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News Service of Florida/Panama City News Herald

A Northwest Florida senator filed a proposal Thursday that would create a new program to provide grants to rural hospitals for building improvements and equipment purchases.

The proposal (SB 510), filed by Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, would lead to a process in which the Florida Department of Health would provide grants up to $750,000 to rural hospitals that meet eligibility requirements.

"The Legislature finds that rural hospitals have limited ability to increase operating revenues or to access other public or private funding sources that are needed to maintain critical infrastructure, including, but not limited to, the replacement of high-cost medical care equipment or improvements to facility infrastructure," the bill says. "Rural hospitals that do not have reasonable access to alternative sources of revenue to pay for critical infrastructure needs are at risk, and patient access, care, and quality are threatened."

Gainer's district — Bay, Holmes, Jackson, Okaloosa, Walton and Washington counties — includes heavily rural areas. The bill will be taken up in the legislative session that starts March 7.