The Pulse

Potential merger sparks concern on prices

As merger talks continue between Emory Healthcare and WellStar Health System, a consumer advocacy group has voiced concerns about the potential impact of a deal in the metro Atlanta market.

Beth Stephens

Beth Stephens

Georgia Watch said such provider consolidation “is leading to higher prices for consumers with little to no improvement in the quality of care individuals receive.”

Beth Stephens, the group’s health access program director, also said she is concerned that the public comment period about the merger lacks transparency.

“We want to know what stakeholders are being engaged, and why consumer advocacy organizations are being left out of the conversation,” said Stephens, who submitted her organization’s comments to Emory and WellStar this week.

Emory and WellStar issued a statement Thursday that said the two organizations “remain in discussion on this initiative and anticipate providing additional information in early April. We look forward to engaging with the community throughout the planning process.’’   full story

Suburban counties rank highest in health

The suburban versus rural health divide remains the key theme in the latest ranking of Georgia’s healthiest counties.

Forsyth County

Forsyth County

Forsyth is ranked the healthiest county in 2015, just as it was in the previous two years. It was followed by Gwinnett, Fayette, Cobb and Oconee.

All are in the northern or north-central part of the state, and all are in the Atlanta metropolitan area except for Oconee, which is in the Athens metropolitan area.

Rounding out the top 10 in the 2015 rankings are Cherokee, Columbia, Harris, Coweta and Lumpkin.

The rankings were reported in the sixth annual County Health Rankings, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Here’s a link to Georgia’s rankings. full story

Report slams state on lack of disabilities progress

An independent monitor says Georgia is far behind in meeting its obligations for providing community services for people with developmental disabilities.

A March 17 report by independent reviewer Elizabeth Jones criticized the state’s lack of progress in moving people with developmental disabilities out of state-run hospitals.

dbhdd-logo-blueA Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities spokesman said in an email statement to GHN on Wednesday that the agency is “carefully considering the findings and recommendations’’ in Jones’ report.

“We will continue our efforts to deliver easy access to high-quality care that leads to a life of independence and recovery for the people we serve,’’ said the statement by DBHDD’s Chris Bailey.

Earlier this week, the Augusta Chronicle reported that dozens of “unexpected” deaths of individuals under the agency’s care  occurred in community settings in 2013 and 2014. full story

Medical cannabis proposal nears the finish line

A two-year quest for medical cannabis in Georgia has a successful end in sight.

The state Senate passed legislation Tuesday to allow the use of medical marijuana for eight health conditions, after rejecting amendments that would have substantially changed or gutted the bill.

Rep. Allen Peake and Sen. Renee Unterman confer before the vote

Rep. Allen Peake and Sen. Renee Unterman confer before the vote

The House is expected to agree Wednesday to the version revised by the Senate, and if so, it goes to the governor for his signature.

“This is a great day,’’ said State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) with a whoop after the 48-6 Senate vote. Peake has been the main sponsor of House Bill 1. “We want to bring our medical refugees home.”

Peake was referring to Georgia parents who are living with their ailing children in Colorado to give the youngsters access to medical cannabis. Colorado’s relaxed marijuana laws have made it a magnet for families whose children need the treatment.

“There are many families living out of state,’’ Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) told the Senate chamber before the debate on the bill. “No man should be separated from his family’’ due to health reasons, he added. full story

Autism bill appears stalled in Georgia House

The fight over autism treatment coverage continued in a House committee hearing Monday, pitting organizations concerned about costs against those advocating for the most effective services for children.

Sen. Charlie Bethel

Sen. Charlie Bethel

Senate Bill 1 would require many health insurance plans to cover applied behavior analysis (ABA), a treatment designed to help young children with autism reach their full potential in learning ability.

The issue is contentious. A similar bill was unable to win approval last year, stymied in a standoff between the Senate and the House. And the House Insurance Committee hearing concluded Monday with no vote taken on the bill.

The General Assembly session is expected to end next week.

One in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism nationally, with a Georgia rate of 1 in 64.

Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), the legislation’s main sponsor, told the House panel that autism “is a public health crisis in all of our communities.”  full story

Consumer Corner

Distracted driving a factor in teen crashes

A study shows distractions played a factor in nearly 60 percent of moderate-to-severe crashes involving teen drivers.

Around the State

Atlanta: TB case at school

An active case of tuberculosis has been confirmed at an Atlanta middle school.

Read the full article:

Physical therapist legislation

The Georgia Senate is expected to consider a bill that would allow patients to see a physical therapist without first getting a doctor’s referral.

Read the full article:

Braselton: Hospital opening

Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton is scheduled to open April 1 as a 100-bed hospital.

Read the full article:
Gwinnett Daily Post

Rome: Callout for old bikes

Owners of Cycle Therapy are asking people to donate any gently used bicycles to be fixed up and given to people who need them for transportation.

Read the full article:
Rome News-Tribune

Nurse’s whistleblower suit

A nurse who worked at Georgia Regents Medical Center for 37 years has sued the hospital, its chief medical officer and its chief nursing officer.

Read the full article:
Augusta Chronicle


University of Georgia College of Public Health Logo

(Click on the logo for more information about our sponsors.)

Foundation Support for GHN:

Healthcare Georgia Foundation
Kaiser Permanente
Reynolds Charitable Fund
Georgia Health Foundation