Ensuring access to primary care across the state was the prevailing theme during the Georgia's Healthcare Reform Task Force's final meeting Monday at Berry College.
"The path to a more affordable system starts with preventative care," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who chairs the committee of seven state senators that includes Chuck Hufstetler of Rome.
The nine speakers, representing a variety of state and national medical-industry organizations, accepted the premise but differed somewhat on the main obstacles and how to overcome them.
"What we're hearing today is a litany of challenges," said Dr. Gerald Harmon, who chairs the American Medical Association.
Harmon said the biggest issue is the Trump Administration's decision to not fund the CSRs, cost-share reductions, that help 7 million people who get insurance through the Affordable Care Act afford their deductibles. "We need to stabilize the current system," he said, before going on to de tail the regulatory issues physicians face that detract from their time with patients.
High deductibles in privately funded plans also keep people from following through on treatment that can keep chronic conditions from escalating, said Dr. Scott Bohlke, president of the Medical Association of Georgia.
"Just because you have insurance doesn't mean you have healthcare," he said.
Bohlke echoed Harmon's call for payment reforms. He said the transition from fee-for-services to outcome-based payments in the Medicare and Medicaid systems makes it especially risky for physicians in rural areas that lack good facilities and equipment.
Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, spoke of the many difficulties facing rural counties. He said 63 have no pediatrician and 78 have no OB-GYN — and telemedicine is not an immediate fix because broadband speeds aren't up to par. That makes the state's certificate of need law "absolutely vital" to preserve residents' current level of healthcare access, he said. CON regulations require state approval before most expansions or the addition of new services in an area.
"It's the only tool the state has to ensure geographic distribution of healthcare resources ... of financially stable facilities with an appropriate payer mix," he said.
Dev Watson of the Georgia Association for Primary Care and Tom Andrews, president of Mercy Care, explained their preventative care operations.
GAPC represents clinics in areas without hospitals. Mercy Care reaches the homeless and provides services to seniors who otherwise couldn't stay in their homes.
"Safety net providers are crucial to keeping costs down," Andrews noted.
Data-driven solutions were the focus for Jeff Selberg of the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Dr. Lara Jacobson of the Georgia Department of Public Health. LaSharn Hughes, executive director of the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce, presented several initiatives aimed at increasing the number of doctors working in rural areas. And Lucy Marion, dean of the Augusta University College of Nursing, talked of how APRNs — advanced practice registered nurses such as nurse practitioners and nurse midwives — could help fill the gaps if restrictions are lifted by the state.
"They're willing to go into under-served areas. That's what we do," Marion said.
Cagle said he anticipates a report from the task force by early January with recommended action-items for the upcoming legislative session along with "larger items that point to a direction for the future."
See Wednesday's Rome News-Tribune for Part 2 of this report.
'It's the only tool the state has to ensure geographic distribution of healthcare resources ...of financially stable facilities with an appropriate payer mix.'
President of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals on certificate of need law
The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with a Floyd County judge's decision to not allow a company to copy a court reporter's backup audio recordings from a 2001 murder trial.
Justices affirmed that Floyd County Superior Court Judge Billy Sparks was correct to allow Undisclosed LLC to listen to the recordings but not allow them to make copies — which were not part of the court's official record, the opinion stated.
The podcast sought to record the tapes from Joey Watkins' 2001 murder trial as part of an audio series where they examined his case and trial.
Watkins was convicted of shooting and killing Isaac Dawkins on Jan. 11, 2000, while driving on U.S. 27 near Georgia Highlands College. Watkins is serving a life sentence plus five years in prison on murder, stalking and weapons charges.
In 2003, the Supreme Court of Georgia upheld Watkins' conviction and sentence.
Sparks, in his order, said Georgia's Uniform Superior Court Rule 21 states court records are public and allows public inspection of the court reporter's backup recordings, but, Sparks wrote, it does not entitle them to "copies of a court reporter's backup tapes/recordings."
Undisclosed appealed that decision. On Monday, Justices agreed Rule 21 gives the right for the public to copy court records, as defined by the common law and General Assembly, but court records "include only those materials filed with the court, which the recording in question was not," the opinion stated.
The opinion stated, "for something to be a court record, it must be filed with the court."
Today's artwork is by Armuchee Elementary School student Braeden Kinsey.
