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June 20, 2013 Issue

Gator removed from sewage system
House to home
Hospital cuts 15 positions
One killed in drive-by at club

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Gator removed from sewage system

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

We’ve all heard tales of killer alligators in big city sewers, but last week it was a killer sewer for a Louisville reptile.

Utilities Superintendent Ronnie Jones was testing chemicals at the city’s sewage oxidation ponds around 10 a.m. Thursday when he noticed something floating in the contact chamber of the city’s water treatment system.

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The contact chamber, which is a part of what looks like a concrete maze, collects water that has come through the city’s three oxidation ponds for final declorination before release.

“I saw what I thought was a piece of driftwood in the chlorination chamber. I stopped and looked closer and realized that ain’t no driftwood,” Jones said.

The alligator was in 10 to 12 feet of water and had his head resting against one of the gates.

“I don’t know how he got over in there, but he was in the middle chamber where the water dumps in from the pond before it feeds into the other chambers,” Jones said. “He was making an effort to get out.”

Jones said that the recent rains have caused the nearby Ogeechee River to back up into some swampy areas near the city’s ponds.

“We don’t really have any idea, but we guess he walked up and ‘Uh, oh, there’s a hole here’ fell over in there,” said City Administrator Ricky Sapp.

The city contacted the Department of Natural Resources who sent out their nuisance alligator specialist, John Gillis.

Fearing that the big reptile would get further stuck in the facility and doubting that anyone would want to get down in the water with the toothy creature, city workers used a fire engine’s pump to lower the water levels in the chamber.

“Once we started pumping out the water in there, I guess the vibrations got to him and he started trying to get out of there,” Jones said.

“He was trying to swim back up the pipe that leads to the pond, but his girth was so big he just got stuck,” Gillis said. “He got about half way in but he never got his hind legs in the pipe.”

Sapp said their biggest worry was that the big animal would get deep into the pipe under the road in the pond’s dam, get stuck there and cause the city to have to dig him out.

When Gillis arrived, he asked the city workers how long it had been since it had surfaced and they told him possibly as long as five hours.

Gillis knew the animal was probably dead. He climbed into the water treatment system, found the animal’s body and tied a rope around it. Sapp and other city workers helped to pull it out.

“The DNR gator trapper told us it probably weighed around 125 pounds, but I was on the other end of that rope and I can tell you it felt more like 500,” Sapp said.

Jones said he does not believe that the gator that died is the same one he has been seeing more regularly in the oxidation ponds.

“It’s hard to tell how big they are when you’re looking at them out there across the pond, but I don’t think this was as big as the one we see out there,” Jones said.

Gillis said that once they got him out, the unlucky gator, a male probably 8 or 9 years old, measured 7-foot-3 inches and weighed 118 pounds.

“Looks like it got spooked and tried to get out that inlet pipe,” Gillis said. “I guess it found that hole and got caught at his shoulders. He was wedged half in there.”

If he had been able to retrieve the alligator alive, Gillis said he would have relocated it without dispatching the animal.

“I really hated that it drowned,” Sapp said. “But I feel like we did all we could do in the situation.”

Sapp said that is not at all uncommon to see alligators in the city’s oxidation ponds, but this was the first time one found its way into the concrete portion of the system as far as he knows.




House to home

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

Dessie Thomas has lived his whole life in the same house on East Fifth Street in Louisville.

He raised nine children there and when they came along, he added rooms with his own hands. When they all grew up and moved away, he tore some of those rooms off.

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A hard working man, he has always taken care of things himself.

For years he has fixed what needed fixing with whatever materials were at hand, tin, shingles, press board.

He is 88 and until recently, according to his youngest daughter Hattie Kittles, he was still scrambling onto the roof to patch holes and crawling under the house to work on busted pipes. Time and moisture take their toll on wood and iron just like they do on strong backs and healthy joints.

In the next few weeks the only home he has ever known is being torn down and replaced.

“He keeps saying, ‘They ain’t gon’ come,’ but I tell him they are,” Kittles said.

Thomas recently invited contractors into his house, guided them through the unlighted rooms he has pieced together into his kitchen where he sat in a straight-back chair. In the light from a single, uncovered bulb, he looked at a picture of the home they are going to build for him.

