Monday, May 24, 2010

As I come to the end of covering Jackson County for the this semester, I have learned a little bit about where to look when searching for resources for a story. Although the county extension agent was not very knowledgeable about specific health issues, she was able to connect me with a lot of people in the community, especially around Jefferson. One of the first things I did, upon her recommendation, was got to a Family Connection meeting. They meet once a month and it is a wonderful networking resource. Advocates from different parts of the community meet to discuss what is going on in their areas of interest, and talk about specific projects.

At one of these meetings, I met Amy Woodell, Public Health Educator for the Northeast District. She was very helpful throughout the semester, and if she did not having any particular comment on what I was writing about, she would recommend someone else. Two other people from her office, PIO Sarah Peck and Public Health Promoter Derrick Gable, were also very helpful. Once I posted a story on Grady Journal quoting Amy Woodell, which she approved of, others were very open about talking to me. I would recommend doing that early to build some trust. Stephanie Rucker, head nurse at the Jefferson Public Health Clinic, was also willing to talk and was easy to schedule an appointment with.

Amy Woodell also does a lot of work on HIV and AIDS education in rural areas and in jails. I did not cover that story, but I think it would be a good one. Anyone looking into Jackson will quickly notice that teen pregnancy is a major issue. They just announced the opening of a clinic especially for teens, so that may be a good angle on a future story.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Some Decisions Get Made

The GA EPD just announced that a permit to expand the number of combustion turbines at Plant Dahlberg was granted. I covered this story earlier in the year when public meetings were held and various organizations were disputing some of the claims that Southern Power made about the affect that this expansion would have on the community and the amount of pollutants that would be emitted. For more details on that, look for my story on the Grady Journal soon.

Besides the environmental and health impact, what interests me now is how the permit was actually passed. In a very formal but completely lackluster public hearing, concerned citizens were allowed to go on the record stating specific problems that they had with the permit, or general concerns about how the new construction would affect them or their community. The comments are not responded to then, but in writing by the EPD. However, the formal responses to the grievances are not available to the public until after the permit is issued! The only option after that is a lawsuit.

Most interestingly, Southern Power representatives and the engineer at the meeting in Jefferson shrugged off comments and casually acknowledged a lack of specific details about the amount of pollutants already emitted by the plant. None of the people at the meeting made any specific comments about changes they wanted made to ease restrictions. Well, if you look at the permit, a majority of the final comments responded to are not by the public, they are by Southern Power, and they are asking for restrictions on pollutants to be eased. Does it make any sense that they can make these requests, not stating them publicly at the meeting, and then no one has an opportunity to see these requests - all of them granted - until the permit has already been passed?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Toilet Talk

This will be a way-deep-south blog.

I visited my friend who was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador the year after I graduated from college. I had traveled through a few third world countries, but nothing could have prepared me for this. I got off the plane in scorching hot and dry San Salvador, and to quench my thirst, I drank water out of a plastic bag for the first time. Yes, that is how it is often sold there. We took a pick-up ride to his little town, and through the whole 2-hour trip we were in a cloud of smoke from the sugar cane fields that line the highway, which they burn before harvest to clear out brush and get rid of rats and snakes. Soon we were winding through village behind a school bus. I was appalled by the coke bottles and potato chip bags that were being tossed out the window into the road side ditch, which was already full of trash. What a country, I thought. Over the next couple of weeks, the poverty, overpopulation and environmental degradation only seemed to worsen. I never got used to it as I had any other not-so-bad countries.

So, I could Identify with the quest of the 'toilet lady'. Sanitation was obviously a huge problem. Many towns only had running water for a few hours a day. The schools lacked adequate facilities, and as Christine Moe said at the Voices of the Vanguard talk, this caused many girls to leave at a young age. My Peace Corps friend did not even have a bathroom.

