CAMDEN, Ala. (AP) - A hospital serving one of Alabama’s poorest and most rural counties is scheduled to close by Sept. 1, citing falling population, poverty and low reimbursement by Medicaid and Medicare.
George Alford, board chairman of Camden’s J. Paul Jones Hospital, told WSFA-TV that the hospital is losing $1 million annually.
“The economy in this county is so bad it’s hard to support it,” Alford said.
Board members plan to convert the 60-year-old hospital to an urgent care center and continue operating ambulance service in Wilcox County, population 11,000.
As many as 40 employees could lose jobs. The nearest hospitals - in Monroeville, Greenville, Selma and Grove Hill - are all about a 50-minute drive from Camden.
“We’re just such a vital part of this community and in such a large area that we serve,” said Sheila Roe, a nurse at J. Paul Jones.
Wilcox County typically has among the highest jobless rates in Alabama, making the loss of jobs acute. It had Alabama’s highest unemployment rate in June, at 15.3 percent.
A 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation paper found that when a rural hospital closes, access to emergency care is cut, physicians leave town and it’s harder for patients to see specialists. The paper found transportation was more of an issue for elderly and low-income residents, making them more likely to delay or skip needed medical care.
Gov. Kay Ivey, a Camden native, said there isn’t much she could do to save the hospital, calling it a “difficult decision” in a statement. Alabama’s Republican leaders have mostly opposed expanding the state-federal Medicaid program to cover more people, a move which has aided hospital revenues in other states.
It would be the sixth Alabama rural hospital to close since 2010, according to researchers with the University of North Carolina Rural Heath Research Program. The others that have closed are in Clanton, Elba, Florala, Roanoke and Thomasville.
Officials in Thomasville, 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Camden, announced plans two years ago to build a new hospital there, but work has been delayed.
Information from: WSFA-TV, https://www.wsfa.com/
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