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March 14, 2013 Issue

Tornado hits church, homes near Gibson
Hospital considers switch to for-profit status
Sunday sales on ballot

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Tornado hits church, homes near Gibson

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

As night fell Tuesday afternoon, rain and winds descended upon the area, leaving a path of destruction and devastation from three homes in Glascock County and one church family.

Shortly after 7 p.m. on March 5, an F1 tornado, with winds up to 100 miles per hour, cleared a path three quarters of a mile long and 150 yards wide. The National Weather Service says the tornado did not register on their radar, in Peachtree City, however the storms that moved through the area Tuesday were low level and fast moving.


“As a result of those storms, the Magnolia Baptist Church, located on Magnolia Church Road, was significantly damaged,” Glascock County EMA Director Mike Lyons said. “The fellowship hall collapsed, and the roof of the church, including the church’s steeple, was blown off.”

The storm left the church’s steeple across the road in a field, where it was left pointing at Magnolia Baptist’s remnants.

“We are still debating if we can restore the church,” Deacon Chairman Donald Kent said this week. “We are going to have someone come in and analyze it to see if we can restore it or if we will have to rebuild it.”

Thirty-five to 40 headstones in the cemetery were also damaged, but Kent said Jerry Taylor of Taylor Funeral Home/Sheppard Funeral Home pledged to reset them. The church was built in the 1890s, Kent said.

“We appreciate anything and everything people have done and can do for us,” Kent said. “The cemetery is cleaned up and now we have just a little metal to haul off. There are still a lot of blocks and brick though.”

Kent said the church’s office and Sunday school rooms are secure. The church’s sanctuary had the roof blown off, with the middle support beam sagging inside. The pews and pulpit were still intact, though the church was covered inside by insulation.

Lyons added that at least three homes in the county just north of Gibson on Highway 171 North were also affected. One mobile home was moved from its foundation, a tree struck one mobile home, and another home suffered roof and window damage.

“It created a straight line of destruction,” Glascock County Sheriff Dean Couch said Wednesday morning. “Luckily nobody was at the church and no one was injured.”

Couch said calls began to come into the Glascock County Sheriff’s after 7 p.m., with emergency personnel responding by 7:30 p.m.

Glascock County resident Diane Newsome said she was not sure what time the storm came through, because she was already without electricity.

“In the beginning it was lightning and thunder, then stopped,” she said Wednesday. “Then it sounded like a train coming through and it destroyed everything.”

EMA Director Lyons said at the peak of the storm, 22 Glascock County residents were without power. Crews from Jefferson Energy had restored power to those residences by Wednesday morning, except for the homes that had damage and could not have power restored.

Newsome said once the tornado hit, she and her boyfriend were trapped inside their bedroom.

“An officer kicked the door in to get to us,” she said. “A gun cabinet had fell on me.”

Most of the state was under a high wind advisory through 7 p.m. Wednesday. Gusts caused scattered power outages. Georgia Power reported just before 7 a.m. that 3,600 customers statewide were without electricity

“I am going to have to stay with my mother,” Newsome said.

She moved to the residence in 2004.

“I am not financially able to come back home,” she said. “There ain’t no place like home. I just want to come home.”

“I thank the good Lord we’re still living,” Newsome’s mother, Elaine Young said.

Young was at Newsome’s home at the time of the storm and was in the living room when the tornado hit. Ten people are displaced because of the storm, and a shelter was opened in Thomson to assist them last week.

Kent Frantz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Atlanta, came to Glascock County Wednesday to assess the damage left by the storm. It was unclear at the time if it was a tornado that caused the damage or strong winds.

“At this time we try to determine the beginning point,” Frantz said before the assessment. “We have some people who say they saw a funnel cloud or vortex. We have to measure the tornado, if that is what this was, by the EF scale, we measure wind and speed.”

Frantz said tornados tend to hit in Georgia beginning in early spring and summer and again in the fall.

State and federal emergency agencies and the American Red Cross were on hand Wednesday to help those hit by the storm.

Those wanting to assist residents who were affected by the Glascock County tornado may contact the American Red Cross or the Glascock County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 598-2881.

Magnolia Baptist Church will meet in the auxiliary room at Crossroads BBQ for the next week and a half, Kent said. Sunday school is at 10:30 a.m. and worship is at 11 a.m. Anyone who would like to donate directly to the church may do so by mailing a donation to Treasurer Louis Swint, 290 Swint Rd., Gibson, GA 30810.

Hospital considers switch to for-profit status

By Parish Howard

Jefferson Hospital asked the county commissioners for an additional $200,000 a year to help offset indigent care expenses during their work session Monday, March 4.

“For the last several years it’s been clear that while we’ve been providing awfully good care there we’ve been losing money doing so. To the point where we are dangerously close to running out of money,” Bill Easterlin, the Hospital Authority’s Vice Chairman, told commissioners during their work session Friday. “Over the past year we’ve had strategic discussions on what to do about it.”


