I have known many formidable women in my time, but none can hold a candle to the force of nature that is Nellie Dunaway Duke.
Governor Deal’s office called me almost four years ago to ask me to consider accepting an appointment to the Georgia Commission on Women. I asked all the important questions you ask when you get a call from someone wanting you to volunteer your time: What does the Commission do? What kind of time commitment are we talking? (I have learned to double this estimate.) With whom will I be working?
I do not remember the specifics of the answers to the first two questions, but I do remember hearing that Nellie Duke was the chair of the commission and that I would love working with her. I was encouraged to call her to find out more details, so I did. That began a friendship I will always cherish.
The first thing Miss Nellie told me was that she was born on International Women’s Day and was about to turn 81 years old. We chatted it up as if we were old friends catching up with the news instead of complete strangers who were soon to be working together. She talked my ear off, really, and I enjoyed every minute of it. We found out that we both played basketball as young women; in fact, she played semi-pro basketball in 1947-48. I was not quite that good, although I did play my freshman year in college. When her kids were young, she was knee-deep in all the things I am doing today like PTA, Girl Scout leadership, coaching, and school volunteer work. It was fun to talk about how things are different and how much they are the same this time around.
Obviously, I accepted the appointment. I really could not turn it down after talking to Miss Nellie. She has a knack for making you feel welcome and comfortable. She came to my swearing-in at the Governor’s Office and immediately pinned me with my nametag. Next thing I knew, I was attending meetings and finding myself put to work. That is how she operates.
Serving on the commission has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, and I am grateful to Governor Deal for giving me this opportunity. I have had the good fortune to meet the kinds of people who are working on the front lines and dedicating themselves to making the world a better place. I sit and listen to them talk about the work they do and what motivates them to do it, and I always leave with a full heart, inspired to do more in my own tiny sphere of influence.
Many of these inspiring people are serving beside me on the Georgia Commission on Women. Led by Miss Nellie over the years, the commission has published a book called, “Women & the Law: A Guide to Women’s Legal Rights in Georgia,” commissioned studies on the status of women in Georgia, led a continuing awareness campaign on the dangers of osteoporosis, created a self-defense course, and worked with community partners to combat Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) in our state. The stories these women tell of community events, sponsored studies, and meetings with legislators have proven to me that each individual can make a difference.
Some of my favorite stories, however, come from Miss Nellie, herself. She tells about trying to teach the other commissioners how to make jelly years ago at Commissioner Bette Rose Bower’s house. They all got to talking and laughing so much that they forgot about the strawberries simmering on the stove. The next thing they knew, the pot boiled over with molten strawberries streaming all over the stove and onto the floor. I think it took Bette Rose hours to get that sticky mess out of her stove.
My most favorite stories are Henry stories. Miss Nellie’s husband, Henry, was a mainstay of the commission. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease the last years of his life, but he went everywhere with Miss Nellie and was at all of our meetings with a big smile and big hugs. Years ago, a local man who was unhappy with Miss Nellie’s advocacy for women in town woke Henry in the wee hours of the morning with a phone call to tell him he needed to get control of his busybody wife. Henry thanked the caller for his feedback and asked him when he was planning to go to bed that night. When the guy told him, Henry thanked him again and said that when he was good and asleep Henry was going to call and tell him how to run his life. Then he hung up the phone. Henry died last June, and we all miss him.
On Saturday, August 15, 2015, the commission met at our favorite lunch spot, Mary Mac’s Tea Room. It was a called meeting, but in addition to our current members, there were past members and friends of the commission present because Miss Nellie had some big news. After 21 years, she was stepping down as chair of the commission.
Our meeting was a celebration of the work and dedication of Nellie Duke in advancing the rights of women in Georgia and across the nation. She has been influential in achieving for us many of the rights we younger folks take for granted. As people stood to speak, a theme emerged. People talked about her kindness. They talked about her work ethic. They talked about her friendship and mentorship. They talked about the times she had stepped up to do something selfless for someone else. Everyone there had been touched by Miss Nellie in some way that they felt made them a better person. This is her legacy.
On Tuesday, November 17, 2015, we elected our slate of officers for the 2016-2018 term. Our vice-chair, Julianna McConnell, secretary, Dianne Rogers, and treasurer, Linda McWhorter, are all returning in their positions, but for the first time in 21 years, we have a new chair. I am excited and humbled to report that I am the one stepping into that position.
I will admit that I am feeling a little overwhelmed but honored that my fellow commissioners believe I can do this job. You will be hearing often from us in the coming months as we hone our vision and focus our mission for advocating for the women in our state. Miss Nellie’s hard work ethic and her commitment to service for the women of Georgia are a tall order to live up to, but her inspiration will guide us as we move into this new phase of our work.
In this season when we focus on gratitude, I am thankful for women like Miss Nellie who envisioned a better world for women and fought for it. I am thankful for the women on our commission who have dedicated themselves to continuing to realize that vision. And I am thankful for the opportunity to do my part to make Georgia a great place for women to live, work, and raise their families.
Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and assorted fish.
The Georgia Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met on November 9, 2015 at the State Capitol. Again they heard from state experts on women’s access to healthcare in Georgia, but this time the presenters focused on women’s healthcare providers and ways to improve access to care for women in rural areas of the state.
The Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met on October 26, 2015 at the Tift Regional Health Center in Tifton, GA to discuss women’s access to healthcare in rural Georgia. Dr. Paul Browne and Dr. Chadburn Ray of Medical College of Georgia and Dr. Adrienne Zertuche of the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society presented information on how the OBGYN shortage affects women in rural counties along with suggestions for attracting more practitioners to the state and specialty.
When you get outside the Metro Atlanta area, the “biggest barrier to [obstetric] care is geography,” says Dr. Paul Browne. Rural hospitals have closed, or at least closed their obstetric services, because they cannot stay in business while sustaining heavy losses treating predominantly Medicaid covered patients plus the uninsured. As a result, 83 percent of women must travel outside of their county to deliver their babies. Long travel times also translate into unhealthy outcomes for mothers and babies as women who have to drive farther for medical care are more likely to deliver preterm.
There are many factors driving the shortage of OBGYNs in our state. In rural Georgia the malpractice insurance rates doctors must pay coupled with Medicaid reimbursement rates that are about one-fifth the rates of private insurance companies make it very hard for a doctor to make ends meet in a rural practice. In Georgia as a whole, Medicaid covers the obstetric costs in 40-60 percent of births depending on the year. In rural areas, that percentage is much higher.
The obstetrics specialty has not seen a substantial increase in OBGYN residents in more that 20 years, and as a chunk of the current workforce gets ready to retire, we may see even fewer doctors available to treat Georgia women. Georgia needs to take steps now to support re-entry programs for OBs who want to return to practice after a break, expand our Certified Nurse Midwife programs, and encourage Family Practice physicians to gain obstetric experience.
The Georgia Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met at Augusta University in Augusta, GA on October 6, 2015. The Study Committee heard from experts about the top health concerns affecting women in the state, including breast cancer and cervical cancer, aging issues such as Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. Information was presented by Dr. Sharad Ghamande, Dr. Carlos Isales, and Dr. Lucy Marion of Augusta University, Nancy Paris and Angie Patterson of Georgia CORE, Dr. Stephen Goggans of the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Pascha Shafer, and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in women followed by cervical cancer. A family history of breast cancer is the most significant predictor of risk, and genetic screening for BRCA 1/2 can reduce the incidence of breast cancer and ovarian cancer by 80-95 percent. While cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States, the Pap smear screening test reduced the death rate from cervical cancer by 74 percent from 1955-1992.
Georgians are living longer, and an aging population brings its own health challenges. The study committee heard presentations on aging covering such topics and osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s Disease, both of which disproportionately affect women.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Each day, eleven women die in Georgia from heart disease. Obesity, which affects over one-third of the population in our state, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by a factor of four, and diabetes, another risk factor, is increasing in prevalence as well. Smoking tobacco products is associated with half of heart disease events in women, and the risk drops quickly when women stop smoking. In fact, the risk is mostly gone in 2-3 years.
The next Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee will meet on Monday, November 9, 2015 from 2:00-5:00 pm in room 450 of the State Capitol.
The Georgia House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health held their second meeting on October 20, 2015. They heard presentations from Amerigroup Georgia, Georgia Department of Community Health, Peach State Health Plan, and Well Care Health Plans, Inc. Study Committee members include Rep. Katie Dempsey, chair, Rep. Joyce Chandler, Rep. Pat Gardner, Rep. Rick Jasperse, Rep. Randy Nix.
The House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health was created by the following resolution:
1 Creating the House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health; and for other purposes.
2 WHEREAS, the Georgia General Assembly is concerned with the early intervention and
3 prevention of mental health problems in children and adolescents in Georgia and the
4 resulting impact this has on these children, their families, and the citizens of this state; and
5 WHEREAS, mental health problems in children can impact their ability to learn and function
6 successfully in educational settings, their future job performance and productivity as adults,
7 and their families and others; and
8 WHEREAS, the resources for children and adolescents with mental health problems face a
9 number of challenges concerning funding and other issues which strain their ability to deliver
10 optimal care for these children and adolescents; and
11 WHEREAS, available funding is divided among multiple state agencies and other entities
12 which must compete with each other for such funding; and
13 WHEREAS, the support of early intervention and prevention programs of the Department
14 of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to identify and treat children with
15 mental health issues before such problems are deeply manifested should be encouraged; and
16 WHEREAS, it would be beneficial to study the issue of available resources for children with
17 mental health issues in this state and identify possible solutions or improvements in the
18 delivery of services, particularly concerning early intervention and prevention services.