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Floyd boards clean up old business as $650 million Atrium deal approaches

The Floyd Hospital Authority board passed a resolution to clean up some old business that came to light as the merger plans with North Carolina-based Atrium Health move forward.

The board approved that resolution during a joint meeting of the hospital authority and Floyd Healthcare Management board on Monday night. It primarily focused on properties at 310 and 330 Shorter Ave. and others on Elizabeth Street and West Fifth Street.

However, as those smaller details were hashed out, attorneys continue to address details concerning the much larger deal between Floyd Medical Center and Atrium. Atrium has agreed to invest $650 million in the Floyd system — including Polk and Cherokee medical centers — over an 11-year period of time, as well as invest a substantial sum in the Floyd Healthcare Foundation.

A soft deadline to have those items finalized and board-approval ready is Oct. 16. If that deadline is met, it will then go before the board. After that point, the deal will go before state regulators and out for public comment before it can be completed.

In Monday’s business, the board also approved changing some of the bylaws for the Floyd Healthcare Foundation as the Atrium deal approaches. If the merger is approved, those bylaws will likely need to be changed again, a presenter said.

In a FY 2020 financial report through Aug. 31 for Floyd Healthcare Management — which operates Floyd Medical Center, Polk Medical Center and Cherokee Medical Center — she showed that system was recovering from a dip in the number of patients being treated in April.

For instance, visits to the emergency room dropped significantly across the board in April but have recovered in the months since, according to the report presented by Floyd’s Interim Chief Financial Officer Clarice Cable.

However, using emergency room visits again, each of the hospitals appear to have recovered from the stark drops seen while the state was in a mandated shutdown as a result of COVID-19.

The board also approved just over $400,000 for the purchase of a Siemens CT scanner through its charitable arm.

“Covid has sort of brought a new game to chest imaging,” said Aimee Griffin, the director of imaging services for the three hospitals.

The older scanner at Cherokee Medical Center cannot provide specific scanning for COVID-19 positive patients, she said, and there are other problems — such as not having parts available when the scanner has issues.

On top of that, the scanner’s patient weight limit of 350 pounds forced Cherokee to occasionally send patients to Floyd Medical Center for a scan on equipment that could handle larger patients.

COVID-19 cases hold steady in Floyd County, medical experience has contributed to lower death toll

COVID-19 tests on 34 more Floyd County residents came back positive over the weekend, making a total of 3,169 local people known to have been infected by the novel coronavirus as of Monday.

With 411 of those confirmations coming in the past two weeks, that put the positivity rate at 11.5% of those tested. Georgia Department of Public Health officials consider a rate of 10% or higher an emerging hot spot. The county had an overall rate of 9.1% when including all tests back to March.

The DPH daily status report Monday put the overall statewide positivity rate at 10.1%, but shows the most recent seven-day average rate at 6.3%.

Georgia has had a total of 315,281 cases and 6,961 deaths — with 15 deaths reported on Monday.

Floyd County had no new fatalities. The 45 deaths locally equate to a rate of 45 per 100,000 residents. Polk County’s 17 deaths are equal to a rate of 39.1 deaths per 100,000.

Other nearby counties are harder hit. Bartow’s 85 deaths equal a rate of 76.7 fatalities per 100,000 residents. Gordon’s 36 deaths factor as 62 per 100,000; and Chattooga County had a rate of 88.8 fatalities per 100,000 with a total of 22 deaths.

Deaths give clues to treatment

Meanwhile, Associated Press Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione reported Sunday that the nearly 1 million people around the world who have lost their lives to COVID-19 have left a gift.

Through desperate efforts to save their lives, scientists now better understand how to treat and prevent the disease — and millions of others may survive.

Ming Wang, 71, and his wife were on a cruise from Australia, taking a break after decades of running the family’s Chinese restaurant in Papillion, Nebraska, when he was infected. In the 74 days he was hospitalized before his death in June, doctors frantically tried various experimental approaches, including enrolling him in a study of an antiviral drug that ultimately showed promise.

“It was just touch and go. Everything they wanted to try we said yes, do it,” said Wang’s daughter, Anne Peterson. “We would give anything to have him back, but if what we and he went through would help future patients, that’s what we want.”

