Sunday reads

Just some of the news I’ve been catching up on today:

Maggie Lee at the Macon Telegraph  has an article about last Monday’s carbon pollution rules and the shift already underway towards renewal energy sources in Georgia.

Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out that the world didn’t come to an end years ago when Atlanta’s air quality was classified as “non-attainment” and the city was required to take action to reduce smog and other problems (the article concludes behind their pay wall).

The AJC is doing a series of articles on climate change and the impacts already seen on Georgia’s coast called “A rising tide of concern.” The articles are behind a pay wall and include this: “David Stooksbury, the former state climatologist, said the unwillingness of leaders to address climate change is dangerous.’I don’t think that most of our elected officials understand the long-term seriousness of what climate change will do to the agricultural economy, public health and the environment,’ Stooksbury said. ‘It will be much cheaper and better for the state if we follow a well-developed plan starting now rather than waiting until we must respond.’ ”

Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources is quoted too, stating, “Last month the wildlife resources division of the Department of Natural Resources issued its State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, which states unequivocally that “climate change presents unprecedented challenges.”

The AJC reports that Governor Nathan Deal had no statement on climate change. Senator David Perdue, who lives in a mansion on one of Georgia’s Barrier Islands, Sea Island, told the AJC, ““the scientific community is not in total agreement about whether mankind has been a contributing factor.”

The rising tides will eventually wash away the sand Perdue and others have their heads buried in on this subject and many others.

 

Gov Deal’s band-aid approach to health care

Hancock County, Georgia’s poorest among our 159 counties, is getting much needed help with access to health care via technology, community leaders, and innovators in delivering care to patients.

Right now people living in Hancock County have to drive to a neighboring county to see a doctor for any and all medical concerns. Even something as simple as an ear infection requires a drive of at least 25 miles to another county. Getting to the doctor can be a huge expense and feat of logistics for Georgia’s rural citizens, including those in Hancock County.

A new program, with a price tag of just $105,000, will now bring state of art health care to Hancock County’s citizens. Patients, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), and doctors,  connected through secure technology, will work to determine medical problems and where a patient needs to receive care. Emergency room trips and the cost of care should be reduced, while patient health outcomes, and the establishment of medical homes for patients, should improve.

I don’t want to diminish the importance of this program for Hancock County, which has Governor Deal’s support.

But it is important to understand that  making access to health care easier and more affordable for Hancock County’s citizens via technology, isn’t  enough to address the failure to provide affordable health care to all of Georgia’s citizens.

And a  pilot program announced by the Rural Health Stabilization Committee last week won’t either. The Committee  will create four hub and spoke type health care delivery sites. Dcotors and EMTs, along with the patient and technology, will assess medical problems and get the patient to the appropriate place for care.

Using technology to care for patients isn’t new in Georgia. Telehealth has effectively been used for emergencies, specialty consultations, and mental health care in our state for years. What these programs offer should increase access to very good health care, reduce costs, save time, and improve patient health outcomes.

But these programs aren’t going to solve the bigger problems of delivering health care to Georgians and making it affordable. The Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee wasn’t convened to address Medicaid Expansion. Gov Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson has been clear about that.

Governor Deal remains a staunch opponent of saving our state millions of dollars with Medicaid Expansion and improving access to health care for underserved Georgians.  Instead, he and his buddies in the Georgia General Assembly, chose to constrict access to health care via Medicaid Expansion. That also means our elected officials have redirected the federal tax dollars Georgians send to Washington every year to states who have chosen to expand care and reduce costs with Medicaid Expansion.

Hancock County’s new telehealth program, coupled with the hub and spoke pilot program designed by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, are big pluses for a few communities.

Governor Deal and the General Assembly can do more for Georgia’s citizens who need access to health care. We need more than a lick and a promise.

 

 

When grandparents are the parents

Last week the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Gov Nathan Deal said this about Georgia’s families where children are abused, or worse, murdered,“When was the last time the press or anybody else asked the greater family, ‘Why didn’t you do something about this?’ It really galls me, quite frankly, to see an able-bodied grandparent complaining about the fact that DFACS didn’t do something to protect her grandchildren. And my question is, well, where were you?’ ” (DFACS is the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services).

