Opinion: Improving Ga.’s rural health care can’t fall victim to special interests

Georgia’s State Capitol.

Georgia’s State Capitol.

I understand from personal experience what a lack of healthcare access means to rural Georgia families. Weeks before the November election, I spent hours driving to and from Piedmont Hospital in Macon to take care of my elderly mother. While I am grateful that I had the ability to help care for my mom, too often Georgians are having to pick between caring for their family and securing their employment.

Local control and access to healthcare are two topics that seem to be a priority for those serving under the Gold Dome, that is, unless special interests and crony corporations get involved. This is evident now more than ever with special interests trying to kill policy by dictating to local communities what they can do to increase access to healthcare.

Burt Jones

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

Senate Bill 99 is sound policy that has the potential to positively impact Georgians in parts of the state where access to adequate healthcare is nonexistent. Citizens are driving for hours to receive services including surgeries, specialty care and even access to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Can you imagine being a mother and having to travel hours just to see your newborn? This is sadly a reality for mothers in rural Georgia, while those families living in metro Atlanta have access to NICU care every 10 miles or so.

This legislation is not the final solution, but it is a significant first step in increasing access to rural healthcare. But not everyone in Atlanta believes this policy is the best approach. Wellstar Health System attempted to thwart this legislation and share misinformation at every step, even personally attacking me and my family. From their Marietta headquarters, they believe they know what’s best for rural Georgia and have opposed giving local communities the choice to decide.

While they have shut down one facility, brought metro hospitals to a breaking point and threatened the state; their misguided opposition to SB 99 has been questioned by few. Their pretentious belief that they know what’s best for rural Georgia is astounding. In fact, on more than one occasion, lobbyists walked into my office offering to narrow this legislation to only benefit my hometown and family. I profusely refused because this is not about one issue, it is about expanding access for all of rural Georgia. This is not about one community. This policy and my persistence to see it pass is for all rural communities. I firmly believe they should have the choice to decide and my support will not waiver.

As a 6th generation rural Georgian, I learned from an early age about the challenges smaller communities face. Things like access to healthcare and good-paying jobs are often limited. While SB 99 will not get a final vote before the end of the legislative session, I will not stop fighting to enable rural communities to have a voice in bringing quality health care to their citizens. I will continue to stand with them, rather than those who want to protect the status quo.

I believe that the specific needs of our communities are best decided by those at the local level – not those at the Gold Dome with special interests.

Burt Jones is Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor.