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Health Link may be closed: Hospital officials hope membership drive will help alleviate funding shorftalls

Having a healthy McDuffie County has been the goal of a local wellness center for over 15 years. But that may come to an end in the very near future.

McDuffie Regional Medical Center CEO Doug Keir confirmed last Thursday that Health Link

  • " a division of the hospital
  • " will most likely be forced to close its doors in the coming months.

    A majority of rural hospitals in Georgia are struggling to make ends meet with the rising cost of health care for the uninsured. And according to Health Link General Manager Dede Keir, MRMC can no longer afford to shoulder the burden of keeping the wellness center afloat.

    "We're doing everything we can to see if we can continue its operation," Mr. Keir said after mentioning a letter sent to County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton offering the sale of the facility to the county.

    Mr. Keir said he hopes Health Link will eventually be put under the banner of the Recreation Department, but if not, the Hospital Authority will decide the wellness center's fate during its July meeting.

    A group of Health Link members, elected officials and community members met Wednesday to brainstorm possible ways to save the facility. Keeping Health Link open is something Chairman Newton hopes will happen even though he will recommend not purchasing the facility to commissioners.

    "I think any time you can have people exercising and stay healthy, it's valuable. I just don't know that the county should get into running a health organization," Mr. Newton said, adding that closing Health Link to ensure the hospital itself stays open may be the right move.

    Health Link is still planning on moving forward with a membership drive during the month of July. Money paid for memberships during the drive would be refunded should the doors close, but hospital officials are holding out a faint hope that a large influx of new members could save the facility.

    "It would take a lot right now," Mrs. Keir said.

    She also said closing the doors would have an adverse affect on the 75 percent of Health Link members who utilize the center in some way because their doctors advised them to.

    "It's going to have a huge affect," she said. "We've just got so many people that come here that need this not only as an outlet but also for the different problems that they have, anything from diabetes to high cholesterol."

    But the other 25 percent of the members who like to work out are upset over the potential closing as well. Thomson native Julie Tyler has been a member at Health Link off and on since 1997. She exercised there even during holidays and summers during her college career at the University of Georgia.

    "I think it's unfortunate, and I would hate it if they had to close down, one, because it's a business, and it provides people with jobs. But also, where are we going to work out?" she said.

    Web posted on Thursday, July 7, 2005

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