Where were these grandparents? US Census data from 2012 says this about grandparents and their grandchildren:

Number of grandparents living with grandchildren                    265,530
Percent responsible for grandchildren                                                  46.9
Percent of grandparents  raising  grandchildren for 5+ years          38.8
Percent of households with no parent of grandchild present           32.8
Percent of grandparents over 60 years old                                           34.1
Percent living in poverty in 2011                                                             25.2
Number of households with grandparents and grandchildren   171,939
Percent of all households in Georgia                                                        4.9

Grandparents in Georgia who care for their grandchildren are eligible for a whopping $50 per month from the state of Georgia. Have you priced diapers, day care, or children’s books lately? Fifty dollars doesn’t begin to make a dent in the costs of raising a child.

Single grandparent Deborah Paris, who is raising three grandchildren, told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer “Our system will pay a foster care parent to take care of children and supply and do what they need for them,” she said. “But me, as a relative or actually grandparent, you give me little to no assistance. … Our system is just awful.”

We need to address multiple problems concerning the welfare of children in our state. Gov Deal shouldn’t begin by making grandparents the scapegoats where the state has failed.

 

In the wee hours this morning

A couple of months ago I began posting links to news items on Rural and Progressive’s Facebook page. I was sleepless in the wee hours of the morning so I skimmed the news and found some interesting things that I shared there.

If you are on Facebook please like the page, and share or comment. If you aren’t on Facebook, you can check my Twitter feed @kghcummings I also post there, and the two platforms don’t always overlap.

Here’s what I found at o’dark thirty today:

circular firing squad

you can’t make this stuff up 

Republicans complain to state ethics commission they eviserated 

Four and counting

petition-deal-walks-away-hospitals

Remember that little ice event we had in Middle Georgia last week? As bucket trucks streamed into Washington County, preparations were underway to house approximately 25 linemen in the wellness center at Washington County Regional Hospital.

While the storm was making its way east towards us, Lower Oconee Hospital in Glenwood closed its doors. That’s the fourth small hospital to close while Governor Deal has been in office. Fifteen to twenty more are at risk for closure, but much-needed federal dollars are being turned away by Deal and his supporters in the General Assembly.

Beth O’Connor, the Virginia Rural Health Association’s Executive Director wrote in the Roanoke Times yesterday, “Hospitals are not businesses. If someone goes to a hair salon, grocery, clothing store or movie theater, but does not have money, they will not receive service. But federal regulations require hospitals to treat anyone who walks through the Emergency Room door – regardless of ability to pay.”

O’Connor goes on to point out that Virginia’s legislators are turning away $5M per day of federal funding that her state’s small hospitals need. Those federal dollars are tax dollars paid for by hard-working Virginians. But Virginia’s tax dollars are going to other states.

So are ours. Georgia’s tax dollars are also going to other states where leaders know Medicaid Expansion makes sense for the health of small hospitals and the people they serve.

And now there are efforts underway to allow a part-time legislature to have the power to fix Georgia’s already hobbled healthcare system.

Governor Deal could take action right now, today, and direct the tax dollars we’ve already paid, to come back to Georgia. Instead of taking the long view that stretches beyond November’s election, Governor Deal refuses to help small hospitals and the 1 Million rural citizens who count on them every day.

What will happen when Governor Deal hits the campaign trail outside Atlanta and finds it littered with closed hospitals? Will the four counties now without a hospital be campaign stops? Will he be met at campaign rallies in rural Georgia by already angry teachers and recently unemployed hospital healthcare professionals?

You can tell Governor Deal and our state legislators to bring our federal tax dollars home to serve Georgians. Sign the petition and tell Governor Deal to Save Georgia’s Hospitals Today!


January 17, 2014

West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources can’t seem to get warnings right in regards to the coal chemical contamination that continues to leave citizens looking for a glass of fresh water. Georgians should be aware that neither our state’s Environmental Protection Division or Department of Community Health issued warnings about health risks during the largest fish kill in our state’s history on the Ogeechee River in May 2011. That was left up to the counties.

Speaking of unpermitted dumping and our rivers, U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood signed an order yesterday approving the settlement between the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and King America Finishing over the fish kill referenced above. The Savannah Morning News says, “Wood’s order ends that legal dispute while allowing King America to deny culpability.” A handful of private citizens are still pursuing the company in other legal action.

