1 million.

Nationally, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced $60 million in navigator grant awards to 90 organizations in states with federally facilitated and state partnership exchanges. Also known as marketplaces, the exchanges were created under the Affordable Care Act, sometimes known as Obamacare. full story

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