Three sisters do their part for Georgia’s longevity tradition

Georgia Health News, 06.25.2018

Springfield Baptist Church in Sparta recently played host to a celebration for three local sisters — Tennie S. Henderson, 103, Lillie S. Lewis, 100, and Julia S. Williams, 98 — who have continued the state’s recent history of very old residents.

Two Georgia supercentenarians (people who have lived to or passed the age of 110) made headlines in recent years. Besse Cooper, a Monroe resident who spent most of her life in the small town of Between, was the world’s oldest person at the time of her death in 2012 at age 116. Dr. Leila Denmark, a legendary pediatrician and researcher, died in Athens that same year at age 114.

More recently, the Mangham siblings of Pike County have earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the five oldest siblings in the world.


The sisters honored in Sparta, known as the Skrine sisters for the surname they had before their marriages, have joined this longevity list.

The United States had more than 71,000 centenarians in 2015, but that represented only 0.022 percent of the population.

Sheila Davis, the daughter of Lewis, carried out some research trying to confirm the family’s thinking that they were the oldest sisters in the state. She called senior citizen agencies in Georgia trying to find an older set of sisters, and she was not able to track down any.

The sisters were born and raised in the Springfield community of Hancock County, which is where all three returned to live out their retirement years. Henderson and Lewis now share a residence, and Davis helps to care for them. Williams lives with her daughter.


Healthy living

The three sisters were all accomplished seamstresses from their youth. While Lewis and Williams went to school at Savannah State and majored in home economics, Henderson traveled farther, moving to New York, where she initially used her sewing skills working in the garment district. Later, she and her husband opened a dry cleaning business, and they worked side by side for 45 years until retirement.

While their oldest sister was working in New York, Lewis and Williams both became teachers. After finishing their education, they came back to Sparta to begin their careers. Both taught in elementary schools. Williams is retired from the Greene County school system and Lewis is retired from the Hancock school system.

“She also coached basketball for about 37 years,” said Davis of her mother. “She was my basketball coach.”

The sisters were also active in their local church, leading Vacation Bible School and singing in the choir “until they got of age,” said Davis, “and could no longer do all that kind of stuff.”

All three sisters had husbands and children, and all three are now widows. (Women far outnumber men in the ranks of the very old.) Henderson’s 82-year-old daughter still lives in New York. Lewis and Williams both married fellow teachers and had four and three children, respectively.

The sisters lead less active lives now than they once did, mainly getting their recreation by watching TV. But though they’ve slowed down, Davis says, “they get around pretty good.” Williams uses a cane, Lewis a wheelchair and Henderson a walker.

“My mother loves doing the word search puzzles,” said Davis. “She still does that sometimes, not as much as she used to, but she still does do it sometimes.”


The sisters believe there are a few reasons why they have lived so long.

“The oldest one [Henderson] always says that she had a good husband,” said Davis, “and she doesn’t have hardly any wrinkles, and she says it’s because she didn’t have a husband who worried her to death.”

“The other ones, they always say that they had a good upbringing,” said Davis. “They raised everything they ate.” Their father was a successful farmer, and all the sisters’ food when they were growing up had been grown by the family.

The healthy way of eating that began in their youth is something the sisters believe played a role in their longevity.

“And they never smoked,” said Davis. “And they never drank!”

Students from Douglas County win anti-opioid video contest

Georgia Health News, 05.31.2018

Students from the Douglas County College and Career Institute are the winners of the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” video contest.

The contest is a chance for Georgia students to make PSA video and audio clips related to the opioid crisis, which will be aired on television and radio stations across the state.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, citing CDC statistics, reported that Georgia had 918 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 and 1,394 drug overdose deaths overall. But those figures could be underreported.

State Attorney General Chris Carr, who announced the winners, says that last year, an average of four Georgians died per day from opioid-related overdoses.

The name “opioid” means “like opium.” Opioids are a group of drugs — some natural and some synthetic, some illegal and some used for medical treatment of pain — that work on certain brain receptors and can be highly addictive.

