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Another rural hospital closing

Lower Oconee Community Hospital in southeast Georgia has closed due to financial problems, becoming the state’s fourth rural hospital to do so in the past two years.

The 25-bed “critical access” hospital in Glenwood, in Wheeler County, is looking to restructure, its CEO said in a statement.

Wheeler County

Wheeler County

Some of the hospital’s 100 employees have been laid off, CEO Karen O’Neal said, as reported by WMAZ. “This restructuring is being done to provide sustainable medical services in the Glenwood area.”

She told the television station Wednesday that the hospital’s owners are contemplating “some kind of urgent care center.’’

The closing of Lower Oconee reflects the financial struggles facing rural hospitals across Georgia. full story

Medicaid expansion: A danger or a blessing?

Too much expense. Too few doctors. Too little trust in the feds.

State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, laid out her party’s arguments Thursday against Georgia expanding its Medicaid program, as outlined by the health reform law.

“Georgia is not going to expand Medicaid,’’ said Cooper at a breakfast gathering in Atlanta. “We do have to balance the budget.’’

Gov. Nathan Deal, also a Republican, has indicated he’s against expansion, though advocates of it are making an effort to change minds on the issue.

On Thursday, more than 40 health-related groups, including the Georgia Rural Health Association, the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians, AARP Georgia, and the American Cancer Society, announced they have formed a coalition to support Medicaid expansion. It will be led by Georgians for a Healthy Future, an advocacy group that sponsored the breakfast forum Thursday.

Cost is a big part of the debate on both sides. The state is in a budget crunch, as it has been for several years, and Deal has ordered state agencies to come up with more than $500 million in cuts this year and next. full story

Car owners can help fight breast cancer

Buying a special license plate is making a difference in fighting breast cancer in Georgia.

October is breast cancer awareness month, and a state health agency has awarded a total of $1.1 million to 16 community organizations in Georgia for breast cancer services to indigent women.

The money comes from the sale and renewal of the Breast Cancer License Tag.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States, and almost 7,000 women in Georgia will be diagnosed with it this year, said David Cook, commissioner of the state’s Department of Community Health, in a statement.

DCH awarded the grants through the Georgia ACTS (Access, Care, Treatment and Services) Breast Cancer Grant Program.

“When breast cancer is identified at an early stage through mammography and clinical breast exams, these mortality rates improve,” Cook said.

Georgia's Breast Cancer Awareness License Plate

full story

Ga. uninsured rate remains high; U.S. number dips

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday that the estimated number of Americans without health insurance in 2011 fell from almost 50 million, or 16.3 percent,  to 48.6 million, or 15.7 percent.

It’s the first drop in that uninsured number since 2007.

Georgia’s three-year average of uninsured, meanwhile, has hit 19.7 percent, the fifth-highest rate in the country, the Census Bureau figures showed.

Last year’s three-year state average rate was 19 percent, sixth-highest in the U.S.

Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said that the overall uninsured trend has flattened out. “People are no longer losing coverage at the same rate” as during the recession, he said.

Another reason is that health care cost inflation has moderated, thus making coverage more affordable, Custer said.

On Tuesday, an employer survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust found that premiums for family coverage rose this year by just 4 percent, historically a low figure.

The drop in the national uninsured numbers was partly driven by a major reduction among those aged 19 to 25, from 29.8 percent in 2010 to 27.7 percent in 2011, the Census Bureau said.

full story

Health worse in rural counties, study shows

An analysis comparing health statistics for Georgia counties shows a wide gap between rural and urban/suburban areas in the state.

The top seven counties in the state in the new health rankings — Fayette, Forsyth, Oconee, Cherokee, Gwinnett, Cobb and Columbia –- are all in large metropolitan areas in the northern or north-central part of the state.

The bottom 10 counties are in rural South or Middle Georgia, according to the rankings, compiled for each state by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and released last week. Here’s a link to the Georgia breakdown.

Rural experts said this Georgia health disparity isn’t surprising, given those areas’ high poverty rates and medical access problems.

The 2012 rankings provide statistics in four categories: health behavior, clinical care, physical environment, and social and economic factors, which include the percentage of children in poverty, unemployment and education rates.

Southern states in general have higher rates of births to teenage mothers, sexually transmitted infections and children in poverty, the study found.

The lowest-ranked county in Georgia is Talbot, in the west-central part of the state. Beverly Townsend, a public health district director whose area includes Talbot, told GPB News that the county lacks important resources that would improve people’s health.

“Unfortunately, in that small county, for our local health department, we have one nurse,” Townsend said. “And they don’t have a supermarket there anymore. That actually closed.”

Fifty percent of the restaurants in Talbot County serve fast food, which is a new measure in the study. Georgia’s average of fast food places is 50 percent, exceeding a national benchmark of 25 percent. full story

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