GLENWOOD, Ga. ― If you want to watch a rural community die, kill its hospital.
After the Lower Oconee Community Hospital shut down in June 2014, other mainstays of the community followed. The bank and the pharmacy in the small town of Glenwood shuttered. Then the only grocery store in all of Wheeler County closed in the middle of August this year.
On Glenwood’s main street, building after building is now for sale, closing, falling apart or infested with weeds growing through the foundation’s cracks.
Opportunity has been dying in Wheeler County for the last 20 years. Agriculture was once the primary employer, but the Wheeler Correctional Facility, a privately run prison, is now the biggest source of jobs.
With 39 percent of the central Georgia county’s population living in poverty, there aren’t enough patients with good insurance to keep a hospital from losing money.
The hospital’s closure eliminated the county’s biggest health care provider and dispatched yet another major employer. Glenwood’s mayor of 34 years, G.M. Joiner, doubts that the town will ever recover.
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