The contest, which began Feb. 1, is open to high school and college students enrolled at a Georgia-based school. This year, the contest was looking for submissions that “highlighted the dangers, risks and consequences associated with opioid misuse and abuse, that availability of resources and/or the 911 Medical Amnesty and Expanded Naloxone Access Law.” Video and radio submissions were accepted.

Chancellor Newsome, MaKayla Tappin, Casson Thompson and Jace Swafford created the winning video, which focused on the effects of teen use of opioids, under the guidance of an instructor, Nicole Oliver Rivers.

Douglas County CCI, established in 2009, is a joint venture between the high schools in Douglas County, West Georgia Technical College and the Douglas County Chamber of Commerce. The goal is integrating “core academics and advanced career/technical education programs, thereby encouraging high school students to achieve at a high level and to seamlessly begin to pursue post-secondary studies.”

In 2016, the CCI offered full-time enrollment for students for the first time, and 204 students applied and 60 ninth-graders were chosen by a lottery process.

“A good storyteller captures their audience, stimulating their emotions, while leaving them with something to think about,” said Gary Morris, principal of the Douglas County school. “In the words of Pablo Picasso, ‘action is the foundational key to all success.’ This group of students has stepped up and taken action to deliver a meaningful and powerful message that illustrates the dangers, risks and consequences associated with opioid misuse and abuse.”

Students at Bainbridge High School received the first runner-up prize, followed by students at Gainesville High School, whose video was second runner-up.

“The Office of the Attorney General and our partners want to thank all students who submitted entries for the ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ video contest,” said Carr in a statement. “It is critically important that we continue to engage our youth as we work to strengthen our state’s response to the opioid epidemic, and we want to congratulate the students of the Douglas County College and Career Institute, Bainbridge High School and Gainesville High School for their leadership, dedication and creativity.”

In sponsoring the contest, the Office of the Attorney General partnered with the Georgia Association of Broadcasters, the Healthcare Distributors Alliance, the Medical Association of Georgia’s “Think About It” campaign, the Georgia Pharmacy Association, the Kennesaw State Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery, the Georgia Prevention Project, the Council on Alcohol and Drugs, and the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse for the contest.

Below is a link to the winning video.

Jail Deaths in Georgia: Pleas for help end in tragedy

Atlanta Journal Constitution, 05.18.2018

Suicides are a leading cause of jail deaths in Georgia. The stories of Kimberly Clements and Demilo Glover were among the 168 cases documented in the AJC/Channel 2/News Lab investigation.

‘Let the bitch kill herself’

Kimberly Clements, a 30-year-old wife and mother, told people she couldn’t survive jail.

Clements was on probation for writing bad checks when authorities arrested her on charges of theft and property damage on July 21, 2011.

She told a fellow inmate and a probation officer the next day that she’d kill herself if she had to stay behind bars, according to a federal lawsuit and investigative records. When Candler County Sheriff Homer Bell heard his inmate was suicidal, he responded: “Let the bitch kill herself,” according to investigative and court records.

Jailers placed Clements alone in a cell. Hours after she threatened to kill herself, inmates found her dead. She’d hung herself from a shower curtain rod. When an emergency medical crew arrived, they found Clements in her cell, cold and blue, lying in what appeared to be a puddle of water with flies hovering around her open mouth.

In their wrongful death lawsuit, her family accused the sheriff and one of his jailers of failing to follow jail policies to protect people from self-harm. An expert witness for the family said it was the most brazen failure he’d ever seen of jail leadership’s responsibility to protect people in custody, including those at risk of suicide.

“They just put her in there … and let her be,” said Clements’ mother, Linda Jenkins.

The family eventually reached a settlement. In 2015, Bell retired after 34 years as sheriff. In a recent interview, he said of the inmate who died on his watch: “She was high on dope and we had her in the holding tank and she hung herself is all I know.”

