Dianne Minor, a certified nurse assistant, monitors Olin S. Hamlin at Dodge County Hospital in Eastman, Georgia on Sept. 21, 2017. (Rebecca Breyer)

Micro-hospitals proposed to provide rural Georgia health care

Georgia lawmakers are proposing small, scaled-down hospitals to provide health care in rural areas that lack full-fledged hospitals.

These micro-hospitals are a centerpiece of House Bill 769, a rural health effort that stems from the work of the House Rural Development Council, which issued recommendations to revitalize shrinking communities.

But the legislation doesn’t include one of the Council’s most significant recommendations: scaling back the state’s law that restricts private health companies’ ability to cherry-pick profitable services. 

The proposal to eliminate the state’s Certificate of Need regulation in populated areas won’t move forward during this year’s legislative session, said Rep. Rick Jasperse, the bill’s sponsor.

“Certificate of Need is a very difficult subject,” said Jasperse, R-Jasper. “It warrants really careful study. Why run with something we’re not totally sure that’s the best thing to do? If you change it, you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing.”

As for micro-hospitals, they would provide up to seven beds and be open 24 hours a day to stabilize patients, according to the legislation.

Micro-hospitals would be allowed to open when a larger hospital has closed in a contiguous county with a population below 50,000 residents, according to HB769. The micro-hospital would be able to buy the larger hospital’s Certificate of Need.

“At least patients can get the first and immediate care in their communities before they would be transferred to bigger hospitals,” said House Health & Human Services Committee Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, a co-sponsor of legislation.

Cooper said state lawmakers haven’t decided whether micro-hospitals would have emergency rooms, which are expensive to operate. The services that could be offered by micro-hospitals aren’t defined in the legislation.

The legislation also calls for the Georgia Department of Community Health to streamline billing when multiple doctors see a patient, and to make it easier to bill for health services delivered online.  In addition, the legislation proposes creating a state-run rural health provider management training program.

“Any first step is better than sitting back and wringing our hands and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, hospitals are closing, and what are we going to do?’” said Cooper, R-Marietta. “It’s a start.”

The February 2nd, 2018 edition of Georgia Legislative Week in Review with Mark Neisse, Maya T. Prabhu and the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

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