Covington hospital adds fee for non-emergency patients in ER



COVINGTON, Ga. - An emergency room visit for a non-emergency is now going to cost visitors at a Newton County hospital.
Newton Medical Center leaders told Channel 2’s Erica Byfield they made the change in hopes of driving down the number of patients they treat.

There is almost always a wait in the Covington hospital’s emergency department, but officials estimate 25 percent of the 50,000 people in the waiting room aren’t dealing with an urgent situation.

“It kind of halts the people who need emergency care and then, there are four and five hour waits for people who really need to be seen,” the emergency department’s clinical coordinator, Christina Bradford, said.

This week, in an effort to ease wait times, hospital leaders implemented a $150 fee for any uninsured person who comes in with a non-emergency. Patients with insurance will continue to pay a copay or deductible.

“This is not about money. This is about the emergency department and treating people with emergencies. We want to provide the best care possible and doing so, we have to make sure that we are available and (have) the time to spend with people with emergencies,” hospital official Linda Komich said.

Hospital visitors were split on how the feel about the policy change. Tom McGuire called it a great idea, but Regina Jamison said, “I think it's sad because a lot of people don’t have insurance.”

Hospital staff said some of the biggest offenders of this hospital's emergency room don't even live in the area. Some live 40 miles away in Atlanta, and others come from as far as 70 miles away in Villa Rica. The most common non-emergency complaints are regarding
a tooth ache, sore throat or a fever.

If non-emergency patients can’t afford the fee, hospital officials said they will direct them in the right direction.

“We are also providing a community resource guide, so should they not qualify as having an emergency, we do provide them with options,” Komich said. 

Bradford added, “There are primary care physicians and several doctors who work along with the hospital who are agreeing to see these patients at a lower cost.”

Officials are hopeful the new fee will cut emergency department wait times in half.

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