 — Naomi Thomas, News Lab

‘Breakdown’ in a Savannah jail

On his first attempt to hang himself at the Chatham County Jail in 2017, records show Demilo Glover’s noose gave way and he tumbled onto his cell bunk.

A minute later, he reattached the noose and tried again. This time the noose held.

Even though surveillance video inside the jail’s medical unit captured both suicide attempts, jail staff failed to intervene, records show.

Staff responded after they spotted Glover’s motionless body on surveillance monitors, but by the time they entered his cell, it was too late.

Glover’s arrest eight days earlier for drunken driving and other traffic violations set in motion a series of bizarre and troubled behavior that ended with his death.

Glover suffered from bipolar disorder, according to family. Several days into his incarceration, staff heard Glover talking to himself, according to investigative records. He told them he saw a little boy with a can of green beans who would not leave him alone.

Staff transferred Glover to mental health observation in the medical unit, where policy required a check every 15 minutes. Medical staff told investigators Glover was crying and asking for his medication. Another time, they said he “took off his jumpsuit, bent over in front of the (surveillance) camera, slapped his butt, and said, ‘you can all kiss my ass.’”

Glover’s girlfriend, Carol Brown, visited him just days before his death. She said he told her the medicine he was receiving in jail “wasn’t doing him any good.” Glover was “nervous and jittery” and wanted to go home.

Brown said she attempted to give jail staff a list of his medications, so that he “wouldn’t have a breakdown.”

“They wouldn’t accept anything,” she said.

For Brown, the grief can seem overwhelming.

“I miss him every day,” she said. “I’m stuck and I can’t move forward, but I try.”

 — Avery Braxton, News Lab

When inmates die: Georgia’s jails fail mentally ill

Atlanta Journal Constitution, Contributor, 05.18.2018

Posted: 6:00 p.m. Friday, May 18, 2018

In Lori Carroll’s final hours, as her psychotic behavior spiraled out of control, no one at the Muscogee County Jail helped relieve her suffering.

Carroll, 46, had a history of mental illness and had spent multiple stints behind bars for theft, shoplifting and forgery. In her last arrest, officers in Columbus charged her on the morning of Oct. 22, 2013, with disorderly conduct after she harassed drivers at a local school. Police took Carroll to jail after she refused a hospital mental health evaluation.

Over the course of the next two days, Carroll’s condition worsened in the isolation of cell HD-13. She screamed repeatedly and pounded her fist on the cell door. She spoke to imagined people and thought a man was trying to rape her. She struck her head against a wall and a metal bunk, investigative records show.

On the morning of Oct. 24, less than nine hours after a jail doctor placed Carroll on suicide watch, a guard discovered her cold and stiff on the cell floor. Her mouth and eyes were open. Cuts and bruises covered her body. A state medical examiner noted a serious head injury, broken ribs and a collapsed lung that killed her.

“It was like something out of a horror movie,” said Justin Blake Toland, Carroll’s adult son. “She didn’t deserve that. No one does.”

Gaps in the criminal justice and mental health systems have turned local jails into warehouses for the mentally ill, often with fatal consequences.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Channel 2 Action News and the Georgia News Lab conducted one of the most comprehensive reviews of jail deaths ever undertaken in Georgia, reviewing the deaths of more than 500 inmates and detainees in the state’s local jails in the past decade. The investigation found:

  • One in six deaths attributable to something other than natural causes involved inmates who exhibited signs of mental illness. The deaths were often preventable. Jail staff routinely didn’t recognize threats and warning signs until it was too late, ignored or expressed indifference to an inmate’s crisis or failed to keep troubled inmates under close observation.
  • Thirty of the 168 jail suicides examined by reporters involved inmates where signs of mental illness were noted in public records or press accounts. But the number of these deaths linked to mental health is likely significantly higher. Studies estimate 90 percent of people who commit suicide suffered mental illness.
  • The 16 homicides accounted for just a fraction of all jail deaths. But nearly half of those involved inmates who exhibited signs of mental illness.
  • No single state or local agency in Georgia tracks how many people die in jails each year or the details of the cases, and federal statistics routinely  undercount Georgia’s jail deaths. There’s little analysis to inform policy discussions and promote training that could prevent jail deaths.

