Lack of timely access to medical care in rural Georgia has been a problem for so long you can't even call it a crisis; it's more of a chronic condition.
That chronic condition becomes an acute one when the issue is emergency care. In literally life-or-death situations, that critical first half-hour medical professionals recognize as an informal but crucial survival interval has lapsed before an unfortunate victim of illness or trauma gets halfway there.
Georgia has tried to address this deplorable state of affairs before. Newly minted doctors, nurses and other health professionals sometimes agree to work in underserved areas for a specified time in exchange for having their student debt reduced or forgiven. The state has set up more regional trauma centers to make critical care more accessible for more Georgians.
Those things help -- but not enough.
Now a middle Georgia lawmaker has offered another possibility that even he admits needs fine-tuning, and which might not make it through the current fast-track legislative session. But it's worth a try.
Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, has suggested that the state set up small emergency rooms -- Lucas calls them urgent care or "stabilization" centers -- where people can get whatever immediate treatment is possible before being sent on to hospitals, if that is necessary.
Lucas is as familiar with the problem as our neighbors in southwest Georgia. His district includes all or parts of five rural counties, including Hancock, whose only hospital has been closed for years.
At least a couple of professionals in the field have responded positively. Julie Windom of the nonprofit Status Healthcare, said the senator's idea "may be part of a larger plan" for rural medicine. And Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, said such centers "are something we need to look at We need to see what the models are in other states."
Unlike hospitals, these stabilization centers, as Lucas conceives the idea, would be exempt from some state regulations.
Also unlike hospitals, they would not make money. They will cost money, which is where the proposal stalls. But Lucas doesn't accept money as a valid excuse not to act on behalf of the Georgians who desperately need better and faster emergency care.
"We are not a Third World country," he told the Macon Telegraph, but "somehow we've done everything in this state for economic development, airline tax breaks; folks who make planes get tax breaks, but we're talking about the average Georgia citizen."
He has at least one prominent supporter across the aisle: Health and Human Services Committee Chair Rene Unterman, R-Buford, said the rural health care situation is "like a boil that's been festering for a while, and it's coming to a head."
A graphic but all too accurate assessment.