Sen. Burke, physicians address health equity in Decatur County

Published 7:08 pm Friday, January 27, 2017

To address Decatur County’s health ranking of 137 out of 159 counties in Georgia, Sen. Dean Burke and state physicians spoke to community leaders Friday morning.

The key term throughout the program was “health equity,” meaning a person’s residence shouldn’t determine the quality of their healthcare.

As part of the application process for the grant from The Healthcare Georgia Foundation that Memorial Hospital and Manor hopes to receive, showing community collaboration is crucial for success.

Email newsletter signup

Friday’s meeting pointed out what could be done to improve the community collaboration.

“When it comes to the state of Georgia, there are two states, the urban part of the state and the rural part of the state,” said Charles Ruis, health director in the Southwest Health District. “What we want to do is have equity. To have the kind of healthcare that we all need and all desire. We live differently currently in the rural part of the state than the folks in the urban part of the state. Life is different.”

Ruis displayed a map that illustrated the poverty rate in Georgia, with an almost clear line being drawn from Columbus to Augusta. Almost every county below that line, with the exception of coastal counties, were considered in poverty. Counties around Atlanta had very little poverty.

So if South Georgian’s live differently—living in agriculture-based communities with different amenities—do they die differently as well?

The causes of death between Decatur County residents and Georgia residents at large are fairly similar. Both have their leading cause of death listed as heart disease and cancer, which are also the second (and third) biggest cause of death in the U.S. Ruis, however, said that doesn’t reveal the whole picture.

“You can have death from heart disease at age 85 and age 55,” Ruis said.

The death rate from behavioral health and other mental health problems in Decatur County is almost twice the rate in the state of Georgia. The death rate of diabetes in Decatur County is also twice the rate as that in Georgia.

“We all agree there are some disparities,” Ruis said. “It would behoove us to consider why we have them. If we can identify them, we can come up with a plan to address them.”

Douglas Pattern, Associate Dean SW Campus at the Medical College of Georgia, followed those points up with ideas on how to improve society, from highway safety to social services, that would see positive influences trickle down to healthcare in Decatur County.

Speaking with Pattern was Laura Bland, the Director of Community Outreach at Mercer University. Bland claimed that every decision mattered, ranging from the economy to the physical environment of a community. Getting to the ground level of these issues is how an impact will be made.

“The greatest contributor to reductions in automobile related deaths has nothing to do with hospital care,” Pattern said. “It has to do with highway safety, and automobile destructions. These are policy decisions that someone is going to have to implement. The way we design things has incredible opportunity to save lives and reduce industry. Solving housing problems. We know if you put a lot of poor people in a community together, and they don’t have access to the same social services others in the community have access to, those communities decline faster. We’ve learned that.”

Sen. Dean Burke, Chief of Staff at Memorial Hospital, argued that the community would need to work together to improve healthcare in the Decatur County.

“Our community needs the hospital. Our region needs our hospital,” Burke said. “We don’t communicate, and certainly not well. For us to improve the healthcare outcomes of our individual citizens, we are going to have to work together. Quit having duplication of services, missing services and gaps because somebody thought somebody else was doing it. This to me is the kickoff of the ability for our county and city to take responsibility.”

To learn more about Georgia healthcare and the Two Georgias Initiative Healthcare Georgia Foundation, visit