- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the Department of Community Health on Wednesday announced several proposals meant to improve access to health care in rural areas.

Deal said in a statement that he plans to change certain rules and regulations regarding hospital licensing. The changes would allow rural facilities to cut back services if they’re in danger of closing, Deal said.

“Rural hospitals are struggling financially and have been for many years; we have witnessed a handful of them close in recent times,” Deal said. “When they shut their doors, it’s not only bad for health care access but also for the local economies.”

One of the proposals calls for freestanding emergency departments to offer emergency services before transferring patients to full service hospitals no more than 35 miles away. Rural facilities could also choose to offer elective outpatient surgeries, some OB/GYN services and certain procedures that don’t require an operating room, Deal said.

The governor said he also plans to select a Department of Community Health rural health care liaison, and will establish a Rural Hospitals Stabilization Committee to identify health care needs in rural communities.

“These communities should not have to go without crucial services, many of them lifesaving,” the statement said. “I am confident that these proposals will … ensure that every Georgian is reasonably close to a health care provider should a need or emergency arise.”