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September 20, 2012 Issue

Maze to begin 2012 season
Hospital explores options
Bloomin Occasions opens in Wrens

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Maze to begin 2012 season

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

As the temperature slowly begins to creep down giving way to autumn, stalks of green corn continue to rise on Verdree Road in Louisville in time for the maize maze that has been running for six seasons.

“We have had a great response from the community,” said Lisa Vaughn who runs the corn maze with her husband, Mitch, and their six children. “Our visitors enjoy spending the day in the country, getting away from it all and experiencing quality family time.”


Mitch is also a high school special education teacher, while Lisa spends much of her time applying her master’s degree to running the farm since 2007.

“The original purpose of Kackleberry Farm was to combine education and agriculture to teach children about life on the farm,” Lisa said. “The result is agrication. We also added something to intrigue young and the young-at-heart alike, a corn maze.”

With eight acres of corn, the family comes up with a newly designed maze each year that draws thousands to the Louisville area. The maze will open to the public on Sept. 22.

“Each year brings new excitement and we are eager to begin the sixth season of Maize Season,” Lisa explained. “There is so much enjoyment when we see the smiling faces.”

The Vaughn family hopes this year to give even more people a chance to experience the unique source of good farming fun in their newly-designed labyrinth. This year’s design features the Guitar Pull logo, honoring a local concert project that raises thousands of dollars each year for needy children.

Though Lisa said the correct pathways can be walked in under 45 minutes, most directionally-challenged visitors, adults and children alike, will require about one hour to travel through the nearly 3 miles of twists and turns and 85 decision points.

Lisa said interactive “passport” stops are available for groups and the general public. These are found at checkpoints in the maze and contain questions that quiz the user on a chosen subject, and those who answer the questions correctly will receive clues that guide them along the correct path to the exit.

In an effort to make the experience as easy or as hard as visitors want it to be, the Vaughns have the maze divided into two phases, one is shorter and easier and the second is a more challenging, longer section. Participants will have the option to leave between phases.

Lisa also said, in October the maze will take on a Halloween twist. There will be Trick-or-Treat Saturday, a costume contest, and a Halloween egg hunt during daylight hours. The exact date and times will be placed on the website at a later time.

The farm also features ZIPstream Aerial Adventure, the newest attraction, features five zip lines ranging from 290 to 700 feet up to 60 feet in the air. Challenges included are swinging bridges, tunnels and more, Lisa said.

The maze will be open to visitors from Sept. 22 through Nov. 11. Hours are Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Field trip hours, during weekdays, are available by reservation.

Kackleberry Farm is located just a short drive to the country, in Louisville. Cost is $12 for ages 3 and up, and free for kids 2 and under. Discounts are offered for families, groups and field trips. For more information or to make reservations, call (706) 830-4968 or visit www.KackleberryFarm.com. Kackleberry Farm is on Facebook which also has discounts and event notifications.

The maze is also sponsored by many area businesses.

“We have some great sponsors who we appreciate greatly,” Lisa added.

“Each year, we add new things to make the fall season the best yet. We never stop working so that you can have a wonderful time when you visit our farm. In fact, it is common to spend an entire day with us. With nearly 60 attractions, you’ll have plenty to do.”

Hospital explores options

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Barely three months after Jefferson Hospital CEO Ralph Randall told a room of civic leaders, “We’ve had some bleak times this past couple of years,” the Hospital Authority of Jefferson County issued a press release Monday announcing it “is exploring options for the future operations of Jefferson Hospital.”

The authority has hired a consulting firm, Stroudwater Associates, to help review options “concerning future healthcare delivery, expansion of services and continued modernization of healthcare for the citizens Jefferson Hospital serves,” the press release states.


During his annual community benefit report in June, Randall said between 2010 and 2011, the hospital’s average daily census dropped from 9.3 patients to 6.1.

“Admissions in 2010 were 967,” he said. “In 2011, we were down to 671.”

Randall said criteria for admission to a hospital for Medicare and Medicaid patients has gotten tighter.

“It’s very difficult to get a patient in a bed as an inpatient,” he said. “So we are seeing a lot more observations, what we used to call 23-hour stays.”

While the number of these observations has increased, reimbursement for these types of visits are not at the level of an overnight stay, he said.

Additionally, emergency room visits have decreased from 8,203 in 2010 to 7,514 in 2011, Randall said.

“We’ve had to dip into our cash reserves in order to meet operating needs,” he said.

The CEO said in June that despite the financial downturn and significant losses, the hospital continues to look for new ways to better serve its citizens.

“We still provided $1.5 million in indigent care to our citizens in Jefferson County,” he said. “We can’t stress how important it is to us as a hospital to continue to serve our county and the citizens of our county. We continue to take care of our citizens regardless of their ability to pay.”

In an interview Tuesday, Randall said, “We’ve been grappling with what to do with the hospital for months. Inpatient revenue continues to be off.”

He said Stroudwater was hired to help the authority find an affiliate or a partner for the hospital.

“Haven’t identified who that may be,” Randall said, stressing the authority wants to find the best partner for not only the hospital but also the county. “So we can continue to be viable,” he said.

Randall pointed out the hospital already has a partnership with GHSU, formerly MCG, with the prenatal clinic.

“We do hear the rumors; and, we know they’re out there. Nothing’s been decided; and, we want to find the right partner for Jefferson County.”

When asked if there was anything specific he wanted the community to know, Randall said, “Tell the community we’ll keep them informed as things progress.”

Robert Kirsch, of Stroudwater Associates in Atlanta, said Tuesday, the company was retained a little over a month ago.

