Health IT is big, and Georgia is its epicenter

The Latest Local News from the Calhoun Times

Chris Hooper and his startup firm, Emergence, are betting on the boom in health information technology.

Launched last year as an “accelerator,’’ Emergence will take fledgling health IT companies and get them ready to pitch investors for funding. It will also help medical device companies get their new products established.

“One of the only good things’’ about the Affordable Care Act, CEO Hooper says, is its push for cost savings in health care, and for data derived from electronic medical records. “Health IT is a high-growth area,” he says.

Emergence, located in Alpharetta, could not have picked a better place to operate. Industry leaders say Georgia is the nation’s health IT capital. The boom is statewide, but particularly strong in metro Atlanta.

More than 250 health IT companies are located in the state, employing more than 30,000 workers, according to the Technology Association of Georgia.

Companies in the industry offer a range of products and services, from electronic health records, medical billing and revenue management to diagnostics, preserving the security of information exchanges, and consumer health information.

Stethoscope on a computer keyboardHealth IT systems are also tracking medical outcomes of patients after they receive care, a big focus of the Affordable Care Act. The health reform law has led Medicare and private insurers to base payments increasingly on the quality of medical care delivered, rather than quantity of services.

An industry magazine last year listed eight Georgia-based companies among its top 100 health IT companies in the United States in 2014, based on revenues from the previous year.

McKesson, headquartered in Alpharetta, was again ranked as the No. 1 company in the industry, according to Healthcare Informatics Magazine. The company, with $3.4 million in revenues, has topped the magazine’s list for seven straight years.

McKesson got its footprint here in 1999 by purchasing HBO & Co., a leader in medical software, located in Atlanta.

Fertile ground for innovation

The health IT industry has blossomed in Georgia and metro Atlanta for several reasons.

The area had a rich vein of financial IT and managerial talent, says Steve Rushing, senior strategic adviser for the Health IT Extension Services at Georgia Tech.

Georgia_Tech_shortened_logo“The group of early [health IT] entrepreneurs built other new companies,’’ Rushing says. “It’s kind of natural entrepreneurial growth.”

Another strength of metro Atlanta is the array of universities and medical schools located in the area.

The state’s good business climate and the presence of Atlanta’s huge international airport have also boosted the industry here, said Tino Mantella of the Technology Association of Georgia.

The revolution in patients’ medical records has fueled the IT growth spurt, with physicians’ offices across the U.S. giving up folders full of written notes and turning instead to digital data.

The Georgia Tech unit helps Georgia doctors and hospitals develop their electronic health records systems. It also works with startup health IT companies to solve the perpetual problem of getting digital systems “to talk to one another,’’ Rushing says.

Age of the electronic file

Greenway Health, based in Carrollton, has taken advantage of the demand for electronic health records.

Created in 1998, the company now has 1,700 employees. And it’s still expanding. In November, Greenway announced that it is establishing an IT development center in Cobb County that will create 150 new jobs.

CEO Tee Green envisions a future health care system that’s “smarter,’’ one that does a better job at controlling medical costs. Digital data can fuel that development, he says.

Gov. Nathan Deal attends a ceremony marking Greenway Medical Technologies’ new headquarters.

Gov. Nathan Deal attends a ceremony marking Greenway’s new headquarters.

“We have to tear down walls’’ between medical providers, health insurers and patients, Green says. “And at the end of the day, it saves lives.”

Among the many results of the far-reaching 2010 health reform law was the creation of Accountable Care Organizations, combinations of doctors and hospitals that are rewarded with higher payments for better quality. Greenway has more than 20 of these ACOs as customers, Green says.

“We think we’re heading toward a smarter system, built on efficiency and quality,” Green adds.

Navicure, a medical claims firm based in Duluth, has developed a product that lets consumers know how much they will have to pay after a medical visit.

Jim Denny, Navicure’s CEO, notes that most of the plans on the ACA health insurance exchange, while modestly priced, have high deductibles. With the first $1,000 or more coming out of a patient’s pocket, it’s crucial for that patient to know what individual services cost.

