- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Oct. 21

The Telegraph of Macon on rural America’s health care challenges:

Thursday’s Telegraph story by Andy Miller of Georgia Health News about the number of premature births in the state rising and The Telegraph’s Andrea Honaker’s companion story on the same subject about Bibb County, reflects how important data can be interpreted to tell many other stories.

Both stories reveal a weakness and strength of our health-care system, but it largely depends on the patients live. If a pregnant woman (using a pregnant woman for this example only but could apply to many other situations) lives in Macon-Bibb County or Houston County, they’re in excellent shape when it comes to levels of available care. Even if they live in Jones or Monroe or Peach counties, facilities are close by that have a number of services and quick access should they need more intensive care.

But what happens if they’re not living in one of the 46 counties that have hospitals with labor and delivery units? That’s right, only 29 percent of the state’s 159 counties have such units and only 75 of state’s hospitals regularly deliver babies. Hospitals that used to do obstetrics don’t any more, and there is a reason, also found in the twin stories on premature births.

The average annual medical cost for a low birth weight baby is $54,000, according to a report from the March of Dimes Foundation. A newborn without complications is only $4,500. A premature baby spends an average of almost 15 days hospitalized while a child without complications spends less than three. And hidden in averages is a lurking statistic. A single premature baby with complications could cost well over $100,000, and most of that money comes from Medicaid.

Nationally, the 2016 preterm birth rate was 9.84 percent, up from 9.63 percent in 2015. Georgia’s numbers went from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent and Macon-Bibb County from 13.8 percent to 14.4 percent. It’s easy to see that Georgia’s rate is higher than the national rate and Macon-Bibb County, 3.2 percent higher than the state’s rate.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Medical Center, Navicent Health, cares for about 45 preterm infants a day, 650 admissions a year. All of the admissions are not from Macon-Bibb County, but as with hospitals, there is a dearth of NICUs in the state and they are categorized in the reverse nomenclature of trauma units. A Level 1 Trauma Center is top of the line, while a Level I NICU can give just the basics of care to low risk babies according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Level IV is NICUs highest level.

Couple all of that together with Georgia’s high rate of uninsured and there is a big problem and it always begins and ends with money. How do you reach the population that needs to be educated about services available to them? March of Dimes and the state hopes to head off problems long before a baby is due. From issuing long-term contraceptives, paid for by Medicaid, to cutting down on early elective deliveries to better prenatal care to education programs.

The problem of access for pregnant women is just one of the symptoms of the disease attacking rural America. Industries that used to locate in small towns have decided to settle in other countries. The highways that could mean prosperity or death to small communities aren’t as important as they once were. Electronic highways are the 21st century’s must have, and with population declines, finding money for that basic infrastructure is daunting.

Farms are becoming, more often than not, controlled by conglomerates. And another must have for rural communities, one that is slipping away faster than ever, is health care. And while there are stop-gap measures such as tele-medicine that will hold the wolf at bay for a time, there remains the need for emergency care within the Golden Hour and labor and delivery services that cannot be handled by technicians.

Georgia, like other states, is looking for solutions. Few, so far, have emerged. It’s not to say that technology won’t lead to answers, but at present, the forces pushing against rural America’s survival seem to be overwhelming, but we’ve been singing, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?” since 1919.

Online: http://www.macon.com/

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Oct. 20

The Valdosta Daily Times on tractor accidents:

We join the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in the effort to prevent crashes involving tractors and farm vehicles.

It is harvest season and motorists need to pay attention, slow down and check their aggression on the roadways.

Georgia Department of Transportation data shows there were 494 crashes involving farm and construction vehicles in Georgia last year that killed 12 people and injured 185 others.

“These tragic accidents can devastate a family and an entire community,” Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black said. “But they are 100 percent avoidable. We are urging everyone on the road this harvest season and every season, to pay attention to our farmers so they can safely continue the good work of putting food on our tables and clothes on our backs.”

Almost 40 percent of the fatal traffic crashes in Georgia in 2016 occurred on rural roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to a statement from the department of safety, many of the crashes are caused by drivers traveling too fast and not being able to stop in time when they are approaching farm vehicles traveling between 18-25 miles per hour.

“Many farmers are literally having to look over their shoulder because so many people are not paying attention and refusing to slow down for farm vehicles who have the legal right to operate their equipment on our roads,” Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said in a prepared statement this week. “Farmers are simply asking to share the road especially this time of year when they are working to get their crops to market.”

The state’s office of highway safety shared the story of Crisp County farmer John Bullington, a grower who said he knows firsthand about the dangers he and his neighbors face on the road every day.

“Bullington, who has been farming since he was 8 years old, knows of four farmers in his county who have had brand-new tractors, water wagons and other equipment either severely damaged or destroyed after being hit on the road this year. His brother, Donald, hasn’t been able to work for the past four years after he was injured in a crash while driving a high-top sprayer on U.S. Highway 41. ‘These crashes change farming operations completely and can cause some farmers to lose their land,’ Bullington said. ‘When a farmer is hurt in a crash, it turns their world upside down, and that is what has happened to us.’”

Georgia law requires all farm vehicles on the road to have triangle-shaped signs which signal they are traveling at speeds significantly slower than normal traffic.

Many farmers also use other devices such as battery-operated flashing lights to help other drivers see them. When it is safe for them to do so, farmers will pull over and allow vehicles to pass.

Motorists need to simply slow down and be cautious as they near slow-moving farm vehicles and remember these growers are feeding and clothing our families.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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Oct. 23

The Savannah Morning News on abandoned shopping carts:

Nearly everyone has seen abandoned shopping carts junking up neighborhoods around Savannah. They are four-wheeled eyesores that suggest neglect and promote blight and decay.

It’s good to see that city officials apparently are taking a harder line on this ongoing problem. The city today is hosting the first of two public meetings to get feedback on a proposed new ordinance that would apply to merchants with 10 or more shopping carts in their inventories.

The issue of abandoned carts cluttering up the landscape is an old one. Four years ago, City Council addressed the same matter - first by sending letters to merchants asking them to take better care of their property and threatening to round up the carts and charging merchants a fee to get them back if they didn’t do more self-policing.

Merchants have little control over selfish or inconsiderate customers who walk off with their carts to wheel their purchases home, which is a form of theft that is typically not enforced.

Some merchants do a good job of patrolling neighborhoods around their stores and picking up stray carts that are left on sidewalks, curbsides or in ditches. Others don’t. That’s where the city comes in.

Actually merchants could solve this problem tomorrow. They could adopt the token-return strategy that requires consumers to deposit a quarter to get a cart and then returns the quarter when the cart is brought back to where it belongs. That’s what the Aldi grocery store chain does, with much success.

Another fix is only using carts that employ an automatic wheel-locking mechanism when the cart is taken from the store property, rendering it useless to the customer and allowing store employees to easily retrieve it.

In Dallas, some merchants have gone the extra mile in apartment-heavy neighborhoods by installing cart corrals within certain apartment complexes to at least keep the carts contained until its employees round them up later. While that doesn’t eliminate the eyesores, at least it keeps them contained.

Also important is enforcement. When was the last time police officers arrested someone for walking off with a grocery cart? If the city isn’t serious about enforcement, it’s unlikely to solve this problem.

While abandoned grocery carts pale in comparison to the problem of violent crime, it is a quality-of-life issue that can contribute to neighborhood decline. But solving it could contribute to more important improvements, including reduction of blight, civic beautification and a healthy rebirth of neighborhood pride.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/


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