Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2018

23
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2018

On January 23, 1775, the Georgia Commons House elected three delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

On January 23, 1861, Georgia’s members of the United States House of Representatives resigned following passage of the Secession Ordinance; her Senators had resigned earlier. The next day, the secession convention in Milledgeville elected ten delegates to a conference of Southern states in Montgomery, Alabama

On January 23, 1923, Georgia ratified the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution, which ended Presidential terms on January 20th following an election and those of Congress on January 3d.

On January 23, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon announced that terms had been reached to settle the Vietnam War, a document known as the “Paris Peace Accords.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The Senate and House both convene at 10 AM today.

8:00 AM HOUSE APPROP GEN’L GOV’T 341 CAP
9:00 AM HOUSE APPROP PUBLIC SAFETY 415 CLOB
12:00 PM SEN RULES – UPON ADJOURNMENT 450 CAP
1:30 PM HOUSE Ways & Means Ad Valorem Sub 133 CAP
2:00 PM SEN SCIENCE AND TECH – CANCELED 307 CLOB
2:00 PM SEN NAT’L RESOURCES AND ENVT – CANCELED 310 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE JUDICIARY (CIVIL) 132 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE ENERGY, UTIL & TELECOM 403 CAP
3:00 PM JOINT HIGHER EDUCATION 406 CLOB
4:00 PM SENATE BANKING AND FIN INST- CANCELLED

Most of Georgia’s Congressional Delegation voted to reopen the federal government.

The compromise to reopen the government was spearheaded by a bipartisan group of nearly two-dozen senators, including Republican U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

“It’s an agreement to do our jobs,” Isakson said in an interview. “So we’ve got the shutdown out of our system and hopefully we won’t have any others.”

Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue also backed the bill, as did the state’s 10 House Republicans, who framed Monday’s vote as a clear-cut win for the party.

“The House (GOP) did exactly what we said we were going to do. We stayed unified,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the House’s No. 5-ranking Republican.

The state’s two more centrist Democrats, U.S. Reps. David Scott of Atlanta and Sanford Bishop of Albany, supported the proposal, citing the shutdown’s impact on the military and Georgia’s economy more broadly….

“This is something that we have an obligation to take up,” U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said of language protecting so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. He voted against the proposal, as did Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a frequent sparring partner of President Donald Trump’s.

Furloughed federal employees reported to work yesterday in order to be formally furloughed.

Thousands of federal employees across the Peach State were sent home Monday morning without pay before the Senate and and then the House both approved the budget deal, which would fund the government through Feb. 8.

Richard Norris got his furlough notice when he reported for work in the morning at Fort Gordon. A tactical satellite instructor living in Augusta, Norris wondered whether he would be able to pay his bills on time and take a long-planned beach vacation in the spring. Then the Senate took its vote early in the afternoon. The U.S. Army veteran saw it as a glimmer of hope. But Norris is still worried he and other federal employees will be right back in the same place next month.

Dwight Rice got the same furlough notice Monday at Fort Gordon, where he works as a telecommunications specialist. Like Norris, the Grovetown resident wants Congress to eliminate the uncertainty he and other federal workers are grappling with and pass a budget, not another short-term spending plan.

At Robins Air Force Base, about 4,000 of the military installation’s roughly 12,600 employees were furloughed Monday.

“Employees reported to work Monday morning to carry out orderly shutdown activities,” Robins spokesman Vance “Geoff” Janes said in an email. “These shutdown activities may include receiving and acknowledging furlough notices, completing any required time and attendance, setting email/voicemail out-of-office notifications, securing files, and other activities necessary to preserve the employee’s work.”

Eighteen Georgia Department of Labor staffers were also furloughed Monday. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said most of his agency’s funding comes from the federal government, and that he warned staffers about the impact Friday. Butler said the 18 staffers do statistical reporting for the agency. Among other things, they compile and report unemployment data.

Meanwhile, the shutdown forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cancel training for about 60 officials from Henry County and its various cities. Henry was one of two counties that received a grant to send people to a weeklong integrated emergency management course this week in Emmitsburg, Md. The program helps prepare communities for coordinated attacks.

“We are hoping to get it rescheduled this fiscal year,” Henry County spokeswoman Melissa Robinson said. “That will be up to FEMA and Homeland Security when they want to do that.”

