The Georgia HEART Hospital Program, Emanuel Medical Center, and you: The basics

by | August 22, 2019 12:53 pm

by HALEI LAMB

This is the first installment of a series detailing the Georgia HEART Hospital Program’s direct effects on Emanuel Medical Center. Over the next few months, the local hospital will be publicizing donor stories, the results of their contributions, care provider profiles, information about the HEART program’s statewide impact, and more. This introductory piece is to inform the public about the basics of the program and how you, too, can become involved.

Ben Franklin was onto something when he said that nothing in this world can be certain except death and taxes. With Georgia’s HEART Hospital Program, though, Mr. Franklin might be interested to know that even taxes aren’t certain—at least, not how you pay them.

It’s not a secret that Georgia’s rural hospitals have been in despair for many years now. Demographic, economic, and healthcare industry challenges have affected nearly every rural hospital in the Peach State, including our own Emanuel Medical Center (EMC). This crisis jeopardized the access to adequate healthcare for constituents in those respective areas, so state legislators created a viable solution for hospitals who are committed to helping themselves.

In 2016, the general assembly and then-governor Nathan Deal signed State Bill 258, the Georgia HEART Hospital Program, into law. Also known as the “tax credit program,” the essence of it is literally in its name. Its purpose is to “Help Enhance Access to Rural Treatment” by allowing Georgia taxpayers to reroute their state taxes to a rural hospital of their choice, thereby increasing the medical center’s funding and ability to provide better healthcare.

Emanuel Medical Center hired Marty Ray in 2016 ahead of the program’s effective date to help prepare for success. Although the first three years have been great, he’s now trying to raise awareness about the program because more money remains on the table for the hospital’s taking.

Because the program was intended to benefit rural hospitals, the language of SB 258 creates specific qualifications for participants. For starters, the hospital must be owned by a local county government/entity to be eligible; private hospitals are not considered. The hospital must accept Medicare and Medicaid as well, and the service area must be populated by 50,000 people or less. As a rough guideline, hospitals south of Interstate 16, with a few outliers like medical facilities in mountain towns in the northern part of the state and in the suburban areas between Macon and Atlanta, count for the majority of the participants.

Sixty rural hospitals are competing for a pool of $60 million that has been set aside annually since the program’s inception, allowing for an average of $1 million apiece. However, each of those hospitals can claim up to $4 million. To probe each hospital to work for those funds, the program operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. If one hospital snatches $4 million, that particular hospital will, in fact, receive all of those funds. If 14 other hospitals followed suit, it’s possible that the remaining 45 hospitals would be left with nothing.  There is a $2 million limit per hospital in the first six months of the year, however.

Enter Marty. He does the legwork for Emanuel Medical Center, working with donors and tax professionals to seek out those $4 million to which our local hospital is eligible.

“The important thing for Emanuel County to know is that we have this money we can get—but we have to go get it. It’s not just going to happen. The state isn’t going to say, ‘Oh, you don’t have enough money. Let’s just give it to you.’ Emanuel Medical will only receive what we go out and get.”

Bearing that in mind, Marty’s been hard at work for the last three years. The first year, Emanuel Medical received approximately $250,000 in donations. That number shot up to $950,000 in the second year.    

Most of those funds, he says, have been used for capital improvements to increase the quality of care the hospital can provide. Emanuel Surgical Associates now has a new, small x-ray machine in the office, and the old obstetrics unit upstairs has been converted to Emanuel Healthcare, a primary care clinic with urgent care hours accepting…

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