Protecting and treating the mentally ill behind bars is something jailers have struggled with for decades. The federal Justice Department has estimated that nearly two-thirds of all local jail inmates have mental health problems. The prevalence of inmates with a mental illness in Georgia jails seems to have increased over the past decade as the state closed psychiatric hospitals, said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association.

Norris said responsibility now falls to community treatment programs — and the state’s 143 county jails.

“Unfortunately, our county jails have become the primary providers of mental health services for many of our state’s most vulnerable citizens,” he said.

Sheriffs do the best they can with finite local resources to manage this troubled population, he said.

In Carroll’s case, despite her serious injuries, repeated screams and bloodied face, jail guards and medical staff never sent her to a hospital for treatment. The jail’s protective restraint chair, designed to stop inmates from harming themselves, sat unused. Guards and medical staff couldn’t agree on who should make the call to restrain her. They also failed to use less restrictive methods to protect Carroll from self-harm.

Toland and his half-brother sued the county government, jailers and its medical providers alleging willful indifference and a flawed policy that failed to protect the mentally ill. A federal judge dismissed the case against the government and its employees, but last December Carroll’s sons settled with the medical providers.

“It was one of the worst cases in terms of neglect I’ve ever seen,” said Craig Jones, the family’s attorney, who has litigated dozens of jail death cases. “She literally beat herself to death right in front of them.”

A suicide on cell block C-1

Jade Tramel didn’t hide his intention to leave the Newton County Jail on his terms.

Authorities arrested the 18-year-old Dec. 3, 2013, for marijuana possession, driving on a suspended license and burglary. Shortly after his arrest, Tramel’s mother, Melanie, said she called jail officers to warn them her son was suicidal.

Just weeks into his confinement, a jail staff member found Tramel eating a bar of soap. Officials placed him on suicide watch. Tramel told Sheriff Ezell Brown and others he was depressed and wanted to end his life, according to allegations in a federal lawsuit.

A few weeks later, after he moved off suicide watch, Tramel tied a bed sheet to his cell bunk and tried to hang himself. When guards found him unconscious, the sheet around his neck, authorities rushed Tramel to a nearby hospital. Doctors revived him, treated him and sent him back to jail with instructions to prescribe anti-depressants and place him on suicide watch.

A month later, after Tramel received mental health treatment, a jail doctor cleared him to leave suicide watch a second time and return to a regular cell.

On the evening of March 19, jail managers assigned a jail recruit to supervise the overnight shift on housing block C-1.

The recruit was just weeks into his training with the sheriff’s office and hadn’t yet earned his state certification. No one informed him about Tramel’s troubled history or the previous suicide attempts, a lawsuit alleges.

Tramel seemed fine when the recruit spoke to him before the 11 p.m. lockdown, investigative records show, and nothing seemed amiss during the recruit’s initial hourly bunk checks.

Around 1:15 a.m., the recruit made his second round of checks. When he peered through the narrow window in Tramel’s jail cell, he saw Tramel alone, hanging from a bed sheet tied to the top bunk. By the time guards cut Tramel down, it was too late. Tramel was again taken to the hospital, but this time he couldn’t be revived.

An internal investigation into his death by the Newton County Sheriff’s Department found no policy violations, but investigators noted that recruits who have not received jail certification or completed field training should not be left to supervise an entire housing unit.

‘He was screaming for his life’

Estimates of mental illness among jail inmates vary across the country, from 20 percent up to 60 percent of inmates.

The issue has received renewed focus as the number of jail suicides has hit record numbers across the country in recent years. In 2015, the suicide of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail drew protests, forced discussion about jail suicides and led to reform.

Currently, no one tracks how many Georgia jail inmates have a mental illness. The sheriff’s association is trying to develop a program to count them, document jail deaths and collect other data that can inform the state’s sheriffs tasked with operating county jails.