FEMA will reimburse the county for the unused airfare and the prepaid cost for meals, Robinson said, though she did not provide details on those expenses.

Politico asks whether Georgia will turn blue in 2018, proving that they learned nothing from asking the same stupid question in 2014, 2016, and 2017.

The party has two major candidates with a lot in common: Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans are both veterans of the Georgia state House. Both are running as unapologetic liberals who see a path to victory guided by tapping into black voters, whom they see as an electoral sleeping giant — and courting suburban whites who usually vote Republican but are repelled by President Donald Trump.

It’s a strategy that worked for Democrats in the special election for a Senate seat in Alabama last month. Doug Jones ran up huge margins among African-American voters, who showed up in droves, while running stronger than other recent Democratic candidates in the state’s suburban counties.

Now, Abrams and Evans are testing whether that model can work in Georgia, where the party has lost four consecutive gubernatorial races.

In both cases, Democrats said shifting demographics in the South — specifically an influx of young and minority voters — could put some states in play. That wasn’t enough then. This time, though, they think the combination of demographics and Trump’s dismal ratings might be.

Abrams thinks Democrats can change the electorate by targeting liberal and minority voters outside metro Atlanta.

“I know that to win this election, we have to be granular. We have to go to voters directly and have conversations, and I would say that in previous years on the Democratic side of the aisle, we have not gone deep enough,” Abrams said in an interview. “We have ignored potential voters because they did not fit a national narrative of the type of voter we should have. We ignored communities of color. We ignored progressive communities that were not in metro areas.”

Evans, in a separate interview, agreed — but stressed that the party needs to reach out to suburban and rural whites, too.

“Increasing base turnout, increasing African-American turnout is vital,” Evans said. “We’ve got to have that increased minority, base turnout. But we also saw in both [Virginia and Alabama] a huge increase in the white vote, particularly from suburban areas, coming over for Democrats.”

The United States Department of Education has approved Georgia’s new education plan, drafted by GDOE.

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods and his staff drafted the state’s plan, but while not required, Deal refused to endorse it.

“The governor maintains there are still deficiencies with the state plan, particularly around performance measures and testing,” Jen Talaber Ryan, a spokeswoman for Deal’s office, told The Times in an email on Monday. “In order to equip students in the classroom and for the world beyond, we must continue to set high standards for our children. The governor is hopeful the state school superintendent will insist upon this as well, rather than using flexibility to skirt these accountability measures.”

Georgia, along with Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Montana and New Hampshire, had its plan OK’d last Friday, bringing the total to 35 states whose ESSA plans have been approved.

“I am pleased to approve these plans which comply with the requirements of the law,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a press release. “I encourage states to use their plans as a starting point, rather than a finish line, to improve outcomes for all students.”

“Thousands of Georgians — parents, students, educators, policymakers, members of the business community — gave us their feedback as we worked to create our state’s ESSA plan,” Woods said in a statement. “We listened and heard that Georgians want a K-12 education system that supports the whole child; a system that produces students who are not just college- and career-ready, but ready for life. This plan is a direct response to that feedback, and reflects our continued focus on expanding opportunities for Georgia’s students.”

Deal continues to stress that he wants broader emphasis on student test results in school ratings.

State House Ways & Means Committee Chair Jay Powell (R-Camilla) is backing legislation to require that

The concept is simple: If lawmakers tell Georgians they are going to charge $1 for each old tire you trade in to pay to clean up abandoned tire dumps — which they did more than two decades ago — that’s where the money will go.

Still, year after year the proposals stall as governors and budget writers worry that they won’t have the flexibility to divert tens of millions of dollars in fee revenue when they think the state needs to spend the money elsewhere.

The leading outside-the-Legislature force behind the truth-in-fee legislation is the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which says about $200 million or so has been diverted from tipping or landfill fees and the tire fee. Meanwhile counties don’t always have the money they need to do what the fees were intended to do, clean up dumps.

Todd Edwards, a lobbyist for the ACCG, said the state has a rather “shoddy” history of keeping its promises on the fees.

Powell’s House Resolution 158 is a proposed constitution amendment that would let lawmakers dedicate revenue from fees to specific funds and causes for up to 10 years, when they would come up for renewal.

If the state faced a financial emergency, lawmakers could suspend the dedication of the fee revenue and the money could go into the government’s general fund to be spent where it’s needed.

