Consortium opens doors in Moultrie

MOULTRIE -- The need for primary care physicians in Southwest Georgia led five area hospitals to join a consortium to expand medical education and residency program opportunities in the region.

Now that partnership has entered into a new chapter with the opening ceremony of the South Georgia Medical Education and Research Consortium's new offices in Moultrie taking place on July 27.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital founded the consortium along with hospitals in Moultrie, Thomasville, Valdosta and Tifton, as well as SOWEGA-AHEC, Community Health Centers and Georgia Health Sciences University/Medical College of Georgia.

"(The Moultrie office) serves as a centralized location for the five hospitals," said consortium Executive Director Jessica Rivenbark. "It will be used as the home office."

Georgia ranks 41st nationwide in physicians per 100,000 population and residency programs, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Southwest Georgia has 15 residents, all in the field of family medicine.

"This not just to bring residents in, but to expand access (to health care)," Rivenbark said. "Physicians are more likely to stay within 100 miles of their residency site.

"It has also been shown that (physicians coming into a community) is an economic motivator. It averages a return of $1.5 million per physician."

In 2010, area hospital CEOs met with officials from MCG. Together they created a plan to combine community resources, hospital resources, expertise and administration to improve access to health care through the development and expansion of graduate medical education programs, resulting in the consortium.

"We have a proven record of physicians training in Southwest Georgia staying in Southwest Georgia," said Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe. "We partner with the consortium for an opportunity to expand that.

"The harder it is to see a primary care physician, the greater the cost (of health care). If patients don't have the help they need to manage chronic conditions, the more likely they are to (develop problems) -- so this is one of those things we believe is a valuable investment."

The affiliated hospitals have contributed more than $1 million for the creation and expansion of medical residency programs in Georgia. The GHSU/MCG matched an initial capital call of $500,000. Support from the Georgia Legislature allowed additional funding totaling $716,000 to be provided through the Georgia Physician Workforce Board.

Those funds will be used for the implementation of up to six new residency programs in South Georgia in the fields of internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine and family medicine, officials with the consortium say.

The consortium begins the accreditation process this fall and hopes to add up to 150 new residents in the area in the coming years, Rivenbark said.

"It's great that five hospitals compete, but then come together for this greater good," the executive director said.

For additional information, visit www.sgmerc.net or call (229) 985-3003.