He was the last person in the program to decide to let them do it, only after Louisville City Administrator Ricky Sapp talked him into it.

“The rain was keeping him up all night,” Kittles said. “There’s so many leaks he was having to tote buckets out all night long.”

It was partially the lack of sleep, Kittles said, that convinced her father to let the city build him a new house.

•••

“Eventually a roof is going to leak,” explained Linda Grijalva, the grant writer and administrator responsible for housing projects currently going on across Jefferson County. “Galvanized pipes are going to rust and corrode to the point where water just can’t get through. Generally, by the time I get ahold of a home, it’s in bad shape.”

For eight years now Grijalva, Director of Community Development for the CSRA Regional Commission, has been helping area communities address their need for housing rehabilitation. It’s just one of her jobs.

“Mr. Dessie has kept that house together with whatever he could find,” Grijalva said. “He took care of it himself for as long as he could, but now it’s going to be coming down.”

And through a grant received by the city of Louisville, within about two months, he should have a brand new house completely up to code take its place.

Thomas’ home is one of seven Grijalva and her crew of contractors inspected in and around Louisville on May 23. With funds from a grant the city is remodeling or replacing five houses in Louisville in the Yazoo, Polhill and E. Fifth street areas. At the same time Jefferson County is working on several houses in the Rufus Wren Subdivision. Grijalva is currently working on similar housing projects in both Wrens and Wadley.

“The homes I see are in a wide range of conditions,” said Kevin Burnley, the Regional Commission’s housing inspector. “Some are OK with just a few problems, then there are some where you feel sorry that there are people living in these conditions.”

Some of the conditions he has seen are what he calls life threatening.

The homes he has seen in Jefferson County are much like what he sees in similar programs across the CSRA: old or rigged electrical and plumbing systems that are not up to code, a lot of water damaged wood, a lack of insulation, some termite infestations. Grijalva said she has found that most homes built before the 1960s have lead in them and they also often have to deal with asbestos abatement.

“Most of these homes have never had central heating and air,” Burnley said. “So we see a lot of gas space heaters and if the houses themselves weren’t so drafty, then there would have been some serious carbon monoxide poison issues.”

In one local house they found new tin nailed directly to charred and flaking rafters burned almost half in two. Grijalva said she has seen water hoses run through windows into bathrooms so families with children could bathe.

At Thomas’ house, Burnley said there was a lot of water damage to the frame and other problems.

“The number one problem I saw at Mr. Dessie’s was a home-made electrical system,” he said. “There were cords and splices all over, some just wrapped with electrical tape, other bare wires with just wire nuts holding them together, all running off a 120 amp breaker. That’s not a great amount of voltage, but the way it was run there was definitely a danger of fire.”

•••

Grijalva said the houses that take part in these programs are chosen based on need.

The funds that support these projects usually come from two grant sources and each one has strict requirements, including income and residency limits.

“To be eligible you have to own your home, make less than 80 percent of the area’s median income adjusted for household size, the property must be your primary residence and you must have homeowner’s insurance and property taxes must be current,” Grijalva said. “And the owners have to contribute something as well. There has to be skin in the game.”

Participants have to pay a percentage of their annual income toward the project and are required to live in the home for between 5 and 15 years, depending on how much money is spent on it.

Both the city of Louisville and Jefferson County applied for and received $500,000 Community Development Block Grants for housing while the projects in Wrens and Wadley are being funded through $300,000 grants from the Community Home Investment Program.

In Wrens they have done three homes and two rehabs and have a reconstruction left. Wadley was only just recently approved and Grijalva expects to be able to work on four to six houses depending on how far the funds go.

CHIP grants can be applied for annually, but there are only 11 or 12 given out a year across Georgia and Grijalva says the budget funding for this program continues to be cut.

Governments can apply for CDBG grants only every other year and they have about a one in three chance of being approved, Grijalva said. The funds are made available through HUD, which is also seeing major funding cuts.

•••

Willie Albert, 79, and Carrie Brown, 77, have lived in their Moore Street home for more than 40 years. They raised four children there.

They heard about the housing program from George Cooper, a community member who has been organizing the residents of Rufus Wren Subdivision in improving their neighborhood.