Patients are already benefiting. Though more deaths are expected this fall because of the recent surge in coronavirus infections in the U.S. and elsewhere, there also are signs that death rates are declining and that people who get the virus now are faring better than did those in the early months of the pandemic.

“Some of the reason we’re doing better is because of the advances,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told The Associated Press. Several drugs have proved useful and doctors know more about how to care for the sickest patients in hospitals, he said.

We’re in the “stormy adolescence” phase of learning what treatments work — beyond infancy but not “all grown up either,” Collins said.

The awful toll

The nearly 1 million deaths attributed to the coronavirus in nine months are far more than the 690,000 from AIDS or the 400,000 from malaria in all of 2019. They’re trending just behind the 1.5 million from tuberculosis.

Wealth and power have not shielded rich countries from the awful power of the virus. The United States “has been the worst-hit country in the world” with more than 6 million coronavirus infections and more than 200,000 deaths, reflecting “the lack of success that we have had in containing this outbreak,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, told a Harvard Medical School audience earlier this month.

More than 40% of U.S. adults are at risk for severe disease from the virus because of high blood pressure and other conditions. It’s not just old people in nursing homes who are dying, Fauci stressed.

Dr. Jesse Goodman, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University, agreed.

“Nobody should make a mistake about this” and think they’re not at risk just because they may not personally know someone who has died or haven’t witnessed what the virus can do firsthand, he said.

Optimistic signs

Although cases are rising, death rates seem to be falling, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, a former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist now at the nonprofit group Resolve to Save Lives.

The virus’s true lethality — the infection fatality rate — isn’t yet known, because scientists don’t know how many people have had it without showing symptoms. What’s often reported are case fatality rates — the portion of people who have tested positive and then gone on to die. Comparing these from country to country is problematic because of differences in testing and vulnerable populations. Tracking these within a country over time also carries that risk, but it can suggest some trends.

“The U.S. cumulative case fatality rate in April was around 5%. Now we’re around 3%,” Shahpar said.

In England, researchers reported that case fatality rates have fallen substantially since peaking in April. The rate in August was around 1.5% versus more than 6% six weeks earlier.

One reason is changing demographics: More cases these days are in younger people who are less likely to die from their infection than older people are.

Increased testing also is playing a role: As more people with mild or no symptoms are detected, it expands the number of known infections and shrinks the proportion that prove fatal, Shahpar said.

Better treatments

It’s clear that treatments also are affecting survival, many doctors said. People who have died from COVID-19, especially ones who took part in studies, have helped reveal what drugs do or do not help.

Dexamethasone and similar steroids now are known to improve survival when used in hospitalized patients who need extra oxygen, but might be harmful for less sick patients.

An antiviral drug, remdesivir, can speed recovery for severely ill patients, shaving four days off the average hospital stay. Two anti-inflammatory drugs, one used in combination with remdesivir — the drug Wang helped test — also have been reported to help although results of those studies have not yet been published.

The jury is still out on convalescent plasma, which involves using antibody-rich blood from survivors to treat others. No large, high-quality studies have tested this well enough to know if it works.

The value of rigorous, scientific studies to test treatments has become clear, Goodman said. “We certainly see what happens” when treatments are widely adopted without them as hydroxychloroquine was, he said. “That exposed a lot of people to a potentially toxic drug” and delayed the hunt for effective ones.

Aside from drugs, “the case fatality rate is actually improving over time as physicians get more adept at taking care of these very sick patients,” said Dr. Gary Gibbons, director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

In hospitals, doctors know more now about ways to avoid using breathing machines, such as keeping patients on their bellies.

“We’ve learned about how to position patients, how to use oxygen, how to manage fluids,” and hospitals have increased their surge capacity and supplies, Dr. Judith Currier, a University of California, Los Angeles physician said at a recent webinar organized by the American Public Health Association and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.

The future

The best way to avoid dying from the coronavirus remains to avoid getting it, and experience has shown that the simple measures advocated by public health officials work.

“Prevention is the most important step right now as we’re waiting for a vaccine and we’re improving treatment,” Goodman said.

Wearing a face mask, washing hands, keeping at least 6 feet apart and disinfecting surfaces “clearly are having a positive effect” on curbing spread, Fauci said.

