2012-01-25 / Front Page

Miller County Hospital downsizing

by MCL staff writer

Hospital CEO, Robin Rau Hospital CEO, Robin Rau There have been several newspaper articles recently published about the state of health care in rural America as well as the nation’s Health Care Bill (Obamacare) and what effect it will have on our daily lives. It is here; the impact is just beginning.

The impact of the downward spiral of our economics, our nation’s reaction to the $15 trillion dollar deficit and the struggle to curb this debt, along with the results of the United States of America losing its AAA bond rating, have had a profound effect on Miller County Hospital.

This past Thursday, Ms. Robin Rau, CEO of Miller County Hospital, presented an overview of some of the effects these changes have had on our local health care system at the Senior Breakfast meeting.

Ms. Rau opened her talk with the question: “Has anyone in the room had an occurrence themselves, a family member or close friend that had their lives saved by Miller County Hospital?” She then turned to Ms. Veryl Garland Cockey of the Chamber and asked, “How many businesses closed in Colquitt last year and why?”

Miller County Hospital Miller County Hospital The answer was “at least six, and they closed because of lack of business.”

Ms. Rau explained that this is the first time in the past three years that Miller County Hospital has been forced to downsize. While other businesses and industry as well as surrounding health care companies have furloughed staff, frozen wages and had several rounds of layoffs, Miller County Hospital has been able to avoid these types of measures. However, the toll of our current economic times has now forced the hospital to downsize and lay off nine of its employees. While this is not a large number of employees, it still represents nine individuals who are no longer employed here. Ms. Rau explained that further reductions may be forthcoming.

The downsizing has been forced upon us because of a huge increase in uncompensated care, rising bad debt due to lack of insurance or decreased payments from insurance companies, along with changing government regulations that are negatively impacting Miller County Hospital.

Ms. Rau went on to explain that Miller County Hospital, like other critical access hospitals, is reimbursed only for the cost of providing direct medical care as defined by the government for the Medicare and Medicaid outpatient populations. Not all costs of providing care are allowable. Within the past two weeks the hospital was notified that the cost of emergency room physician services has been denied as reimbursable expenses. The government is requiring Miller County Hospital to repay physician and physician assistant costs that had previously been allowed. Ms. Rau explained that the hospital is appealing this ruling. In the meantime the government has required this hospital to repay an enormous amount of money, or they will simply withhold future payments until the debt is paid in full.

This episode led to the hospital’s decision to downsize in areas that will not affect direct patient care or future allowable costs. Ms. Rau also went on to explain that while the government provides for cost-based reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid, these groups of insured patients are shrinking as a result of the government’s transition to Medicare Advantage plans, such as United Healthcare for seniors and Peachstate and Wellcare – which has replaced the Medicaid program for children. All of these programs are contracted through either the federal government to replace Medicare, or the State of Georgia to replace Medicaid. Each of these plans pays Miller County Hospital less than the cost of caring for patients.

Ms. Rau stated that these plans make up 75% of the total business at Miller County Hospital. When 10% of our patients have no insurance, we are left with 15% of our patients to make up for all these losses. Miller County Hospital’s uninsured and uncompensated care is approximately $300,000 monthly.

She further explained that unlike most of our neighbors, Miller County Hospital receives no tax basis from the county or city to support the operation of the hospital, and that the one thing that our citizens can do to help the hospital is patronize it.

“Whenever possible, use Miller County Hospital for your colonoscopy and cancer screenings, general surgery, plastic surgery, CT scans, physical, speech and occupational therapy, laboratory work. We have some of the best talent; best equipment and staff, please give them your support,” Ms. Rau was quoted as saying.

The consensus at the Senior Breakfast was unanimous. This town, county and area need the Miller County Hospital.

One senior in attendance stated, "If we don't use it, we could lose it. It is a good facility that saves lives. It's one of our largest places of employment in our county. We need to do whatever we can to keep it operational. Many of our lives depend on it."

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