Kirsch said Stroudwater will be working to make sure the hospital is getting paid fairly for the services it provides.

“It involves updating the chargemaster,” he said. “How and what charges they pass through to insurance companies. That involves looking at the billing codes and billing procedures to ensure the hospital is getting adequately compensated.”

A chargemaster is a software program that contains the codes for billing purposes and for reimbursement from insurance companies. Kirsch said this is sometimes a problem for rural hospitals to keep updated.

“Hospitals, especially rural hospital don’t update their chargemaster,” he said. “It’s expensive oftentimes to bring in a consultant to do just that. At Jefferson Hospital it’s been a number of years since that’s been updated.”

He said this is a challenge for rural hospitals across the country.

“The revenue cycle review is complicated,” Kirsch said. “One thing you want to make sure is you capture all the charges.”

Kirsch said besides looking at short-term initiatives, Stroudwater Associates is looking to help the hospital authority find an affiliate or a partner.

And if that partner can’t be found, he said, they will work to ensure Jefferson Hospital is at least not standing flat-footed.

Kirsch said that although his firm was retained a month ago, work is just beginning. Currently, there are three teams at the firm gathering data. Next week, at least one team member will be at the hospital. One or two people from another team, Rural Health Clinic Improvement Health Team, should be in the area within a week to a week and a half after that, he said.

He expects to be making a report to the authority based on the findings by the end of October.

He said the opportunities for the hospital will be spelled out clearly in those reports.

Kirsch said his professional opinion for rural hospitals in the future is to collaborate and not compete.

“Rural hospitals have a different value proposition than a hospital like Trinity,” he said. “We give our patients something different. Rural healthcare is convenient. It’s neighbors taking care of neighbors, local access to care, there’s a familiarity there.

“There’s your neighbors taking care of you. We’re never going to do open heart surgery.”

Kirsch said the need for things like investment in IT and the ability to measure and assure quality to both Medicare and to patients cost dollars and management resources. Those are at a deficit right now.

“I think the bridge forward for rural America is to affiliate or partner with others with scale, with resources, with capital,” he said.

Kirsch said he sees networking with other rural hospitals as a way to reduce costs.

“It will continue to be a challenge for a rural hospital or a consortium of hospitals. There will be opportunities throughout the state and throughout the country to network,” he said. “And they can accomplish much, maybe even as an intermediate step.”

He said an affiliation could mean any one of several things.

“It’s not just a sale. It could be branding; it could be a management contract; it could be a number of different things,” he said.

The next step is to be sure what the authority wants out of a partnership.

“We’re taking some time to better understand that,” he said, to have an affiliation criertia. “What are our objectives? We don’t want to just form a partnership just because. We want to do it to improve our organization, to improve our hospital.”

He said he believes he will be sharing a draft of that with the authority next week.

Kirsch said if a partner is found and the partner is a for-profit entity, there will be a review by the Georgia State Attorney General; and, that takes between 120 and 180 days.

“A public hearing is held,” he said. “If a not-for-profit entity were to come in and want to form a partnership with Jefferson Hospital that (review) would not necessarily be needed.”

Kirsch said he hopes to help the hospital be both stronger and prosperous for generations to come. He pointed out that when new business owners look for somewhere to locate, they ask about two things.

“They ask about education and they ask about health care,” he said. “And if you can’t answer that, they won’t come.”

Bloomin Occasions opens in Wrens

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

The Wrens community welcomed a new business with open arms and a ribbon cutting on Aug. 24.

Bloomin Occasions Florist and Gifts, a full service florist, as well as a gift shop, held its ribbon cutting applauded by many area citizens, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, the city of Wrens, State Senator Jesse Stone, Representative Barbara Sims and Department of Transportation’s Don Grantham.


“Our opening day was very good,” said Pamela Nelson, who owns the shop with her husband Joe Nelson. “We had a very positive response from the public.”

When thinking of opening a business, Pamela said she knew exactly what she wanted to open, a floral shop.

“I just felt like it was one of the elements that the community was missing,” she said. “We want to give the community a service that they can use at all times. By providing that service, whether it be for a wedding or whatever the occasion, flowers are a suitable option and we didn’t have that.”

Pamela, who is also a nurse, had never worked a day in the floral business before opening the shop in Wrens.

“I just always had that creative side and I’ve had that interest in doing things like that,” she explained. “That is what drove us in that direction. We are stepping out on faith.”

While the ribbon cutting and grand opening was held on a Friday, the public was also invited to another grand opening the following day.

“The ribbon cutting ceremony was more like a chat and chew event,” Pamela said. “We gave away door prizes that Saturday, and we also had an excellent response from the public that day, too.”

She said she knew she and her husband wanted to open a floral and gift shop.

“One of our inspirations was from a former florist that had been in Wrens for years,” Pamela said. “I’ve always had a great interest in it and she really encouraged us. She was our mentor, she taught us and showed us so much.”

That knowledge came in handy.

“We really knew how to do a business, but not specifically how to run a florist and she taught us everything we needed to know and that alone was a huge asset,” Pamela said.

Currently the store employs three people.

The store’s motto is, “Bloomin Occasions offers custom floral designs tailored to peak any imagination. We spend time getting to know our clients’ desires and customize our designs to fit. We specialize in the wow factor. You can expect unique designs that add just the right flair to you next posh event.”

“I want to thank the community, the mayor of Wrens and the Chamber for all of their support and inspiration,” Pamela added.

The store is located in downtown Wrens and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The business’s telephone number is (706) 547-2088.

They will have a website soon, www.bloominoflorist.com or find them on Facebook.

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