Rural hospitals struggling to stay open

Medical background / Photo: Wesley Wilson / (MGN)

CALHOUN COUNTY, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Six months after Hurricane Michael, hospitals in rural parts of the Panhandle are still struggling to stay open, but a proposed $1.2 million cut to the rural Panhandle hospitals' budgets are adding insult to injury.

Hurricane Michael closed all but the emergency room at one 25-bed hospital in rural Calhoun County. Ester Stoltzfus is the hospital’s quality risk manager. She pointed to a closed-off portion of the hospital. “So much damage, that is permanently closed off," she told us.

Electricians were at work Friday, and sandbags still hold down the building's temporary roof. Instead of 25 beds, right now, only ten are usable.

“We feel like we’ve been forgotten,” said Mark Plummer, the hospital’s board chairman.

“We’ve been lost in the shuffle," said Board Member Tim Revell.

Now, this and other hospitals are facing a double whammy; a proposed three percent cut in Medicaid reimbursements.

Monica Corbett of the Florida Hospital Association says the cuts will hurt those who need help the most. “Those are funds that are used to care for people who are low income, disabled, the elderly, children” Corbett told us.

The cuts could be the difference between this and other rural hospitals staying open or closing their doors.

“You know, our income has been reduced. We’re having to borrow money to keep operations going. And if they cut us even more, it’s just going to cripple us more than we are even now,” Plummer said.

Unable to accept more than 10 patients, the overflow is being forced into bigger city hospitals, which face the same cuts.

“We’re sending them to Marianna, Tallahassee, Panama City,” said Revell.

The Hospital Association is pushing back, running television and digital ads with the theme “cuts don’t heal” and using sound bites from the state's political leaders, including the Speaker of the House.

“I’ve seen the devastation. It’s obviously very important to all members in the Chamber,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva in the spot.

And despite promises that the hurricane-torn part of the state won’t be forgotten, that’s what many people here believe has happened.