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Senator supports PGH referendum

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    State Sen. Burt Jones, third from left, listens to Putnam General Hospital’s COVID Command Team as they outline the hospital’s struggles. JORDAN MEAKER/Staff
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    Jones refers to Putnam General Hospital as “A vital asset for the community, whether you’re attracting new businesses, new people, new professionals, whatever it might be.” JORDAN MEAKER/Staff

State Sen. Burt Jones met with medical and community leaders on Tuesday, Oct. 6, to discuss the importance of maintaining rural hospitals and express his support for the upcoming Putnam General Hospital referendum on the November ballot.

Jones held a roundtable with the hospital’s COVID Command Team to hear about the hospital’s struggles and the red tape it must go through for reimbursement of costs. As a founder and former president of his own insurance company, Jones offered his help and connections to the hospital in its struggle to receive proper compensation from insurance companies.

Alan Horton, CEO of Putnam General Hospital, explained the hospital’s upcoming referendum to Sen. Jones. The hospital’s referendum seeks to raise property taxes one mill for a period of six years or until $7.8 million dollars has accrued, whichever occurs first, for the retirement of debt with Navicent Health.

Horton explained the factors that contribute to the origins of the debt to Sen. Jones, such as how 90% of patients pay less than the cost of providing care due to utilizing Medicare, Medicaid, Anthem Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, or falling under the category of indigent care. PGH was nearly on the verge of closing about five years ago until it entered into a consulting relationship with Navicent Health in order to prevent the hospital from closing, leading to debts that need to be paid off to Navicent.

“We’re not alone; it’s all rural hospitals. We’re all suffering financially,” Horton said.

Sen. Jones commented on the advantages of Putnam County as compared to other struggling rural hospitals.

“What’s different in Putnam than a lot of other small counties that have not been able to support a hospital is that you’re not in a declining area,” Jones said. “This area of middle Georgia, percentage-wise, the population is projected to outpace what the metro area is doing. That’s pretty significant growth for a small community.”

Jones also shared a personal connection with the issue of struggling rural hospitals as he grew up in Butts County, where his local hospital also nearly closed. He said the community rallied around the hospital, and a Texas company entered a management agreement with the hospital, ensuring it would stay open.

“It is a vital asset for the community, whether you’re attracting new businesses, new people, new professionals, whatever it might be,” Jones said. “There’s a short list of what people are looking for: they look at quality of life, school systems, access to things like good services, and healthcare. If you lack any of those things, it puts you at a competitive disadvantage.”

Jones expressed his full support for the PGH referendum. Putnam County voters will have the opportunity to vote on the referendum and many began voting this week, as early voting kicked off on Oct. 12.

“I’m here to help in any way I can to make sure that the hospital is sustainable and long-term profitable and that it will continue to be an asset for the community,” Jones said.