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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

State lawmaker: ‘Some’ rural Georgia hospitals need to close

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legmain.0430 HS06

State Reps. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, left, and Allen Peake, R-Macon. AJC file/Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

The state’s failure to grasp the billion-dollar offer of Medicaid expansion from the federal government could cause more than a dozen hospitals in rural Georgia to close their doors, some have estimated.

One prominent state lawmaker says that may indeed happen — and perhaps should. From Jonathan Shapiro of WABE (90.1FM):

“There are some of those rural hospitals that need to close,” said State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Cooper adamantly opposes the health reform law and its optional expansion of Medicaid. She says some Georgia communities are simply too small for a hospital.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blog

“When your census is that low and you have hospital administration and you have to have 24 hour-a-day care and you have to have a pharmacy and all the other things that go with a hospital and your census runs at just minute number of patients then I think it’s time to look at the fact that maybe they need to go to regional hospitals,” said Cooper, who wouldn’t specify which communities she was referring to.

Gov. Nathan Deal has offered to work with some of the cash-strapped hospitals, including Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. But the problem is more circular in south Georgia: The region is losing population because there are no jobs. There are no jobs because companies are unwilling to relocate. Companies are unwilling to relocate because of a lack of health care.

Updated: Our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin noted that state Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, took the well this morning to respond to Cooper’s comments. Said Buckner:

 “A rural hospital I represent worked very, very hard to bring itself back from the brink of financial disaster. It’s been operating for almost a year now in the black and has been providing needed care. Rural hospitals stabilize people who are acutely ill. Rural hospitals handle chronic care.

“These hospitals are a safety net more than just for health care. They are also a financial safety net for local counties. If the value of the hospital is not there for the county bonds, taxes will go up.

“Some of the very best jobs in the county will be lost. My constituents told me they felt like it was unfair for the state of Georgia to give tax credits we give to big business and not allow them to have quality local health care at their hospitals.

“We need to think long and hard if that’s good policy.”

 

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Add another piece of legislation to the to-do list: Fulton County’s new courthouse case management system was installed in August for $15 million. But WAGA-TV’s Dale Russell discovered that names, Social Security numbers and birthdays began showing up in online records in a security lapse.

State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, was informed of the breach by a constituent, and Albers quickly discovered his own 7-year-old traffic ticket online with his birthday and Social Security ticket there for everyone to see.

He introduced a bill requiring clerks to redact anyone’s name and confidential information of anyone whose name appeared in court records.

“I don’t know why anybody would push back on protecting people’s Social Security number and personal information,” Albers said.

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Albers, by the way, announced his support this morning for Barry Loudermilk in the GOP contest to replace U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey – not a surprise, given that Loudermilk is a former Senate colleague.

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Today could be a big day for DeKalb County. Our colleague Ty Tagami over at myajc.com reports about a big announcement in the making at this morning’s school board meeting. The head of the accrediting agency is set to meet with board members to reveal the findings of a review conducted about a year after the firm placed the district on probation.

From Tagami’s piece:

The political and financial turmoil that roiled Georgia’s third-largest school system in prior years is a thing of the past according to some hopeful observers, who believe the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will finally erase the stain that has soiled DeKalb’s name for more than a year.

Mark Elgart, the president and chief executive officer of SACS parent company AdvancED, will meet with the county school board at 10 a.m. to reveal the findings of a review conducted last month, a year after his agency placed the district on probation. The drop in accreditation, and a SACS threat to strip accreditation altogether if school leaders failed to reform the system, plunged the district into crisis. The superintendent walked out, the governor intervened and the state supreme court got involved.

Now, officials and observers say the district of 99,000 students has stabilized and deserves to come off probation.

State and local officials are tight-lipped but we know this: Gov. Nathan Deal has scrapped plans to be at an economic development announcement in Savannah to attend the DeKalb meeting as an invited guest.

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The state Capitol’s leading proponent of horse-racing says this isn’t the year. From Walter Jones and Morris News Service:

The sponsor of pending legislation that would amend the state constitution to allow it said Friday the timing is close, but not yet ripe.

“Tell them to hold their breath until next year,” said Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, said of gambling proponents.

Most observers believe an election year in a conservative state is not the time to bring up a potentially controversial issue like expanded gambling. Gov. Nathan Deal is significantly ahead in the polls over his Republican and Democratic challengers, making him reluctant to rock the boat.

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Supporters of legalized marijuana for medical purposes in Georgia will make a push at the state Capitol today. Groups that want to push the issue even further will also be there, with ammunition. From the press release:

A new statewide poll shows that 62% of Georgia voters endorse eliminating criminal penalties for possession by adults of less than one ounce of pot, and replace it with a $100 civil fine, without the possibility of jail time.

Further, more than half of all Georgia voters now support regulating the legal consumption and retail sale of marijuana for those age 21 and over. In 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington approved similar regulations in their states.

The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) was commissioned by state affiliates of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Georgia NORML, and Peachtree NORML.

***

If you follow politics, you know by now that Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday told a Martin Luther King Jr. Day crowd that King deserves a presence on the grounds of the state Capitol. This morning, state Democratic party chair DuBose Porter termed the announcement “hollow.” From the press release:

“If Republicans have had an election year epiphany and want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, honor him by making significant and sincere investments in equal opportunity for our people,” continued Chairman Porter. “Honor his legacy by repealing Georgia’s discriminatory Voter ID laws, some of the harshest in the nation. Honor his legacy by expanding Medicaid to provide quality affordable health care for all Georgians. Honor his legacy by giving all Georgians the right to lead a private life, free of persecution and politicization. Honor his legacy by guaranteeing workers a living wage and a fair shot at working their way in to the middle class.”

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The New York Times’ fascinating trip way, way behind the curtain of lavish fundraisers for members of Congress could serve as a reminder to Gold Dome watchers that no ethics reform is airtight. The key grafs:

“Congress, after a corruption scandal that involved golf trips to Scotland and other getaways paid for by lobbyists, passed legislation in 2007 prohibiting lobbyists from giving lawmakers gifts of just about any value. But as is the norm in Washington, the lawmakers and lobbyists have figured out a workaround: Political campaigns and so-called leadership PACs controlled by the lawmakers now pay the expenses for the catering and the lawmakers’ lodging at these events — so they are not gifts — with money collected from the corporate executives and lobbyists, who are still indirectly footing the bill.

“Even if no explicit appeals for help are made, the opportunity to build a relationship with the lawmakers, staff members and family — far from the distractions of Washington — is worth the price of admission, the lobbyists said. The donors and lobbyists, 50 to 100 of whom typically attend the events, generally donate individually or through a corporate political action committee between $1,000 and $5,000 apiece, in addition to paying their own hotel bills and airfare. There is no public disclosure that specifically shows how much is raised at each event, and lawmakers are generally unwilling to say.”

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