GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – The two hospitals under the George Regional Health System will get $1.73 million in state grants, pending the governor’s approval.

The money is part of Senate Bill 2372 and House Bill 271 that will send $103.7 million to hospitals across the state to compensate for inflated costs and revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bills, which passed through both chambers in the legislature, on Wednesday, March 29, allocate $969,506 to George Regional Hospital and $763,782 to Greene County Hospital. Governor Tate Reeves will need to sign them before they go into effect.

Both hospitals have remained operable and off a watchlist of 28 rural Mississippi hospitals in danger of closing over the next seven years. Still, George Regional CEO Greg Havard told WKRG last month the local hospitals see the same challenges as everyone else.

“Our strength is our community that recognizes the value of our local hospital,” Havard said. “Our stockholders are the citizens of the county. We don’t have to pay corporate dividends so we put our money back into the facilities to make sure they’re presentable and can keep offering services that are needed here.”

In 2014, 72% of voters in George County approved to renew a five mill hospital levy to fund a new ER, rehab center and nursing home, OBGYN, radiology and cardiopulmonary departments, gift shop and deli, physician office space, and expanded surgery, lab and dietary areas. State funds helped Ella’s Cafè begin earlier this year and will open a new clinic by August.

The grant program, funded through part of the state’s pot of federal COVID-19 relief money (American Rescue Plan – ARPA), was one in a series of proposals from Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann at the beginning of the legislative session to aid the state’s struggling health care system.

Three other bills that would remove legal barriers to consolidating small hospitals and incentivize the retention of nurses and doctors through loan repayment, community college grants and residency programs were signed by Reeves or await his approval.

Reeves vetoed a pair of bills dealing with health insurance reform last week. One would have given State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney the authority to study and address inequalities in insurance reimbursement rates, which Reeves said was a “bad idea.”

Cheney, Havard and the Mississippi Hospital Association supported the measures. Havard says most rural hospitals collect 45 to 60% of what they bill. The Lucedale hospital loses around $1 million per month on uncompensated care. Some from patients that can not afford care, but mostly from underpayments from private insurance and Medicare Advantage plans.

“Most people don’t realize we don’t set the rates, insurance companies do. We’re really at their mercy of what they will pay. There’s the actual cost of something like a hip replacement and they’ll come back with a different number and say take it or leave it,” Havard said. “Then after the surgery’s done, they’ll still drag it out and we could still go through a whole appeals process to collect payment. Probably 20% of payments they deny for technicalities.”

The Mississippi Hospital Association warned Tuesday the grants are appreciated but a band-aid for what it characterizes as the growing issue of uncompensated care. Health care leaders across the state are continuing to push for insurance reform and for Mississippi to be the 41st state to adopt Medicaid expansion.