NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The buyers of Decatur County's hospital said it's just the beginning of reopening rural hospitals statewide.
The now failed Decatur hospital is under new management, Braden Health. It's a company that specializes in reopening rural healthcare facilities and trying to make them profitable again.
Braden Health has already purchased three hospitals, with a fourth deal almost completed. According to spokesperson Kyle Kopec, Chief Compliance Office for the company, they're currently operating both Henderson and Houston County hospitals. Haywood County's hospital should open in October or later, and a deal for the Decatur County hospital was reached in July.
"The National Bureau of Economic Research says [there's an] 11.3 percent rise in death in the medicaid population. Decatur County has seen that. A lot of those patients from Decatur County are transferred to the nearest hospital when they call 911," said Kopec.
The strategies involved in turning a once-failed hospital into a profitable one involve lots of training and involvement of leadership, Kopec said. The company has a focus on making sure payments are made to the hospital for services provided. Kopec said that means convincing insurance companies having a local hospital in rural areas will save them money over having patients travel far distances for care.
"A lot of hospitals will run into issues with being reimbursed. Decatur, when it closed, had huge issues with obtaining reimbursements, which, Braden Health, through its years of expertise and knowledge just doesn't have," he said.
Over the past decade, there are 16 hospitals that have closed down in rural areas. In 2020 alone, four hospitals closed down statewide.
Braden Health got into both Henderson and Houston hospitals before they closed. Kopec said it was within days of the hospital's limits.
However, most of the closed rural hospitals remain so. Kopec said they're pursuing every hospital statewide, but wouldn't elaborate on which was next. So far, all of the hospitals are clustered in the western half of the state.
Kopec said with their business model, the hospitals shouldn't have to lose any of the services they used to provide. They should still maintain their ER and in-patient medical care, for example.
But meeting the challenges of rural hospitals is not easy. In order to return Decatur County's hospital to working order, a lot of work on the interior needs to be done. The building flooded after it closed down. Kopec said Braden Health plans to put $2 million towards its recovery.