Lucas plans rural health care push

mlee@macon.comJanuary 31, 2014 

ATLANTA -- A bill that could make it easier to open “medical stabilization” centers in Georgia’s most rural counties will be filed by state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, in the coming days, and it’s attracting bipartisan rural support.

“What this will do is give those communities who don’t have the tax base an opportunity to have a facility that they can get their loved ones to for observation, get those folks stabilized and then transfer them to an acute care hospital,” Lucas said.

What he envisions are small, two- or three-bed observation centers that provide emergency care for something like a heart attack or stroke.

“Somewhere they can be safe without driving 85 or 90 miles,” said Lucas, whose district runs from east Bibb County through part or all of six other counties.

Georgia mortality rates for stroke, for example, are higher in rural counties. Part of that could be due to older or poorer populations, but quick access to health care is part of the cause, too.

About 50 Georgia counties have no hospital, according to HomeTown Health, a network of rural hospitals.

Even in counties that have clinics, such as Hancock, “there’s nothing on the weekend and nothing on the holidays,” Lucas said.

Each center would be open when it’s best for the community -- even 24 hours if need be.

Opening a hospital in Georgia involves proving that a community needs it and that it will be fairly financially viable, in a world where indigent care weighs heavily on hospital balance sheets.

Lucas’ bill would exempt tiny, rural stabilization centers from that process. Like all medical facilities, though, they would still be regulated by the Department of Community Health.

Under Georgia law, rural counties mean those with a population below 35,000.

Powerful co-sponsors include Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, and Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.

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