After working on the application process for a little more than a year, they are getting excited about the renovations they should see beginning on their home in the next several weeks.

The Browns’ kitchen and bathroom will be remodeled and they will get central heating and air for the first time. The house will be made handicap accessible, with widened doors, a walk-in shower and ramp leading to their front door.

“I told my husband that we better get the ramp,” Ms. Brown said. “We’re going to be needing it before long.”

“We’re finding a lot of termite damage,” Grijalva said. “So these houses will get inspected, treated and the damaged wood will be replaced. We’ll redo all the plumbing. A lot of these houses have galvanized pipe and it corrodes. We’ll paint the interior and they’re getting a new stove.

“Since this is government money, everything needs to be ADA accessible. We put in walk-in showers, stools, ADA bars. It’ll be fabulous.”

Members of the construction team bring residents like the Browns samples of paint, roof colors and floor coverings to choose among.

“Yes sir, that looks good,” Mr. Brown said while holding a picture of the plans for the way his house will look in just a couple of months. “That’s going to look good.”

•••

“We’re providing decent, safe family housing,” Grijalva said. “These are houses that will last and we want them to be accessible for these people for a long time. The independence means so much to them. Everything is handicap accessible. No matter what happens. They can live at home.”

She said that while there are some couples, like the Browns, most of the projects she has done have been for elderly widows, 50 and older.

The oldest she has rehabbed for is 96 and the youngest was a 29-year-old mother of two who was also raising her sister’s three children while the sister was serving in Iraq.

“I had a double amputee in Wadley who couldn’t get through her doorways with her scooter,” Grijalva said. “I bet we added 20 years to her life.”

She said that she tries to use local contractors when possible and asks the contractors to buy materials locally when they can.

Participants stay with family or in hotels while the work is being done.

“Rehabs usually average around $45,000 and are done in six to 8 weeks,” Grijalva said. “But I can build a house for around $60 to $65 per square foot and we’re done in two and a half months when the weather permits.”

Even still, promising all of this, regardless of what shape the house was in to begin with, sometimes, Grijalva said, people still have a hard time saying goodbye.

“It’s hard,” Grijalva said. “A lot of them have lived in these houses their entire lives. They know the house has problems, but it’s their home.”

But she believes in the good the program does, the pride of ownership she sees in her clients, the sense of security and independence they get from their new homes.

“Nothing beats the satisfaction you feel when you see the look in someone’s face when they are presented with their new home,” Burnely said. “The look on their faces when they see it for the first time, it makes it all worthwhile.”

•••

Gloria Roberts moved to her Hill Street address with her mom and siblings in 1970. After inheriting the house, she raised her own children there.

Some time ago, at the seam where Roberts’ mom added a room, a small leak started. And it grew.

Over the years she has had work done on the house. She replaced floors, had a chimney removed, replaced shingles.

“But the water just took over,” Roberts said. “Nothing helped for long. Whenever we had a good hard rain, it was over.”

A fire scare in her bedroom forced her to stop using the power in that part of the house. She has been using drop cords, she said.

Eventually Roberts said she just started closing off parts of the house she could not use.

“Now, when we have a good storm, there’s water running all through there,” Roberts said. “The floors got bad and sheetrock started falling…Really I’m blessed that I haven’t gone through the floor.”

She recently walked around the house with Grijalva’s contractor, pointing out problems and discussing which trees threatened the home and would need to come down.

“I should have done been out of this house…I know that,” Roberts looked down at the roots of a large hardwood tree tangled in the foundation, the wall there patched in several places where the living tree has pulled it apart. “I’m scared of that one. When it falls, it’s going to take the whole side of the house with it.”

She knew she was going to have to move out of the family home, that she should have already. But it was the family home, her mom’s and then hers and the future was so uncertain. Roberts had worked at Cadet Manufacturing in Wadley for years before it closed. More recently she had worked in shipping and receiving at a plant in Waynesboro, but was let go in November when that plant announced it too was closing.

She was in between jobs and making do in a house coming down around her when her neighbor told her about the program that was rehabbing homes in the area.

“I didn’t see any fixable in it (her house),” she said.

Grijalva’s team agreed there isn’t. It will be one of the ones torn completely down and rebuilt from scratch.