Cobb County Democrats are targeting the State House seat being vacated by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) for a takeover in November.

Having already taken one legislative seat formerly held by state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, in December, they intend to take more this fall.

Two Democrats have already announced: Erick Allen, who lost to Golick in the previous two elections, and Justin Gorman, an attorney in the health care industry and an Air Force veteran.

Of all the districts that include parts of Cobb, Golick’s District 40 is probably most at risk for the GOP, believes Kerwin Swint, director of Kennesaw State University’s School of Government and International Affairs.

“That is near the top of the list, maybe the top of the list of districts as far as districts in this area that are likely to flip,” Swint said.

“The Cobb GOP isn’t going to take any seat for granted, and neither should the other side,” said Cobb GOP Chair Jason Shepherd. “I’m not only talking with potential candidates for District 40, but we are actively recruiting candidates for every legislative district in Cobb County.”

Congressman Rick Allen (R-Augusta) will face challengers in the 2018 Primary and General elections.

Augusta businessman Eugene Yu, a Republican, and Statesboro attorney Francys Johnson, a Democrat, each announced campaigns for the 12th district.

Yu, who unsuccessfully challenged Allen in 2014 and 2016, aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump at a news conference.

“Like our great president, I am for every man and woman who wants a better life,” while veterans and legal residents must come first, Yu said.

Allen would face Yu on the May 22 Republican primary ballot. The winner will face Johnson or fellow Democratic contender, Statesboro businessman Trent NeSmith, who announced his campaign last year, on the November ballot.

Johnson is a civil rights lawyer, pastor and former president of the Georgia NAACP.

“We deeply believe this is going to be a wave election and candidates matter,” Johnson said. “The 12th District will be reclaimed.”

Columbus Council member Skip Henderson announced he will resign his current seat ahead of a run for Mayor.

As Columbus Councilor Skip Henderson prepares to run for mayor later this year, he said on Monday he will resign his council post about three weeks before he qualifies to allow his current seat to be on the May ballot.

The timing of Henderson’s resignation is critical to how he will be replaced on the 10-member council.

“We didn’t get pushed into this,” Henderson said Monday afternoon. “This is consistent with what I have done while serving on council. When there has been an opportunity to allow the citizens of this community to vote, that is what I have done. It’s the purest form of government.”

Henderson plans to resign on Feb. 14. The qualifying period for the May 22 city election is March 5-9. Henderson will miss one scheduled council business meeting and one proclamation meeting by resigning early.

Hall County Commissioners appear poised to approve pay increases for local law enforcement officers, according to the Gainesville Times.

After remarks from Sheriff Gerald Couch, the Hall County Board of Commissioners slotted the pay increases into the commission’s consent agenda — a package of items that are voted on as a whole and routinely approved by the commission.

Deputies up to the rank of captain would receive raises of 2.5 percent if the package is approved. The package also includes a dollar-per-hour raise for certified officers working the night shift — a proposal that has been discussed since the 1980s, Couch said.

The raises would cost $377,000 in additional payroll for the five months remaining in the fiscal year. If approved, they would take effect Feb. 18, according to Couch, who said increasing pay is “just a start” to solving the office’s vacancy problem.

Cobb County Commission Chair Mike Boyce delivered the State of the County address.

Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce said the county has seen significant economic growth within the past year, but he stressed the need to address the side effects of that growth in 2018 and beyond.

On the residential side, Boyce said county commissioners last year approved nearly $480 million in new developments in unincorporated Cobb — single-family houses, townhomes and multi-use developments expected to add more than 1,400 new homes in all ranging in price from $126,000 to more than $1 million.

But amid those growing numbers, he said, are challenges the county must address.

“We can no longer ignore the implications of a hot housing market — two major effects being a growing population of homeless and prices that prevent our public safety officials, teachers and service workers from renting or buying in Cobb,” Boyce said, adding that he has tasked Michael Murphy, Boyce’s assistant for special projects, with working alongside Cobb cities to address both issues.

Though Boyce in recent days has held appearances to address increases to senior fees amid a projected $30 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2019, he said he would be proposing to county commissioners increases in funding to several areas.

One of those areas, he said, was in the county’s accountability courts, which provides an avenue for nonviolent offenders to go through rehabilitation services as an alternative to jail time.

