Calhoun County health gap closing

ARLINGTON — Health care officials in the area say that, through various efforts, there is now assurance that the health care needs in Calhoun County will continue to be met despite the closure of its hospital earlier this month.

Robin Rau, CEO of Miller County Hospital, said talks began six months ago about the future of Calhoun Memorial and its patient base.

"The CEO at Calhoun Memorial (Earl Whiteley) met with me privately and made me aware of the situation, and he asked if there was anything we could do," Rau said. "We made a commitment (to help).

"We wanted to try to get some revenue into the hospital. The last thing I wanted (was for it to close). By then, it was too late."

Shortly after her meeting with Whiteley, Rau said, officials revealed that the hospital would be closing and that Willowwood Assisted Living and the 60-bed Calhoun Nursing Home in Edison would be put up for sale to help keep the doors of Calhoun Memorial open for as long as possible.

"It was alarming to see how close to peril they really were," Rau said.

She said the Miller County facility expressed interest in purchasing the nursing home, which officials were ultimately successful in doing for $2.4 million. As part of the agreement, the R.E. Jennings Medical Clinic in Arlington was also taken over in an effort to continue to meet rural health care needs.

"I felt strongly that something needed to happen," Rau said.

The acquired clinic, rather than being purchased, is being leased from the Hospital Authority of Calhoun County with officials in Miller County assuming responsibility for all its expenses.

"The guarantee is to be there for one year, but our intent is to be there forever," Rau said.

Asked this week how much the clinic was being leased for, Rau said she did not know now — but that the price would go up to fair market value after its first year under control of the Miller hospital.

As a result of the deal, six clinic and 70 nursing home employees have been retained. A few other jobs are also being saved, as some of the clinic employees who had been let go recently have since been asked to come back, and interviews are taking place for a physician's job at the clinic, Rau said.

"Between the two hospital authorities (in Calhoun and Miller counties), we are looking at it as one health system now," the CEO said.

Aside from providing lab work and integrating electronic health records, pharmaceutical agreements are being entered into effective March 1 to ensure medications are still being provided to those who need them while contracts are being sent out for medical supplies.

"We have done a lot of work, and we are just in the beginning stages," Rau said.

Derrick Frazier, chief administrative officer for Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center, said officials at the Cuthbert hospital are working to ramp up its marketing campaign to pull in some of Calhoun's former patient base, which was already within its primary service area.

There is also the possibility of another clinic opening up in the county some time in the future, he said.

"We are marketing our emergency room and surgical (services) in the area," said Frazier. "We are currently researching the possibility of opening a clinic in Edison; we are looking at the feasibilities of that.

"We want to let residents know (there are still health care options available). (There is a notion) that all rural hospitals are suffering. That is not true."

Calhoun Memorial officially closed its doors at 3 p.m. on Feb. 1. Rau said she was not sure who had taken over the assisted living facility.