Week One and Republican legislators under the Gold Dome are considering giving Federal gun control the finger and with legislation that would provide a “hall pass” to violate laws and regs. Creative Loafing covers it.

The Peach Pundit said yesterday that a possible restoration of funds for “charity hospitals” in Georgia might be in the works. The Pundit wrote, “making sure that charity hospitals–especially in rural Georgia–don’t close due to lack of funding could complete the hat trick that lets Deal remain in the governor’s mansion for another four years.” Serving patients who require Medicaid does not make a facility a “charity hospital.” And FYI, hospitals in Atlanta, Athens, and Savannah are not rural hospitals. They may serve rural patients, but they are urban/metro providers.

Restoring the backbone of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 might happen with a bipartisan bill introduced by yesterday. And yes, it would apply to Georgia.

Tennis players and fans roasting on the barbie has re-ignited the climate debate since the polar vortex.

Crack addicts aren’t running my rural hospital

State Representative Jason Spencer thinks Georgia’s hospitals are like crack addicts because they support Medicaid expansion funding. Spencer, a Republican who represents citizens in the Woodbine area, said in a Face Book post, “By the way, many hospitals are addicted to the current reimbursement structure in Medicine (the main problem with the healthcare). They are like addicts on crack.

I’ve been lucky enough to know every person serving on the Hospital Authority Board of Washington County Regional Medical Center (WCRMC). Chaired by retired Elder Middle School Principal Bern Anderson, the Board includes former County Commissioner Carl Forrester, retired state employee Bobby Anderson, Head Start Director Susie Wilcher, retired teacher Adam Adolphus, and Thiele Kaolin employees Marc Sack and Rob Mathis. When the hospital’s CEO, Jimmy Childre, Jr. began working there, he did so initially as a volunteer, taking no salary.

These people know that having a good hospital does more than save lives; it creates jobs (375 full-time employees at WCRMC, according to the hospital), keeps money in the local economy, helps attract businesses to our county, and improves health outcomes. The Authority Board also wants to cover the costs of running a good hospital.

That doesn’t make them crack addicts.

Hospitals, including WCRMC,  get just 93 cents on the dollar for Medicaid patients. Every time they do what hospitals are supposed to do, like save a life or safely deliver a baby, someone has to find a way to collect the unreimbursed expenses (which holds for private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid patients). The Sandersville Progress has reported on new ways WCRMC is improving collection of payments for services, but, like many other rural hospitals, we will always have some patients who simply cannot pay their bills.

Governor Deal could still take action in the legislative session that begins today to increase the flow of Medicaid funding to our state’s hospitals while the Federal government carries the full cost for three years. Deal chose to pass on that, sending the money to other states who did the math on protecting rural hospitals (even the conservative Georgia Hospital Association said we need those dollars in Georgia).

According to Hometown Health CEO Jimmy Lewis, one million rural Georgians are treated in small community hospitals every year, in addition to those traveling through rural areas who may need emergency care. Governor Deal’s decision has already hurt the communities of Folkston, Arington, and Richland in the southwest part of our state, who saw their hospitals shuttered last year. Rep Spencer said (boasted maybe) that as many as 20 more small hospital closures could happen in our state in the next two years.

Our elected legislators will be hell-bent for leather to finish the session that opens today so they can raise campaign money and get on with the work of being re-elected in the November elections.

Elected power, just like crack, can be addicting. Maybe Georgia’s voters will consider electoral interventions when they go to the voting booth in 2014.

Doc, I’d like a prescription for two old bathtubs

He couldn’t get the General Assembly to pass a bill restricting state employee insurance funding to cover abortions, so Governor Nathan Deal worked another Back Room Deal and got insurance companies to stop covering abortions for state employees. It sort of begs the “Never you mind, missy” about medical procedures that are still legal and safe for women.

This closed door tactic earned Governor Deal a much deserved award from Planned Parenthood. Our Governor is Planned Parenthood Action’s Gynotician of the Week! 8-9-13-Georgia-Governor-Nathan-Deal-Gynotician-blog

As Planned Parenthood Action points out, Deal earned his B.A. and his law degree at Mercer University. But he lacks a medical degree and I bet he hasn’t even played a doctor on TV. “Never you mind, missy” a gynotician (a politician who feels more qualified than women and their doctors to make women’s health care decisions resulting in a combination of the words gynecologist and politician) knows way more than a woman and her board certified, state licensed doctor do about the best health care decisions for her.

