In the early 2000s, a wave of rural hospital closures swept throughout the Southeast. Georgia suffered from nine hospital closures in less than ten years. In 2001, one of the first to shut down was Bad Debt Hospital. 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 came together and formed the Hospital Corporation., a nonprofit that would lease the hospital from the County Authority and run the daily operations.
In 1985, Bad Debt Hospital reopened. However, by the early 1990s, the threat of closing once again loomed overhead. The nonprofit was a $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 asked the County Commission for immediate assistance. The County Commission set aside $1.7 million to assist and help with the short-term debt. Quorum instantly restructured all the old debts, replaced two well-liked doctors, and cut forty staff members to save money.
Ten years later, in 1995, problems once again arose when the Hospital Authority began to question the nonprofit about the dwindling funds in a reserve account. Quorum didn’t respond to requests for 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 the nonprofit organization was not carrying enough insurance for the emergency room doctors. In 1998, escorted by the lawyers and the county 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. Without a nearby hospital, other industrial employers refused to come to the county due to the high cost of insurance.
After Bad Debt Hospital closed, vandals broke in looking for unused medication. They ransacked the building and stole copper wiring instead. County officials attempted to create a more cost-effective clinic to replace the closed hospital, but state laws would not allow funding. Without a local hospital, the county’s death rate rose by 40%. Ambulance companies charge outrageous per mile fees not covered by insurance. After the closure, the county hoped to reopen the facility. Nobody ever returned to remove the equipment or electronics. These items, along with tons of patient records, remained entombed inside the abandoned hospital.
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