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September 2020
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Staff Editorials

No visitor rule at hospitals unethical

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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Last week my grandmother, a widow who lives in Alabama with her brother and sister-in-law, had a stroke. A blood clot traveled into her brain and, among other issues it created, her vision was severely impaired. All she can see are shadows.   

But the powers that be decided it was best – because of dangers posed by the threat of COVID-19 – that she (and any other patients admitted) not have visitors. Not even one. No, the powers that be feel that leaving a scared, blinded, elderly woman alone in a hospital room where she can’t get out of bed or see to pick up the phone is the better option - you know, for the “greater good” and our collective health and all. 

Visitation rules vary from hospital to hospital and some are beginning to ease up, but my grandmother’s incident was recent. Schools are back in session in her district and people are eating at restaurants, but hospitals there think it’s too dangerous to let her have a single visitor at such a critical time? Unacceptable.  

A different family member who had a highly-invasive surgery earlier this year was recently admitted to a different hospital with a related and serious breathing issue - but his wife wasn’t able to stay with him or even come inside. My relative, who is over retirement age and also has hearing problems, was alone, in an emergency situation, trying to absorb what doctors and nurses were telling him. Also unacceptable.

The list goes on and on. Outside of my own family, strict no-visitor policies have left families helpless outside hospital walls, unable to see dying loved ones. They’ve had to watch over a videoconference call as their mom or dad took a last breath, in a hospital bed alone. Mothers have had to deliver babies, alone. Granted, a patient’s family members can call and speak with doctors and nurses but it’s not the same. These family members aren’t just “visitors” there to shoot the bull, they are caregivers and crucial parts of the treatment and end-of-life/beginning-of-life processes. 

Back in April, at the height of lockdowns, disability advocacy groups rightly filed a complaint about hospital visitor restrictions. The complaint argued “that when family and support workers are banned, many elderly and disabled people can't make informed medical decisions, which can affect their care,” according to an NPR report.

  John L. Marshall, M.D., founding director of the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancer and the clinical director of oncology for Georgetown University Hospital, comments on how crucial patient advocates are in an August 24, 2020 video “No-Visitor Policies are Bad Medicine,” posted on MedScape.com. 

“We all rely on them,” he said. “…They help quarterback and navigate us as we see our patients. They help us coordinate care and they help us understand what that patient's life is really like. Sure, technology bridges that to some degree, but it's just not the same. We all know that. As a consequence, I think the quality of our care is falling a bit because no caregivers are around.”

He goes on to aptly call hospitals the “loneliest place on Earth,” and further that patients in need of medical treatment are now choosing not to seek it out because they’ll have to be alone.

This drastic no-visitor policy is one of the many COVID-inspired decisions that goes far beyond the realm of reason into absurdity - and in this case is downright cruel and draconian. I understand and agree with taking safety precautions for the sake of patients and medical workers (my sister is an RN at a nearby hospital) - but a more reasonable, humane solution could have - and should have - been found. Hospitals need to do what is ethical and let patients have at least one visitor. 

 

Doublecheck that e-mail

By Dan Pool

Editor

This is a simple subject and one that may strike many as stating the obvious. However, of any business/communication issue, this may be the most frequent source of irritation: lost e-mails. Do not assume your e-mails always reach the intended recipient’s inbox.

For example last Wednesday we got ready to send the weekly  reminder that our latest e-edition was available online.

We use a product that is specific to newspapers called “The Paperboy” that allows us to send a link out to the subscribers who prefer to get their copy of the Progress on a tablet or computer.

But last Wednesday, an error message popped up, saying we couldn’t send with  an active link in the e-mail. We have used The Paperboy for 10 years and we’d never seen this message. In fact we had never seen any error message and never had any problem sending the weekly notification. Some people’s do wind up in various spam traps, but it definitely leaves our server.

Of anything we worry over with our technology, being able to paste a link into a weekly e-mail was not even in our top 100 fears. Why would something that has worked for a decade decide one week to stop? Who knows - it’s technology. We contacted the vendor saying essentially “What the heck is going on?” The vendor, who has provided exemplary support for the past decade, replied quickly that unfortunately there was indeed a problem and not one they could quickly remedy.

The issue should be fixed for this week’s edition but with computers/internet, once something breaks, it makes you nervous.

Aside from this weekly mass e-mail, we get and send a lot of e-mails at this relatively small newspaper. It’s simply how people communicate for business. I advised a potential high school intern recently that the first thing he needs to do, whether he lands a spot on this staff or not, is establish an e-mail account to use when dealing with the adult world. No, you can not be notified by Snapchat or TikTok regarding a loan application or job prospect.

E-mail is what the old landline telephone was 50 years ago, an essential business communication avenue.

