Region loses 700 jobs, healthcare center with NWGRH closure
by Matt Shinall
Jan 16, 2011 | 2620 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Located in Rome and operated by the state, Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital will shut its doors in June to meet the demands of a federal settlement agreement and budgetary concerns.

The plan was revealed Wednesday as the department presented its annual budget. The hospital employs approximately 760 people and finds roots with a settlement resulting from U.S. Department of Justice findings which included a lack of basic medical care and inadequate professional standards. The settlement called for the closure of one state operated hospital and the addition of community services in its place.

Overseen by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, NWGRH serves those with developmental disabilities as well as mental health patients.

"Part of the budget that was presented on Wednesday calls for us to close one of our hospitals and Rome was really the place that we can do that and still be able to maintain good services for the people that we serve, the people with mental illness as well as the people with developmental disabilities," said Tom Wilson, DBHDD director of communications.

Patients with developmental disabilities will be relocated to community settings within existing state facilities. Mental illness patients will be served by a variety of community services to be created in conjunction with the hospital closure. The state also hopes the proposed services and private care ventures will provide employment opportunities for those laid off by the closure.

"There's about 760 employees. Some of them will have the opportunity to transfer to other hospitals where we need staff but there's also going to be a lot of possibilities come out of the fact that we're building these community services," Wilson said. "We already have in the pipeline, not just plans, but we're in the process of contracting and bidding out several new services."

Those private services will create 35 new beds throughout the region to target needs as well as fund two new 16-bed facilities for crisis care. In total, 67 new beds will be added through private operation to meet the need of mental illness patients who would otherwise be treated at NWGRH.

"On average, we serve about 65 people at a time in Rome -- not always the same 65 people -- but generally with mental illness about 65 people at a time. So that [contracted service] gives us more than enough to care for them. In addition, we'll be putting mobile crisis service teams in action," Wilson said. "It's very important to us that we have the community resources in place before we start to ramp down a hospital."

Some employees will be able to transfer to other facilities, but to aid with the large loss of employment, local legislators have spoken with the Department of Labor to extend services and assist in the transition.

"I just found out about their proposal to close the center late on Wednesday. ... We're planning on meeting with the [DBHDD] commissioner and his staff in the coming days to see if there's anything we can do," said State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville. "I spoke to some of the other legislators last night in the Floyd delegation that had told me that the process had already started so we contacted the Department of Labor just to let them know in case they did go forward with it. We're still trying to assess as much information as possible."

While only one hospital was required to close, Wilson noted that others may be targeted in future consolidations. With the exception of some federal funding and certain funds re-entering the state general funds, approximately $30 million will be reinvested into the Department from the loss of NWGRH.

"As we move forward with the settlement agreement we will need fewer and fewer hospitals so we will be looking at other places where we can consolidate over time," Wilson said.