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Georgia Health News

Courtesy of GHN

This is the seventh in a series of articles reported in Northwest Georgia, an area rich in stories about unmet health needs and about people and programs making a difference. Georgia Health News and the health and medical journalism graduate program at UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication collaborated to produce this series, made possible by support from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and the Institute of International Education.

Abraham Park / Georgia Health News

The tan bungalow on the Gilbert Elementary School campus in LaFayette, Ga. is scarcely bigger than a house trailer.

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Although it could easily be mistaken for a temporary classroom, the building is a clinic. It’s one of six local medical clinics in rural Northwest Georgia run by Primary Healthcare Centers, a nonprofit that is designated as a federally qualified health center.

Paul Sancya / associated press file

This is the fourth in a series of articles reported in Northwest Georgia, an area rich in stories about unmet health needs and about people and programs making a difference. Georgia Health News and the health and medical journalism graduate program at UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication collaborated to produce this series, made possible by support from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and the Institute of International Education.

A Little-Known Star Of Hospital Safety In Georgia

May 15, 2017
David Goldman / Associated Press

This is the third in a series of articles reported in Northwest Georgia, an area rich in stories about unmet health needs and about people and programs making a difference. Georgia Health News and the health and medical journalism graduate program at UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication collaborated to produce this series, made possible by support from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and the Institute of International Education.

Andy Miller, CEO and editor of the online publication Georgia Health News, talks about the future of health care in metro Atlanta.
Brenna Beech / WABE File

The new health care plan passed by the U.S. House on Thursday is the latest attempt by Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.  

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The first GOP plan, which failed to pass the House, raised concerns – even among members of the GOP – about how it would affect Georgia patients, and the state government.

Seth Wenig / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Three Georgians with disabilities have filed a lawsuit alleging that state agencies have failed to provide accommodations to help them maintain their eligibility for food stamps and Medicaid.

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Thousands of Georgians with disabilities face a similar risk of a benefits cutoff, the lawsuit contends.

In a Friday, May 6, 2016 photo, LSU medical student Felicia Venable, left, examines a patient as fellow students and medical residents observe during daily rounds at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Gerald Herbert / Associated Press

Another rural hospital is closing its doors in Georgia.

Jenkins (County) Medical Center in Millen will close in June, and its services will merge with a hospital in Sylvania in neighboring Screven County, the hospitals’ owner, Optim Health System, said Tuesday.

The two hospitals are about 20 miles from each other in east Georgia, roughly midway between Augusta to the north and Savannah to the south.

Atlanta skyline in smog. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Atlanta_cityscape_032008.jpg
Cwolfsheep / wikimedia.org

Metro Atlanta and Georgia continue to show improvements in air quality, a new report says.

The American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report shows Georgia has improved on the three most common forms of hazardous air pollution.

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Georgia Health News

Debra Wood went to an emergency room four years ago because her abdomen was swollen and acutely painful. That led to a 12-day stay in the hospital.

While she was there, she also learned that she had diabetes.

Wood had no health insurance at the time, and after being discharged she was bombarded with hospital and doctor bills totaling nearly $40,000. She struggled to pay them and finally filed for bankruptcy.

Georgia Health News

While the Affordable Care Act has brought down the number of uninsured adults in the United States, huge gaps persist in how much access to care people really have.

Currently, about 14 percent of Georgians are uninsured. Many of these people have problems—such as mental health issues—that need highly specific care. They often turn to charitable organizations for help.

The House Republican healthcare plan has been met with derision and skepticism from politicians and the public alike.
J. Scott Applewhite, File / Associated Press

Top Georgia Republicans so far have been fairly quiet about the plan from U.S. House Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare).

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Eboni Lemon / WABE

Tuesday on "Closer Look with Rose Scott and Jim Burress":

Thursday's ''Closer Look'' profiles the Atlanta Police Department’s ''Millennial Leaders Citizen Police Academy.''
Eboni Lemon / WABE

Thursday on "Closer Look with Rose Scott and Jim Burress":

Wellstar Cobb Hospital
Al Such / WABE

The biggest insurer and the biggest hospital system in Georgia are joining forces.

WellStar Health System and Blue Cross Blue Shield have agreed to take part in a federal insurance exchange product.

