Financial difficulties have forced a number of hospitals in Georgia to close in recent years, and some health care experts predict another dozen or more could close this year.
However, the outlook is much brighter for Effingham Health System.
Effingham Health is steadily increasing its number of employees and its economic impact on the community, according to a study conducted by Georgia Southern University’s Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development.
“I would not be honest to say I’m surprised,” said Effingham Health CEO Norma Jean Morgan. “We have worked for this. We have worked every year with a goal that we would meet these expectations.”
According to the report, EHS has created 97 new jobs since 2012, the year Effingham Health completed an extensive remodeling and expansion of its campus. That was 26 more jobs than hospital officials had predicted when they contracted for their first study with BBRED in 2010.
Employment in Effingham County increased by roughly 600 people, or by 2.4 percent, from 2010-14, Georgia Southern’s report stated. During that same timeframe, employment at Effingham Health grew by 21.5 percent.
“I do believe, if there’s one thing that we do successfully, we have an environment where people work like they own it,” Morgan said. “We’ve been successful in creating an environment that people enjoy working. No matter where you are in this organization, people work like they own it.”
Unlike some hospitals that are closing, Morgan said, Effingham Health has benefitted from a stable workforce and stable executive staff. Also, the additional jobs have included a number of new doctors being brought on board.
“We’ve been successful in recruiting physicians, physicians, physicians — which is the No. 1 thing that all hospitals must do,” Morgan said.
BBRED reported that, in 2010, Effingham Health System had 306 sustained jobs and a $15.2 million gross regional product, the amount the hospital generates to be spent within the regional economy. By last year, the figures had grown to 412 jobs and a $22.5 million gross regional product impact.
Effingham County more than doubled its population from 1990 to 2014, to an estimated 54,456 people. A growth boom is expected in the coming years due to factors such as the Savannah port expansion and the construction of Moon River Studios’ massive movie production complex in Effingham.
“This is a rural community, this is a rural hospital, but it’s also a growing community,” said Dominique Halaby, the BBRED director. “A lot of other areas that have rural hospitals and have difficulties and challenges in their rural environment, they’re in a declining community. Here, you’re having an enormous amount of growth, enormous amount of opportunity, and so it’s allowing for this to continue to build.”
The study pointed to the importance of having accessible, quality health care in a growing county such as Effingham. Also, rural economies tend to rely heavily on small businesses and self-employed workers.
Typically, a worker’s absence has a more adverse effect on a small business than a large company. In Effingham County, 614 of the 672 private businesses (or 91 percent) employ 19 or fewer workers, according to BBRED data.
“The ability of their workers to have reliable and accessible health care is crucial not only to the firms’ economic survival, but to the economic growth of the entire county,” the report stated.
When BBRED conducted its first analysis in 2010, Effingham Health was beginning its expansion. The university researchers returned last year to compare Effingham Health’s projections in 2010 to its actual results in 2014.
“To have that level of transparency and accountability, I think is phenomenal,” Halaby said. “From our perspective, you really have to respect an organization that, for better or worse, is going to say, ‘This is what we said we were going to do. Now go back and double-check.’”
Added Morgan: “I think the most exciting thing is that I can say, ‘Yes, a job well-done.’ We did do what we said we were going to do, and we even exceeded that. And it was because of a lot of moving pieces and a lot of people that made it happen."