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Commissioners oppose Erlanger's proposed surgery center in Catoosa

Catoosa County's Board of Commissioners is not in favor of Erlanger Health System's plan to open up a surgery center down the road from the newly rebranded CHI Memorial Hospital.

During the Jan. 18 commission meeting, County Attorney Skip Patty explained that Erlanger has filed an application for a certificate of need for an Ambulatory Surgery Center in town that it wants to construct less than a mile from the hospital's facility.

The application is not for a full-scale hospital like CHI Memorial, or even Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, but rather an outpatient surgery center.

In order to be able to open a surgery center, a hospital must get a certificate of need from the Department of Community Health.

After an executive session, commissioners came back into their open meeting and unanimously voted to contest Erlanger's application to build its facility.

While the board didn't go into a lot of detail before its vote, all agreed that the issue needs a little more time to be sorted out.

"We made a decision that would be most beneficial to Catoosa County," Commissioner Jim Cutler said Thursday, Feb. 1. "It's nothing against Erlanger, but we want

to keep everything open and see what happens."

CHI Memorial, formerly known as Cornerstone Medical Center and Hutcheson Medical Center in recent years, was purchased by Memorial late last year. The deal included the hospital on Gross Crescent Circle in Fort Oglethorpe and the former Hutcheson on the Parkway facility on Battlefield Parkway.

Cutler says Memorial has also purchased additional land on Battlefield Parkway next to the now CHI Memorial-Parkway.

Erlanger's application to lay claim to the certificate of need didn't sit right with the board considering that CHI Memorial is working to renovate its surgery center following the purchase.

"I don't speak for the entire Board of Commissioners, but my personal opinion is that it's more of a blocking maneuver on the part of Erlanger, rather than investing in Catoosa County," Cutler said. "Memorial comes in and buys Cornerstone, investing money and getting a foothold in Catoosa and Walker County. ... They bought Hutcheson on the Parkway and bought land down Battlefield Parkway too, so it's a question of who's making the bigger commitment to Catoosa and Walker County."

Erlanger officials didn't return calls Thursday, Feb. 1, seeking comment on the matter.

In addition to Catoosa County's opposition, both CHI Memorial and Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Ga., have also filed objections against Erlanger's effort.

Either or all of the three groups can pull back their objections before the Georgia Department of Community Health holds a hearing regarding the issue, but it seems almost a certainty that all will continue to oppose Erlanger's plan.

"The way I look at it, it's a maneuver by Erlanger to get the letter from Memorial and Hamilton," Cutler said. "Memorial is making the commitment to the county."

Georgia's flu death toll at 51; season's peak still ahead

Dr. Anne Schuchat

Georgia now has 51 confirmed flu-related deaths, up from 37 on Jan. 31.

The state Department of Public Health also reported Friday, Feb. 2, that there were 120 hospitalizations due to influenza infection in the eight-county metro Atlanta region during the week of Jan. 21 through Jan. 27.

Nationally, the CDC reported an additional 16 flu deaths among children, bringing the U.S. total to 53. Public Health has confirmed one pediatric death in Georgia, identified by media reports as a Newnan teenager.

About half of the children who died apparently had been healthy and had no special vulnerability to this viral disease, Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said Friday, Jan. 2.

"Unfortun-ately, our latest tracking data indicate flu activity is still high and widespread," Schuchat said at a weekly briefing. The report is from data as of one week ago, the 10th week of this flu season.

"So far this year, the cumulative rate of hospitalizations is the highest since we've been tracking in this way, which goes back to 2010,'' Schuchat said.

"This is a very difficult season," she added.

The CDC also recorded an increase in the percentage of patients who visited medical providers complaining of influenza-like illness across the nation.

"We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said, according to CNN. "Really, the bottom line is, there is still likely many more weeks to go."

Schuchat said there are hopeful signs in the latest flu report.

"For the second week in a row, there are signs that activity in the West may be easing up," she said, according to CNN. "However, we are by no means out of the woods."