Deal follows last week’s recipient, North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory and his attempt to assuage women protesting outside the governor’s mansion by offering them cookies after he signed a bill restricting abortion access which he clearly said as a candidate he wouldn’t sign. McCrory walked away to a chorus of “Hey Pat that was rude! You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude!”

What I wonder is if there are any back room deals to add old bathtubs as part of the 67325-57735state employee health insurance coverage plan. I don’t watch a lot of TV but it sure does seem like some men who need erectile dysfunction (ED) medicines (covered by state employee health insurance) also like a nice soak in an old bathtub outside with a woman in a tub next to them (can’t see their wedding rings from that distance so I can’t call them married).

And what about men in same sex partnerships? This could really run the price up on old bathtubs if every sexually active man got two tubs with his ED meds.

If the state continues to cover men’s prescription erectile dysfunction drugs, we might see some job creation for plumbers installing all these outdoor tubs and architecture salvage companies could see the demand soar for old bathtubs (I’m only guessing that because based on the number of commercials I’ve seen there must be A LOT of men who need these drugs).

Governor Deal I hope you enjoy all the accolades you’re receiving for dialing back access to health care for the women you work among every day in your office and the taxpayer-funded mansion you live in now. Some of those women might be willing to help you pack your bags after the election next year.

Regards-

Missy

When a blind trust isn’t blind, and millions are owed in state taxes

Once again Better Georgia has done the homework on icky ethics and leadership in our state’s government. Using reporting from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Gainesville Times, and a nifty infographic that timelines Governor Nathan Deal’s troubled finances with a salvage company he co-owned with Ken Cronan, now we know that a blind trust isn’t always blind. And millions in state taxes aren’t always paid by the Texas companies who owe them.

Deal had a $300,000 per year sweetheart contract with the state for storing junked cars. Now that salvage company, one that was placed in a blind trust, has been sold to Copart, a Texas based company which owes the state of Georgia almost $74M in taxes and penalities.

And that blind trust? The AJC reports that the trust got Governor Deal to sign off on the purchase contract, one which allows both Deal and his partner to own the property and collect $120,000 each per year to lease the land to Copart.

And Copart? It has filed an appeal with the state Department of Revenue on the taxes it owes.

Now that Governor Deal has a little change in his pocket, maybe he can bring some pressure to bear on companies who owe our state a hefty amount of taxes and penalties. After all, the taxes are owed to the people of this state, the same ones who bankroll Governor Deal’s paycheck and the Governor’s Mansion where Deal now lives.

Senator Bill Heath tells constituents they are “annoying” him

The capacity for Georgia’s elected leaders to dig the Chip Rogers/Gov Deal hole deeper keeps growing. After 3,200 Georgians signed a petition calling for Rogers to be fired from his new $150K state taxpayer-funded job at Georgia Public Broadcast (GPB), Senator Bill Heath of the 31st Senate District responded by sending out his own email telling constituents they are “annoying” him and other legislators.

That’s not all.

Senator Heath thinks being engaged with elected officials by signing a petition is a “childish tactic.”

The senator, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, is now just as duplicitous as Nathan Deal in Rogers’ appointment. As Better Georgia points out, Heath sits on a heath1powerful  committee that could stop Deal and GPB in their tracks by voting against Deal’s proposed budget.

Instead of putting the brakes on spending tax dollars to get disgraced legislators out of the Georgia Republican Party’s way, Heath said the petition signers (i.e. taxpaying constituents)  have been “conned.”

The only con job I can see is the one Governor Deal has tried to pull on Georgia voters. Now Senator Heath is helping by saying taxpayers are “annoying.”

Senator Heath and the 27 other Appropriations Committee Members, led by District 4’s Jack Hill, can put a stop to whatever you want to call it by voting No on Deal’s budget, and then following up with a careful examination of proposed spending.

I just sent Bill Heath a “special for him” email at billheath@billheath.net. I asked for a personal response since mine wasn’t one of thousands sent to him via a petition. His office number is 404.656.3943 if you want to call him. I was politely greeted by his staffer when I called to confirm the address.