He also said the county will address the issue of compensation for public safety officers in the 2019 budget.

Butts County Commissioners elected District 5 Commissioner Russ Crumbley as Chair.

District 5 Commissioner Russ Crumbley was appointed chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jan. 9 by his colleagues on the board. He takes over for District 2 Commissioner Robert L. Henderson Sr., who served as chairman for 2017.

The chairman of the Butts County Board of Commissioners is appointed each January from among the five board members to serve a one-year term.

District 1 Commissioner Ken Rivers was voted by his colleagues to be vice chairman for 2018, taking over from District 3 Commissioner Joe Brown. The position of vice chairman is also appointed from among the board members for a one-year term beginning each January.

Rome City Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring opioid abuse a “nuisance.”

“I wish we could use stronger language than ‘nuisance,’” Mayor Jamie Doss said. “It’s a crisis.”

City Attorney Frank Beacham said the word is a legal term that positions the city to take action if the board so desires.

The resolution declares that “certain manufacturers and distributors” knowingly hid the risks and addictive nature of the medications, and now governments are bearing the financial and societal burdens.

“(T)he City of Rome shall pursue such legal action as is available … either by itself or in concert with others, and to the full extent of the law,” the resolution continues.

Rome’s resolution cites President Donald Trump’s Oct. 26, 2017, declaration of a public health emergency and Georgia numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

From 2014 to 2015, the state recorded a 64-percent increase in deaths from synthetic opioids — tramadol and fentanyl — and a 37 percent increase in heroin deaths.

“In 2006, opioid drug overdose deaths were 31.5 percent of all overdose deaths and, in 2015, accounted for 68.8 percent of overdose deaths in Georgia,” the resolution states.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp offers his own take on how to fight opioid abuse.

To end the opioid epidemic, we must focus on the underlying ailment and not just the symptoms of the disease. One of the tools available is medication-assisted treatment – better known as MAT.

In December of last year, Georgia State Auditor Greg Griffin published a report, which found that “the state’s efforts to expand the availability of medication-assisted treatment for those with opioid use disorder have been limited.” Griffin recommended a comprehensive opioid strategy that “increase[s] access to MAT — including increasing the number of MAT providers; providing resources and training to practitioners, state supervising officials, and the public; and mitigating barriers to public insurance coverage.”

Tackling the opioid epidemic should be a priority during the 2018 legislative session and the recommendations made in the State Auditor’s report can guide Georgia lawmakers forward. Scientific research shows that patients receiving MAT are more likely to remain in treatment, end illegal drug usage, and avoid the cycle of drug abuse. These patients are also less likely to contract infectious diseases related to IV drug use and less likely to engage in criminal behaviors often associated with substance abuse.

By expanding the availability of medication-assisted treatment, we can save lives, enhance public safety, and ensure a bright and promising future for Georgia families. Again, these outcomes are only possible when you treat the underlying disease — not just the symptoms.

Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris presented the State of the City address.

The growth expected to take place in the region over the next 22 years is expected to impact Gwinnett County specifically because it is projected to become the most populous county in Georgia sometime during that time period.

“It is inevitable that we are growing, and I am a native Duluthian and I have a lot of old friends that come up and say, ‘Don’t you just wish Duluth would be like it used to be,’” Harris said. “Well, it’s not ever going to be that way again. That would be fun, but it’s not there. It’s not going to happen.

“And if we know we’re growing, shouldn’t we plan our growth? Shouldn’t we plan to grow the way we want to grow? We want to attract people here who like good schools, good community, good churches, parks and recs, the arts, cultural events, good dining. We want to put things in place so that when our population surges, those are the people we want to move here.”

Loganville Mayor Rey Martinez has been invited to the White House to meet President Donald Trump at Mayors’ Day.

Martinez was a supporter of Trump during the 2016 president campaign, leading a group that called itself Hispanics for Trump in the final months of the campaign.

He was sworn in as Loganville’s new mayor earlier this month, and is believed to be the first Hispanic mayor of a Georgia city.

“I received a call Friday night from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and was invited to be part of President Donald Trump’s meeting with 75 mayors from across the country and meet leaders with different federal agencies to discuss issues at a city level,” Martinez said.