The option they are currently pursuing involves a partnership that would take the hospital from its current non-profit status, and make it a for-profit institution. One condition of that partnership, is that the hospital get $200,000 a year help from the county commission for the next five years to help offset the cost of indigent care.

According to Ralph Randall, Jefferson Hospital’s CEO, it is currently losing about $200,000 a month and eating its way through its cash reserves.

“Part of our financial problem is the amount of indigent care we provide to people in Jefferson County and don’t get compensated for,” Easterlin told the commissioners. “It generally runs around a $1.2 million a year. Some years a little more, some years a little less…That’s indigent care, people who don’t have Medicare, don’t have Medicaid, don’t have insurance, they come to the emergency room and we take care of them free of charge.”

The hospital does get a small amount of this reimbursed through programs like the Indigent Care Trust Fund, but Randall says that it is a very small portion of the total loss. In calendar year 2012, declining revenues and increases in uncompensated care led the hospital to post losses of over $2.4 million. Randall said that $1.1 million was in indigent care while $1.3 was in bad debt.

“We have an affiliation, finally, after months of working,” Easterlin said. “We’ve found a partner that we think can help the hospital continue to operate in Jefferson County. Without this affiliation we would have to ask you guys and ask for an awful lot of money.”

Without the partnership, he said, the hospital would have to ask for around $200,000 a month to remain open.

Randall said that while they are currently in contract negotiations with the partner he is under a confidentiality agreement that prevents him from revealing the name of the management company.

“We have found a partner that will manage the hospital, that will take on the risk of the loss in the hospital and will take on the risk of the profit that they may or may not make,” Easterlin said. “We will be changing from a publicly funded hospital to a privately run hospital. We are getting ready to sign a contract. There are two contingencies in that contract, one of which is converting the hospital to a critical care access hospital which means different things from the funding side from the federal government and also they want support from the county commissioners to the tune of $200,000 per year for a limit of five years.”

More details on the company will be available after the contracts are signed, Randall said.

“What we like about this company is that they want to grow business in our area,” Randall said. “They want to add services.”

The company currently owns or manages several other small rural hospitals in the southeast, he said.

Easterlin pointed out the economic impact of Jefferson Hospital on the area, employing around 175 people, 131 of whom are Jefferson County residents. Between the hospital itself and its rural health clinics, its monthly payroll runs around a half million dollars. Easterlin also pointed out that a community without an emergency room has more difficulty recruiting industry.

Their interest in the new management company comes from a desire to see the hospital survive, Randall said.

“This company is for profit, but it is privately held,” Randall said. “The authority was very comfortable with these folks. Their culture is similar to ours. Because they are rural health providers they know that it is different out in rural Georgia. The recruiting issues are different. The salary issues are different. And they’re willing to do what it takes to make the hospital successful.”

The commissioners showed unanimous support for the hospital’s request, but no action can be taken until the commission votes on this issue in a regularly scheduled meeting. Randall was expecting the commissioners to revisit the issue Tuesday evening. The results of that meeting were not available at press time.

Sunday sales on ballot

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

After months of discussion among council members, Wadley voters will get to decide whether the city will allow package sales on Sundays.

This week ends advance voting on the referendum with the election being Tuesday, March 19.


If voters pass the referendum, package sales will be allowed on Sundays from 12:30 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. Sales will be for malt beverages, wine and distilled spirit.

The council voted in January to hold the referendum this month. Several months ago, they decided it would be too costly to hold the referendum in conjunction with the general election last November.

The city’s attorney, John Murphy, had explained the city would have to have a separate roped off area for the referendum and use separate voting machines and separate workers.

“I’m pleased that it’s going pretty good,” said Councilman Izell Mack, a supporter of the referendum.

“One thing that we’re trying to do is get revenues into the city; because, that’s one thing that we really need. Plus, once we get revenues we’re thinking on the housing, we’ve got the housing thing that private citizens are working on for us,” he said, referring to the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) program. The group of citizens has been working on improving housing in the city.

“Overall, what we’re after is growing,” Mack said. “We’re after jobs and decent housing.”

Councilwoman Dorothy Strowbridge, who abstained from voting on having the referendum, said she doesn’t believe having package sales on Sundays will provide much revenue for the city.

“I opposed the referendum at an early time in our discussion,” Strowbridge said this week.

“I feel like with my conviction, I feel like Monday through Saturday is enough for drinking. Sunday should have been left alone,” she said. Strowbridge is also an ordained minister.

“I didn’t feel like there were going to be enough sales from that to generate enough funds for the city. Being a Christian I felt I had the right to abstain from voting,” she said. “So let’s put it before the voters.”

Strowbridge said she thinks there are plenty of opportunities for other sources of revenue.

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