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Designation could mean changes in emergency care in McDuffie County

Doug Keir has been vigorously working for the past year and a half to gain "Critical Access" status for McDuffie Regional Medical Center in Thomson.

As chief executive officer of the local hospital, Mr. Keir's mission isn't over. And though there hasn't been any resolve to his request at present from federal officials, he remains optimistic.

"It seems that the economic climate in Washington, D.C., these days is right and that this is more likely to occur now than it was several months ago," Mr. Keir said in a Monday interview with The McDuffie Mirror. "This status is absolutely necessary for the financial survival of our hospital."

Mr. Keir, who just returned from a two-day meeting with elected officials' aides in Washington last week, said his optimism also is a little brighter after hearing President Barack Obama's speech last week in support of health care reform.

"It excites me to know that he's tackling this issue," Mr. Keir said. "We need to get the best minds together at the table so that we can provide the world the highest quality of health care."

The local hospital executive said he has received support for McDuffie Regional Medical Center getting Critical Access Designation from aides representing U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, as well as U.S. Rep. Paul Broun. Local legislative support for such status also has been received from Sen. Bill Jackson and Rep. Helen "Sistie" Hudson.

He also enlightened local city and county elected officials of the push to gain such status for the hospital during a government retreat held at the University of Georgia Continuing Education Center in Athens last weekend.

"I really appreciate everything these elected officials are doing to help us," Mr. Keir said. "We're getting total support from everybody we've talked to and that makes me feel real good."

Becoming a Critical Access facility would allow the local hospital to receive 101 percent reimbursement for critical care rendered to patients, according to Mr. Keir. Often, patients with serious and critical injuries from traffic mishaps, shootings or stabbings are treated at the emergency room of the local hospital. In many cases, those patients are later transferred to Augusta area hospitals for further care - the local hospital only receiving a relatively small portion of payment for medical services originally rendered.

As one of the 159 hospitals in Georgia, McDuffie Regional Medical Center provides a variety of medical services to several rural counties in the Central Savannah River Area. They include: Warren, Glascock, Jefferson, Taliaferro, Hancock, Wilkes, Lincoln and Columbia counties.

The local hospital is one of 105 such facilities in the state regarded as a more rural serving hospital than an urban one, Mr. Keir explained. Under current guidelines, McDuffie Regional Medical Center is not eligible for Critical Access status because the facility is located less than 35 miles away from larger hospitals in the Augusta area.

Mr. Keir said McDuffie Regional Medical Center is one of 50 such hospitals around the country seeking Critical Access status. He is hoping that Congress will abate the current rule or create exceptions that would allow smaller hospitals to gain such status.

Web posted on Thursday, March 05, 2009

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