Five jails from large counties accounted for nearly a third of all deaths identified in the news investigation.

Fulton topped the list with 55 inmate deaths. DeKalb was second with 34 deaths, including the 2015 case of inmate Donte Wyatt, who authorities allege killed his cellmate and ripped out his eyes.

Wyatt, who had been in jail on murder and rape charges, was on mental health lockdown just days before jailers placed him in a cell with Jah’Corey Tyson. Wyatt strangled Tyson in the middle of the night and stabbed him with a sharpened toothbrush, according to court records.

After killing Tyson, Wyatt ate one of his eyeballs and wore the other around as a necklace until he was convinced to give it up, according to a federal lawsuit. The suit alleges jail guards failed to heed warnings about Wyatt’s deteriorating mental state leading up to the attack. Once he went after his cellmate in his sleep, guards ignored Tyson’s pleas for help, the lawsuit alleges.

“He was screaming for his life,” his mother, Cassandra Tyson, later said.

The other jails in the top five for inmate deaths, include Chatham County Jail in Savannah (26), Cobb (22) and Gwinnett (19), according to the news analysis.

A couple years ago, the Floyd County Jail in Rome faced what Sheriff Tim Burkhalter viewed as a crisis.

One inmate had committed suicide during his first 12 years in office. When two inmates killed themselves in 2016, it caused Burkhalter to re-examine how his jail was managing at-risk inmates.

Burkhalter hired a suicide prevention expert to help revamp training, change the detainee intake process and refocus efforts to monitor inmates deemed suicidal.The changes have made a difference. The jail staff prevented 21 suicide attempts last year and agency leaders said the staff is more confident to manage inmates on the brink.

“Mental health is a real issue in our jails,” said Sgt. Carrie Edge, who helps teach the agency’s suicide prevention class. “Our training has helped to change attitudes and increase awareness about suicide risk, and made our staff more prepared.”

An arrest spirals downward

After decades of serious mental health and physical conditions, medication offered a lifeline for Wickie Bryant.

Growing up in Atlanta, she dreamed of becoming a psychiatrist. But mental illness in her early 20s dashed that hope. A series of jobs and a winding journey through Georgia’s mental health system followed. Medications helped manage her schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, hypertension and diabetes.

Still, with all her troubles, Bryant remained close to a supportive family.

“She was just a ray of sunshine,” said her older sister Mildred Sims, who raised Bryant after their mother died at age 45.

In 2015, Bryant went missing from her group home in Atlanta.

“We just really nearly went crazy because we didn’t know where she was,” Sims said.

Officers arrested Bryant on a disorderly conduct charge that September after Sims reported her missing. When she was booked into the Atlanta City Detention Center, a medical screening identified her mental and physical ailments, but that did little to stall a rapid decline.

Bryant refused testing to monitor her blood-glucose level and wouldn’t take insulin. About a week after her arrest, she requested the jail medical staff obtain her medical history and prescribe medication to help manage her schizophrenia and depression. According to the lawsuit, none of that happened.

Over the next week, Bryant continued to neglect her medication, even though Sims said she told jail staff about it and they assured her they would monitor it.

She spent a few weeks in the special needs section of the jail, but on Oct. 5, she was transferred to maximum security. Cell 202, where she was held in isolation, was unlit. In that environment, her mental and physical health deteriorated. At one point, a jail officer found Bryant lying naked in bed and mumbling incoherent thoughts, the lawsuit alleges. Another time a jailer found feces in front of her cell.

On Oct. 13, an inmate noticed Bryant hadn’t touched her food. She laid in bed and said nothing. When the inmate tried to relay her concerns to guards, they ignored her, the lawsuit alleges.

Guards checked on Bryant several times that afternoon. The last time, hours later, they saw dried vomit covering her face. The reek of urine filled the room.

“I got this call that she was deceased,” Sims recalled.