If more people stick with common-sense measures like closing bars, “we should improve our ability to manage this” and prevent more deaths, Shahpar said. “It should take longer to get to the next million if it ever happens.”

Ryder Lackey, a student at Glenwood Primary School

Berry hotel a 'go' with only city TAD support; expected to open by October 2021

Berry College, through its Lavender Mountain Hospitality Services LLC subsidiary, got the green light for a proposed Fairfield Inn & Suites adjacent to the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College Monday night.

The Rome City Commission agreed to move forward with Tax Allocation District financing without any support from Floyd County.

City Commissioners agreed to extend the city portion of a tax rebate to Berry from 10 to 15 years in order for Berry to recoup the $1.74 million college officials had sought to make the project financially viable.

“I continue to think this is a great project,” said Commissioner Wendy Davis, who chairs the city’s Redevelopment Committee. “I think we’re making a smart investment in the future of our community.”

Berry General Counsel Danny Price told commissioners the college hopes to have the new hotel ready for occupancy Oct. 1, 2021.

The college also agreed that if the facility is found to be eligible for an education exemption from property taxes, it would not seek such an exemption until 15 years after the TAD financing plan ends.

The revised agreement marks the first time the city has agreed to TAD financing without the participation of Floyd County. Under a TAD, property tax increases that stem from the improvements are funneled back into a project for a set number of years.

Also on Monday, the board approved a request from Daniel Stephenson and Berry Construction to rezone the parcels at 201 and 203A Redmond Road for residential use.

The plan is to develop four duplexes, eight residences, on the two narrow lots at the intersection of Redmond Road and Raymond Avenue.

Commissioners also accepted amendments to the teen curfew ordinance on first reading. The ordinance prohibits anyone under the age of 17 from being on the streets unsupervised between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., with some exemptions.

The primary change involves changing the word “shall” to “may,” giving police the option of issuing a warning on first offense or taking stronger action.

The city also gave its approval to the issuance of $19.5 million in bonds for the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority’s takeover and major rehabilitation of the 184-unit Ashland Park apartment complex. The action was a formality and the city is not responsible for paying off the bonds should the housing authority experience financial problems.

Planning commission to consider residential proposal, regulations for special events and hobby farms

Plans for two new homes on undeveloped property in South Rome will go before the Rome-Floyd County Planning Commission on Thursday.

The citizen board will also get a first look at proposed ordinances that would regulate hobby farms and special events venues in the county.

A public hearing is scheduled for Christopher Forino’s request for low-density traditional residential zoning on two adjacent parcels at 525 S. Broad St.

Forino wants to build two identical single-family homes on the lots. The houses would be two stories, with two bedrooms, and under 1,000 square feet. The property is currently zoned for community commercial use, but the ordinance requires at least 30,000 square feet of space. One lot is 7,800 square feet and the other is 8,800 square feet.

The planning commission’s recommendation will go the Rome City Commission for a second hearing and decision at its Oct. 26 meeting.

A county rezoning request also is on the Thursday agenda. Mark Vann wants to sell the house at 8153 Alabama Highway, on the corner of Looney Road.

However, the property is zoned for commercial use and he’s seeking agricultural-residential classification for financing purposes. There used to be a small store on the site, along with the house, before zoning was instituted through the Unified Land Development Code.

The Floyd County Commission will make the final ruling following a public hearing at its Oct. 27 meeting.

County Commissioners have also been asking the planning commission to recommend more specific regulations for events venues and nonfarm housing of animals. The two proposed ULDC amendments to be presented Thursday would apply only to the unincorporated area. Rome already has rules for land inside the city limits.

Special events venues would need at least 10 acres under the proposed ordinance. The owner would have to apply for a special use permit — which would give neighbors an opportunity to weigh in — and all outside activity would have to stop by 11 p.m.

At least five acres would be required for a hobby farm, with no slaughtering allowed. The same minimum would be set for wildlife parks and zoos, although a special use permit also would be required.

The amendment also clarifies that chickens for personal use would be allowed in both agricultural residential and suburban residential zoning classifications. However, anyone with less than two acres could have no more than six.

No roosters, ducks or other fowl would be allowed under the ordinance and any chickens must be fenced in and have a coop.

Thursday’s meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. via Zoom. For a link and passcode, email Senior Planner Brice Wood at BWood@romega.us.