Monthly Archives: September 2015

Access to Healthcare is Limited for Women in Rural Georgia

Dome 3 edit webThe Georgia Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met for the first time on Monday, September 14, 2015 at the State Capitol and focused on the availability of OB/GYN services and chronic disease management services in Georgia.  The committee heard from Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner and State Health Officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health, Ms. Melanie McNeal, Long-term Care Ombudsman with the Department of Human Services, and Dr. Catherine Bonk, President of the Georgia OBGYN Society.

Dr. Fitzgerald led with the most shocking statistic of the day—Georgia ranks 50th in maternal mortality in the U.S.  We lose new moms at a higher rate than any other state in the nation.  The Georgia Department of Public Health in partnership with OB/GYNs in the state is conducting more extensive studies to understand better the underlying causes.  They have also worked with state coroners to gather better cause of death data on death certificates to help them in their research.

Our infant mortality rate is high, but falling.  In 2012, Georgia was ranked 44th in the U.S., and by 2014, we had fallen to 31st.  Part of the success can be attributed to a public/private partnership to reduce early elective deliveries in the state.  Between 2012 and 2014, the early elective delivery rate dropped from 8 percent of births to 1 percent of births, and as of October 1, 2013, Medicaid no longer pays for early elective deliveries in Georgia.

The leading cause of death for Georgia women is cardiovascular disease.  In fact, every day twenty-nine women die in Georgia from cardiovascular disease.  The state is fighting this disease on three fronts.  They are working to reduce obesity rates.  Almost a third of Georgians are obese, up from 10 percent in 1990, and two-thirds of Georgians would be classified as overweight or obese.  There are on-going education efforts to teach better eating habits and encourage exercise.  Diabetes is also a driver in the rates of cardiovascular disease in the state.  Women are diagnosed more than men are, and there is a push to increase the number of Diabetes Self-Management Education sites in the state.  The third front is reducing tobacco use in the state through programs like the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP.  Dr. Fitzgerald also discussed cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.



Ms. Melanie McNeal, Long-term Care Ombudsman with the Georgia Department of Human Services, talked about the challenges faced by older women in the state.  Learning to manage chronic disease is vitally important to our aging population, particularly diseases like diabetes.  Preventing falls is another focus for our seniors, and local community groups are offering programs like A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi to help improve balance and reduce falls.  Access to care issues from a lack of geriatricians to limits in transportation are also affecting Georgia seniors.

Dr. Catherine Bonk, president of the Georgia OBGYN Society, talked about the challenges of being an OB/GYN and ways the state can improve access to care in Georgia.  It takes twelve years of education to become an OB/GYN—four years in college, four years in medical school, and four years of residency training in OB/GYN.  Most of these doctors leave school with an average debt of $250,000.  Of the twenty-three OB/GYNs who graduate from Georgia medical schools each year, only half stay in the state.  An increase in residency slots as well as incentives for graduates to stay in the state would go a long way to increasing the number of OB/GYNs in Georgia.



A common thread that ran through all the presentations was concern for access to OB/GYN care and support programs for chronic disease in rural areas of Georgia.  Forty counties have no obstetrical care of any kind—no OB/GYN, no family physician doing OB, no midwife—and more than 70 counties have no OB/GYN physician.  Twenty-four percent of pregnant women in Georgia have to drive 45 minutes or more for obstetrical care.

There were possible solutions offered as well.  Telemedicine is one way to deliver services in rural areas and is already in use in Georgia.  However, it needs to be expanded.  Programs encouraging OB/GYNs to stay in the state and incentives for working in rural areas would help close up some of the access gap.  More certified nurse midwife programs would also expand care.  As always, public education is vital to encourage women to use the programs available to them.

The Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee will meet three more times.  Those dates and times are:

October 6, 2015, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at Georgia Regents University, Augusta
Topics will cover diseases that most affect women—cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis

October 26, 2015, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at Tift Regional Health Centers, Tifton
Topics will cover rural healthcare, access to obstetrical care, and telemedicine.