The rapid consolidation of hospitals and doctors’ practices also provides business opportunities for health IT firms, Denny says.

‘A great opportunity’

Baha Zeidan, CEO of Azalea Health, sees future growth opportunities in telehealth, which allows the transmission of video and data to physicians at a remote location.

His company, with offices in Atlanta, Valdosta, Macon and Gainesville, Fla., provides electronic health records and revenue management for physicians’ offices.

The twin goals of reducing health care costs and improving quality will benefit the industry, Zeidan says.

“It’s a great opportunity for Georgia and health IT companies, and also patients [being] engaged in their health care like they are with their finances,’’ he says.

Georgia Tech’s Rushing says the sector will continue to grow.

“There’s a very large latent demand for [information technology] in health care,’’ he says, adding that the medical field in general “has trailed a lot of other industries in automation.”

Consumers are getting more engaged and connected to health data, Rushing says, pointing to the surge in mobile monitoring devices.

“Big Data is being applied more and more to health care,” he says. “Georgia is at the center of a lot of this.”

Source: Calhoun Times

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GasBuddy: Average Georgia gas prices drop slightly over the past week

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Average retail gasoline prices in Georgia have fallen 2.2 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.26/g yesterday, according to GasBuddy’s daily survey of 5,883 gas outlets in Georgia. This compares with the national average that has fallen 2.4 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.43/g, according to gasoline price website

Here are the prices of the lowest regular unleaded for cities in our area according to

Georgia $2.26
Tennessee $2.19

Including the change in gas prices in Georgia during the past week, prices yesterday were 106.4 cents per gallon lower than the same day one year ago and are 9.4 cents per gallon higher than a month ago. The national average has increased 18.0 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 109.3 cents per gallon lower than this day one year ago.

“After March came in like a lion at the pump, things are beginning to cool down, especially in hardest hit areas in the West,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst. “While the West Coast will continue to see relief in the week ahead, motorists in the Great Lakes should be on high alert after refinery issues have developed, and as they see gasoline specifications improve ahead of the getting to the final “summer gasoline” product that we often talk about. I would expect some volatility in gas prices in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin in the next two weeks due to this issues. Around the rest of the country, prices in some areas may drift higher with improved gasoline blends showing up as well, but its important to note that even with increases factored in, motorists are still seeing considerable savings versus gas prices last year,” DeHaan noted.

“Crude oil prices closed last week nearing their January lows on news of plentiful crude oil inventories, which maybe begin to weigh on gasoline prices, once refineries conclude maintenance and throttle up utilization rates. In the end, it could mean even lower gasoline prices for motorists during the summer than GasBuddy previously expected, barring other refinery issues or unpredictable issues,” DeHaan said.

States seeing the largest drop in gas prices versus one year ago:

Indiana, down $1.52/gallon

Michigan, down $1.47/gallon

Ohio, down $1.47/gallon

Illinois, down $1.38/gallon

Colorado, down $1.37/gallon

States with the smallest drop in gas prices versus last year:

California, down 57c/gallon

Nevada, down 65c/gallon

Oregon, down 69c/gallon

Washington, down 74c/gallon

Alaska, down 93c/gallon

Source: Calhoun Times

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Understaffing among Georgia's school nurses: A quiet crisis

The Latest Local News from the Calhoun Times

Sally Boswell is the first person many low-income families in Greene County call when their child gets sick.

She hears about everything from acute ear infections to chronic conditions such as diabetes. Boswell helps parents, grandparents or guardians decide whether their child needs to see a doctor.

She is the only school nurse for the county’s 2,300 public school students. Despite the long economic downturn and resulting budget cuts, she has stuck with her passion for nursing.

Thanks to Lake Oconee, built in 1979, historically rural Greene County has attracted tourists and some very affluent residents in recent decades. Today it is listed as one of the wealthier counties in the state, with a median income of about $42,500. But poverty remains, and the number of Boswell’s students who are on Medicaid or are uninsured is high.

