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Georgia legislation threatens hospital access that Effingham relies on
Dr. Fran Witt
Dr. Fran Witt - photo by Image submitted

David Bodiford lives with Stage 4 cancer and receives care from the specialists at Effingham Health System.

“My surgeons referred me to the doctors that practice at the Cancer Care Center at Effingham System for chemotherapy,” he said. “It’s only four stoplights from my house, and that’s better than the sixty it takes to get to Savannah. I receive treatment in the morning and I’m back at work in the afternoon.”

Local access to care proved crucial for a young girl named Kaylan, too, after a toe and the side of foot were almost completely ripped off while she was playing on a pool slide.

“We brought her to Effingham because it was close. We needed to stop the bleeding. I didn't realize the level of care that we would receive,” said her mom. “We thought she was going to lose the side of her foot. But they took over. Calmed us, assessed her injuries, and then fixed her foot. She is already back playing soccer. We have never been treated better at a hospital.”

Whether getting regular treatments or needing emergency care, Georgians benefit from having community hospitals close by. In some case it’s a matter of convenience; in others it’s a matter of life and death. The issue is even more acute in rural Georgia where patients might find themselves far from healthcare services if their local hospital has closed.

At Effingham Health System, we’re committed to providing top-notch services right here in our community in clinics like our Cancer Care Center, our Cardiology Center, and our Women’s Health program. Our Emergency Room, staffed by board-certified emergency physicians, treats 18,000 patients per year, supported by Hospitalists, Cardiology, robotic surgery and state of the art imaging. With respected heart and stroke designations, Georgia’s top patient safety award, and national recognition for innovation, we are transforming quality health care close to home.

These assets that mean so much to the people of Effingham County are endangered by legislation under consideration by the Georgia General Assembly right now. SB 162 would repeal a state law that has protected Georgians’ access to hospital care for more than 40 years.

Georgia, like many other states, operates under a Certificate of Need program, under which the Department of Community Health considers applications for providing new healthcare services in a certain location.

Proponents of this legislation argue that CON protects healthcare monopolies and prevents competition that would lower prices. It would be an enticing argument if it weren’t totally false.

The CON law recognizes the fact that nonprofit hospitals like ours don’t function in a “free market.” Hospitals are required by federal law to treat every patient who walks through the door, regardless of ability to pay, and they also treat patients covered by Medicaid, which reimburses hospitals below the cost of care. Hospitals put patients above profits, offering services that lose money but are needed by people in the community.

CON laws are intended to prevent providers from moving into a market served by a hospital and cannibalizing the profitable procedures that give hospitals the margins they need to stay open. Repealing these protections aims to let a few Wall Street investors to get rich while community health suffers as hospitals cut back their offerings or close for good.

Georgia’s CON laws has seen numerous revisions in recent years that have expanded the flexibility of the program. The vast majority of applications to provide new services are approved by DCH. In other words, CON isn’t stopping investments in services that a growing community might need. But the program does provide a needed check from state officials that gives hospitals the stability and predictability that all businesses depend on when making budgets and considering new ventures.

For people like David and Kaylan in our community who benefitted greatly from their proximity to the high-quality care that Effingham Health System offers, we must defeat SB 162. Please stand up for our hospital and other nonprofit hospitals across Georgia by calling your legislators today and asking them to oppose this dangerous legislation.