November 9, 2015, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, at the State Capitol Room 450
Topics will cover the socio-economic status of women and domestic violence

All committee meetings are open to the public.


Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish. 

House Study Committee on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers

During the 2015 General Assembly session, the Georgia House approved HR 640 creating the House Study Committee on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers.  This study committee is exploring ways to expand Georgia’s school-based health centers to meet the needs of under served children and youth in our schools. The study committee met on September 15, 2015 at the State Capitol and heard the following presentations.


Presentation by Dr. Veda Johnson, Director of Partners for Equity in Child & Adolescent Health, Emory Univ School of Medicine



Presentation by Shea Ross, Director of Development and Government Affairs, with Global Partnership for Telehealth



Presentation by E Fener Sitoff with Voices for Georgia Children



The House Study Committee on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers was created by HR 640.  It reads:

HR 640

WHEREAS, there is a profound connection between a student’s health status and educational

achievement; and


WHEREAS, improving and maintaining health so that students are present, engaged, and

hopeful is critical to their academic success; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers are an evidence-based model of health care that

address the complex health care needs of underserved children and adolescents; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers support improved education outcomes; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers improve academic achievement by improving the

physical and mental status of students, thereby raising attendance rates, increasing seat time,

reducing dropout rates, and improving classroom attention and behavior, all of which

improve school climate; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers promote positive youth development by helping to

reduce risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers are organized through collaboration among schools,

communities, and health providers; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers utilize an interdisciplinary team approach to

providing access to coordinated primary health care within the context of family and

community; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers operate exclusively for the purpose of providing

health services, such as primary care, preventive health care, management and monitoring

of chronic health conditions, behavioral health care, oral health care, and health promotion

services; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers can be the first, and at times the only, access point

for continuous and comprehensive care for children with a variety of complex medical,

behavioral, and social needs; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers can reduce emergency room use and

hospitalizations and provide access to and increase use of primary care, especially among

children with chronic diseases, such as asthma; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers have been proven to reduce costs to the Medicaid

program through reductions in pharmacy costs, emergency department visits,

hospitalizations, and use of non-emergency transportation; and


WHEREAS, Georgia ranks 42nd among the states in its development of school-based health



There is created the House Study Committee  on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers.

Illuminating Global Goals for Sustainable Development

This is a big week for global anti-poverty efforts.  Later this week, world leaders will gather in New York City at the United Nations to ratify the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a framework to end extreme poverty for the world’s poorest people.  Rock star Bono of U2 fame and co-founder of the ONE Campaign described the excitement as only he can.

If you are allergic to fanfare you’d better bolt your doors and shutter your windows on September 25, because there is going to be a lot of it that day in the vicinity of the United Nations, when world leaders ratify the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This is a genuinely big deal, of large consequence — let’s hope — especially for the poorest people on the planet.

During the lead-up to the Global Goals ratification ceremonies, people around the world are celebrating with unveiling events in more than 100 locations across the globe.  The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta hosted Global Goals Illumination on September 21, 2015 as part of the worldwide celebration.  High school and college students from around Atlanta introduced the goals one by one, and local international aid experts discussed their expected impact, particularly for women and girls in developing countries.  The evening ended with a moving interfaith prayer service.

