News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011
MCDUFFIE COUNTY, Ga. -- Big changes are coming for a local hospital that's been struggling to pay the bills.
It looks like another hospital is going to step up and bail the McDuffie County hospital out -- but some worry that's going to cause another kind of trouble.
The plan is to help business, but some say it many only hurt theirs.
For 11 years, Angie Stadler has filled prescriptions at her pharmacy right next to McDuffie Regional Medical Center.
"My customers are the people I have known my whole life so I think I can service them better," Stadler said.
And she is worried that hospital's new partnership with the University Healthcare System could change that.
"If it does move, you have your doctors that are following it, possibly we would have to follow," she said.
She says she has customers who won't want to make the extra drive.
"We have on this side access to Warren County, Jefferson County and Glascock County, and I have customers from all of those areas, and a lot of them don't like to do out towards the interstate, they just don't," she said.
The plan is for University to take over the McDuffie hospital and keep it open while they build a new facility across town.
Local leaders say they will make sure the existing one stays open in some way.
"We simply can't afford to have a shutdown big box on one of the main entrances to our community; we are going to make sure that does not happen," said Charlie Newton, the chairman of McDuffie County Board of Commissioners.
Newton says they have explored all the other options, but this is the best.
"The bad news for the hospital is if this deal with University didn't work, it is very, very, very likely that in order to keep this hospital open, it would have taken taxpayers funds like in many other small communities across the state," Newton said.
Adding the new hospital could bring in more services and increase the number of patients.
"The money the hospital makes on the customers; that pay has been enough to make up for those who can't afford to pay up until about three years ago," he said.
But for Stadler, the change could be a tough pill to swallow.
"I am just concerned about this side of town; if that happens, I am really afraid we are going to have a ghost town," she said.
This switch is still a long way away, but University hopes to have more final plans by end of January.
And before everything moves forward, it has to be approved by the state attorney general to make sure the change is in the best interest of the patients.
University also plans to let current employees stay on as long as they are qualified. Pay and benefits would be about the same.
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