Nationally, only about 20 percent of those children who died

had been vaccinated, said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC's influenza division, according to NPR. Even though this year's vaccination is not very effective, health officials say it still offers some protection. And they say it's not too late to get vaccinated.

Schuchat said parents should be especially concerned if their child has a high fever. In that case, parents should call their doctor to see whether a child needs to be seen or taken to an emergency room, NPR reported. "Worrisome signs are a very high persisting fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or shallow rapid breathing, or significant tiredness or confusion."

The predominant flu strain this season, H3N2, typically leads to more illnesses and deaths.

Dr. Patrick O'Neal, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said this week that Georgians should call ahead to a doctor's office, pharmacy or Public Health to see if they have availability of vaccine. WABE reported that some pharmacies are running low on flu shots.

O'Neal said there are sporadic shortages of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu for flu patients, but that "there's not a statewide shortage.''

Among other Public Health recommendations:

** Stay home from work or school if you're sick, so you don't spread the flu. Before returning to school or work, flu sufferers should be free of fever (without the use of a fever reducer) for at least 24 hours.

** If your doctor prescribes antivirals, take them.

** If you're not sick, stay away from people who are.

** Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently to help guard against the flu. If soap and water are not accessible, the next best thing is to use alcohol-based sanitizing gels.

** Cover the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread of the flu. Use a tissue, or cough or sneeze into the crook of the elbow or arm.

** Avoid touching your face, as flu germs can get into the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.

Safeguarding against flu in county's schools

It's flu season and schools across the nation, as well as the state, are dealing with this year's outbreak. Catoosa County Schools have been fortunate so far, but that doesn't mean school officials take the threat lightly.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, as of Monday, 51 people in the state of Georgia have lost their lives to flu-related illnesses this season. Almost none of the victims were children, but children can carry the flu home to vulnerable elderly relatives or to those whose immune systems are compromised. And having the flu means missing school days.

"Every winter during cold and flu season," says Marissa Brower, Catoosa County Schools communications specialist, "we increase classroom and bus disinfectant procedures. We have a nurse in every school who works very closely with our custodial staff. If a child is absent for two days or is sent home with flu-like symptoms, we have specific classroom disinfectant procedures that are followed before students return to school the next morning."

Brower says there is also regular communication between school nurses, the director of student services and the system head nurse. "We believe this communication is critical in the prevention of widespread outbreaks of flu in our schools," says Brower. "School nurses also evaluate student health daily and send students home quickly if they develop flu-like symptoms."

Brower says that parents can rest assured that their children's schools are keeping an eye on any flu threats.

Health district director: "Not too late to get a flu vaccination"

Dr. Unini Odama

The following article is from Dr. Unini Odama, health director for the 10-county Northwest Georgia Health District, which includes Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Haralson, Paulding, Polk and Walker counties.

We are currently experiencing a high rate of Influenza activity in Georgia and the rest of the United States. This is an opportunity to ensure that we get the influenza vaccination which protects against both Influenza A (H3N2) and Influenza B.

Some of the benefits of getting the influenza (flu) vaccination are:

- Protection against influenza (flu)

- Reduction in the duration of influenza illness

- Reduction in the severity of influenza, and the reduction of serious complications like death.

The Department of Public Health is your partner in ensuring that we protect the health and safety of our citizens in Georgia. Specifically, the Northwest Georgia Health District exists to promote a healthy and a safe environment for NW Georgians.

Together, we can protect and prevent diseases such as influenza. Our health departments in NW Georgia will continue to administer the flu shots to anyone who needs it, to ensure that we protect our fellow citizens from diseases and harm.

Therefore, I urge everyone to take preventive and protective actions against the spread of the flu:

- Get the flu vaccination annually. It is not too late to get a flu vaccination.

- Know the signs and symptoms of the flu (cough, running nose, sore throat, fever, chills, headache, body aches, possibly vomiting and diarrhea).

- Frequent handwashing and sanitization.

- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

- Avoid close contact with sick people.

- Stay home if you are sick with the flu.