A test of faith

Last Friday Governor Brian Kemp took the unprecedented step of declaring a statewide public health emergency as the number of Covid-19 (coronavirus) cases began to increase on national and state levels. The Georgia General Assembly suspended its calendar last Thursday and returned for on Monday for a special session called by the Governor to approve his actions.  Yesterday the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed  197 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths.  The number of reported cases are updated daily at noon.

Whether the changes we are adopting come from business, civic, or elected leaders, the chorus in this choir is to avoid being closer than six feet from other people. I prefer the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing. We need our social connections now more than ever, just not the close physical ones.

Last weekend I was supposed to be with about 12 other Life Is A Verb Campers for a house party filled with making art, cooking Pi Day themed meals, walking, yoga, and sharing stories. Instead of being together physically, we gathered at 11:00 in the morning via Zoom for coffee and everyone’s choice of pie. I made a roasted mushroom and asparagus quiche. It wasn’t the same as being in a room together, but it was good to see much-loved faces and talk.

Having done that on Saturday, the next morning I did a quick FaceBook search of five large churches in rural Washington County to see how they were adapting to the six foot wingspan way of living now. All five opened their doors to congregation members. One of the five churches was St James Christian Fellowship. This congregation is led by Georgia State House Representative Mack Jackson. He did not reply to my email with questions about opening the church last week.

Last Thursday Jackson worked with other state representatives to suspend their work and return home out of an abundance of caution due to Covid-19. On Friday some members stood closer than six feet to Kemp while he announce the public health emergency. Despite the cautions taken by the state, Jackson and other faith leaders invited people to gather together, perhaps more than once, last Sunday.

Everyone in those churches knows that the local hospital, like those in other rural counties, is not equipped to handle a large number of Covid-19 patients. The capacity just isn’t there, no matter how caring and well=trained the health providers are. With all of the free and easy-to-use technology available for streaming a service, why any church leaders thought that unlocking the doors last Sunday was a good idea, is enough to test one’s faith.

 

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.