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Committee Review Rural Hospital Emergency Care

July 21, 2014
A hospital building sits against a blue sky.

Georgia's new Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee held its first meeting in early June. The three-hour meeting, which was open to the public and accessible through a live webinar (now posted on the DCH website)  began mapping out a strategy to preserve access to health care for the citizens of rural Georgia. The 16-member panel, appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year, will meet regularly to identify the needs of the rural hospital community and provide potential solutions.

To conclude this first meeting, members of the committee requested additional data to assist in their evaluation of Georgia's current rural health network. That request included:

  • Maps of locations of all rural hospitals, showing their relative locations to possible referral centers.
  • Locations of all current Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers and air ambulance services.
  • A detailed map of the payer mix throughout Georgia.

"We've asked for very specific data so that we can explore options and opportunities for our rural communities as we move forward with our work," said Charles Owens, director of the Department of Community Health's (DCH) State Office of Rural Health (SORH). Owens also serves as facilitator and member of the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee. "Our goal is to help support the stabilization of health care access in our rural communities."

Recently, the Board of Community Health approved rules to govern a new category for health care facilities -- Rural Free-Standing Emergency Departments.

Those rules include the following conditions for the establishment of Rural Free-Standing Emergency Departments:

  • Must be currently licensed by DCH as a hospital or previously licensed by DCH as a hospital whose license expired within the previous 12 months.  
  • Must be located in a rural county (defined as having a total population of 35,000 or less) and no more than 35 miles from a licensed general hospital.
  • Must be open as an emergency department seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
  • Must provide non-elective emergency treatment and procedures periods continuing less than 24 hours.

The rule changes allow the optional provision of services. This includes elective outpatient surgical treatment and procedures continuing less than 24 hours, basic obstetrics, plus gynecology procedures for periods continuing less than 24 hours.

These facilities, which will require licensing through DCH's Healthcare Facility Regulation Division, must make a reasonable attempt to secure written agreements with general hospitals located within 35 miles of the facility to coordinate patient referrals and transfers.

"Identifying the needs of these communities and their residents is a critical step to insure the modeled services are established in such a fashion that they fulfill the needs of the residents and are sustainable long term," Owens said. "This initiative must be a community-driven process to be successful, and we are all mindful of that requirement."

Be sure to check for updated information about the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee and feel free to watch  the webinar of the first meeting.

Owens said that the group will soon announce the date, time and location of its next meeting, which is anticipated by the end of the summer. Details will be available on the DCH website.

About the Author

Through effective planning, purchasing and oversight, the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) provides access to affordable, quality health care to millions of Georgians, including some of the state’s uninsured and most vulnerable populations. DCH is responsible for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids,® the State Health Benefit Plan, Healthcare Facility Regulation and Health Information Technology in Georgia. Clyde L. Reese III, Esq., serves as Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Community Health. To learn more about DCH and its dedication to A Healthy Georgia, visit www.dch.georgia.gov.