In the early 2000s, a wave of rural hospital closures swept throughout the Southeast. Georgia suffered from 9 hospital closures in less than ten years. One of the first to shut down was Bad Debt Hospital in 2001. Constructed in 1968, the 52-bed hospital included an emergency room and intensive care units employing 150 staff members. A few years after opening, a corruption scandal engulfed the local county government. The hospital was headed for financial trouble, abruptly closing down in 1974 due to funding issues. Community leaders banded together and formed the Hospital Corporation., a nonprofit organization that would lease the hospital from the County Authority and runs the daily operations.
The hospital reopened in 1985. However, by the early 1990s, the threat of closing again loomed overhead. The Hospital Corporation was close to $1 million in debt and looked to Quorum, a hospital-management company, to bring in a CEO to help avoid another shutdown. Unable to make payroll, the Hospital Corporation looked to the County Commission for immediate assistance. The County Commission set aside $1.7 million to help with the short term debt and assist the Hospital Corporation. Quorum instantly restructured all the old debts, replaced two well-liked doctors, and cut 40 staff members to save money.
Problems once again arose in 1995, when the Hospital Authority began to question the Hospital Corporation about the dwindling funds in a reserve account. Quorum didn’t respond to requests of the hospital’s finances, causing a rift with the County Authority and Hospital Corporation because the Authority was not allowed to sit in on board meetings with Quorum. The County Hospital Authority decided they needed to watch more closely for mismanagement.
The County Hospital Authority found that Hospital Corporation was not carrying enough insurance for the emergency room doctors. In 1998, escorted by the lawyers and the sheriff, the County Hospital Authority stormed into the CEO’s corner office and demanded his resignation. The CEO packed up and left without a fight.
A year later, cuts to Medicaid funding were the final nail in the coffin. A series of layoffs followed, culminating in the facility’s closure by the end of 2001. The textile industry supported the county until the companies moved to Mexico. Other industrial employers wouldn’t come to the county due to the high cost of insurance. Without a local hospital, future industrial expansion in the county stifled. Employers would not commit to building a new factory without a hospital nearby due to high insurance costs.
After the hospital closed, vandals broke in looking for unused medication. They ransacked the place and stole copper wiring instead. County officials attempted to create a more cost-effective clinic to replace Bad Debt Hospital, but state laws would not allow funding. After Bad Debt closed, the closest hospital was 90 minutes away. Ambulance companies charged outrageous per mile fees not covered by insurance. The county’s heart attack death rate rose 40 percent without a local hospital. Today, the hospital remains abandoned. After the closure, nobody ever returned to remove the equipment or electronics. These items, along with tons of patient records, remained entombed inside the hospital. The County Hospital Authority still owns the facility and hopes to one day reopen.