Rural hospital closures continue to be a deadly problem. Now, the fate of one South Georgia hospital that has been treating victims of the recent tornadoes and another facility in Monroe County are uncertain.
Local residents of Adel, Ga. are hoping the hospital will reconsider the decision to shutter Cook Medical Center, their branch of Tifton Regional. However, that wish is unlikely to be granted given that the hospital has been losing to $2.6 million per year since 2012, according to their Chief Operating Officer, mostly due to the costs of running their emergency room.
The hospital is scheduled to remain open until the end of February, which is lucky for survivors of the tornadoes that killed at least 15 people in parts of South Georgia. And lucky for anyone else in the area that has a life-threatening medical emergency in the next month.
But if Cook Medical Center closes, Adel residents will be forced to drive 26 miles or more to Tifton or Valdosta. That extra drive can make all the difference in a medical emergency.
The AJC first reported on the closure, speaking with local residents.
Lee Joiner Jr., who owns the Whatchadilly Smoothie & Juice Shop in downtown Adel, said shuttering the ER sends a disastrous message to the local economy.
“People in our community need emergency services and the tornado proved that,” he said. “What if this happens again and we don’t have an ER? We need to fully take care of people here in this community. Lives could be at stake.”
Meanwhile, Monroe County Hospital is also at risk of closing. There is currently a measure before voters to approve a property tax increase that would raise only about $1.2 million of the $10 million the hospital needs to stay open, according to the The Macon Telegraph.
Without the tax increase funds, the hospital will continue with a controlled shutdown as services are reduced over a period of time.
Getting to a hospital quickly during an emergency can literally be the difference between life and death. This becomes particularly significant for many rural Georgians who do not have access to regular healthcare, and wind up in an emergency room when untreated medical conditions escalate into serious health threats.
For many rural communities, rural hospitals are also an economic anchor. Not only do they provide stable jobs, but they attract businesses looking to locate somewhere their employees can have a decent quality of life.
Cook Medical Center will be the seventh rural hospital to close since 2010, making Georgia a state with one of the highest number of hospital closures in the nation.
And unfortunately for lawmakers, it’s going to take more than just prayers to keep these hospitals open and rural communities safe and healthy.