Originally created 01/12/00

Tobacco money could help disabled



For Fred Partlow of Augusta, it could mean help and a little dignity in the afternoon. For many smokers in Augusta, it could mean turning the money they plunked down for a pack of smokes into a way to help them quit.

As Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes on Tuesday outlined ways he would like to spend $87 million this year from a settlement with tobacco companies, many in Augusta -- from the disabled to anti-tobacco advocates to school nurses -- were looking forward to increased help.

For Mr. Partlow, it could mean an end to four years of seeking more state help in becoming independent. Born with muscular dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair since 17, Mr. Partlow is one of 400 on a waiting list seeking additional state help for the disabled. Mr. Barnes' proposal would open slots to help about 100 of them.

"It sounds like good news," said Mr. Partlow, 44, who lives in an apartment at Walton Place. He gets assistance with bathing and feeding for an hour and a half in the morning but has to rely on a friend or nieces to cook and care for him in the afternoon. If he needs to be cleaned, the aide is often willing to come on her own to help, but otherwise he must wait until morning, he said.

The openings are also welcome news at Walton Rehabilitation Hospital and its affiliates, which often become involved in the struggle to find services for the disabled, hospital President Dennis Skelley said.

"To have 100 slots approved this year would not only be the largest number of slots ever approved in a one-year period but will certainly go a long way to decreasing (the backlog)," Mr. Skelley said.

"The opportunities for a person in a more independent living setting are, No. 1, more dignity and two, the opportunity to make choices as to what one wants to do with his life."

The slots are part of a recent surge of interest in helping the disabled move to community settings. Mr. Barnes has set up a task force to study the issue. And the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Authority -- overseeing money from a 10 percent surcharge on DUI fines -- was recently formed with Mr. Skelley as a member.

The fund has collected only $300,000 so far, out of an expected $3 million, because some courts are not yet collecting the fine, Mr. Skelley said. That will be a top priority for the new board, he added.

Although tobacco prevention and cessation funding would increase from practically nothing to more than $20 million, anti-smoking advocates say properly funding the program would require about twice that. Still, increased funding could mean connecting patients at area hospitals and clinics with smoking cessation programs, said Katie Davis, director of the East Central region for the American Lung Association.

That is particularly important for those in outlying counties who might not have access to programs now, she said.

The tobacco money also would provide $30 million for about 1,800 school nurses, one for each school in Georgia.

Jeanette Stokely, who splits her time between Lake Forest Hills Elementary and Langford Middle schools in Richmond County, said she believes a nurse at each school would help.

"It just adds some consistency" for the children, she said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.