School finding for nurses and health care workers in Georgia varies by locale. Georgina Howard, director of the School Health Nurse Program at the Georgia Department of Education, says, “In Georgia, we’ve made some progress, but we aren’t fully staffed. It’s left up to the district how they want to do their staffing.”

The current recommendation from the National Association for School Nurses is to have 1 nurse per 750 students. Georgia’s 2,264 public schools serve 1.7 million students, so the recommended number of nurses for the state is 2,267.

But as of October 2014, there were only 1,555 licensed nurses who work in the state’s schools, Howard said. That leaves a shortage of more than 700.

Problems to confront

In neighboring Morgan County, with a median income at about $47,700, there are four nurses for about 3,200 students. “Morgan County has a school nurse at every school; primary, elementary, middle, and high school,” says Leah Ainslie, who worked in Greene County before she became the nurse manager for the local public health department in Morgan.

Many students at Union Point STEAM Academy have asthma or diabetes.

“[The] purpose of the school nurse is to keep children well, so the children can learn. If you don’t have anyone there to do that, then the kids aren’t learning,’’ says Ainslie.

Being the only school nurse in Greene County, Boswell barely has time to drive 10 minutes between the county’s one pre-school, two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. The constantly shifting medical needs of students dictate what she does from one day to the next.

“When I started, we had four registered nurses and we ran a program, a true comprehensive nursing program,’’ Boswell says. “We did things like CPR classes for the bus drivers, we were able to do certain programs for not just the students, but for the faculty.”

Now, her attention is solely focused on the health of the students. In early February, the hot spot was Union Point STEAM Academy, a K-7 elementary school that focuses on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.

“I’ve got little kindergartners who are horrible asthmatics, and all of the diabetics at the elementary level are here,” Boswell says. “I have to be here to do insulin every day.”

Every day is different, but busy

Between administering breathing treatments and monitoring insulin levels, Boswell uses her qualifications as a pediatric nurse practitioner. She catheterizes a wheelchair-bound student, diagnoses an ear infection in another student, and lines up a doctor’s appointment for a third.

Boswell’s job has become much more than keeping kids well.

When a family member can’t come to pick up a sick child, she will even give the youngster a ride home (with parental permission, of course).

On a recent morning at 8:30, students swarmed in and out of her small office. One child’s arms were covered with what appeared to be insect bites, and an itchy and swollen rash was forming. Another was reporting for his asthma inhaler treatment, and two hovered over a single toilet for fear they were going to vomit.

“I am certainly the child’s advocate” on medical issues, says Boswell. “With 2,300 students and knowing their families, and where they come from . . . I think that I help the continuity of care.”

Ansley Stewart is pursuing her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a freelance writer, musician, and also works full time at UGA.

Source: Calhoun Times

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GBI seeks information in pharmacy robberies, including Calhoun store

The Latest Local News from the Calhoun Times

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is asking the public for its help in identifying the person who robbed a Calhoun pharmacy and other stores in north Georgia.

The man Oct. 24 about noon walked into the Calhoun CVS, 402 N. Wall St., brandished a handgun and demanded pharmaceuticals, Calhoun Police Department spokesman Lt. Tony Pyle said.

He was described as a white man with gray hair and a gray beard. Pyle said police received a couple of descriptions of the man, who wore a baseball hat and sunglasses.

GBI agents say the man is responsible for multiple armed robberies of CVS pharmacies across north Georgia that occurred from October of 2014 through March of 2015. He was armed with a hand-gun and demanded Dilaudid, a narcotic pain medication.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is seeking assistance in identifying the individual depicted in the photos and sketches it released.

GBI and Calhoun police along with the Blairsville Police Department, the Dawson County Sher-iff’s Office and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office are collaborating in effort to solve the cases.

Anyone with any information should contact one of the following numbers.

GBI Tip Line: 1-800-597-TIPS (8477) or online at

Dawson County Sheriff’s Office tip line: 706-265-4744

Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office tip line: Greater Atlanta Crime Stoppers 404-577-TIPS (8477)

Calhoun Police Department: 706-629-1234

Information may be provided confidentially.

