ATLANTA – As COVID hospitalizations soar in Georgia and Democrats and Republicans spar over how to deal with them, the state’s largest hospital system is canceling all non-essential medical procedures and surgeries.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Grady Health System CEO John Haupert said, “The Labor Day weekend proved to be labor-intensive at Grady. Seriously ill patients with COVID-19 and other significant health issues inundated the hospital. And because other hospitals in the area are just as full, our weekend-long total diversion status did little to slow the steady stream of ambulance-delivered patients. And remember, like any other hospital, it is our responsibility to always care for anyone who comes through our doors – we will never turn anyone away.
“Because of the strain this is putting on the health system, our patients, and our staff, we must make some changes to the way we operate. As of today, we are canceling non-essential outpatient surgery and procedures. We will regularly review patient volumes to determine when we can resume those services. We are working through this as best we can, all while watching closely for a potential post-holiday COVID-19 surge.
“We realize this is a decision that will inconvenience our patients but is necessary under these extraordinary circumstances to keep our patients and staff safe.”
On Wednesday, two Georgia Democratic congressmen – David Scott of Atlanta and Hank Johnson of Stone Mountain – wrote a letter urging Gov. Brian Kemp to enact a statewide pause on elective, in-patient surgeries. They also called for Kemp to extend licensing waivers for hospitals and health-care workers who provide critical services beyond the current waivers’ Sept. 19 expiration date.
“Hospital systems are being forced to make difficult decisions about how to care for patients when there aren’t enough resources to go around,” the congressmen said. “Our state is at a critical point in its fight against the pandemic and as elected officials, we must prioritize the health and well-being of our citizens above all other considerations.”
In response, Kemp urged Scott and Johnson to “request the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set a maximum rate for contract health-care workers” and “demand clear guidance from the [federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the White House regarding COVID-19 booster shots and their detailed logistical plans to assist states in this enormous undertaking.
“My top priority over the last month has been to ensure hospitals across our state have the necessary resources at their disposal to deliver care to Georgians in need,” Kemp wrote.
The governor said he has directed the state Department of Community Health to increase state-supported hospital staffing from 1,500 to 2,800 and authorized up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops to assist hospital systems with non-medical staffing needs.
Wednesday’s latest coronavirus figures from the state Department of Public Health show 1.14 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with more than 20,000 deaths and 75,214 hospitalizations.
On Tuesday, a personal finance website, WalletHub, released a survey showing Georgia ranks 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of overall coronavirus recovery.
ATLANTA – Two of Georgia’s senior congressmen are urging Gov. Brian Kemp to take action in the wake of a surge in COVID hospitalizations.
U.S. Reps. David Scott, D-Atlanta, and Hank Johnson, D-Stone Mountain, urged Kemp Tuesday to order a statewide pause on elective, in-patient surgeries. They also called for Kemp to extend licensing waivers for hospitals and health-care workers who provide critical services beyond the current waivers’ Sept. 19 expiration date.
In a letter to Kemp, Johnson and Scott said the COVID-19’s delta variant has caused “a sharp increase in the number of confirmed cases, particularly among children and the unvaccinated.
“Hospital systems are being forced to make difficult decisions about how to care for patients when there aren’t enough resources to go around,” they said. “Our state is at a critical point in its fight against the pandemic and as elected officials, we must prioritize the health and well-being of our citizens above all other considerations.”
The letter follows numbers posted Sept. 3 by the Georgia Department of Public Health in which the state surpassed 20,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Scott and Johnson also said recent data shows unvaccinated patients have pushed Georgia’s hospitals to their capacity limits, with nearly 92% of emergency room beds in the state currently occupied.
In response, Kemp urged Scott and Johnson to “request the Federal Emergency Management Administration to set a maximum rate for contract healthcare workers” and “demand clear guidance from the CDC and the White House regarding COVID-19 booster shots and their detailed logistical plans to assist states in this enormous undertaking.
“My top priority over the last month has been to ensure hospitals across our state have the necessary resources at their disposal to deliver care to Georgians in need,” Kemp responded. He said he has directed the state Department of Community Health to increase state-supported hospital staffing from 1,500 to 2,800 personnel, and authorized up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops to assist hospital systems with non-medical staffing needs.
On Tuesday, a personal finance website, WalletHub, released a survey showing Georgia ranks 47th among all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of overall coronavirus recovery.
