AUGUSTA, Ga. (Jan. 3, 2017) – The Augusta University Rural Hospital Task Force, convened in 2016 by President Brooks A. Keel in response to the closure of more than eight of Georgia’s rural hospitals since 2001, half within the past three years – has developed recommendations for how the academic health center can assist in the sustainability of the state’s rural hospitals.
“As the state of Georgia’s only public academic health center, and a leader in health care policy – Augusta University is committed to improved health for all Georgians,” Keel said in his initial charge to the committee.
The Task Force included 24 faculty and staff of Augusta University, and was supported by a grant from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation. The Task Force solicited input from a wide array of persons with expertise and experience in rural health care.
Primary recommendations included:
- The establishment of a Center of Rural Health at Augusta University that will serve as a resource for education and training for rural hospital providers and CEOs across the state.
- Expanded educational programming through the Medical College of Georgia to include added residency slots in the college’s rural training track program.
- Increased academic offerings focused on rural health and hospital management aimed at producing more qualified, competent health care business executives.
- New and enhanced residency programs to train physicians assistants and advanced practice nurses to work independently as hospitalists or in the emergency departments of rural hospitals.
- Policy changes in the areas of telemedicine, swing-bed funding and the use of non-physician care providers.
Dr. William P. Kanto, Jr., chair of the task force and vice president for clinical outreach at Augusta University, said the recommendations capitalize on the academic health center’s specialized expertise in education and clinical care.
“Our real value is in our statewide reach and our ability to combine education, research and practice to improve overall health,” he said. “Our recommendations are based on our knowledge of diseases that disproportionally affect the health of Georgians, our statewide network of medical campuses and partner hospitals, and our experience with rural facilities and telemedicine technologies.”
The university already has established clinical partnerships in many Georgia communities, including satellite medical campuses in Albany, Rome, Savannah and Athens, and acute-care and long-term rehabilitation hospitals in Warm Springs. In addition, faculty treat patients at about 80 clinics and hospitals outside of Augusta.
“The state of Georgia is our campus,” Keel said. “We must provide expertise to help meet the critical health care needs of all of its citizens.”
Rural hospitals provide health care and critical care to 20 percent of Americans, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 percent of 35 million hospitalizations are in rural hospitals.
“Our role as the state’s academic health center is to provide Georgia’s rural hospitals with the tools they need to be successful,” said Lee Ann Liska, CEO of Augusta University Medical Center and executive vice president of health affairs for the university. “We look forward to working with hospitals across the state to improve patient outcomes by pairing local expertise with the latest research and clinical technologies.”
According to a report from the Governor’s Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, an approximate 1.8 million Georgians are now at a greater risk of negative health and economic hardship due to the loss of local acute-care services.