The Aug. 21 editorial, “State should look for ways to help rural hospitals”, underscored the dire situation facing many community hospitals. It highlighted four major areas of concern:

1. Increasing numbers of rural hospitals are shutting their doors.

2. Closures create a health care void, which is especially troubling during a pandemic.

3. Rural hospital closures place additional burdens on metropolitan hospitals.

4. All of this is happening as Georgia’s population increases.

As chief operating officer and general counsel for Southeast Georgia Health System, this issue is never far from my thoughts. Along with our CEO and President Michael D. Scherneck and other health system leaders, I oversee operational initiatives to make sure we maintain quality care.

Glynn County and Camden County residents expect us to be there for them when they need us most. As a not-for-profit health system, we care for everyone, regardless of financial circumstances. Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid cover some costs, but shrinking reimbursements do not begin to address all of the expenses involved in life-saving medical care.

Like other rural hospitals around the state, our health system experienced substantial decreases in revenue due to the coronavirus. When the pandemic began, we postponed elective surgeries and procedures, as did our physician practices.

Despite these challenges, we remained committed to providing safe, quality, accessible and cost-effective care to meet the needs of the communities we serve. This requires that we continually maintain and improve services, facilities and technology, all of which carries a very high price tag.

The good news is that the very citizens who benefit from rural health services can improve their hometown hospitals. The Georgia General Assembly took an important step toward making this possible when it enacted Georgia HEART (Helping Enhance Access to Rural Treatment). This program gives Georgia taxpayers and C-Corporations a 100 percent state income tax credit when they donate funds to qualifying hospitals, which includes our health system’s Camden Campus.

By allocating what they would pay in state income tax to the HEART program, taxpayers can help rural hospitals add services and technology, recruit physicians and provide health programs and screenings. Your friends and neighbors who previously participated in HEART helped bring 3-D mammography and a wound care center to the Camden Campus. We will direct 2020 HEART funds to the departments most impacted by the pandemic.

The new virus has many of us feeling powerless. HEART restores some of that power by allowing us to improve health care without straining our finances. It is easy to put your taxes to work in your local community. Just complete the short application at sghs.org/ga-tax-credit or georgiaheart.org. The five minutes it takes to complete the application makes a big difference for your hometown hospitals.

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