Her sister had suffered a diabetic coma. The federal lawsuit alleges willful indifference on the part of the city’s jail supervisors and staff. It criticizes inadequate policies to manage and maintain the health of mentally ill detainees.

Sims thought her sister was safe in jail because it had medical staff.

“I felt relieved she was no longer on the streets,” she said.

Sims is left with memories and daily prayers for her sister.

“From my heart, I know she’s in a safe place now,” she said. “But it still doesn’t stop the pain.”

Jail deaths in Georgia, 2008-2018


*Mental illness is not a cause of death. Mentally ill inmates are included in all of the causes of death categories.
Source: AJC/Channel 2/News Lab analysis of state and local jail death records.

‘Dashboard’ spells out the health of 500 cities – including several in Georgia

atldowntown-640x300Georgia Health News, 05.18.2018

Andy Miller and Naomi Thomas

How healthy is your city?

A newly released “City Health Dashboard’’ tracks 36 measures affecting health for the 500 largest U.S. cities – those with populations of about 66,000 or more.

In Georgia, 11 cities were measured on factors ranging from education and poverty to their rates of chronic diseases and their walkability.

The report was produced by the New York University School of Medicine’s Department of Population Health.

“What we’ve tried to do is bring together measures of health and drivers of health to motivate change and health improvement,” said Dr. Marc Gourevitch, of NYU School of Medicine.

“A number of education factors are key to producing health later on in life,’’ he said, adding that “poverty is just a huge driver of health outcomes.’’

Unlike some other data reports on the health of places in the United States, the Dashboard is strictly informational and does not try to “rank” cities for better or worse. But a review of several factors studied showed that the cities of Sandy Springs, Roswell and Johns Creek – all in northern Fulton County in the Atlanta suburbs – generally had Georgia’s most favorable scores on the health factors, including low levels of uninsured people and premature deaths.

Still, the suburbs are not without problems. The data show that Johns Creek is below average on access to healthy food, and it has a relatively high rate of binge drinking.

Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Roswell also have low “walkability” scores, meaning they don’t make it easy enough to be a pedestrian and get exercise safely on foot. Atlanta and Savannah are the most walkable Georgia cities.

Atlanta has a high rate of children in poverty, at 38.1 percent, while it has roughly average percentages of adults who are smokers and who are physically inactive, and of adults accessing dental care.


Diabetes rates among the 11 cities range from a low of 7.2 percent of adults in Sandy Springs to a high of 16.7 percent in Macon. (Here’s a link to the Dashboard.)

Among other findings:

** Augusta has a relatively low number of premature deaths. But 35 percent of residents are obese, and one-third are physically inactive.

** Macon has one of the highest rates of obesity, at 40 percent of adults, and it also has one of the lowest scores for park access and walkability. Macon has the highest percentage of uninsured people, at 25 percent, and 43 percent of its children are living in poverty.

** Athens has a high level of children in poverty, at almost 40 percent. But it rates low in premature deaths. Warner Robins has a rate of children living in poverty of 34.5 percent, and 35 percent of adults are obese. But its uninsured rate is below that of several cities.

** Savannah has a high rate of breast cancer, cardiovascular and colorectal cancer deaths.

**Columbus has a high rate of cardiovascular disease deaths and of premature deaths.

** Albany and Columbus have a much higher rate of teenage births than the average city.

** Albany has very poor scores on several measures. Almost half of its children live in poverty. Forty percent of adults are obese. About one-fourth of adults are smokers. And its adult diabetes rate of 15 percent is much higher than the U.S. city average of 9.8 percent.

The measures uses data from several national sources, including the U.S. Census and the CDC, as well as state figures.

The findings from the City Health Dashboard can be useful, said Dr. Harry Heiman, a health policy expert at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health.

Dr Harry Heiman

“Anything that creates an opportunity for a city to look at [health] indicators, why they are positive or negative outliers, can be valuable,’’ he said.

Improving health factors for a city “is all about leadership,’’ Heiman added.

But some health measures rely on action at the county or state level, he said. Health improvement “will require actions on all levels.”