Trump is expected to address the mayors during the gathering. The municipal leaders are also expected to participate in a working session with officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Economic Council and Small Business Administration during the gathering.

The purpose of having the mayors meet with officials from those agencies is to figure out how the Trump administration can help cities deal with infrastructure, federal partnership, Community Development Block Grants and other issues, according to Loganville officials.

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office seized $400k in cash after a traffic stop that did not result in an arrest.

Sheriff Ashley Paulk said deputies pulled over a Ford van that was driving erratically on West Street.

The driver did not have a driver’s license, and the vehicle had a New York license plate. Paulk said deputies searched the vehicle and found a backpack full of money in the van. The money consisted of $100 bills wrapped by rubber bands.

He said the driver told the deputies he sold a house in New York. He told deputies he was looking to buy a business in Valdosta.

Given the driver’s explanation, the amount of money and the way it was packaged, deputies seized the $400,000. The driver was not taken into custody and allowed to return home, Paulk said.

If the driver, an elder Korean male, can provide the sheriff’s office with a legitimate source for the cash, the money will be returned to him, Paulk said. The driver could have up to six months to provide a source. If no source is provided, the money will be used by the LCSO on equipment, he said.

“You’re not violating the law if you have a reasonable story,” Paulk said. “You know, you don’t find many honest people with $400,000 in a backpack in a van late at night driving around.”

Former McDonough Mayor Richard Craig has died at 83.

Dougherty County elections officials have published qualifying fees for May 22d elections.

The seats occupied by Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas and three members of the County Commission will be up for re-election May 22 when the county holds elections.

Qualifying for the chairman’s seat occupied by Cohilas and the seats held by John Hayes (District 2), Ewell Lyle (District 4) and Anthony Jones (District 6) will be held 9 a.m.-5 p.m. March 5-8 and 9 a.m.-noon on March 9. Qualifying will be conducted by the county’s Democratic and Republican party chairmen at sites not yet determined.

The County Commission set qualifying fees at its business meeting Monday morning. The fees, which remained unchanged, are $324 to qualify for the chairman’s seat and $288 to run for commission seats.

County Clerk Jawahn Ware told commissioners at the meeting that the county also will set fees for candidates qualifying for the Dougherty County Board of Education’s districts 2, 4 and 6 seats. Those seats are currently held by Milton Griffin (2), Melissa Strother (4) and Dean Phinazee (6).

The Henry County Police Department will deploy drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October of 2017 gave authorization to the Police Department to use the drones.

The use of drone technology allows officers to record and take still photos of wreck and fatality scenes. It also allows officers to search for missing people and runaways more efficiently and safely from the air with a wide range view.

“We want to utilize the most cost-effective assets at our disposal in order to provide the best service that we can to the county,” Capt. Vance Rosen, commanding officer of the SWARM Unit, said in a press release. “We have a need for aviation-style units, and helicopter units are cost prohibitive. Implementing this drone unit is a way for us to get eyes in the air to scan greater areas to find what we are looking for.”

Police officials say that operating a drone program with licensed and experienced pilots is highly effective yet cost efficient. Utilizing the department’s federal seized assets and forfeiture funds, the HCPD purchased two drones, including a DJI Phantom 3, which is equipped with an HD digital camera, and a Maxsur Seeker that has the capacity to detect body heat with a thermal camera, for approximately $15,000.

“The time it takes to get helicopter air coverage through mutual aid is often prohibitive,” Rosen said. “Weather is always a factor, but barring bad weather and given a qualified pilot we can have a drone or drones up in minutes.”

The Port of Savannah posted a record year in 2017.

[Georgia Ports Authority executive director Griff] Lynch said the port handled more than 4 million twenty-foot equivalent container units, called TEUs, in 2017. That volume is an additional 400,000 containers and an 11 percent increase over last year.

Lynch reported to GPA board members at their regular monthly meeting those numbers represent the highest volume ever for the port.

“We are the first single terminal in the U.S. to do this,” Lynch said. “These numbers clearly show that Georgia has the fastest growing and most critical port in the Southeast.”

GPA also broke records in December, handling 323,000 TEUs making it the busiest December on record. The December volume is a 10.6 percent increase over 2016.

A record was also set in total trade for 2017, with 35 million tons of cargo going through the port. Cargo was up 3.8 million, or 12 percent.

Lynch said much of the GPA growth is based on imports from Asia.