He took some time off and we travelled around the small country working on other volunteers' projects. One of the volunteers was building toilets just like the one's Christine Moe showed last week. To cut a long story short, it was a fun project and attracted the attention of the other villagers, who lead a struggle of an existence, often walking miles a day to carry water that barely sufficed for cooking. Sanitation was a privilege, but once people saw the benefit and comfort it provided, they wanted to be next in line to get one. The topic was raised in discussion at the lecture of how to spread the idea of actually wanting to live in a more sanitary environment. As I observed, these simple toilets did bring an amount of prestige to the families that got them, and once the ash was spread over the human waste, the smell was not bad at all.

What does this have to do with Jackson County? Well, I think we all make decisions on an everyday basis that affect our health and the quality of our environment. It made me realize how ridiculous it was to be flushing drinking water down the toilet several times a day when we all have learned through recent droughts that we don't have an unlimited supply of water in this part of the country. Maybe we don't all need composting toilets, but we can do other things that may influence our neighbors, break stereotypes and create a healthier and more sustainable environment for all of us.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Sometimes Forgotten Costs

I recently followed up with Dr. Jonathan Murrow, the cardiologist that spoke with our class, to get some more information about how the health care system can prevent the expensive costs that come with the trend of frequent rehospitalizations in this country. I am continually trying to figure out what programs are being implemented to work out this problem. During the conversation, I was again reminded of the collateral costs related to CVD and other chronic conditions. In addition to the high cost of an ER visit, which is estimated at almost $33,000 dollars per heart failure related incident in Georgia, our society must endure the long-term costs of repeat hospitalizations, extensive care-giving and loss of job productivity.

As we increasingly hear big-dollar numbers relating to health care reform, I think it's important to consider all of the manageable and preventable costs, which tally up at much more than drug costs and doctor visit bills. I did some research to figure out some expenses that also sap resources in this way. According to a CDC study that compared bills of healthy vs. obese people, obesity cost the U.S. an additional $147 billion in 2008. A study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service says that addictions cost the U.S. almost $67 billion dollars per year, including loss of productivity. This means that everyone pays almost $1,000 a year to deal with drug addiction. And, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illness costs the U.S. about $150 billion per year.

Wow. There is a lot more going on in health care than what happens in a doctors' office and hospitals. I think that the danger of looking at health reform in an overarching way that mainly looks at dollars is that we can overlook the fact that daily and even hourly decisions, and those of everyone else in this country, will affect the bill we will all be footing over the years.

Of course, all of this can not be prevented, but it seems that there must be things we can do to mitigate these soaring costs, since many of these problems deal with behavioral issues. When we make a laundry list of all of the costs associated with health problems, I think it can be easy to forget that leaving someone out of a job, or having them in a position where they have to rely on others for physical and financial support affects all of us a lot more than just tax dollars.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Few Features and a Good Blog

Hello Folks:

Here are a few good feature stories to peruse as we think about writing our own. I was exposed to these way back at the beginning of the semester when I attended the "When Veterans Come Home" conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Although they are both quite lengthy, they are great examples of finding human faces to place with larger issues.

The first was written by a guy named Dave Philipps who spoke at the conference and writes for the Colorado Springs Gazette. The article speaks for itself. A must read.

Without giving it away, the article started with a few incidents near an army base, and as Philipps got farther and farther into it, he found this whole huge trend of things happening to soldiers returning from war zones. You never know what you are going to find when you look into something. I imagine that there are weird factors lurking behind almost everything these days.

The next is by a Denver Post journalist named Miles Moffeit. As he explained it, the story also started as something small and snowballed into the story of widespread rape of women GI's in the military, and the subsequent covering up of those rapes by people at the top.

Both of these articles exposed major problems with how the military deals with traumatized and violent veterans returning home after war and affected Army policies.

A good blog about living with PTSD is by Michael Jernigan, a severely wounded Marine who spoke at the conference. The blog is very entertaining. The articles are listed in reverse chronological order, so start from the bottom of the NYT page if you are interested.

Maybe a little off topic, but good stuff.