Politics

Gov. Nathan Deal Backs New Rural Hospital Pilot Program

Deal's plan calls for $3 million to implement a pilot program in four rural hospitals and their surrounding communities.
Deal's plan calls for $3 million to implement a pilot program in four rural hospitals and their surrounding communities.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press
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Four rural hospitals may get state money to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits. It’s part of a plan backed by Gov. Nathan Deal aimed at stabilizing Georgia’s rural health network. 

A handful of hospitals have closed in recent years and 15 more are under significant financial stress. In April, Deal handpicked a committee of lawmakers, advocates and stakeholders to study the problem and draft recommendations.

The plan, which was released Mondaycalls for a pilot program in which hospitals, ambulances, schools and nursing homes would get new equipment allowing doctors and nurses to remotely diagnose patients.

Jimmy Lewis of the advocacy group Hometown Health says telemedicine will reduce costs and help hospitals stay afloat. 

“In rural Georgia, probably 50 to 60 percent of ER visits shouldn’t be ER visits. They’re primary care visits. There are ways we can go into triaging to reduce those. It’s very advanced, state-of-the-art equipment that can help determine what that patient is going to need,” Lewis said.

The committee wants $3 million for the program. It would launch at Union General Hospital in north Georgia and in three hospitals south of Macon: Appling Health System, Crisp Regional and the Emanuel Regional Medical Center.

In a written statement, Deal said he wants money for the program in this year’s budget. 

“Just as a medical emergency can’t wait, neither can we wait to act upon these recommendations,” Deal said. “It is my hope that these efforts are not a temporary fix, but rather the beginning of a long-lasting road to recovery for our rural health systems.”

Other recommendations in the plan include maintaining the state’s current certificate of need system and allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform a broader array of services.