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Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Cuthbert was facing financial challenges even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Now state and local officials are working to find solutions and close the gap of care following the recent announcement that the facility will close on Oct. 22.

ATLANTA – State Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert; Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson; along with state, local and community leaders, are working to find solutions and close the gap of care following the recent announcement that Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Randolph County will close on Oct. 22.

“It is important to note that for many years, rural hospitals across America have been on the decline,” Greene said in a news release. “This situation is not unique to Randolph County and surrounding counties. State Sen. Sims and I are working to ensure that out of this tragedy of a closing, our constituents are taken care of in the coming days, especially in the area of emergency care.”

Sims said negotiations are under way to bring a new health care facility to the region.

“The closure of Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center is akin to the loss of a health safety net that can’t be replaced,” Sims said. “Yes, it is extremely painful. But, as strong community advocates for everyone’s health care for the last few years, we knew it was inevitable and made preparations for the future. Negotiations for a stronger more updated medical facility with several entities has already begun. These individuals and partnerships are willing to work with the immediate community, the hospital authority and surrounding areas to provide a facility that will serve our people.

“Over the last few decades, several factors have impacted rural health care. As rural populations decrease, there are fewer individuals to attend to with health care needs. There are fewer insured patients, fewer paying patients and less state and federal dollars, even with Medicaid expansion, to provide the millions of dollars needed to keep small rural hospitals operating. There are many other issues that contribute to hospital closures, such as maintenance, operations and recruitment of health care workers. It is extremely difficult to attract and keep medical professionals in rural towns.”

Sims said any new health care facility will most likely not mirror past facilities.

“(The above list is) just a few major reasons that determine the lifespan of today’s rural hospitals,” she said. “We are working hard to preserve the important services that this hospital provided, but future health care projections will not look the same; they will look different.”

Randolph County Board of Commissioners Chairman Wesley L. Williams recently announced that he is seeking solutions and assistance from across the state, including Mercer University Hospital and Andrew College in Cuthbert.

“As chairman of the Randolph County Board of Commissioners, I am reaching out to Mercer University Hospital and/or any other hospital/health center providers who may be interested in helping keep the hospital doors opened,” Williams wrote in a recent letter to from the board. “I feel that we have excellent resources in the county that are willing to collaborate with a health care provider in the fight for sustaining our local hospital.

“A key resource that potentially could help a health center provider interested in managing our hospital is Andrew College. … I can envision Andrew College and a health care provider working together to benefit the provider, college and the entire community, which will make our hospital solvent.”

Asked about working with the Hospital Board, Linda Buchanan, the president of Andrew College, said, “Andrew College is excited to have the presence of an institution like Mercer in our community as a likely health provider and partner in developing health professionals.”

The Randolph County Board of Commissioners is also working to identify resources for new health care opportunities for rural communities that surround the hospital.

“I am as deeply saddened by the closure of the hospital as anyone,” said Steve Whatley, chairman of the Hospital Authority of Randolph County. “The goal of the Hospital Board is to seek a remedy for health care in Randolph and surrounding counties. The board is presently reviewing options that meet health needs of our community.”

Larry Murphy, a member of the Hospital Authority of Randolph County, echoed the Whatley’s sentiments.

“This closure is not taken lightly,” Murphy said. “We must work together as a community to solve this health care issue. After months of discussions with many health care providers, we are fully prepared to move forward.”

Dr. Jean Sumner, the dean of Mercer University’s School of Medicine, also commented on the recent requests made to Mercer and the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center to help ensure a continuation of health care services in Randolph County.

“Mercer University School of Medicine and the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center responded to a request from community, county and state leaders in Randolph County to assist with preservation and continuity of quality healthcare services,” Sumner said. “We are honored by this request and committed to making a significant, sustainable difference in Randolph County. Mercer University School of Medicine, the GRHIC and Mercer Medicine, our faculty practice, look forward to continuing this work and assuring that the good people of this region have access to the highest quality of health care possible.

“The mission of the Mercer University School of Medicine is the education of physicians and health care professionals for rural and underserved Georgia. We take this mission seriously, and we believe rural Georgians should have access to excellent health services locally. This is a wonderful area of Georgia with so many good providers and services that we will try to bring together for the benefit of all Randolph County citizens.”

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