“Continuity of physician and hospital is important to consumers and you know, you feel comfortable with somebody you trust. And if a WellStar patient very much likes their doctor, they can keep them if they stay in the Blue Cross network,” said Andy Miller, with Georgia Health News. 

The HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is considering raising the rate for people who get their health insurance from the company through the Obamacare exchange.

This comes days after Aetna released a statement saying it couldn't afford to stay on the Georgia exchange. 

Aetna's exit means roughly 90,000 Georgians will have to look for new coverage this fall. Blue Cross is expected to pick up many of those Aetna members.

Closer Look: Land Contracts; Aetna In Georgia; And More

Aug 17, 2016
For Sale Sign in front of a Marietta home
Al Such / WABE

Wednesday on "Closer Look with Rose Scott and Jim Burress":

Alison Guillory / WABE

The negotiations between Piedmont Healthcare and UnitedHealthcare are in a stalemate.

The contract between Piedmont and United expired nearly a month ago, and there's been little progress since.

Piedmont has notified United it will cut its final contract with Piedmont Newton next January.

If that happens, all six of Piedmont's facilities would then be "out of network" with United.

United spokesman Daryl Richard said Piedmont is asking for nearly a 30 percent hike for hospital costs and that would be too expensive for patients.

Georgia's financial reserves for its State Health Benefit Plan, which is used to cover roughly 650,000 state employees and teachers, was taken by officials to balance the budget during the Great Recession.

Now the plan faces a a projected $55 million deficit within two to three years.

That's why the Department of Community Health is looking for ways to address upcoming money woes.

Wellstar Cobb Hospital
Al Such / WABE

WellStar Health System will soon be the largest health care provider in the state.

On Friday, April 1, the name on the front door of six Georgia hospitals will change to WellStar.

The Marietta-based company is adding five hospitals in metro Atlanta and one hospital in LaGrange.

So, what does this mean for patients?    

“Typically mergers tend to raise prices, whether it’s a cable company merger or a hospital merger, so we’ll have to watch that,” says Andy Miller, the editor and CEO of Georgia Health News.

Wellstar Cobb Hospital
Al Such / WABE

WellStar Health Systems is about to acquire yet another hospital by folding LaGrange’s West Georgia Health into its growing network. 

Marietta-based WellStar and West Georgia Health say the partnership will likely become official in early April, after state Attorney General Sam Olens signed off on the deal this week.

Jerry Fulks, president and CEO of West Georgia Health, said while his flagship hospital, West Georgia Medical Center, is in good financial shape now, WellStar offers more stability.

Southern Regional May Get Lifeline From Ca. Company

Jul 30, 2015
The front entrance of Southern Regional Healthcare Center in Riverdale, Georgia
Brenna Beech / WABE

Southern Regional Medical Center in Clayton County has struggled for years to provide medical care to residents on metro Atlanta's south side.

Now on the brink of closing at least some programs, Southern Regional may have found a financial lifeline.

California-based Prime Healthcare Services is in talks with the hospital to buy the facility and make it part of Prime Healthcare's foundation. 

Driver being given a breathalyzer test.
miguelrd68 / Special to WABE

Over the last five years, the number of DUI convictions has been dropping, but it’s not clear why.

According to Georgia Health News, it may be connected to more drivers refusing to take sobriety tests.

In Georgia, if an officer pulls you over and asks you to walk in a straight line, stand on one leg or blow into a breathalyzer, you can say no.

If you opt out, your license is suspended for one year, but you get a temporary license while you fight the charge.

Hutcheson.org

Many of Georgia's rural hospitals are on life support.

A rural hospital is found in areas that have a population of under 35,000.

There are dozens of them in Georgia, and a significant number of these facilities face financial woes.

“It’s a problem that’s not going away, it seems to be growing,” says Andy Miller, the CEO and editor of Georgia Health News

Miller says one big issue is that rural areas have high unemployment, which leads to a lot of uninsured patients. 

The Ebola virus, captured by an electron microscope.
CDC

State officials, including Gov. Nathan Deal, say having hospitals prepared to handle the threat of Ebola is a top priority.

Educating the general public is also being stressed.

"We are working to ensure that all of Georgia knows what to look for, what questions to ask and what to do," says Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.