North Georgia Medical Center is latest rural hospital to shut down

[private]North Georgia Medical Center in Gilmer County has become the latest rural hospital in Georgia to close its doors because of financial problems.

The Ellijay hospital shut down last week, but its emergency room is scheduled to reopen later this year.

SunLink Health Systems, which owned North Georgia, said it has signed an agreement for Piedmont Mountainside Hospital in Jasper to take over the operation of the shuttered hospital’s emergency room facility.

Piedmont Mountainside, which is part of Piedmont Healthcare, said it expects to get final approval of the ER lease from the Department of Community Health by Sept. 1 so that it can reopen the emergency room by Nov. 1.

Piedmont said it will also lease a medical office building and adjacent facilities that house physician offices at the North Georgia Medical Center site.

Another SunLink subsidiary, Southern Health Corp. of Ellijay, will continue to operate a 100-bed nursing home, the Gilmer Nursing Center.

North Georgia is the fifth rural hospital to close since 2013, following in the footsteps of Lower Oconee Community Hospital in Wheeler County, Charlton County Hospital, Stewart Webster Hospital and Calhoun County Hospital.

Hutcheson Medical Center in Ft. Oglethorpe closed briefly last fall before reopening under new ownership in December.

North Georgia Medical Center was located in the district of one of the most powerful politicians in Georgia: House Speaker David Ralston. The only hospital still open in Ralston’s district is Fanning Regional Hospital in Blue Ridge.

Ralston, like other Republican leaders in the General Assembly, has opposed the expansion of Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have brought Georgia $3 billion a year in federal funding starting in 2014. A good portion of those funds would have gone to rural hospitals that treat a high percentage of indigent patients.

Ralston’s office did not respond to media inquiries Tuesday, but other legislative Republicans — including Sens. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) and Renee Unterman (R-Buford) — have indicated in recent months they are open to the idea of Georgia undertaking some version of Medicaid expansion to bring in more federal dollars.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

[/private]

Tags: North Georgia Medical Center , Piedmont Healthcare , rural hospitals , SunLink Health Systems