I’ve asked my representatives under the Gold Dome, Representative Mack Jackson and freshman Senator David Lucas, for their thoughts on Rogers hiring and salary. I have no track record with Lucas but during previous General Assembly sessions Jackson has carved time out to respond to me by phone and email. I look forward to their thoughts on taxpayer dollars being used by the Governor to micro-manage personnel decisions at a state department.

 

Gov Deal and Chip Rogers know how to put the public back in public broadcasting

Governor Nathan Deal and former state Senator Chip Chip Rogers and Will "The Winner" Rogers Rogers, aka Will “The Winner” Rogers, sure know how to put the public in public broadcasting.

Yesterday Governor Deal’s staff spent the day telling reporters that the Governor didn’t hire Rogers and appoint him to work at Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) as an Executive Producer.

The denials aren’t very convincing, because another public radio station, Atlanta’s
WABE, has an interview with Rogers spelling out exactly how Deal “reached out” to him for this job. Now Better Georgia is calling Governor Deal a liar.

But that isn’t all.

On January 31 GPB will have  a real job vacancy to fill, and it includes producing Lawmakers. a daily news report on the Georgia General Assembly, where Rogers already knows everyone!

While Deal was denying his December appointment of Roger’s, GPB Senior Producer Ashlie Wilson Pendley was submitting her resignation effective at the end of this month, and she spelled out exactly why she is leaving her job as the Senior Producer of GPB’s Lawmakers.

Wilson Pendley describes Rogers’ salary as “unconscienable” She also wrote, “This was the wrong decision for GPB. It has the appearance of the political manipulation of the public airwaves. This stinks of cronyism. I believe that this decision was in fact made at the highest political levels and forced upon this organization. In the interest of my own personal integrity, I find I must leave.” (Her letter is included in Creative Loafing’s coverage.)

GPB just can’t get a break from all the Deal/Rogers fallout. Today the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that GPB donors are cancelling their donations to the public radio station. The AJC also reports that in response to a donor’s cancellation, GPB Vice-President Yvette Cook emailed a donor and said that Roger’s salary is funded by taxpayer dollars (as if that makes it any better in the end) .

Cook’s email isn’t a confidence builder for Roger’s ability to be an Executive Producer. The AJC reports that Cook wrote Rogers “may or may not be the best spokesperson” for the programming that has been created just for him.

So Deal hired Rogers, gave him a salary almost nine times higher than what Rogers got as a state senator, and now the station where he works says Rogers may not be the best spokesperson for what he is supposed to produce? Wow.

I bet Deal and Rogers are glad this is a short work week. We aren’t even through three full days and it has already been a doozy.

Is Washington County becoming a mecca for renewable energy?

Governor Deal has announced that General Biofuels will build a $60M facility in Washington County to manufacture wood pellets for fuel production in Europe. As European countries shutter both coal and nuclear and switch to renewable fuels sources, the demand of wood pellets continues to create business here in the United States. The plant will be located just blocks off Highway 15 on Waco Dr., and production is slated for early 2014 according to Deal’s office.

This plant will employ 35 people and also benefit other local businesses both during and after construction (i.e. work boots and clothing, meals out, all types of office and plant facility supplies, safety training). All of these jobs are the direct result of companies using renewable fuel sources.

Business will increase for Sandersville Railroad and Norfolk Southern as these two rail lines will move the pellets to the Port of Savannah for shipping overseas. What I have said  many times over bears repeating here: I am glad to see a business succeed, including the Tarbutton’s privately held railroad.  I can’t support Plant Washington because the project will harm the air, water, and health of local residents near the plant as well as downwind and downstream. Plant Washington is a good example of putting personal profits ahead of a community.

Charles Lee with the Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Authority told me he can’t provide information on public facility bonds or tax abatements as those details are still in negotiation. Regardless of the project, I urge the County Commissioners to carefully consider all projects involving taxpayer dollars.

Local citizens need to pay attention as well. The county can issue bonds through the Public Facilities Authority without any taxpayer input except comments that citizens may make at a county commission meeting. Voter approval is not required for issuing these types of bonds.

There is still a lot to learn about General Biofuels. At face value it is certainly a much more progressive and promising economic option for Washington County and our neighbors than coal, for which local leaders should be commended.