“We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure the availability of adequate hospital capacity to provide the best possible care for COVID-9 patients,” Johnson and Scott wrote. “Placing a temporary pause on elective procedures and extending licensing requirement waivers for hospitals and health-care workers would demonstrate Georgia’s commitment to our health care community and your continued dedication to eradicating the pandemic.”
“While well-intentioned, it is abundantly clear that you have not reached out to my office or spoken with hospital leadership across Georgia,” Kemp replied. “If you had, you would know I have repeatedly utilized executive orders to streamline licensing requirements on healthcare systems since March 2020.”
Scott is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Johnson is chair of the HouseJudiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.
This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.
Former President Donald Trump will headline a Sept. 25 rally in Perry, his first appearance in the Peach State since the U.S. Senate runoff elections back in January.
The Save America rally will be held at the Georgia National Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 2 p.m.
The announcement of Trump’s appearance comes only a few days after University of Georgia football great Herschel Walker announced his candidacy for the GOP Senate nomination.
Walker, who counts Trump as a close friend and supporter, is hoping to challenge Democratic incumbent Rev. Raphael Warnock next fall. Warnock ousted Kelly Loeffler in one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs, with Democrat Jon Ossoff defeating Republican David Perdue in the other contest.
Trump has given indications he might seek the GOP White House nomination in 2024, after Joe Biden defeated the Republican incumbent in last November’s presidential election. Biden carried Georgia in an election in which Trump continued to allege voter fraud.
This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.
State health agencies in Georgia are weathering last year’s budget cuts from the COVID-19 pandemic with a boost from the federal government and by working more remotely, several agency heads told state lawmakers Thursday.
An increase of hundreds of millions of dollars in the federal share of Medicaid costs helped the state Department of Community Health (DCH) cover more Medicaid-eligible families and children “than we have ever had before,” said DCH Commissioner Frank Berry.
The number of Medicaid recipients in Georgia spiked by more than 150,000 between March and August of last year, increasing to about 2 million recipients as of September, according to federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.
DCH officials managed to save nearly $345 million under a federal policy allowing states to reduce their payment shares for Medicaid through the end of June this year, after which officials expect Georgia’s Medicaid costs to increase by about $201 million in fiscal 2022.
Larger federal spending on Medicaid also saved about $32 million in costs that would have been cut last year from the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), which treats more than 200,000 Georgians with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Mental-health caseworkers benefitted from relaxed rules on telehealth that allowed them to keep seeing clients remotely who may have otherwise fallen into crisis situations requiring emergency hospital care, said DBHDD Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald.
“There is no aspect of health and human services that has not been touched by the pandemic,” Fitzgerald said. “Every impact of our delivery service has been dramatically changed very rapidly as a result of [COVID-19].”
Health-focused agencies pitched lean budget proposals Thursday after weathering roughly $2.2 billion in spending cuts last year across state government from the pandemic. State lawmakers are assessing budgets through June 2022 that would avoid the 10% cuts approved during last year’s legislative session.
Federal funds also propped up the state Department of Human Services (DHS) with $30 million for home-delivered meals and caregiver support for the thousands of elderly Georgians the agency serves, said DHS Commissioner Robyn Crittenden. Her agency is seeking an extra $1 million for more elder-abuse caseworkers.
Meanwhile, the state Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) is set for about $14 million in savings after adopting out foster kids to homes last year. DFCS Director Tom Rawlings told lawmakers the agency has reduced the number of foster children in its care from 15,000 to 11,200 since 2018 but could move faster if placement hearings were not suspended due to the pandemic.
“We’ve got to have those hearings to move those children into successful permanency,” Rawlings said.
With the budget picture clearer, agencies like Berry’s DCH are preparing to spend millions of dollars on implementing Gov. Brian Kemp’s health insurance changes starting in July. DCH officials are also grappling with a nearly $700-million deficit projected in the next few years for the state health benefit plan, which covers around 665,000 government and school employees in Georgia.
The amended fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2022 budgets for the agencies are poised for approval in the coming weeks as the General Assembly continues the 2021 legislative session.
State lawmakers are pushing for Georgia voters to pass a ballot measure that would in set in stone how certain taxpayer dollars can be used for dedicated funds like cleaning up tire dumps.
Georgians will decide in the November election whether to approve a constitutional amendment that requires state funds reserved for specific purposes to be spent on those purposes, rather than funnel back into the all-purpose general fund.
The amendment’s approval would be a boon for Georgia environmentalists and local government officials who have watched large chunks of state funding meant to clean up discarded tires and remediate landfills steer away from those uses in recent uses and redirect into the general fund.
