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Albany cancer care providers awarded cancer prevention grant

ALBANY – Albany cancer care providers join the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education in being awarded a five-year grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the amount of $795,560 per year to provide colorectal screening, education, navigation and colonoscopies to 15,000 Georgians. Georgia CORE will provide administrative and fiscal oversight for the program, and the services will be provided by Augusta University and three cancer care providers in the Albany area: Albany Area Primary Care, Horizons Community Solutions, and Phoebe Putney Health System, as well as designated Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) throughout southeast and southwest Georgia.

“Georgia CORE works to leverage state and federal dollars to advance cancer care for all Georgians, and data show that rural and African American residents have higher incidence and mortality rates from colorectal cancer,” Nancy M. Paris, president and CEO of Georgia CORE, said. “With our national health care system currently being overtaxed, this opportunity couldn’t have been more timely. The CDC grant will support essential cancer education, screening and navigation services for those Georgians who need it the most, and we will save lives.”

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, but also one of the state’s five most preventable. The defined patient population who will receive these free prevention services through the CDC grant are between the ages of 50 and 75, below the federal poverty level, ineligible for Medicaid, Medicare or ACA and receive care in one of the FQHCs.

“With a state incidence rate that exceeds the national average, we know we have to be more aggressive with our prevention measures for colorectal cancer, particularly in rural Georgia where screenings are less common,” Dr. James A. Hotz with Albany Area Primary Health Care said.

Horizons is one of five regional cancer coalitions in the state and their Colon Cancer Screening Program has been recognized as a Research Tested Intervention Program by the National Cancer Institute.

“Horizon’s partnership with Phoebe and Albany Area Primary Health Care utilizes evidence-based initiatives that have proven to increase screening rates. Expanding partnerships through the CDC grant will have life-saving results in Georgia,” said Cynthia George, the CEO of Horizons Community Solutions.

“With a vision to make every life we touch better, providing community health education and preventive screenings helps Phoebe live up to that vision and enables us to build healthier and more vibrant communities,” Scott Steiner, president and CEO of Phoebe Putney Health System, said. “Our partnership with Albany Area Primary Health Care and Horizons Community Solutions has been exceedingly successful in preventing and discovering colon cancer and providing lifesaving treatment for many patients in southwest Georgia, and we look forward to continuing this outstanding program that is a model for prevention in Georgia.”

“Georgia CORE has a strong, long-standing partnership with cancer care providers in the Albany area, having worked with us for the Georgia Cancer Control Consortium and Colorectal Cancer Roundtable,” Hotz said.

Published by Georgia CORE earlier this year, a report — 5 Actions to Save More Lives — cites that in the late 1990s, only-half of Georgians 50 and older were screened for colorectal cancer. That rate is now 66%, while the Healthy People 2020 target goal is 85%. If Georgia were to reach this goal, a projected 8,800 lives would be saved, and health care costs would lower by $1.3 billion.

The Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education was created in 2010 to serve as a catalyst for strengthening Georgia’s national leadership in cancer care and research. Advancing cancer care through partnerships and innovation, Georgia CORE’s statewide network connects cancer care providers, leaders, and advocates to improve the quality of care for patients and quality of life for survivors.

It's back to virtual meetings for Dougherty Commission after increase in coronavirus cases

ALBANY — With the number of coronavirus cases making a resurgence recently, the Dougherty County Commission will go back to virtual meetings after holding one meeting with public participation.

The county also has canceled for now it’s planned move to Phase 2 of re-opening due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. It had been scheduled to bring more workers back to their office on July 6.

Five commissioners and an audience of about 20 attended the July 6 commission meeting. After that meeting, Commissioner Anthony Jones said he did not feel comfortable and would not be returning to live meetings under current conditions.

“I’ll only be out doing essential things,” he said.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, which saw hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients decline to below 30 on some days during June, reported on Thursday that there were 51 patients hospitalized for treatment of the disease.

“This is because we’ve seen — not a surge — but there’s been an uptick of COVID in Dougherty County,” County Administrator Michael McCoy said of moving meetings back to the virtual format and delaying the implementation of the second phase of re-opening. “Not that they (commissioners) felt uncomfortable, they just wanted to go back to virtual for now. We thought it was best to go back to virtual meetings.”

The commission suspended live meetings in March as coronavirus cases began to spike in the county. The disease soon began taking a toll in nearby counties.

At this time, officials are speculating that some of the new cases in Dougherty County are due to people in other southwest Georgia counties commuting to Albany for work or shopping here.

“We want to be in the chamber,” McCoy said. “But for now, everybody will call in and we’ll do it like we did it before. We had been watching the spread around the community and among our employees, and we thought it was best to go back to virtual meetings based on a modest increase in hospitalizations.”

Some county workers have tested positive for the virus in recent days, and that also played a role in the decision.

The county and city of Albany re-opened government buildings, as did the courts on a limited basis, on June 22. Visitors to all city and county buildings are required to wear face masks.

Everyone who attended the July 6 County Commission meeting wore a face mask. Jones wore a mask and plastic face shield, and Commissioner Victor Edwards wore a face shield.

Phase 2 of re-opening would have seen more county employees returning to their offices. Instead, employees slated to return will continue to work from home. McCoy said that staff will monitor the situation and move forward with the second phase of re-opening when conditions allow.