“I’m going to miss my old house, but I wish my mom was still here to see what they are doing,” Roberts said.

In her mom’s last few years she had wanted to return to the Hill Street home to stay with her daughter, but Roberts knew that wasn’t possible.

“I love it,” she said, looking at a picture of the new house that is going to be built in the next few weeks. “I picked it out. It’s a home that I can be comfortable in, one I can stay in. It’s really a home…a home.”




Hospital cuts 15 positions

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

Friday 15 positions were cut in the first phase of Pioneer Health Service’s plan to save Jefferson Hospital.

Thursday evening, the hospital’s authority signed a five-year management contract with Pioneer, who for the past several months, has been reviewing hospital operations in all departments and developing a plan to stem the financial losses that drove the authority to seek outside help.


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Ray Davis, the authority’s chairman, said last week that the hospital has been “bleeding between $200,000 and $300,000 a month” for some time now.

“We looked at what we could do to turn this hospital around,” said Interim CEO Steve Widener. “We’ve had a team here for two months. More than a dozen people from Pioneer have flown in and examined and analyzed and made recommendations in many areas. The higher paying opportunities have been looked at.”

And after receiving the authority’s approval, they began implementing that plan. Last Monday, Hospital CEO Ralph Randall was put on administrative leave and Friday, the other cuts began.

Davis characterized it as a reduction in force. Widener called it a restructuring.

“There are a few more opportunities but we tried to do it all at once where it’s over and we can give the remaining staff some assurance,” Widener said. “I think the rest of them know the areas, the couple things left that we possibly could do. There are some areas where the staff was so efficient that with our resources it wouldn’t save us any money to make the change.”

Davis said that Pioneer’s proposal was based on positions that could be reduced to improve the hospital’s financial efficiency.

“It was not laid out according to personalities, but by the hospital positions,” Davis said. “The driving force behind that is that Pioneer has resources in Mississippi that can handle responsibilities like billing and accounting and we won’t have full independent accounting function here. It’s that kind of thing.”

Pioneer’s suggested cuts were also largely based on a model developed in their 10 other regional hospitals, using how many employees are needed to serve an average number of patients, Davis explained.

The reductions were across multiple departments. Widener said there were very few clinical people in the restructuring but a lot of clerical and administrative positions. Originally he said, they were looking at 25 positions, but through attrition, were able to decrease that number.

Current employees are being cross trained to provide back up between departments.

“The combination of staffing changes, renegotiating some contracts and things called other was projected to be $1 million and a half a year (in savings),” Davis said. “That’s Pioneer’s objective. And they say that if they are able to accomplish that, and it’s ambitious there’s no question, that we should see a positive cash flow by the end of the year two, going into year three.”

The contract itself

Under their initial negotiations, Pioneer, which specializes in critical access hospitals, believed it could get Jefferson this designation, and therefore a larger reimbursement for services from Medicare and Medicaid. However, that designation did not come through.

Instead, they offered a different plan.

“They presented us with a three-year model based on major changes, based on things that are difficult to do,” Davis told those gathered for an authority meeting last week. “But this authority has been guided and continues to be guided and will always be guided by the mission statement which says it is the mission of Jefferson Hospital to provide quality, community-based primary health care to the citizens of Jefferson and surrounding counties. There are a lot of other things we’d like to do, but when you get right down to it, that’s our mission.”

The final contract was signed Thursday evening.

Under this contract, the authority will retain control over all business, policies, operation and assets of the hospital not designated to Pioneer.

Beginning July 1, the authority will begin paying Pioneer $30,000 a month to manage the daily operations of Jefferson Hospital.

“In essence it gives complete management oversight to Pioneer Health Services under the supervision and approval of the Hospital Authority of Jefferson County and the City of Louisville,” Davis said of the contract. “We retain the property and the responsibility….So the authority remains the authority as we have known it.”

Widener explained that Pioneer, with all of its resources, will be acting in many ways as the hospital’s previous administrators.

“This isn’t new,” Davis said. “We’ve had two other management companies in the past.”

The hospital has had management contracts with SunHealth and University Hospital.

According to Davis, a separate contract is being drawn up concerning billing and collections.

