Hospitals continue to close in rural communities

Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019
News 12 at 6/ NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga (WRDW/WAGT) -- If you live in rural Georgia, it's no secret that healthcare can be a struggle. From no emergency rooms to hospitals closing all together, Georgia is just one of the many states trying to figure out how to improve healthcare in vulnerable communities.

It's a double-edged sword; doctors don't want to move to hospitals with limited resources, so there's not only limited care, but limited staff.

Emergency specialists at AUMC are training rural emergency physicians on how to work with what you've got.

Some doctors call it the corridor of death.

"We have probably 5 or 6 staff emergency physicians," Dr. Jeff Cohan said.

Doctor Jeff Cohan is an emergency physician in one of the many rural communities in Georgia where the places to go in an emergency are few and far in between.

"We have a limited number of specialists on staff. Total number of medical staff? Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of about 50."

From here to Savannah there's no hospital where you can deliver a baby and there's no trauma center.

"We have all the resources to practice quality emergency medicine here, but not if you go 10 to 15 miles outside of Augusta in any direction," Stephen Shiver, a professor of Emergency Medicine at Augusta University said.

It's the same in South Carolina too. Communities like Bamberg and Barnwell haven't had emergency rooms. Their hospitals shut down years ago leaving some people more than 45 minutes away from medical care.

"If someone came in with a severe head injury, for example, from a motor vehicle accident, they wouldn't have ready access to trauma surgery, they wouldn't have ready access to neurosurgery," Professor Shiver said.

Doctor Jeff Cohan says training like what they're getting at AUMC is essential to saving lives.

"We have very limited resources," Dr. Cohan said. "We see a variety of patients and have a significant morbidity and mortality in patients that we have to initially resuscitate, stabilize, but ultimately transfer them."

This has been a problem for years locally in Bamberg and Barnwell. They can't afford to build and sustain a stand-alone full-service hospital. They're trying a new type of healthcare that they hope will be the future for rural communities. It's a freestanding emergency department,