COVID-19 numbers take frightening turn upward

ATLANTA — If you haven’t been shocked by the COVID-19 numbers in Georgia, Friday’s figures may do it.

The state easily broke its record for daily cases reported, with 4,484 new infections, more than 1,000 higher than the previous mark. The hospitalization number took an ominous leap, with 331 new admissions for COVID-19 reported Friday across the state.

Many hospitals this week have already reported high numbers of virus patients.

Marietta-based Wellstar Health System, with 11 hospitals, said several locations “are at full capacity due to an influx of patients, and we are working to actively manage capacity across our system and still have a limited number of staffed ICU beds available within our hospitals at this time.’’

There are other alarming data on the pandemic.

Georgia is hitting only 25 percent of its testing target considered necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus, according to data published by the New York Times. That’s the seventh-lowest percentage in the nation, after other hard-hit states: Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Texas.

At the same time, the percentage of positive tests for COVID-19 has been increasing in Georgia, and is now at 14 percent, according to Covid Exit Strategy.

“Needless to say, the numbers are frightening,” Harry Heiman, a health policy expert at Georgia State University, said.

The state’s critical care bed availability is shrinking, and now stands at just 17 percent, as more patients are being hospitalized.

With that in mind, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said Friday that the temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center, which opened in April and closed a month later, will be reactivated to relieve hospitals struggling to handle the COVID-19 load.

The facility in Atlanta will hold 200 COVID-19 patients from across the state and can expand to 400 patients if needed. The patients taken to the GWCC will be those with less severe cases, who do not require a ventilator.

The state also plans to strike a deal with a hospital system, believed to be Piedmont Healthcare, to add roughly 100 intensive care and surgical units to Georgia’s medical infrastructure, the AJC reported.

“Over the past two weeks, we have experienced an increase in cases and hospitalizations, and following a drop-off in specimens collected over the holiday weekend, we now expect a trend of higher case numbers as new results arrive,” the governor’s office said in a statement Friday. State officials also said they are “negotiating new solutions to increase its own capacity to process specimens.’’

Dr. Melanie Thompson, an Atlanta physician who collaborated on a recent letter to Gov. Brian Kemp urging him to require masks in public, said Friday’s daily toll “is the increase that health providers have been fearing, but expecting.’’

Kemp and the Department of Public Health, Thompson said, “made a political decision to open too soon, and have been unwilling to rise above politics to do things that have been proven to work: require masks, tighten social distancing requirements, allow local officials to manage their epidemics. Testing and contact tracing have increased but are way behind. It will get worse, including more deaths, but it’s not too late. We can still save lives, but it is going to take courage.’’

WellStar said it would continue to monitor and actively manage staffing levels, capacity, and the supply chain across its system ‘‘to ensure we have adequate, continued access to beds, equipment, and personnel needed to care for patients.’’

Kemp’s office said current COVID-19 patients tend to be younger and with less acute cases than in the early stages of the pandemic. It said improved treatment – such as advances like remdesivir – has cut the average hospital stay for coronavirus patients from 14 days to seven (or fewer).

“Based on the governor’s most recent call with hospital executives earlier this week, there is strong consensus among health care facilities that they wish to continue elective procedures to promote Georgians’ health and well-being while avoiding more financial distress and potential furloughs,” Kemp’s office said.

But Georgia State’s Heiman said “strong policy action is needed now from our state political and public health leadership to protect our state from further health and economic harm. Our house is on fire, and our state leadership appears to be waiting to see if the fire will go out on its own.’’

Meanwhile, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is sticking to her order making mask-wearing a requirement in the city. She said the order has met with wide approval from health care workers.

But Kemp’s office said such actions by mayors are “merely guidance — both non-binding and legally unenforceable. As clearly stated in the governor’s executive order, no local action can be more or less restrictive, and that rule applies statewide. Once again, if the mayor actually wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta, she should start enforcing state restrictions, which she has failed to do. We ask citizens and businesses alike to comply with the terms of the governor’s order, which was crafted in conjunction with state public health officials. These commonsense measures will help protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”

Also Friday, the mayor of Augusta issued an order requiring wearing masks in public.

'Grammar Guy' columnist garners national acclaim

Curtis Honeycutt, writer of the weekly “Grammar Guy” humor column and author of “Good Grammar Is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life,” recently won second place in the print humor category in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest.

Honeycutt, whose column appears in 30 newspapers across the country, including The Albany Herald, was slated to speak at the NSNC’s annual conference in Tulsa last month. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the conference was canceled.

Through his humor writing, Honeycutt previously received a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, a third-place award from the NSNC in 2018 and was named Humor Writer of the Month in August 2018 by the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

“Honeycutt’s ‘Grammar Guy’ column is addictive, especially for wordsmiths and lovers of language,” offered NSNC Executive Director and syndicated columnist Suzette Martinez Standring. “Learning better grammar is dressed in wit and laughter.”

With this latest accolade, the Grammar Guy columnist said he hopes to offer his self-syndicated column to more papers around the U.S.

“This has been a challenging time to write for newspapers and publish a book, but I’m encouraged to receive this national appreciation from my fellow word nerds,” Honeycutt said. “Newspapers play a critical role in our local communities and I want them to succeed.”

Honeycutt’s Grammar Guy column appears in The Albany Herald on Tuesdays.