Southwest Georgia stands to be impacted by health funding shortfalls

Brian Church, chief financial officer for Phoebe Putney Health System, provides an update on Wednesday concerning how the health system is benefiting from the Georgia HEART rural hospital tax credit program. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — As funds for health care services get tighter, an update on Georgia’s rural hospital tax credit program indicates that it has not been as fruitful for Phoebe Putney Health System as officials had hoped for.

Meanwhile, the advocacy efforts for changes in Washington, D.C., continue.

The tax credit program, known as the Georgia HEART Program, that went into effect in January is meant to benefit the state’s rural hospitals by giving taxpayers who direct their tax dollars to hospitals that meet a certain criteria a 90 percent credit. An update heard on the program by the Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Board of Directors on Wednesday included a push for taxpayers to contribute to the program.

Among this year’s 49 eligible hospitals are Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, Phoebe Worth Medical Center and Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center. Brian Church, chief financial officer for the health system, said the latest numbers on the Georgia HEART donations were $64,777 for Phoebe Sumter, $41,421 for Phoebe Worth and $3,719 for Southwest Georgia Regional.

The program — anticipated to expand to about 60 hospitals in 2018 — is expected to provide $60 million in tax credits annually, with individual hospitals being able to receive up to $4 million.

“(The current Phoebe hospital figures) are well below the $4 million they could receive,” Church said.

The deadline to contribute to the tax credit program for this year is Nov. 1. More information can be found at https://dch.georgia.gov/rural-hospital-tax-credit.

Church segued to address funding sources, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Disproportionate Share Hospital, or DSH, and the “cliff” for federally-qualified health centers, all of which were facing major monetary gaps in recent days when windows expired due to inaction from legislators to close those gaps.

The CHIP lapse impacts a portion of families supported by Medicaid, and DSH provides compensation for indigent care. The DSH gap alone reflects a $2 million loss for Phoebe.

“There is nothing predictable in Washington,” Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick said. “If anything is clear, it is that it is (difficult) to get a majority on anything.”

Albany Area Primary Health Care has dozens of sites that stand to be impacted by the health center funding gap, for which advocacy efforts continue to offset a looming 70 percent cut to the health center program.

AAPHC officials have said failure to close that hole could result in $4.7 million in grant funding for the organization being reduced by $3.3 million, resulting in 6,000 patients losing access and some programs and services being reduced or eliminated.

Reports show there is legislation expected for CHIP, and that House and Senate versions of the Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence, or CHIME, Act are attracting bipartisan cosponsors in support of health center funding.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jay McAfee, director of the Radiation Oncology Department at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and cancer liaison physician with the Commission on Cancer for Phoebe, updated the board on the Phoebe Cancer Center and breast program accreditation surveys by the Commission on Cancer and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers.

McAfee said there is a continuous process of regular committee meetings and that the surveyor recently onsite came to observe multidisciplinary conferences and review the survey application record. He said several commendations came down from the surveyor, including for clinical trial accrual, cancer registrar education, public reporting of outcomes, pathology reports and accuracy of data.

The surveyor also nominated the cancer center as a best practice for its genetic program, McAfee said.

“I think this is the culmination of a lot of hard work,” he said.

Staff Writer

I'm a 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University, and I've been a reporter for The Albany Herald since 2008. I cover news related to health care, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, SOWEGA Council on Aging and other areas as assigned.

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