- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Aug. 1

The Brunswick News on Coastal Georgia’s marshes:

A recent report by University of Georgia researchers suggests the health of Coastal Georgia’s marshes may be declining.

This is troubling news indeed.

The marshes serve the Golden Isles in a couple of very important ways.

Their beauty, as noted by the 19th century poet Sidney Lanier, is unrivaled and adds to the allure of our area, making it one of the most unique coastal landscapes in the country.

Every year, thousands upon thousands of tourists flock to the Golden Isles in search of adventure in the creeks that wind through the marshes, hoping to get a glimpse of the wading birds that feed there, explore the landscape and catch fish that thrive in the rich waters.

The marshes are responsible for that richness, a point noted by the researchers, who used aerial imagery from the past 28 years to determine that marsh vegetation has declined by 35 percent over the past few decades in the study area between the Altamaha River and the Sapelo Sound.

“A decrease in the growth of marsh plants affects all of the animals that depend on the marsh, such as juvenile shrimp and crabs, which use the marsh as a nursery,” said UGA professor Merryl Alber. “These decreases in vegetation may also affect other marsh services, such as stabilizing shoreline, filtering pollutants and protecting against storm damage.”

While the scientists are attributing the noted decline to drought and rising temperatures, the evidence in the study serves as a reminder that as residents of the Golden Isles, we must do whatever we can to ensure we are doing our part to protect them from threats we can control.

We cannot prevent Mother Nature from taking her toll on the marshes, but we can prevent things like trash from filling them, and unfettered development from altering them in a negative way.

We have a responsibility as Coastal Georgia residents to keep the marshes as healthy as possible.

How we treat the marshes and our unique coastal environment today will impact their viability for future generations.

Online:

http://www.thebrunswicknews.com/

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Aug. 1

The Augusta Chronicle on a private probation company’s legal battles in Georgia:

Disgraced private probation company Sentinel Offender Services continues to pay out big chunks of money for its misdeeds here and across Georgia.

The latest is a $200,000 settlement to LaSaundria J. Walker, who was jailed wrongfully - and horribly - after a warrant for her arrest was mistakenly kept in the system well after she’d literally paid her debt to society.

Sentinel paid Hills McGee $75,000 to settle his lawsuit in April 2015, filed after the firm had the mentally ill veteran jailed - for two weeks! - for allegedly not paying $186 in supervision fees.

Last February, a jury here awarded Kathleen Hucks $50,000 in damages and $125,000 in attorney fees for false arrest and imprisonment. The company had her arrested four times over a six-year time frame for violating probation - twice after her sentence had expired.

“Walker is one of more than a dozen people who have sued Sentinel in Superior Court in Richmond and Columbia counties,” reports The Chronicle’s Sandy Hodson. “At least another dozen civil rights lawsuits have been filed elsewhere in Georgia and in other states.”

Still, the company is still getting off easier than the people it mistreated.

No one from the company, that we know of, has been jailed for a day, much less two weeks, for subjecting Georgians to unlawful arrest and wrongful imprisonment.

Before you write it off as criminals getting their just due, remember: Sentinel handled only such things as misdemeanor and traffic offenses, not felonies.

Thankfully, it no longer even does that; Richmond County transitioned to its own county-run probation department this month.

But think of the trauma associated with being arrested and jailed for even repeat traffic offenses. And that’s just the legitimate arrests. How much more tormenting must an unlawful arrest be?

This newspaper believes that many functions of government could be privatized - and streamlined and made more efficient. It was an awful mistake to privatize probation services, at least in this instance. It’s clear the public good was secondary to the profit motive.

“Money is the only thing Sentinel understands,” one plaintiff’s attorney has said.

Well, perhaps we’re arriving at a better understanding today.

Online:

http://chronicle.augusta.com/

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July 31

The Rome News-Tribune on the first overall rating of hospitals by Medicare:

The first overall rating of hospitals by Medicare has raised a lot of eyebrows and objections from those in the industry over the low to average marks assigned to many leading hospitals including those in Georgia.

The top rating of five stars went to only 102 hospitals out of 3,617 evaluated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The only five-star hospitals in Georgia, according to Medicare, were Gordon Hospital in Calhoun and Northside Medical Center in Columbus.

Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome and Cartersville Medical Center received four-star ratings - the same as Emory University Hospital, the only metro Atlanta area hospital to score that high.

The lowest rating of one star was assigned to five Georgia hospitals: Grady Memorial in Atlanta, the Medical College of Georgia hospitals and clinics in Augusta, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Piedmont Henry in Stockbridge and WellStar Atlanta Medical Center.

Floyd Medical Center netted an average rate of three stars, which went to 1,752 hospitals - almost half the total.

Polk Medical Center was among the 1,042 hospitals that were not even rated because they lacked sufficient cases for accurate evaluations or the necessary data were not collected by Medicare.

The ratings are based on 64 measures published on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website and include death and infection rates as well as patient reviews. However, the criteria do not include specialized care and “cutting-edge care,” such as new means of treating cancer, an omission that flies in the face of a credible rating of a hospital.

It’s understandable that hospital leaders take a dim view of these ratings.

The president of the Georgia Hospital Association, Earl Rogers, made what seems to be a strong case against the ratings. He said, “We are concerned that the CMS hospital star rating oversimplifies the complexity of delivering high quality care and creates more confusion for the heath consumer,” as Georgia Health News reported.

Rogers sized up the issue this way: “Rating overall hospital care is far more complex than a simple star rating and a one-size-fits-all approach, which unfairly penalizes teaching hospitals and those hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of uninsured patients.”

In the same vein, Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, said the new rating system “raises far more questions than answers” for consumers.

Redmond and FMC officials said a rating from a single source doesn’t provide a complete picture.

“We . encourage patients to use a variety of resources - including their provider and family members - to make informed decisions about their care,” said Redmond’s Andrea Pitts.

And FMC pointed out that Healthgrades currently ranks the hospital in the top 5 percent nationally for patient safety.

The ratings may well engender confusion among patients. And if the scores indeed penalize teaching hospitals and those serving a large number of uninsured and poor patients, then there is work to be done on the rating system.

On top of that, the failure to take into account cutting-edge technology is a puzzling omission that undermines the credibility of the ratings. It remains to be seen how useful these new ratings will be.

Online:

http://www.northwestgeorgianews.com/

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