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Rural Health

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

Food program for kids goes beyond the classroom

Every Thursday morning, more than 100 bags of nutritious food are prepared at an old brick building in rural Oconee County.

From there, volunteer drivers take the bags to schools in the county, where teachers and other school officials drop them into the backpacks of children (grades K-12) while the kids are out of the classroom. If not for the bags, many of these children might go hungry over the weekend.

“A lot of kids count on a free or reduced breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, but when they go home on the weekend there’s no cafeteria,” says Tyler Boykin, a counselor at High Shoals Elementary School, who helps to identify students in need of the program.

Volunteer students prepare the Food for Kids bags.

Volunteer students prepare the Food for Kids bags.

“It gives the kids who don’t have enough to eat some reassurance that they’re going to be OK over the weekend,” says Boykin.

Nearly 4,000 food bags were delivered in the 2013-14 school year.

It’s no mystery that a properly nourished student is a better prepared student. “When kids come into the classroom hungry, they aren’t ready to learn,” says Cindy Pritchard, director of the Food for Kids program. full story

Rural health panel offers plan to cut ER use

A special state panel created by Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed a pilot program that would use telemedicine and other techniques to bolster rural health care in Georgia.

The Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee report, released Monday, supports a “hub and spoke’’ model to relieve the burden on rural hospital emergency rooms. It would use telemedicine-equipped ambulances to facilitate remote diagnoses of patients in rural areas.

clipboardTelemedicine basically is the transmission of video and digital vital signs of a patient to a physician at another location who can evaluate that information for a diagnosis. Georgia has been a pioneer in this field.

The four pilot sites would be based in hospitals that serve different rural regions of the state: Union General in Blairsville, Appling HealthCare in Baxley, Crisp Regional in Cordele and Emanuel Medical Center in Swainsboro.

The report of the Rural Hospital Stabilization committee makes no mention of the possibility of Medicaid expansion in the state, which is opposed by Deal and the Republican legislative leadership due to cost concerns. full story

Agency chief discusses contracts, benefits cutoff

This summer, the state’s main health agency will pick the winners of a multibillion-dollar annual contract to deliver health care to more than 1 million Georgians.

Clyde Reese

Clyde Reese

The Department of Community Health also plans to choose a vendor this year to coordinate the care of Medicaid beneficiaries who are elderly or disabled.

Clyde Reese, the commissioner of Community Health, gave an update on both mega-contracts Thursday at an agency board meeting.

He also said the department is close to naming a Medicaid chief to replace Jerry Dubberly, who recently left the position for a job in the private sector. Reese told GHN that the search has narrowed to two candidates, and that he anticipates the naming of the new director within a month.

And he addressed the controversy over the elimination of health benefits for part-time school workers who do not have education certificates. full story

Commentary: We need new health care equation

Most people agree that Georgia has serious health care challenges.

Kelly McCutchen

Kelly McCutchen

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians lack health insurance. Many of the state’s hospitals are in financial crisis. Medical costs are high.

Kelly McCutchen has an idea for a solution.

In a new GHN Commentary, McCutchen, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, proposes that we convert the funds we spend subsidizing the care of the uninsured (after the fact) into vouchers or refundable tax credits.

“Low-income individuals could use these funds to buy into an employer’s plan or purchase private insurance,’’ writes McCutchen, adding that unused funds “should follow the people to where they get their care: the safety net providers in each community.”

Here’s a link to his Commentary.


Georgia Health News welcomes Commentary submissions. If you would like to propose a Commentary piece for Georgia Health News, please email Andy Miller, editor of GHN, at

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