But, and this is what we want to note with our tale of woe regarding The Paperboy last week, e-mail is not nearly as reliable as you think. There are all sorts of pitfalls and spam-killing measures that may sidetrack that very urgent business you are conducting via e-mail.

Last month, we discovered that one particular e-mail account at this newspaper and one e-mail at city hall had a very high failure rate. Maybe it was some security feature, where one account had unintentionally blacklisted the other. We worked around this by being sure to duplicate e-mails to more than one receiver for meeting notices and other business. We also backed it up by recognizing the problem and checking to see that the e-mail did get sent.

A simple, “got it” works fine as a response. And if you don’t see that “got it,” then maybe they didn’t get it.

We know from talking with other local agencies that missing e-mails is not unique to us. It’s common among small businesses/groups.

The point of all this grumbling about technology is to remind others that you can’t assume every e-mail you send is received. Even more so when you send mass or group e-mails or attach numerous photos, say for an advertisement. And even more so when you are trying to attach photos using a phone and then send by e-mail.

Nothing fancy here, but please make sure to look for replies, send replies and keep in mind that e-mail is not guaranteed to get where it’s supposed to. 

Doublecheck that your receiver got itwhenever sending something important .

 

Longing for the days of Cronkite: It’s understanding, not just hearing

Where is our day’s version of Uncle Walter? Remember the days when television news came on for just one hour each night? When Walter Cronkite would tell us, “And that’s the way it is,” followed by the date of the broadcast? 

Remember, too, when we sat around the breakfast table with our local, state or national newspaper reading for a while before taking on the rest of the day? (Luckily, here in Pickens you can still get your weekly newspaper delivered right to your mailbox).

Now, the constant, never-ending stream of news from 24-hour networks and the internet, and those notifications on our phones are impacting our lives like never before -  and not in a positive way. 

In fact, the media saturation era we live in today affects our mood, socialization and empathy. And faced with so much information, we aren’t absorbing anything we read or hear before something else steals our attention. We don’t think critically anymore - or for any extended period.

Every day we are bombarded by information, regardless of whether we search for it; when sensational news (note: we didn’t say important news) breaks nationally you would have to hide to avoid it. 

And this bombardment is taking a mental toll on all of us. It is literally too much. 

Of course, it’s not just “the news” anymore. It’s some braying jackass spinning it in whatever direction his or her political views lean. 

What has gotten lost in the shuffle is our own critical thinking ability.

The Pew Research Center last month reported that “Americans who mainly get their news on social media are less engaged and less knowledgeable.”

The report said “those who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about the coronavirus and politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims.” The governor had to warn last week that drinking bleach products is hazardous and will not cure coronavirus, refuting claims made online and elsewhere. Note: this story is a repeat of an April story with the same misinformation again making the rounds.

Newspaper readers absorb information better and are better informed.

About one-in-five U.S. adults say they get their political news primarily through social media. (In a survey conducted between October 2019 and June 2020). That survey found that U.S. adults who rely on social media for political news tend to be “less likely than other news consumers to closely follow major news stories, such as the coronavirus outbreak and the 2020 presidential election.” In addition, they also tend to be “less knowledgeable about those topics.”

U.S. adults who rely most on social media for news tend to be younger and with less education, the  research think tank found. In addition, the Pew study found that even as Americans who primarily turn to social media for political news are less aware and knowledgeable about a wide range of events and issues, they are “more likely than other Americans to have heard about a number of false or unproven claims.”  

Those people considered to have “high political knowledge,” according to Pew, are those who get their political and election news via a news website and print.

Four-in-10 individuals who turn mainly to news websites and apps (45 percent) and print (41 percent) for news fall into the “high political knowledge category,” the same is true of just 17 percent of those who turn most to social media.

We don’t need more blathering online. We need thinkers who take time to find trusted sources and actually read the articles first before commenting. 

Pickens not a tourist destination, but is a great place to live

A few weeks back, the magazine Southern Living released their list of the South’s Best Small Towns for 2020.

Jasper didn’t make it into the top 20 spots across the region.

No surprise, of course, as most of the towns on the list were small cities that really stand out with unique features. 

Besides inspiring travel desires, one thing the list (available at southernliving.com) does very well is give a yardstick to think about what Jasper has and doesn’t have, and for what we could be versus what’s unlikely here.

We point out the following observations not to denigrate efforts to improve Jasper, but to set a realistic starting point – to better define where we are on the yardstick.

Right off the bat, it has to be made clear that most “best of” towns have an awesome natural wonder to work with - places like the Beauforts (towns with that name in both North and South Carolina) made the list as “coastal gems.” Clearly Jasper is not hitting that market. 

Closer to home, neither Ellijay nor Blue Ridge made the Southern Living list either - but they were closer than we were to making it. One undeniable fact is that both of our neighbors to the north, (which we are endlessly compared to) have us beat with natural attractions. We all share the same mountain chain, but our neighbors have more parks, public places, camping and hiking areas in the mountains.