Source: Calhoun Times

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Georgia House panel revives education savings accounts bill

The Latest Local News from the Calhoun Times

ATLANTA (AP) — A bill letting parents use state dollars toward private school tuition or other education expenses could receive a House floor vote as soon as Wednesday after a last-minute jumpstart from a key tax policy committee.

The proposal from Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, would allow parents to set up an “education savings account” and sweep the state’s share of money for that student into it — about $4,400 using this year’s figures. Federal and local dollars would stay with the public school district.

Hamilton said the bill lets parents choose the best strategy for their child, whether that’s a private school, additional tutoring programs or home schooling. Other supporters back it as a way to customize education for kids with disabilities, chronic illnesses or students who have been bullied.

“Sometimes parents know the best for their children, and this is simply giving them a pathway if they want to exercise that,” Hamilton said this week.

The bill got a hearing but no vote in the House’s Education committee. The House Ways and Means committee, which typically handles tax policy, took it up this week.

Friday is a key deadline for lawmakers. Bills must pass their chamber of origin by then to maintain a chance at becoming law.

Arizona and Florida have instituted similar programs, and lawmakers in a dozen states including Georgia are debating legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some opponents consider ‘ESA’ programs an end-run around state constitutions that prevent public funds from being spent on religious schools.

In Georgia, the state’s School Board Association and other education stakeholders have described Hamilton’s bill as a voucher under another name. At a February hearing, several speakers representing teachers, school boards and superintendents urged lawmakers to turn the issue over to an education reform commission formed by Gov. Nathan Deal rather than moving ahead.

Rep. Mickey Stephens, a Savannah Democrat and retired teacher who sits on the Ways and Means committee, this week called the proposal “dressing up a voucher and making it look like a scholarship.”

“If you can afford to send your kids to private school, you don’t need a voucher,” he said.

Georgia has a tuition tax credit program, which lets individuals get a credit for donating toward private school scholarships managed by nonprofit providers, and a special needs scholarship for students with disabilities or other eligibility requirements.

Hamilton’s bill disqualifies students beginning kindergarten or first grade that year from participating, an attempt to address concerns that the state would subsidize private or home school for parents who never intended to use public schools. Many other details would be determined by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, an agency focused on student testing and performance.

Students would have to attend public schools for at least a year to be eligible for an account. The bill caps participation at about 8,500 students statewide in the 2015-2016 school year and 17,000 additional students the following year. All caps would end in the third year.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: Calhoun Times

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2 people charged with false statments after reporting 3-year-old missing in Fairmount

The Latest Local News from the Calhoun Times

The Fairmount Police Department has arrested two people in connection with the case of a boy who was reported missing.

Chief Justin Skidmore said in a press release the 3-year-old boy was reported missing Friday afternoon. 

The boy’s mother, Charlene Kay Phillips, 24, of 1018 Scott Brown Road, Fairmount, told police she had taken a nap with her son about noon and when she awoke, the child was missing from his baby bed. Phillips was accompanied by Kathryn Rose Holt, 20, of 112 Charles Road, Chatsworth, who also met with police.

Police got a description of the child and immediately placed a “be on the lookout” for him, ac-cording to the release. A short time later, numerous law enforcement and public safety personnel along with local residents arrived at the home to begin the search for the child, including an air support unit.

Within a few hours of the initial call about the missing boy, police say they discovered the child was not missing, but was safe with a family member. 

Law enforcement officers say they discovered Philips and Holt lied about the child being at home during the time frame the mother claimed he had went missing. The two women were arrested and each charged with making false statements and obstruction of an officer. 

Skidmore said numerous law enforcement and public safety personnel are to be commended, in-cluding the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office, Gordon County Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel along with agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Calhoun Region 1 Office, which were very quick in responding to the area of Scott Brown Road. 

“It is always good to see all law enforcement and public safety personnel working together for a common goal, serving the public,” Skidmore added.

Source: Calhoun Times

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