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Saving Lives and Costs in Hancock County: Governor Deal’s Proposal to Improve Rural Health Care in Georgia

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By Senator David Lucas, Georgia Senate District 26

Hancock County, which is in my Georgia State Senate District 26, shut its hospital down fourteen years ago, in 2001, the first in a wave of rural hospital closures in Georgia. Unfortunately, Hancock County is still paying $644,000 annually in debt service for the former privilege, now a continuing burden, of having had access to that long-closed hospital.

Today, Hancock County’s county seat, Sparta, lies about 63 miles away from the regional medical center in Macon. Although there is some emergency treatment in Hancock County, opportunities for more complex diagnosis and care are lacking there.

Constituents of mine in Hancock County are at risk of dying unnecessarily from lack of access to state-of-the-art health care. A possible case in point involved a nine-year-old boy who flipped a golf cart in Hancock County, but died within about 45 minutes, before the most intensive medical care could be administered.

Governor Nathan Deal and Mercer University President Bill Underwood are working together and with me to save lives and costs in Hancock County by putting high-tech medical equipment bags together, and establishing secure cyber-links, all to help the emergency personnel of Hancock County and their patients. The idea is to link sick or injured people in Hancock County with remote doctors who can help diagnose and treat medical problems. Sometimes the sick or injured can be treated more quickly while en route to other medical facilities that are on call 24/7. Other times, a quick medical review can help avoid long, unnecessary trips to such medical facilities.

No practicing doctors live in Hancock County, so after five o’clock, there’s a reduced chance of survival for some people who run into medical trouble, and increased costs for those who are worried about, but unsure of, a preliminary diagnosis.

Mercer University School of Medicine and its Associate Dean for Rural Health, Dr. Jean Sumner, along with Stratus Healthcare, Navicent, Georgia TeleMedicine and Emergency Medical Services, will all be involved in implementing this important test initiative for redressing the declining state of health care in rural Georgia.

Assuming that Governor Deal decides to implement this initiative, which is at his executive discretion this year and not on the legislative agenda, we will learn how it works in practice. We can then check the results next year after getting some experience under our belts, and possibly expand or adjust the program.

This looks to me like a promising way to let Macon’s medical strengths help make up for the present weakness of Hancock County’s medical infrastructure. I’m proud to be part of the initiative, and look forward to hearing constituent analysis, concerns and feedback. I can be reached at davidelucas26@gmail.com. It’s a privilege for me to be able to serve all constituents throughout every county in my district.

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