“They will be compensated for a percentage of what they collect,” Davis said. “We expect that to be much of an improvement over local staff having to do all that. And we expect the cash to flow faster than it has.”

Under this agreement the hospital will pay Pioneer 4.25 percent for any money collected, excluding non-patient related income, i.e., meals, gift shop, county support. Other cost report settlement payments to or from Medicare and Medicaid programs’ meaningful use and other enhanced payments will also not be included in this calculation.

The emergency room

Pioneer’s model for an improved bottom line goes well beyond position restructuring. It also involves renegotiated contracts with providers, volume purchasing agreements, as well as plans for growth of services and therefore, new revenue.

One change area citizens could see soon involves staffing changes in the emergency room.

“We sat down with key doctors and nurses and discussed when did our emergency room flourish, when was it busy and when was the community pleased with it,” Widener said. “The answer was when we had our own doctor that lived around here in the community and was here during the day time hours…But we were never able to keep that doctor. They come and go. It’s hard in a small town with an ER that’s not that busy but is essential, to keep that doctor.”

Pioneer is looking at using a midlevel provider, a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistatant to man the hospital’s ER.

“We’ve chosen that model to go to where we’ll have a midlevel practitioner during the weekday hours and then have a physician at night,” Widener said. “And that will save us $305,000 a year.”

The physicians working in the ER have been contracted and do not live locally, Widener said, and many have been working 24-hour-shifts.

He expects renegotiations to begin with those contracts soon.

Other changes

“With the restructuring of these jobs that’s what’s been on everyone’s minds and that’s a hard swallow to take, but our plans are to open up additional services,” Widener said. “The biggest service would be a geriatric psych program that should employ 15 or 16 new jobs.”

The payroll savings they have seen could be a wash, Widener said, as these are likely to be clinical jobs.

Possibly as early as the first of the year, at the beginning of the hospital’s fiscal year, Pioneer is looking at the feasibility of remodeling a group of rooms containing as many as 10 beds into a distinct wing for the psych patients.

“We would feel successful if we had five or six patients in there on average,” Widener said. “A psychiatrist would meet with them approximately three days a week. There would also be a social worker and an activities therapist who spend individual time with the patients.”

There would also be LPNs and aides who would have the 24-hour responsibilities of taking care of these patients.

“There is a current need,” Davis said. “I don’t believe that any of our adjacent hospitals have that service. One thing that Steve Fontaine has said to us from the beginning is that we need to draw a bigger circle and I think this service will allow us to do that.”

Fontaine is the vice president of hospital operations for Pioneer Health Services.

Another new position that will come about through the restructuring is the addition of a community educator.

“That would be the person who would be going around and getting to know these other communities and finding opportunities for Jefferson Hospital to reach out. For instance we get a lot of physical and occupational therapy from doctors in Augusta.”

This person would try to recruit more business and promote the hospital’s services to doctors in other areas.




One killed in drive-by at club

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Law enforcement officers from three agencies are looking for a suspect in a shooting that left one man dead and another injured.

Officers and EMS responded to a 911 call shortly after midnight Sunday, June 16, regarding a shooting near Club Apollo, which is located at the corner of East 5th and Yahoo streets in Louisville.


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Kenneth Quarterman Jr., 23, of Augusta was found on the sidewalk suffering from at least one gunshot wound to his head.

He was taken to Jefferson Hospital where he was later taken by air to Georgia Regents University, formerly the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta.

Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Fay McGahee said Monday Quarterman was pronounced dead at GRU. His body has been taken to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Augusta for an autopsy.

“He died of a single gunshot wound to the head,” McGahee said.

A second victim, identified as 25-year-old Charles Lewis Brown III of Wrens was taken by a family member to Jefferson Hospital.

Brown had been shot at least one time, also in the head.

He was treated and released.

The two men are related and were thought to be standing near each other at the time the shooting occurred.

“The cause of the shootings and the identity of the suspect or suspects is unknown at this time,” said Lt. Robert Chalker, an investigator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Chalker said Monday the shootings are still under investigation by the Louisville Police Department, the JCSO, the GBI and the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office. The cause of the shootings is not known, he said.

“Anyone with information concerning the shootings is encouraged to contact any of these agencies or their local police,” Chalker said.







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