Charlie and Alex have each had posts today on the difficulty of financing our healthcare system. Allow me to make it a trifecta by calling your attention to a story that ran in the AJC over the weekend detailing the struggle that Riverdale’s Southern Regional Medical Center is having in staying open in a county where demographic changes are greatly increasing the number of patients who can’t pay, insurance providers are reducing payments, and competition is forcing the hospital to compete for profitable patients.
Last May, Clayton County pumped $50 million into the facility, largely to pay off bond debt. In fiscal 2014, the hospital provided $21.6 million of care for which it wasn’t paid. And maybe that’s reasonable for a facility that handles over 74,000 emergency room visits per year. In the past, much of the shortfall would be made up for by patients whose procedures were covered by traditional insurance. However, competition has reduced the number of those patients:
Day surgery centers opened in the market after the state in 2008 passed a law allowing them to skip the state’s certificate of need process if they are limited to a single specialty. A new orthopedic center was a particular blow, Southern Regional officials said. Doctors who had used the hospital in the past began sending their patients to the outpatient centers, cutting into Southern Regional’s admissions.
Legislation also allowed Cancer Treatment Centers of America to open, 25 miles to the south. And insured patients have their choice of Piedmont Fayette Hospital to the west and Piedmont Henry to the east.
Between 2007 and 2012, Southern Regional reported more than a 50 percent drop in admissions covered by third-party payers, such as private insurance.
There is some good news for Southern Regional. An affiliation with Emory Healthcare and new hospital CEO Kim Ryan, who previously oversaw the growth of Snellville’s Eastside Medical Center, and before that guided Tulane Medical Center through Hurricane Katrina, plus an improving economy provide rays of hope.
For those of us in Atlanta, it’s easy to think of the issues with rural hospitals as something far away that won’t make any difference to us. Yet the difficulties at Southern Regional and the fact that Grady Hospital was recently eliminated as an in-network facility by Blue Cross / Blue Shield make clear that determining the most effective way to deliver healthcare is an issue that should conceern all Georgians.