The goals themselves are wide-ranging and ambitious, with emphasis on ending extreme poverty in the developing world, defined as living on less than $1.25 per day.   They are the work of more than 150 nations and represent a vision of a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Global Goals for Sustainable Development

1. No Poverty
2. Zero Hunger
3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
6. Clean Water and Sanitation
7. Affordable and Clean Energy
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
12. Responsible Consumption and Production
13. Climate Action
14. Life Below Water
15. Life On Land
16. Peace and Justice/Strong Institutions
17. Partnerships for the Goals

As I listened to the optimistic voices of the students reading the goals, it struck me just how small the world has become in my lifetime.  We can easily see outside the small confines of our communities and feel compassion for people a world away living in dire poverty and indescribable circumstances.  It is unbelievable that slightly more than a billion people worldwide live on less than $1.25 a day—a third of the cost of a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

The United Nations 2015 Global Goals remind all of us that we are global citizens.  There are ways that you can contribute to the success of these goals internationally.  Advocacy groups like the ONE Campaign are a fantastic source of information on initiatives that are going on around the world.  CARE, led by Georgia’s own Michelle Nunn, works directly on poverty fighting initiatives in the world’s poorest nations.  Groups like Compassion International and Heifer International are also avenues to directly affect the lives of children and communities in the poorest areas of the world.

I encourage you to take the time to click on the links above and take a closer look at the Global Goals and their potential impact on the world we live in.  I could not help thinking how impossible some of these goals seem.  No Poverty.  Zero Hunger.  Really?  Then it hit me:  to shoot far you have to aim high, and if we each do our part in our own spheres of influence and in the global community, we can alleviate extreme poverty at home and abroad and end the suffering that comes with it.  It will take all of us.


Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.  She is also a proud supporter of the ONE Campaign.

Odyssey of the Mind Is In The Air

The teams work for months.  A team member has an idea so huge that she cannot sit down.  She gestures wildly and pantomimes what it will look like in action.  That sparks the next kid to stand up with an add-on he just thought of, and soon the whole team is laughing and shouting over each other as the plan starts to come together.  The ideas get more and more off the wall, and before you know it, the kids have collapsed in giggles, totally cracking themselves up.

Creativity is the name of the game in Odyssey of the Mind, a worldwide competition in divergent problem solving skills.  Teams from across the U.S. and around the world choose from a list of problems to solve and present their solutions at regional and state tournaments.  The top teams head to the worldwide competition in May each year.  Teams can choose to make a vehicle, build a balsa wood structure, create a skit, or engineer gadgets.

The team had to create a silent movie, so they chose to do make-up and costumes to look like they are on black and white film.

The team had to create a silent movie, so they chose to do make-up and costumes to look like they are on black and white film.

Odyssey of the Mind is all about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), a vital component in preparing our students for careers in the Information Age.  Teams who build vehicles learn about propulsion methods and basic machines.  The structure builders have to understand basic physics and the limits of their materials.  (One of the balsa wood and glue structures that won at Georgia State Finals this year held over 1,000 pounds before the judges ran out of weights to stack on it.)  The performance problem teams must make their own sets and costumes and are always required to have one element that is engineered in some way.  All of the components of every problem must fit into a team created story, so they all have a visual art and performance art part of the solution for the judges to score.

Girls flock to Odyssey of the Mind, and from my unscientific observations at Georgia competitions, they make up at least half of the competitors.  Girls love this program, which is fabulous because it is a great introduction for girls to STEAM.

Waiting in the wings for their cue.

Waiting in the wings for their cue.

I was curious why Odyssey of the Mind would be attractive to a large segment of girls when other STEM activities, like robotics, do not attract as many.  I went straight to the source and asked the girls on my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind team from last school year, and their answers surprised me.

My daughter, Abby, loves that the competitions attract other kids who are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers.  The problem solutions are infinite and bound only by the creativity of the kids solving them, and the kids themselves thrive on the challenge.  She likes breaking the problems apart and coming up with solutions to the individual pieces and then figuring out how to stitch them back together in a way that makes sense.

The social, teamwork aspect was what drew in her friend, Emily.  Their team formed when a group of friends got together and asked their school to sponsor them in the competition.  Meetings were a fun way for the kids to spend time together being creative and silly.  Emily is not interested in engineering and building stuff, but she enjoyed the storytelling component and the visual art of makeup and costumes to make the story come together.

