Thursday, June 09, 2011

9 JUN 11: Doctor Roboto

Let's begin today with a housekeeping note. I adjusted this blog Wednesday night to make it easier to read, if you have a "smart phone" or other mobile device. If you're like me and you only have a "dumb phone," do NOT stare at your keypad attempting to read this blog.

The high-tech age is affecting almost everything we do - including a visit to the hospital. St. Francis Hospital announced Wednesday it will invest about one million dollars in a robotic device for conducting surgery. That old "goofy game" called "Operation" suddenly seems hopelessly out-of-date.

St. Francis Hospital hopes to install the "da Vinci Surgical Robot" by September. With a name like da Vinci, hopefully it can paint a mark on the proper area of the body for doctors to cut.

The da Vinci Surgical System is promoted as an effective and "minimally invasive" approach to complex procedures. Maybe that approach will work in the operating room, but I don't think it's working that well right now in Libya.

St. Francis President Robert Granger told WTVM local physicians will have to be trained in how to use the robotic surgical device. I can hear conservative church pastors complaining already -- that a Catholic hospital is forcing doctors to learn the da Vinci code.

But St. Francis Hospital believes the da Vinci Surgical System will attract new physicians from other areas. One doctor explained people who are trained in the technology will be glad "we have a robot in town." These probably also are the same people who've made 90 percent of their friends through Facebook.

So doctors still will be in the St. Francis Hospital operating room, after the robotic device is installed. That probably will be a relief to many patients - but will surgeons use that device to lobby the management for a mandatory lunch break?

But this announcement reminded me of the comment we mentioned Wednesday from a Phenix City Council meeting. Someone suggested the city replace some employees with robots -- which makes me wonder if that person actually likes automated voice mail systems, too.

My point is this: if a hospital with all sorts of smart people can't eliminate medical jobs with a million-dollar robotic system, city departments probably can't trade staff positions for robots either. You'll notice real people still put the proper amounts of ingredients on every Taco Bell taco....

The big medical announcement was tempered Wednesday night by news that an argument led to gunfire in the St. Francis Hospital parking lot. It's a sad reminder that "Robo-Cop" still must be only a movie.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Tuesday's brief mention of Columbus taxes made a reader want to know more....

Hi Richard,

What's the deal with the millage rate increase? It is merely raising the millage rate to where it was before the LOST, or is it an actual tax increase?

Also, why was the millage rate reduced for one year? I know that was a component of the state law, but Columbus lobbied for the law. I seem to remember city officials saying, after the sales tax was passed, that they would raise the rate again the next year. Was a millage rate reduction presented as part of the campaign to pass the sales tax? Just curious. The temporary reduction just seems disingenuous.

On a related note, how are property values holding up in Columbus? The AJC is always doing stories about the plummeting values in metro Atlanta, but my impression is that BRAC is holding things up in Columbus. That, and Columbus did not experience the rate of appreciation that Atlanta had.



A caller to WLTZ's "Calvin Floyd Live" put the issue point-blank Wednesday to a Columbus Councilor. The caller forced Gary Allen to declare the proposed millage rate is higher this year than last year. He simply didn't want to hear the rest of Allen's explanation, about the rate almost matching 2009.

A news release I received from the city finance department explains the higher millage this way:

The proposed increase in the millage rates for the Urban Service Districts is due to the rollback requirement that applied towards 2010 property taxes from the 2009 Other Local Option Sales Tax. As indicated in 2010, this was a one-year direct reduction to property taxes required by Georgia law and the percentage increases shown reflect a return to 2009 millage rate levels.

While I don't remember if it was promoted, the one-year discount clearly was part of the package to sell the "streets and safety" sales tax. And it happened to occur during a city election year -- so incumbent Councilors Jerry Barnes and Mimi Woodson thank you for remembering that last year on Election Day.

Three public hearings on the proposed city millage rate increase are planned in the next two weeks. They include a morning and evening session next Tuesday, which happens to be Flag Day. We'll see how many angry property owners showing up waving red ones.

The only "property" I buy and sell in Columbus these days are chips at a poker table, so I looked for help online Wednesday night. One website shows the median real estate sales price has dropped slowly in recent years, falling to $100,000 in May. So hurry to an agent today, before that big train from Fort Knox reaches town.

As for other things we discovered Wednesday....

+ Councilor Gary Allen also told "Calvin Floyd Live" garbage collection expenses may be trimmed by going to an "alternate week" system. Allen explained it as a rotation of "white goods" and yard waste. Language like this will NOT get him invited to the One Columbus golf tournament.

+ Former Russell County High School catcher Casey Rasmus was drafted by the St. Louis baseball Cardinals. Put the other family members together and the score is now St. Louis 2, Atlanta 1.

+ The Auburn University football team visited the White House, to be honored for the BCS Championship. But Coach Gene Chizik probably flew home disappointed - because President Obama did NOT issue an executive order awarding Auburn the vacated 2004 title.

+ Instant Message to the person who called up this blog from Denizli, Turkey: That's pretty sneaky -- but I caught you, Mayor Tomlinson. What sort of business candidate is hiding there?

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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