Citizens Ask Legislature to Fund School Nurses, Trauma Care

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(APN) ATLANTA — About 20 activists representing numerous local and state organizations gathered at the Capitol Tuesday morning, February 03, 2009, to urge Georgia lawmakers to fully fund the state’s trauma care network and school nursing program.

The group criticized Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal to cut $30 million the state spends on school nurses as part of a larger effort to eliminate $2 billion from the budget.

“What does it say about a state when it turns its back on its children?” the Rev. Timothy McDonald, President of Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment (ABLE) and Pastor at the First Iconium Baptist Church, asked. “It says our state has become insensitive.”

Activists worry this cut will force schools to eliminate nurses on its campuses, and place teachers in a situation where they have to administer medical care to students.

“Teachers do best when they are provided the right resources to teach, not to administer medical [care],” Jeff Hubbard, President of the Georgia Association of Educators, said.

The group argues now is not the time to cut school nurses at a time when more children need their services.

“The prevalence of diabetes is increasing among children, asthma rates are up, and children born with HIV are living to be school age who in the past wouldn’t have lived that long,” Susan Wooley, Executive Director of the American School Health Association, said in a letter the group delivered to the Governor Tuesday.

“That can open up liability for schools,” she added. “It is something school districts need to consider very carefully.”

The $30 million accounts for between 35 and 70 percent of what many Atlanta area school districts spend on nurses, according to a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. Local tax revenue covers the remaining cost.

Perdue’s proposed cut would likely result in some schools having to cuts its nurses, advocates said.

Citizens recommend lawmakers adopt a $1 per pack cigarette tax in order to help raise new revenue.

The Georgia General Assembly is considering HB 39, which would levy such a tax. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) estimates such a tax could generate $450 million every year.

The GBPI notes Georgia spends $1.8 billion annually on direct medical expenditures associated with tobacco smoking and lost productivity costs the state an extra $3.3 billion from morbidity and mortality.

“A 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes has been shown to reduce short-term consumption by 2 to 5 percent among adults and 6 percent or more among youth,” the GBPI said in a Jan. 20 report. “A cigarette tax increase is not the best tax policy, but it offers targeted revenues to provide direct health benefits to Georgians.”

The GBPI recommends other revenue options, including releasing the maximum amount legally allowable from the state’s reserve, imposing a temporary surcharge on the top income earners in Georgia, and making transparent the tax credits and tax breaks accorded under state law.

“We’re tired of hearing the same song and dance that all you can do is cut taxes,” Debra Greenwood, co-chair of ABLE’s health task force, said.

Activists on Tuesday also urged lawmakers to find a way to fund the state trauma care network. Georgia has 15 trauma hospitals spread out across the state, four of which are classified Level I, including Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.

The network is in dire need of dedicated state funding. Lawmakers had a chance last year to create a dedicated funding mechanism but failed to pass any bill.

Last summer, the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission doled out $58.9 million to the state’s trauma centers. Grady received $12.7 million of that total after expecting between $20 and $30 million.

This year, lawmakers are again considering two bills that would pump annual funding into the network.

HB 148 would require Georgians to pay a $10 fee on their car tags, resulting in $85 million per year for the Georgia Trauma Trust Fund.

The bill is similar to last year’s HB 1158 that stalled in a conference committee after the House and Senate could not come to a compromise.

Gov. Perdue’s “super speeder” legislation, HB 160, would levy an extra $200 on speeders caught driving over 85 M.P.H. on highways and 75 M.P.H. on two-lane roads. The Georgia Trauma Trust Fund could receive an estimated $23 million every year.

The General Assembly failed to act on similar legislation when Perdue rolled it out two years ago.

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said Tuesday he prefers HB 148 because most trauma care covers those injured in automobile accidents.

Fort also noted that 700 people in Georgia die every year because of the lack of proper trauma care.

“We stand on the side of our children,” McDonald said. “We stand on the side of educators. We stand on the side of those who have been marginalized.”

McDonald urged lawmakers to “find new and creative ways” to raise revenue rather than “turn[ing] our backs on our children.”

“It’s time for Republicans to show they truly care about family values,” David Schutten vice president of ABLE, said.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News, and is reachable is jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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