EmilyRosa thinks girls like Odyssey of the Mind because it is not considered a “boy thing” or a “girl thing,” and the word she used to describe it was “open.”  She said girls do not always think they will be accepted in activities like robotics.  Like Emily and Abby, she also liked the artistic and performance aspect of the competition.  It was fun telling a story and building useful things.

One thing Rosa said to me caught my attention and made me pause.  She said, “When we are little, boys are given robots and girls are given princesses and unicorns.”  I think what she is saying here is the stereotypes about STEM are taking hold earlier than we think.

I talked about this with a friend who spent her career in IT and often found herself one of only a handful of women in that role in her company.  She agreed with Rosa.  Jeanna’s love of all things computer began when her parents bought her brother a computer.  He was not all that interested in it, but she enjoyed learning how to use it and program it.  (To be fair to the parents of our generation, home computers were new in the 1980s and early 1990s when we grew up, and not many homes had them to begin with.  It would never have occurred to me to want one, although my brother had one.)

Chicken props made from latex gloves.

Chicken props made from latex gloves.

So how do we introduce STEM to girls earlier?  We gave Abby non-traditional toys when she was little.  One year we gave her a Thomas the Train set for Christmas.  If you are not familiar with Thomas the Train (where have you been?), the engines have names and faces, stories and personalities.  There are a whole slew of books and videos where the engines have adventures.

Abby and I would set up the track, she would connect the train cars, and they would travel around the track for about a minute and a half.  For the next half hour or so, the engines would ride around in the stroller, go to the doctor, and have play dates.  In other words, she played with them like dolls.

We gave the exact same train set to my son when he came along.  Daniel stacked up stuff on the track for the engines to mow down, and they had some spectacular crashes.  Two kids, same parents, same toy, different play styles.  In my family at least, the kids played with them in ways that were traditional to their genders.

We have become more sensitive to the messages we are giving girls at a young age about their career and life options.  Remember the talking Barbie that said, “Math is hard”?  There was a righteous and warranted uproar, and that product left the market quickly.  However, it sounds like we still need to work harder to find ways to introduce girls to STEM concepts that are more interesting to them and the ways they like to play.

The Director and the Villan

The Villain and the Director

That is where Odyssey of the Mind comes in big time.  Children as young as kindergarten can participate, and many schools include Odyssey of the Mind as part of their curriculum.  It truly is a fantastic program.

If your school does not have an Odyssey of the Mind program, it is easy to start one.  At our elementary school, parents run the program with support from staff.  Parents coach the teams and get them ready for competition.  Our principal, librarian, counselor, and teachers help by being judges on competition day.  At the middle school, the kids do most of the work with a teacher coaching and parents helping with administrative stuff.

You do not need to go through your school to have a team.  At competition, we see homeschool teams and community teams registered through a church or community center.

The Georgia Odyssey of the Mind website is the best place to go to get information on how to start a team.  You will want to do it soon to give your teams plenty of time to develop their problem solution.  We have started as late as January, but that was too hectic.  You and your kids will enjoy the process more the more time you give yourself.

I hope you see you at competition this year!

The team and their coach, Theresa Allen.

Back Row L-R:  Emily, Rosa, Abby, Marcos;  Front Row L-R:  Thomas, Coach Theresa Allen, David




Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.  She geeks out at Odyssey of the Mind competitions almost as much as the kids do.

Photos by Tracy Williams

Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee Schedule

The schedule for the Georgia Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee has been announced.  It is as follows:

Meeting 1:  September 14, 2015, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, at the State Capitol Room 450

Meeting 2:  October 6, 2015, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at Georgia Regents University, Augusta

Meeting 3:  October 26, 2015, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at Tift Regional Health Centers, Tifton

Meeting 4:  November 9, 2015, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, at the State Capitol Room 450

Meeting 5:  November 19, 2015, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at the State Capitol Room 450

All meetings are open to the public.


More information on the Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee can be found here:  SR 560 Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Comm (1)

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