Blue Ridge also has their popular lake and Ellijay has their river. Right now tubing on the Cartecay River is creating a controversy in Gilmer County as the thousands of people who come there ruffle the feathers of river homeowners. On the one hand, this is a problem we won’t have here, but, on the other hand, did you catch “thousands” of tubers. It would be like JeepFest every weekend, both the good and bad, during warm months if we had a similar water resource. We’d wager, the small Cartecay River brings more visitors to Gilmer in a weekend than Pickens sees in a month.

In public forums someone inevitably grouses, “Why can’t we be more like Blue Ridge?” To which a good response would be, “you mean spend millions and decades to build a massive lake?” There are things, like better signage to downtown, that should be done, but we aren’t going to ever make it big time with tourism without some geologic reshuffling.

On Southern Living’s list, several places did make it with a combination of historic areas and artsy downtowns. Here again, the towns in Pickens just don’t have that asset. There are nice buildings; Talking Rock has an awesome Main Street, but the towns that really thrive as historic tourist spots are those like Fredericksburg, VA, which according to Southern Living boasts 350 recognized historic structures, or Natchitoches, LA with its block after block of landmark homes (and the setting for the movie Steel Magnolias).

So what is Jasper, without a lake or ample historical buildings, to do?

In the words of every self-help guru on daytime television, love yourself the way you are because you are just perfect. Well, that may be overstating it. We’re not perfect and definitely not if you want to have a bustling downtown. 

But, there is one thing Pickens has going for it. We are a great small town to live in. A knowledgeable birder once described the winged wildlife at Talking Rock Nature Preserve with a line that perfectly describes this area, “You don’t get too many rare visitors but the local residents are really nice.”

So, for those groups pushing a more lively downtown based on tourism, we caution them to take a long look in the mirror. Small efforts to spruce up what we have will no doubt yield benefits. But rather than trying to be something we see elsewhere, we need to work with what we have, a great place to live.

 

Georgia courts guilty of COVID cowardice

On August 11th, the Chief Justice of the Ga. Supreme Court again said they were too afraid of COVID issues to allow any jury trials or grand jury work. They also imposed other restrictions that local courts must abide by.

In his fifth order extending the statewide judicial emergency, Chief Justice Harold Melton noted the hardship this is imposing on all Georgians, writing “this broad prohibition cannot last too much longer, even if the pandemic continues, because the judicial system, and the criminal justice system in particular, must have some capacity to resolve cases by indictment and trial.”

He continued that there is a Judicial COVID-19 Task Force looking at how they could proceed safely even in areas where the levels of COVID-19 are high, including the use of remote grand jury proceedings and jury selection remotely. 

One wonders what they have been doing since March if they are still looking at it?

The high court’s order specifically noted that jury selection would be impractical with social distancing guidelines. Grand juries already impaneled can continue meeting for “time sensitive” matters. New grand juries won’t be called.

The order from our state’s highest court, recognizes “the substantial backlog of pending cases” and make provisions with various deadlines, including waiting periods with adoptions and divorces.

The order calls attention to the courts’ particular burden of seeing that the Constitutional rights of defendants, including open court rooms and the right to confront your accusers, plus victims’ rights and the public’s right to access proceedings are all afforded while meeting public safety guidelines.

It’s true that the courts do face this burden and you almost could feel sorry for them....Almost.

But before we continue to accept their continued “emergency,” let’s recall that every school across the state, including hundreds of thousands of students and thousands of teachers, created plans to handle it.

Let’s consider grocery stores have figured out how to keep food on the shelves. 

Let’s recall that family businesses, with none of the resources of our state court system, are figuring out how to open dining rooms, offer curbside service and ways to bring their product to you.

One big difference with those who have been innovative and our courts is the employees at family businesses won’t continue getting paid unless they get their doors open.

Not so with the courts. You can be  sure that members of the state’s high court are not sitting around discussing how to stretch their relief money for another month. 

Maybe that would have encouraged our state judicial officials to think outside the box, or to simply tell everyone to wear a mask, wash their hands and go for it. 

To be fair to our local judges, this is an order handed down from the top. And as a reminder, unlike federal supreme court justices, Georgia justices are elected. 

This lack of effort to get courts rolling is a big deal. Among those awaiting days before juries or a grand jury decision are the innocent and the victims and parties to civil suits, and others with plain, routine business who are getting pushed aside. Only the guilty are benefiting by the lack of a properly-functioning court system

The chief justice noted in his order the backlog this closure is creating. Even simple future cases may suffer ridiculous delays if this state of in-action is allowed to persist. 

So let’s hope our court officials will show the same courage now expected of our kindergartners and get back to work.