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Georgia scores low in senior health

Georgia ranks 40th among states on seniors’ health measures, according to a newly released report on people 65 and older.

Several Southern states ranked in the bottom 10 on senior health, with Mississippi at 50th. Minnesota is the top-ranked state in America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, produced by the United Health Foundation.

From America's Health Rankings Senior Report

Photo from America’s Health Rankings

Georgia’s strengths include a low prevalence of obesity among seniors; a high percentage of health screenings; and a high use of hospice care. The report said the state’s weaknesses include a low percentage of quality nursing home beds; a limited availability of home health care workers; and a high percentage of seniors living in poverty.

The report on senior health examines publicly available health data and bases its rankings on 34 measures.

This is the second year in which the report has been issued. Georgia improved from 43rd in last year’s rankings. full story

South behind other regions in health, report says

Southerners have high rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and are more likely to be uninsured than people in other regions, a newly released report says.

And nearly one-quarter of Southerners report they do not have a usual source of health care. That’s significantly higher than for adults in the Midwest and Northeast, though it’s similar to the rate for residents in the West.

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The Kaiser Foundation “issue brief” was prepared for a March meeting of health care stakeholders from the South and around the nation, held at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. It was released publicly last week.

The report defines the South as a fairly broad region, and includes Oklahoma, Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland as among the 16 states plus the District of Columbia.

The South has a rapidly growing population and is more racially and ethnically diverse than other regions, the report notes. People of color make up 41 percent of the total Southern population.

The South also includes states with high poverty rates. Georgia, at 24 percent, is among the states higher than the national average of 21 percent.

The majority of the uninsured in the South live in Texas, Florida and Georgia, according to the report. The uninsured in these three states, in fact, account for 44 percent of the uninsured nationwide. Yet as of 2012, the three have the lowest number of federally qualified health centers per 1 million low-income residents. full story

Rural health care surging as a major issue

Hospital leaders, physicians and state lawmakers will be members of a new committee designed to help bolster rural health care in Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal on Friday announced appointments to the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, created to identify needs of rural facilities and offer potential solutions.

The panel is one of Deal’s strategies to help rural hospitals survive, and comes in the wake of four rural Georgia facilities closing in the past two years.

With those closings and with other hospitals struggling financially, rural health care has become a major issue during this election year.

Hutcheson Medical Center

Hutcheson Medical Center

Among those facilities faltering financially is Hutcheson Medical Center in the northwest Georgia town of Fort Oglethorpe. Hutcheson recently received an advance from the Department of Community Health of more than $800,000 in already scheduled funding. “They needed this to make payroll,’’ DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese said in March.

Cash flow problems recently forced Candler County Hospital in Metter to change how patients make co-pays, and develop new plans to pay vendors to whom the hospital owes money, according to the Metter Advertiser.

And Washington County Regional Medical Center in Sandersville announced this month that it plans to discontinue non-emergency baby deliveries because of financial losses. More than 40 hospitals in rural areas in Georgia have given up deliveries, according to HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals. full story

Standalone rural ERs face a serious hurdle

Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to help financially ailing rural hospitals, announced last month, has drawn strong praise from legislators and health industry leaders.

DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese

Clyde Reese

Deal proposed a change in licensing rules to permit a struggling rural hospital, or one that recently closed, to offer downsized services that would include an emergency department.

But a drawback has emerged – one that, if unchanged, may lower the chances of these freestanding ERs being built.

Such facilities, as proposed, would not be able to bill Medicare or Medicaid at the current hospital rates, but would have to bill those programs at a lower “provider’’ rate.

Clyde Reese, commissioner of the Department of Community Health, told GHN on Tuesday that it may take legislation, or regulatory approval from federal health officials, to create a format so these freestanding rural facilities would draw higher reimbursements than is now possible. full story

Drop in federal funds squeezes public health

The state budget recently delivered good news for Georgia public health: an overall increase in funding.

But behind those numbers are other numbers that have alarmed public health officials.

Dr. Georges Benjamin

Dr. Georges Benjamin

About 70 percent of the overall budget for the Department of Public Health comes from federal grants. And that federal money has seen significant reductions.

From fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013, across all programs, Public Health lost about $25 million in federal money. And that drop has continued.

Almost all Health and Human Services and Homeland Security grants have been cut, said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“It looks like we’re going to see ongoing [federal] cuts,’’ O’Neal told GHN in a recent interview. “It keeps us up at night.”

All states have suffered federal reductions to public health programs, according to the American Public Health Association. full story

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