5 Health Events in Georgia Worth Watching in 2023 – WABE

Health issues are big news in Georgia in 2022. This trend is likely to continue in 2023, including at the Golden Dome during the next legislative session. You’ll be following WABE to find out how it all is done and how it can impact communities across Atlanta and beyond. Here are just a few of the topics the newsroom watches.

1. Access to mental health care in Georgia

The country grapples with persistent gaps in access to mental health and substance abuse services and a shortage of service providers. In 2022, the General Assembly passed the Mental Health Parity Act, which requires health insurance companies in Georgia to cover mental and behavioral health conditions on a par with physical health conditions. It also provides incentives for the development of Georgia’s resourceful workforce and requires the state to track compliance with the law. In the next legislative session beginning Jan. 9, mental health advocates will push lawmakers to build on provisions in the law also known as House Bill 1013 and provide more funding for community-based addiction and mental health prevention, treatment and recovery services.

2. Abortion rights

The past year has seen months of legal battles over a Georgia law that bans abortions after about six weeks, when cardiac activity is detected in the womb and before many women know they’re pregnant. The battles are not over yet. House Bill 481 went into effect a month after the US Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down abortion guarantees in Roe v. Wade. A coalition of abortion rights advocates and medical providers has sued to block the law on constitutional grounds. After a two-day trial in Fulton County Superior Court, the case is now headed to Georgia Supreme Court. Judges there will decide whether abortion restrictions can remain in effect in Georgia. It is not clear when the court will hear the case.

3. Georgia Health Care Network

In November, Wellstar Health System closed its century-old Atlanta Medical Center in the Old Fourth Ward, citing mounting financial losses. The decision to close the Level 1 Trauma Center sparked outcry over the loss of access to medical care in a situation with significant health disparities. It also raised concern about the impact of the closure on nearby hospitals, especially Grady Memorial Hospital, which is the city’s only other Level 1 trauma center. Grady officials told WABE that the hospital has seen nearly 30% of trauma patients drop since AMC closed. This past spring, Wellstar also closed AMC South, Fulton County’s only full-service emergency department south of I-20. Health advocates say the state needs to do more to support the struggling hospital system. They want Georgia to fully expand Medicaid, which Gov. Brian Kemp opposes, to cover more Georgians and boost reimbursement to hospitals.

4. Addiction and recovery

The drug overdose crisis escalated during the epidemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 107,622 drug overdose deaths in 2021 — a record number — most of them related to opioids. These deaths have also skyrocketed in Georgia. Among the Georgia Council on Recovery’s priorities for 2023 are more state and federal funding for community-based treatment and recovery programs led directly by people in recovery, and for more harm prevention and education resources to promote awareness of reversing naloxone overdose. The coalition is also seeking to give people affected by addiction and overdoses a greater say in how the state allocates hundreds of millions of dollars from the recent $26 billion opioid settlement.

5. Public Health and COVID-19

Three years into the pandemic, public health officials are again recommending masking indoors in areas with high community levels of COVID-19, in crowded areas such as on public transportation and for people at high risk of severe infection. While the national spike for coronavirus remains below last winter’s levels, Georgia has seen a spike in reported cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations since Thanksgiving, just as flu and RSV activity have picked up as well. Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, is pressing federal lawmakers to give the agency more power, including the ability to force data sharing between the federal, state and local levels. She says the broader authority could help the Atlanta-based agency respond better during public health emergencies. The CDC has come under fire for its handling of the epidemic, smallpox outbreaks, and other health crises.

This is part of WABE’s “Storylines To Watch In 2023” series. Click here to see what news stories WABE reporters are watching to their beat—including arts and culture, criminal justice, education, the environment, housing, immigration, and politics—so you’ll be aware of what the year might bring.

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