“Passage [of the bill] is going to be the answer to a conundrum that has been around for decades,” said Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City.
“Georgia law has never allowed for the dedication of funds to be collected by the state and to be used by the state agencies without a constitutional amendment. So therefore, it was left up to the goodwill of the General Assembly to try to make it happen.”
The amendment proposal, sponsored by the late Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, would automatically require dedicated funds to be used for specific purposes without need for the General Assembly to pass additional legislation defining that purposes, as has been the practice in recent years.
State lawmakers aired their thoughts on the proposal in a meeting Wednesday of the Georgia Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee.
Several environment advocates and local government leaders highlighted how dollars have been pulled from a solid-waste trust fund meant to clean up tire dumps and other blight, and instead put toward broader uses as Georgia struggled to rebound from the economic recession more than a decade ago.
Roughly 40% of the $366 million raised for the dedicated fund since its creation in 1990 has not actually gone into the fund, said Fairburn City Councilwoman Hattie Portis-Jones.
“What we’d like to see is every dollar collected be used for its intended purpose,” Portis-Jones said at Wednesday’s meeting.
There would still be some caveats for spending funds if the amendment passes. Dedicated funds could not exceed 1% of total state revenues from the previous year. And in a financial emergency, the governor and legislature would have the authority to temporarily suspend the dedication of funds.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed the trust-fund ballot measure after the lawmakers passed it in March. It requires final voter approval in the Nov. 3 general election before taking effect.
State Sen. Nikema Williams was tapped by Georgia Democratic leaders Monday to run as the party’s nominee to replace Congressman John Lewis in the upcoming Nov. 3 election, following the civil rights icon’s death on Friday.
Lewis’ death at age 80 precipitated a frantic search over the weekend to pick a new nominee to run for his 5th Congressional District seat in November, since the civil rights leader had already won the Democratic primary in June and therefore needed to be replaced.
Williams, who currently chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, touted her background as an activist and seasoned lawmaker during a party meeting Monday, which resulted in her selection as the nominee for the Atlanta-based congressional seat Lewis held for more than three decades.
She cast herself in the mold of Lewis as a fighter who would push for voting rights and follow up on her work in the Georgia Senate, to which she was elected in 2017. Beyond the state Capitol, she holds executive positions in the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
“I have a long career in activism, advocacy and policy to serve as a strong fighter for our communities and values nationally,” said Williams, D-Atlanta. “I believe my experiences, accomplishments and proven record of fighting for my constituents and party values make me the ideal candidate for this seat.”
Williams will need to drop her re-election bid for her Atlanta-based 39th state Senate District seat in order to run for Congress. The Senate district, like Lewis’ congressional district, leans heavily Democratic.
Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader who was beaten by police in Selma, Ala., during a protest march in 1965, served 33 years in Congress before his death following a seven-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Lewis was poised to defend his seat for an 18th consecutive term against Republican challenger Angela Stanton King. But his death sparked a complicated and quick-moving process for state Democrats to pick his replacement to square off against King rather than let Republicans claim the reliably blue district.
Under state law, Democratic leaders had until Monday at 4:30 p.m. to hand in their replacement nominee to the Secretary of State’s office, prompting a hectic round of weekend inter-party wrangling to winnow down a list of 131 people who applied for a chance to be the nominee.
By Monday, those applicants were trimmed to five finalists: state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta; Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens; former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin; Georgia NAACP President James Woodall; and Williams.
Party leaders picked Williams by a near-unanimous vote during a meeting that ran close to the deadline. Before voting, they took turns to honor Lewis, praise the five finalists and slam the state law that forced them to submit a replacement nominee within one business day.
Speaking at Monday’s party meeting, Williams recalled growing up just across the Georgia line in Smiths Station, Ala., where she hitched rides on her grandfather’s truck to help hand out slate cards for voters in her neighborhood on Election Day.
She reminisced over reading about her great-aunt, Autherine Lucy, who was the first Black student to attend the University of Alabama in 1956. Williams noted joining a union while in college, teaching in Fulton County schools and working for Planned Parenthood Southeast as public-policy executive.
Williams also described being arrested during protests after the controversial 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, framing the event as an example of the fighting spirit similar to that which Lewis showed in his life.
“He showed me the value of putting myself, sometimes physically, in between the dangerous policies that the most vulnerable communities are hurt by,” Williams said. “His leadership and fighting spirit are needed now more than ever in this country.”