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Lower Oconee Community Hospital in Wheeler County has closed while it restructures, according to a statement from its CEO.

The statement from Karen O'Neal says they have laid off some of their approximately 100 staff members.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, O'Neal said the privately owned hospital had been in "dire financial straits" for years.

She said the owners are trying to arrange "some kind of urgent-care center, and that's all I'm really at liberty to say."

"It's a terrible situation, and it's tragic, the loss of jobs and the economic impact," said O'Neal, who said she'd been CEO since October.

The hospital in Glenwood has 25 beds, according to online reports.

O'Neal said that, for several years, the federal government has designated Lower Oconee as a critical-access hospital. That program provided extra funding and fewer restrictions for small remote hospitals, often in rural areas, to help them stay afloat.

"We just did not have sufficient volume to support the expenses," she said.

We contacted Glenwood City Hall and the Wheeler County commissioners office; staffers in both places said they heard the hospital had closed but they had not been notified officially.

O'Neal's written statement:

Lower Oconee Community Hospital located in Glenwood, GA has suspended operations during a period of restructuring. The restructuring has been ongoing for several months now; we have approximately 100 staff members, some of which have been laid off as part of the restructuring. This restructuring is being done to provide sustainable medical services in the Glenwood area.

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