Future docs, patients benefit from AU-Swainsboro hospital deal

Emanuel Medical Center has signed on to be a new teaching site for Medical College of Georgia students, residents and fellows.
Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 12:25 PM EST
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SWAINSBRO, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - On Thursday, Emanuel Medical Center signed on to be a new teaching site for Medical College of Georgia students, residents and fellows.

The partnership is making it easier for patients to have access to primary care doctors in Augusta through telehealth. And community members say a program like this is much needed in a rural community.

“Any access to specialty care is better than what we’ve got,” said Jennie Denmark, who’s lived in Swainsboro for decades.

She says getting access to health care is hard in a small community.

“Specialty care is really a challenge,” she said. “It’s a challenge to get off work and take a whole day to go somewhere. It’s a challenge to pay for gas. It’s a challenge just to get the appointment.”

In rural areas, patients often have to travel to see a doctor. But the partnership could change that through telemedicine.

“We’re able to reach out with telemedicine and provide support to fill in those gaps,” said physician Matt Lyon.

An Augusta University Medical student explains the Peach State Scholar program and its benefits.

Damien Scott, CEO at Emanuel Medical Center, said:

“Now they didn’t have to be far from home, they didn’t have another bill through the ambulance or helicopter they were able to stay close here locally.”

It’s also a learning opportunity for medical students and Peach State Scholars who are committed to working in a rural area after graduating.

“I think this opportunity to have this longitudinal program to help train in a county like this helps us get used to the resources or lack of resources they may encounter with once in practice,” said Luis Rodriguez, a third-year student and Peach State Scholar.

And Denmark says she is hopeful for the future care this program can provide.

“We’re so desperate to have the access. This will be a great opening door to more things to come,” she said. “Hopefully, this will bring people and keep people at home, and let them be treated at home.”

The Peach State Scholars program, launched in 2020, lets selected students finish medical school in three years rather than four and go directly into a primary care residency in Georgia.

In exchange for their commitment to serve in a rural or underserved area of the state, these students will receive a scholarship for tuition, which was made possible by a $5.2 million donation from Peach State Health Plan in 2021.

Gov. Brian Kemp matched Peach State Health Plan’s initial donation to kickstart the program, adding another $5.2 million in funding. In 2022, Kemp and the Georgia General Assembly added $8.7 million more to the program.

The hospital in Swainsboro will be one of many new partners the program hopes to bring on to help educate these students, according to the college.

The Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University is one of the nation’s largest medical schools by class size, with 264 students per class.

Owned by the county and governed by the Emanuel County Hospital Authority, Emanuel Medical Center employs more than 420 people and operates as a not-for-profit facility with operations funded by revenues generated through patient services.