METTER, GA (WTOC) - How important is a small town hospital? It's a question being asked across rural Georgia.
A study of Candler County Hospital by Georgia Southern University shows the impact the hospital has on the local economy as well as the costs on the local tax base. The hospital gets part of its funding from city and county governments and debate has gone on for years about whether the community still needs a hospital. Administrators say rural hospitals see fewer paying customers as many go to larger cities for treatment, but they still shoulder the costs for indigent patient care.
"The tax base is shrinking, the population is shrinking a little. Plus, the population is aging as well," said Dave Flanders, Hospital CEO.
Some think the community can't afford to keep it open while others say they can't afford to let it close. You don't see long lines going in and out. It's struggled to stay open and now, more and more insured patients go out of town to bigger hospitals. Meanwhile, those who can't afford to pay still go to Metter for treatment.
"The indigent care eats us alive, just like a lot of other hospitals," said Larry Hadden, Hospital Board Vice Chair. "We get some reimbursement. It's not enough."
The hospital relies on city and county funding to stay open. In 2008, voters supported the idea of higher taxes if needed to support the hospital more. In 2016, voters rejected the idea. A public meeting Monday night will go over results of the study done by Georgia Southern. Hospital administrators say it shows the hospital as one of the larger employers in the county and a part of the community too vital to lose.
"The number of employees is significant. The overall trickle-down economic impact to other local businesses is very significant," Flanders said.
The study showed the hospital brings 245 jobs and $21 million to the economy.
They're also providing emergency medical care - something that often can't wait for a drive out of town.