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Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center closes after more than 70 years

The hospital tried for months to secure more than $10 million in funding for critical frailty improvements, but ultimately fell short.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

As of last Thursday, Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Cuthbert closed its doors after operating for more than 70 years, with the closure spurred by financial troubles linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SGRMC said on its website that it has secured storage of its hospital medical records with Cariend, a medical-record storage provider, through which patients may request access to their records. The closure will not affect the continued operations of the Joe-Anne Burgin Nursing Home or the Randolph Medical Associates Clinic, as plans have been made to partner with a qualified operator.

The hospital has been serving Randolph County in1947. Cuthbert Mayor Steve Whatley told WTVM last week that the hospital had been experiencing financial difficulties, even before the onset of the public health emergency, but the challenges of the coronavirus became too overwhelming for it to overcome.

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WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

According to U.S. News and World Report, the Rural Health Research Program at the University of North Carolina said SGRMC was the 16th rural hospital across the country to close this year, leaving Cuthbert without a hospital. The closest one is about 20 miles away.

The original announcement of the closing was made back in July, with CEO Kim Gilman telling WFXL that the hospital tried in vain for months to secure more than $10 million in funding for critical frailty improvements. The facility had been operating on thin margins for years, and the pandemic "pushed our hospital past the point of no return," Gilman said.

About 50 employees were affected by the closure. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, which managed SGRMC, Joe-Anne Burgin Nursing Home and the Randolph Medical Associates Clinic since 1996, said it will place as many of those workers as possible within the Phoebe health system.

Residents and workers gathered in Cuthbert during a ceremony last week to bid farewell to the facility. There remain plans to keep emergency care going in Randolph County, with details expected to be released this week.

THE LARGER TREND

Rural hospitals were in a tough spot financially even before the pandemic. A Guidehouse analysis released in April showed a full quarter of rural hospitals in the U.S. are at a high risk of closing unless their financial situations improve.

The 354 at-risk rural hospitals in the report span 40 states and represent more than 222,350 annual discharges, 51,800 employees and $8.3 billion in total patient revenue. Of these hospitals, 287, or 81%, are considered highly essential to the health and economic wellbeing of their communities. Thirty-four states have at least half of their financially distressed rural hospitals considered highly essential, with 16 states having all hospitals in this situation.

It was also in April that the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, was awarding rural hospitals and telehealth resource centers nearly $165 million to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The money targets smaller, rural hospitals and is separate from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provider-relief fund.

HRSA's Federal Office of Rural Health Policy received $150 million through the CARES Act to assist hospitals funded through the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program respond to this public health emergency.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com