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Submitted by WWAY on Thu, 05/10/2007 - 4:13pm.

BLADEN COUNTY -- It's a problem facing many rural hospitals in North Carolina: not enough money. And it's forcing them to look for solutions. Now one local hospital is taking action. The Bladen County Hospital may have to close its doors for good unless it affiliates with another health care organization. Faced with a growing population of uninsured patients who can't pay their bills, combined with government reimbursements that don't roll in fast enough, Bladen County hospital is operating in the red. Since January the health care facility is $400,000 behind budget. Administrators see only one solution -- team up with another health care organization. Bladen County Hospital CEO David Masterson said, "I don't think the hospital will be able to survive over the next few years if we don't affiliate with a larger system." The hospital has been county-owned and operated since its inception in 1952. It is also self-funded, meaning the hospital doesn't get any taxpayer money. That may have to change unless the hospital can somehow affiliate with a larger health care group. "I'm not even suggesting that an affiliation with a larger system would make it less challenging. It just gives us an option to be less vulnerable from a cash-flow perspective," Masterson said. With the only competing hospitals 25 miles away, Bladen County hospital is a vital asset to the people of the county. Administrators hope to return it to profitability, so it doesn't become a liability. Bladen County commissioners will look at proposals from several health care organizations that want to affiliate with a hospital. They will then make the final decision. That's expected to happen by September 4.

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