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North Georgia community opens ER after its hospital closes

May 18, 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. (AP) — A north Georgia community has come up with a unique approach to emergency medicine.

Gilmer County residents were concerned about three years ago when the local hospital prepared to close, WABE Radio reported.

Residents had a difficult time coping with the idea of losing the hospital, said Charlie Paris, chairman of the Gilmer County Commission.

“Most people couldn’t imagine life without a hospital in the county,” he said. “It was seen as a very tragic situation, a very emergency-type situation.”

Not having a hospital can jeopardize the health of residents. And it can also scare off business owners who consider locating there, the station reported.

“Usually their first question is, ‘Show me your hospital,’” Paris said of prospective employers.

The CEO of Piedmont Mountainside Hospital about 20 miles (32.1 kilometers) away saw an opportunity in the local facility’s closing, WABE reported.

By opening a free-standing emergency room in Gilmer County, they could take pressure off Piedmont Mountainside’s ER and hold on to their 30-35% market share in Gilmer County.

The emergency room opened about a year after the old hospital closed its doors. It’s among the first of its kind in the region, WABE reported.

Piedmont spent $2.2 million building a modern emergency room in the old hospital, Piedmont Mountainside CEO Denise Ray said. That’s much less than it would have cost to build a new ER from scratch, WABE reported.

Each year, about a dozen rural hospitals shut down, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. More than three-quarters of recent closures have been in the South.

By one measure, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed their doors since 2010, says Erika Rogan with the American Hospital Association.

“They just don’t have as many patients coming through the door as other geographic areas may have,” Rogan said. “That can be problematic when payment for their services is based on volume of care.”

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Information from: WABE-FM, http://www.wabe.org/

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