A suggestion for Atlantans frustrated about access to vaccinations

Governor Brian Kemp’s administration has excelled at how to not handle this year-long pandemic. The roll-out of vaccinations has not been an exception to their poor performance in the past year.

That a vaccine is available is a surprise to no one, but the state’s preparation for access to shots has put us last in the country for success. Citizens are frustrated, and rightly so.

Kemp chose to base scheduling on a website and understaffed phone lines. People without internet or computer access have been limited to spending hours on the phone trying fruitlessly to get an appointment. Kemp  announced expanded eligibility for vaccines but the state’s website wasn’t updated to reflect that, which resulted in phone bank staffers turning away people trying to begin their vaccinations. What a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars and time.

Access to vaccine locations has been equally frustrating. The majority of vaccines have only been available in urban areas, leaving rural residents without reasonable access. Five state sites outside the perimeter of Atlanta, capable of serving thousands of people a day, will open today. Scheduling problems migrated to those sites as well.

Now that Kemp has opened up eligibility to more people, people in Atlanta are complaining that they can’t get vaccinated near their homes. Kemp is urging those people to drive to south Georgia for shots.

There are all kinds of reasons this isn’t helpful, particularly for rural Georgia.

With libraries closed, which often serve as the only point of access to the internet and computers for many small community residents, vaccine appointments remain a hurdle they cannot scale. Kemp should have ramped up phone capacity for appointments along with the addition of these new locations.

Most rural Georgia communities lack public transportation. Counties aren’t equipped to get people who lack transportation to vaccination sites. Shots in arms is critical to reducing case load, saving lives, and energizing our state economy, especially as the weather warms up and people think about vacations.

With newly expanded eligibility for vaccination, metro Atlanta residents are complaining about not being able to get their shot a few miles from home. Kemp ‘s best solution is to drive out of town for vaccines. Rightly so, people who don’t get paid time off from the one, two, or maybe three jobs they need to house, feed, and clothe their families, have every reason to be angry. But they aren’t the only ones complaining.

Covid-19 vaccination site, Sandersville, GA

This is my suggestion to people who do have reliable transportation, and can afford to, but don’t want to, take sick or vacation time and miss two days of work to get their shots-quit bitching. Your privilege is offensive to every rural resident who has gone without medical care because they didn’t have the technology available in their home for telehealth, the means to drive a considerable distance to see a specialist, get prenatal care, or visit someone they love who was out of town for care.

Rural Georgians have done without the medical care urban residents have since urban areas developed across our state. Small town Georgians have watched our hospitals close, medical services shrink, and doctors choose urban over rural for decades.

That rural communities have managed to feed themselves for a year  without the ease of Instacart or Door Dash is a testament to their abilities. There hasn’t been same day, or even next day, Amazon delivery for school and household supplies. Streaming anything on the web for entertainment, education, or work hasn’t been an option for too many families.

After all that we have managed to survive, having to drive out of town for a vaccine that will protect you, your family, neighbors, and coworkers, should be the last thing you complain about right now. Make an appointment, put gas in the car, choose some podcasts or audio books to listen to, and drive yourself to a place where people just as eager, but less privileged, have waited just as long as you have to get a vaccine.

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.