Across Georgia

6 injured workers moving to spinal hospital


ATLANTA - Six of the workers injured when a pedestrian walkway under construction collapsed at the Atlanta Botanical Garden are being transferred to a hospital that specializes in rehabilitating severe spinal injuries.

The six - including one who suffered a fractured skull and has brain injuries - were to be sent Tuesday from Grady Memorial Hospital to The Shepherd Center. One of the patients, whom the hospital would not name, was being transferred from Grady's intensive care unit.

A part of the soaring pedestrian walkway, dubbed the "canopy walk" because it soared up to 40 feet high, gave way Friday as construction workers were pouring concrete onto it. The collapse killed one worker, 66-year-old Angel Chupin, and injured 18 others.

The collapse also took down a temporary structure used by the workers to build the elevated path, sending some workers plummeting dozens of feet to the ground. Many suffered broken bones and cuts.

The six patients sent to Shepherd are Hispanic men ranging from their mid-20s to late-30s. Five have spinal injuries and a sixth has serious brain injury, said Dr. Donald Leslie, the center's medical director.

The center, which bills itself as a "catastrophic care hospital," has treated more than 50,000 patients since its doors opened in 1975. It specializes in medical treatment and rehabilitation for injuries to the spinal cord and brain.

"We look for progress every day," said Leslie. "When a person is initially injured, they're so devastated, they think their life is over. But it's not. That's why they're at Shepherd."

Leslie said a team of eight to 10 staffers will be assigned to each patient, including therapists, counselors and physicians. He said he hopes the six patients will be able to walk again, but if not the hospital would help them find other ways to regain their independence.

"There is hope," he said. "There is good reason to think we'll pull them through this."

List ranks Hancock poorest county in Georgia

ATLANTA - With a per capita income of under $18,000 and more than a quarter of its population living in poverty, Hancock is the poorest county in Georgia, according to a new list that also ranks Oconee the state's most prosperous county.

Forsyth, Fayette, Cherokee and Harris rounded out the five best performing counties based on unemployment rates, per capita income and residents living below the poverty line, according to 2009 job tax credit rankings issued Tuesday by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Calhoun, Macon, Jenkins and Telfair, meanwhile, joined Hancock in the bottom five.

The department annually assesses all 159 Georgia counties, ranking them from first tier - the least developed - to fourth tier, which is the highest performing.

Local business in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, processing, telecommunications, tourism, broadcasting or research and development can qualify for tax credits, with the amount determined by their number of new hires and the county's tier ranking.

Higher ranked counties are considered economically strong and businesses there qualify for less of a credit.

"Areas with the highest unemployment, the lowest per capita income, (and) the highest poverty rate are generally indicated to be the least developed areas in the state" and would get more of a credit, said Brian Williamson, assistant commissioner for community development.

The credit is designed to lure businesses and encourage existing companies to expand in some of the most troubled parts of Georgia.

Oconee swapped places with Forsyth for wealthiest county. It's been in the Top 5 for the better part of a decade, according to Melvin Davis, chairman of the county board of commissioners.

The ranking reflects the bedroom community's proximity to the University of Georgia, a regional economic engine, Davis said, as well as a highly educated populace. Roughly 40 percent of the adult population has a bachelor's degree or higher, according to the 2000 Census.

The state average is closer to 24 percent.

"We do have a very skilled citizenry so therefore they probably do command some higher paying positions," Davis said.

Brantley, Clayton, Pulaski, Rabun and Houston counties all moved up a tier in Tuesday's rankings, which are based on a 12-month average of the employment, income and poverty levels.

Montgomery, Screven, Upson and Wilkes counties moved out of the bottom 40.

Hancock has come in dead last since 2002.

Compared to the late '90s, "you would see more establishments there, more jobs there and so forth. They've grown," Williamson said. "But they still have some need."

The 2000 Census showed less than 10 percent of Hancock County's population with a college degree. A 2004 DCA snapshot listed a supermarket among their biggest local employers.

Because the county is in the lowest tier, a business there could qualify for a credit of $3,500 per job, if it could maintain at least five net new jobs.

But that's not enough incentive to lure some to the rural region with as many trees as people, said Joyce Blevins, director at East Central Georgia Consortium. The consortium coordinates job training in 12 counties, including Hancock.

"It is very hard for people in Hancock, Glascock ... there are no companies located there," she said.

A small perfume company is among the only businesses based in Hancock, she said.

That's just not enough.

"It's not that they don't have the ability to do the jobs," she said. "The jobs just aren't there."