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Jenkins County hospital closing
Medical center in Millen cites economic pressures

Another rural hospital is closing its doors in Georgia.

Jenkins (County) Medical Center in Millen will close in June, and its services will merge with a hospital in Sylvania in neighboring Screven County, the hospitals’ owner, Optim Health System, said Tuesday.

The two hospitals are about 20 miles from each other in east Georgia, roughly midway between Augusta to the north and Savannah to the south.

Optim, in a news release about the decision to shut down the facility, cited “the impact of costly needed infrastructure upgrades at the Jenkins Medical Center, cuts in Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements, and a decrease in patient activity to non-sustainable levels.”

Jenkins will become the seventh rural hospital to close in Georgia since the beginning of 2013. Many other such hospitals are financially imperiled. Two of those that closed have been revived as medical facilities but no longer function as full-fledged hospitals.

The decision to merge Jenkins’ staff and operations into Optim Medical Center-Screven will eliminate about 55 full-time and part-time positions, said the company, based in Savannah.

“After careful consideration and with no workable alternatives, we made the difficult decision to close our Jenkins Medical Center,” Bob Sellers, CEO of Optim’s Jenkins and Screven facilities, said in a statement. “We wish this wasn’t necessary, but after a lengthy analysis, running Jenkins with accelerating financial losses, and the challenges posed by its aging facility, we had no other options.

“Patient safety and quality care are our highest priorities, and we believe that combining all medical services from Jenkins into Screven will enable us to best serve the regions’ long-term health care needs,” he said.

Sellers told GHN on Tuesday that the decision came after a long analysis of the financial situation of the Jenkins hospital, a 25-bed “critical access” facility.

The problems facing Jenkins Medical Center are similar to those of rural hospitals across the state, said Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals in the state.

Lewis told GHN that the hospital saw payment reductions from government programs and an increase in “self-pay” patients, or those who are uninsured or underinsured.

“They didn’t have the population or the reimbursement to carry it,” Lewis said. The hospital, he added, “needed a lot of capital for infrastructure needs.”

“It won’t be the last [rural hospital] to close,” Lewis said.

Georgia’s decision not to expand Medicaid has hurt the hospital industry, health care experts say. Expansion would cover more low-income people and mean more reimbursement for the hospitals that treat them, but the state’s political leadership has rejected the move, citing budgetary reasons.

Optim said it will continue to provide primary medical care to the residents of Millen and Jenkins County with two physicians, a nurse practitioner and a staff of 14 additional professionals at its Millen primary care center.

The Jenkins Medical Center will remain open for the next 60 days.

“We are sorry this decision will result in job loss, and we are committed to helping those affected by this transition,” said David Castleberry, CEO of Optim Health System. “I want to thank all our Jenkins Medical Center employees for the outstanding care they gave to so many patients for so many years. We are grateful for their excellent work and their dedication to our patients and the community.”

Optim, which also includes a hospital in Tattnall County in southeast Georgia, is owned by National Surgical Healthcare, based in Chicago.

Sellers said the meeting with employees about the closure was very difficult.

“Some employees have been there for a very long time,” he said. “Most understood why the decision was made.” But he added, “It was very sad for them to hear their hospital is closing.”

Eligible employees at Jenkins Medical Center whose jobs have been eliminated may receive severance pay, and all employees will receive assistance in their search for other work, Optim said. Additionally, all employees whose jobs have been eliminated will be considered for open positions at Optim’s remaining medical centers and clinics.


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