The Rome Downtown Development Authority is inviting children ages 12 and under to Trick or Treat on Broad Street from 3-5 p.m. today at participating businesses.
A free Truck or Treat event sponsored by Rome-Floyd Parks & Recreation is set for 5-9 p.m. today at Ridge Ferry Park. There also will be inflatables to play on and food trucks on site.
St. Mary's Catholic Church, 911 N. Broad St., is holding an All Saints' vigil Mass on Oct. 31 at 6 p.m. followed by Trunk or Treat for children.
A Rome High senior has taken what he learned in class, coupled with independent research, to help spread the word about technology's impact on our eyes, brain and subsequently our health.
During a psychology course Hudson Ivery was taking last year, the teacher showed students a video about the effect different types of light have on the brain. Initially, he admits that he blew off the information. However, he took a greater interest in the subject matter when it became personal.
"If I go into being an eye surgeon this would probably be why," he said.
Ivery works a 5-11 p.m. shift at Kroger after school, leading to him doing homework late at night, when the lights in his home are out and he's staring into a computer screen for hours. After getting to sleep sometime around 2 a.m., Ivery would wake up for school and struggle to open his strained eyes. His eyes were overreacting to the over-stimulus of light, which can affect productivity and focus.
"We are in an age of going beyond what's natural," he said.
Ivery's circadian rhythm, which is an internal clock regulating the cycle of sleeping and waking periods, was thrown off. So he started to dig into solutions, discovering the benefit of having a bluelight filter, which dims the light, for his Chromebook and cellphone. Red light, he said, induces the brain to release melatonin in preparation for sleep while blue light energizes.
Once he started reaping the benefits of the filter, which can be downloaded through phone apps or extensions on computers, he spread the news to his family.
A couple weeks ago, while sitting in class, Ivery decided to email Principal Eric Holland, so the school system's technology personnel could open up availability for downloading the filter on the school-issued Chromebooks. To his surprise, Holland. The principal got in touch with the technology department to allow students to download an app for a blue-light filter on their Chromebooks, and a tutorial on installing it was shared on social media.
"He just wants to highlight those kids making waves," Ivery said of Holland, adding that other administrators could have blown this student inquiry aside.
"In this scenario, I'm no hero," he added.
No hero, perhaps, but fellow students may be thanking him for a better night's rest.
A Cave Spring man who stole an estimated $180,000 in jewelry, heirloom collectibles and tools from an elderly family member on Oct. 26, 2016, was sentenced Monday to 32 years in prison, to serve 14.
According to information presented in court:
Floyd County Superior Court Judge Billy Sparks handed down the sentence to 39-year-old John Paul Nichols Jr. after he was found guilty on charges of first-degree burglary, exploitation of an elderly person, theft by taking and two counts of theft by deception.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Salmon read a statement from the 90-year-old victim, who was in the hospital after suffering a stroke, that called for a maximum sentence and indicated a lack of remorse shown by Nichols.
"We don't feel safe in our own home," the statement read, pointing to the impact left from the burglary, which resulted in the loss of irreplaceable items, on him and his wife. "John Paul Nichols Jr. needs to sit in that jail cell for a very long time."
Nichols addressed the court with a trembling voice and apologized to his family and two 13-year-old daughters. His wife of 17 years said despite his recent actions Nichols is a good person and has shown remorse.
"I think remorse and the definition of remorse has been confused with regret," said Salmon. "Mr. Nichols should be ashamed."
Nichols' wife pleaded with Sparks to take into consideration the milestones that Nichols will miss in his daughters' lives.
"No 13-year-old should see their father go to prison," Sparks said.
However, the judge added that though it doesn't make him feel good, he couldn't take consider that in his sentencing.
Assistant Floyd County Public Defender Jonathan Speiser said the burglary was the first major charge of Nichols' life — he was previously charged with misdemeanor shoplifting.
"He's made it a long way without any charges," Speiser said.
Speiser also pointed to Nichols struggle with addiction and his need for help with the matter.
"This is not a stealing for a habit type of thing," said Sparks, adding this incident is something in a completely different category.
Upon his release from prison, he will have to pay full restitution, which Sparks said Nichols will never be able to fully pay back the value of what he took along with interest, even if he was on probation for life.
Drug and alcohol counseling was imposed on Nichols upon his release.