A farm worker who showed up for work at the Lyons Bridge Farm Tuesday morning discovered that a home deep in the woods behind the farm property had been completely gutted by a fire that was still burning when he arrived. Fire investigators spent the whole day sifting through the debris for any sign of the elderly occupant, Ed McKeon.
According to Coroner Gene Proctor, McKeon was still unaccounted for late Tuesday night.
Property owner Wes Walraven, speaking by phone to the Rome News-Tribune from New York, said a security camera that was close to a mile away, captured "huge, huge flames," about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Walraven said Ed McKeon had lived there for about 35 years. When Walraven bought the property he agreed to let McKeon, a retired antiques appraiser, continue to live there.
McKeon did not have a whole lot of close friends locally, according to Walraven, who checked with two people McKeon most likely would have been with if he was not at the home. One had not seen him and the other had been at the house with McKeon on Monday night but had left prior to the fire.
"If he wasn't with either of them I'm not terribly optimistic," Walraven said.
About a dozen bone fragments were picked out of the debris and will be sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab to determine if the fragments were human or animal.
Floyd County Coroner Gene Proctor said the bone fragments were burned pretty badly.
"We'll package those and get them down to the GBI Crime Lab and let the GBI do a regenerative DNA test," Proctor said. "The first thing they'll look for is to see if they are animal or human. At that point they'll try to regenerate them to try to get some DNA out of them, however microscopic it may be."
Firefighters sift through remains of a home on Lyons Bridge Road for much of the day Tuesday, looking for clues to the fate of the elderly resident and a number of pets.
"Right now it's a missing person case because we don't have a body," Proctor said. "We don't know if anybody actually was in there. We do have some bones and we're proceeding from there. Most of the time in these cases you're looking at least a year's turn around before you get an actual answer."
Two Great Pyrenees dogs that McKeon owned were ultimately found Tuesday.
However a small house dog, which Proctor said may have been a Jack Russell terrier, still had not been found.
Charles Miller, an investigator with the Floyd County Police Department, said the investigation will continue in conjunction with the Fire Marshal's office probe to find a cause for the fire.
Work is slated to get underway this year on a driving safety improvement project covering nearly 13 miles of roadway in the city of Rome.
Peek Pavement Marking, LLC, has through the end of August to complete the $141,653.46 contract funded through the Georgia Department of Transportation's Off-System Safety Program.
Crews will be installing new signs, striping and pavement markings in various locations along Reservoir Street and Dodd Boulevard. In the West Rome area, they'll be targeting spots on Lavender Drive, Redmond Road, John Davenport Drive, Technology Parkway, Huffaker Road and Garden Lakes Parkway.
"Off-system or local roads account for approximately 45 percent of Georgia's motor vehicle fatalities," GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said when the contract was awarded. "Reducing these statewide numbers requires a significant investment to enhance safety on local streets and roads. I am pleased that we can assist with the funding for these very critical projects."
The Rome work is part of a $1.6 million contract announced last summer for seven Northwest Georgia counties, including Chattooga, Gordon, Catoosa, Carroll, Murray and Paulding.
Under the OSS program, funding is allocated based on crash summaries instead of evenly distributed among congressional districts. As of Friday, the Rome Police Department had submitted 2,463 crash reports for 2017 into the Georgia Electronic Accident Reporting System.
Floyd County's two hospitals maintained their safety ratings, but several Northwest Georgia facilities will see a reduction in Medicare payments in 2018 because of a high rate of patient injuries.
Statewide, 35 percent of eligible hospitals will be penalized — a higher percentage than in all but five other states, a Kaiser Health News report reveals.
The penalty program, created by the Affordable Care Act, began four years ago to spur hospitals to reduce infections and problems such as bedsores and sepsis.
Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome have avoided sanctions all four years.
Gordon Hospital in Calhoun made the list for the first time this year. Bartow County's Cartersville Medical Center was sanctioned in 2015 and 2016, improved for 2017, but is back on the list for 2018.
The Georgia hospitals penalized include some of the state's biggest and best-known. They include Grady Memorial Hospital, Emory University Hospital and Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta; AU Medical Center in Augusta; Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany; and Candler Hospital and Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.
Medicare will cut by 1 percent its payments for each patient stay.
Not all hospitals are included in the penalty program. Those exempted include small "critical access" hospitals such as Polk Medical Center and children's hospitals.
Nationally, 23 percent of eligible hospitals were penalized.
Kaiser Health News reported that the penalties again fell heavily on teaching hospitals, although less so than before. A third of them were punished this year, while last year, the penalty was levied on nearly half of the nation's teaching hospitals.
Dr. Atul Grover, executive vice president at the Association of American Medical Colleges, told KHN that while teaching hospitals as a group fared better than last year, "we are still disproportionately affected."
Cause and effect
Factors considered in the program include rates of infections from hysterectomies, colon surgeries, urinary tract catheters and central line tubes inserted into veins. It also includes rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and Clostridium difficile, known as C-diff.
Medicare also takes into account the frequency of in-hospital injuries, including bedsores, hip fractures, blood clots, sepsis and post-surgical wound ruptures, KHN reported.
The hospital industry has complained in the past that the penalties are unfair to hospitals that treat a high percentage of low-income patients and those with complex conditions.
"Many of these hospitals treat patients with more acute conditions and also serve a higher percentage of uninsured," said Ethan James of the Georgia Hospital Association. "The metrics can unfairly punish hospitals that treat sicker and poorer patients."
Advocates for patients say the Medicare penalties have pushed hospital executives to consider more than the bottom line.
Beth Stephens of Georgia Watch, a consumer advocacy group, told GHN that "we definitely want to see Georgia hospitals continuing to prioritize patient safety and performing better than the national averages."
But Stephens added that current hospital financial environment is challenging. "So many hospitals are struggling with uncompensated care costs, the problems created by coverage gaps and paying for the health care needs of our most under-resourced communities," she said. "The uncertainty surrounding the ACA and our lack of Medicaid expansion create barriers to improving health care quality in Georgia."
For all the penalized hospitals, the reductions will retroactively apply to Medicare payments from the beginning of the federal fiscal year in October 2017 and through the end of September 2018.
In addition to the 1 percent cut per patient stay, Medicare will reduce the amount of money that penalized hospitals get to teach medical residents and to care for low-income people. The total amount for each hospital depends on how much it ends up billing Medicare.
The law requires that Medicare penalize the worst-performing quarter of general hospitals each year, guaranteeing that about 750 or more hospitals will take the financial hit even if they improve safety.
Rome News-Tribune staff writer Diane Wagner contributed to this report.
Today's artwork is by Ayden Frazier, a fifth-grader at Pepperell Elementary School.