“We are strong on exports, but imports do continue to outpace exports.”

Pricing for moving cargo from Asia to the Southeast is cheaper going an “all-water,” route, Lynch said.

Rural Healthcare

Georgia Health News reports that a shortage of mental health professionals is impacting rural areas.

The report from Voices for Georgia’s Children cites a “severe shortage’’ of child and adolescent psychiatrists statewide. It also reported that 76 of the state’s 159 counties do not have a licensed psychologist in 2015, and that 52 counties did not have a licensed social worker.

The shortage of qualified mental health providers is statewide, but “is exacerbated outside of metro Atlanta and in rural areas,’’ said Erica Sitkoff, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children, an advocacy group.

Those gaps help lead to many youths not getting needed behavioral health assessments, the report said, adding that two-thirds of Georgia youth with major depression do not receive adequate mental health services.

The most tragic consequence is suicide, which has a devastating impact in the state. The report said suicide is the second-leading cause of death for children ages 15 to 19, and the third for children ages 10 to 14.

This month, Gov. Nathan Deal, in his new proposed budget, recognized the need for more children’s mental health services.

Deal proposed $22.9 million in new funding. It would go for crisis services, therapeutic foster care, Apex grants, telehealth services, suicide prevention, wraparound services, supported employment and education, and opioid prevention and treatment to provide comprehensive support to Georgia’s youth in crisis.

Georgia ranked 43rd out of 50 states on Access to Care measures in a report by Mental Health America.

Navicent Health’s Family Health Center rolled out ConnectWell, a program to help rural diabetic patients use telemedicine.

The program, ConnectWell, was launched Monday at the Family Health Center, Navicent Health. It will provide 100 diabetic patients from rural Georgia’s 2nd and 8th Congressional districts with internet-ready tablets and an unlimited data plan, according to a release.

By using the tablet, patients will be able to monitor their diabetes from home and interact with their primary care physicians through the Robin Health platform, a new-to-market patient engagement platform that blends telemedicine and remote monitoring practices.

Primary care providers at Family Health Center, Navicent Health, are identifying and inviting qualified patients to join the program.

“More than 70 percent of communities in the U.S. with a shortage of primary care doctors are in rural areas,” Tom Halverson, president and CEO of CoBank, said in the statement. “Coupled with a staggering lack of access to high-speed Internet, the health of rural America is disadvantaged in comparison to their urban counterparts. This project is an important step forward as a larger proof of concept and we are proud to back it.”

Augusta University will use a federal grant to establish a Emergency Telehealth network connecting the AU Medical Center to five rural hospitals.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., announced that a $368,501 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant for AU had been included in language he submitted for the FY2017 spending bill. The grant will be used to create an Emergency Telehealth network for rural Georgia by connecting AU physicians with counterparts at five rural hospitals: Wills Memorial Hospital in Washington, Ga., Emanuel Medical Center, Miller County Hospital, Crisp Regional Health Services, and Washington County Regional Medical Center.

“It’s actually a very exciting grant that allows us to build on our prior successes with telemedicine,” said Dr. Richard Schwartz, chair of the AU Department of Emergency Medicine and Hospitalist Services. In addition to Bishop, the grant got a lot of support from the state’s congressional delegation, including U.S Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and U.S. Reps Jody Hice and Rick Allen, he said.

“Many of our rural communities do not have reliable access to healthcare, something I have been committed to changing,” Allen said. “I believe that this grant will improve response times and overall emergency care to the rural, minority and underserved populations in Georgia’s 12th district.”

“We essentially should be able to cut the time down from diagnosis to cath lab to virtually the same as what we would have in our community here,” Schwartz said, which could help improve patient outcomes.

The network should also lend itself to an idea being promoted at AU of training advanced practice nurses alongside Emergency Medicine residents, providers who could then staff rural Emergency Rooms with the backup from Augusta, Schwartz said.

“This is ultimately where the real strength of this project will come in,” he said. “I believe that this strategy with training advanced practice providers, placing them in rural settings with good board-certified Emergency Medicine physician backup and oversight, will allow us to be able to improve the health outcomes in rural Georgia in a very cost-effective model. There is a physician shortage in the rural hospitals and using that model we should be able to staff with advanced practice providers and be able to deliver that higher level of care using technology through telehealth.”

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