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Changes to county drug plan could cost local pharmacies
 tcooper  / 

While changes to the county’s prescription drug plan may save money, officials say it will also have an impact on local pharmacies.

In 2018, the Glynn County Commission voted to require employees to use the MedVantx mail-order service specifically for 90-day supplies of maintenance medication, as opposed to engaging with local pharmacies. The switch took effect on Jan. 1 and is estimated to save the county around $55,000.

The county’s personnel committee recommended the county commission approve the move in August 2018, which the commission did later that month.

While 90-day maintenance medication is a small portion of pharmaceuticals the county’s health insurance covers — and employees can still to go to local pharmacies for a 30-day supply of medication — county officials now say the switch to MedVantx could impact local pharmacies by as much as $93,300.

The personnel committee once again discussed the merits of mail-order drugs last Monday during a discussion of whether or not to drop the requirement.

Orah Reed, county human resources manager, explained the issue to the committee.

“Based on the first half of January, PharmAvail — that’s our pharmacy benefits manager — said that the estimated impact would be $93,300 (per year) to local pharmacies,” Reed said at the committee meeting.

PharmaAvail also provided the $55,000 savings estimate, which is contingent upon the county continuing to use the mail-order system, Reed added.

County Chief Financial Officer Tonya Miller said the county is constantly dealing with rising drug costs, and the switch to mail order seemed like a good way to reduce those costs at the time.

“Those prescription drugs are over our budget all the time because the cost of them are rising. We are continually trying to find the best bang for our buck on both those and our health care costs. That was one of the costs that were presented to us at the personnel committee meeting last December, and it was a good idea then,” Miller told the personnel committee on Monday.

The personnel committee ultimately decided not to make any recommendations on the matter to the county commission, opting to bring it forward for further discussion at the commission’s next meeting.

Committee member Peter Murphy said at the meeting that the benefits to county employees are as much a factor as cost savings and the impact on local businesses.

He asked a county staff member at the meeting about whether or not it saves employees money or only the county.

Terri Small, with the county human resources department, responded that the employees pay less than they would at retail, but not much less.

“The employee is benefitting to some degree. Now it’s not huge dollars, but then the county is saving roughly $55,000,” Murphy said.

Glynn County Commissioner Bill Brunson said on Wednesday that he brought up the issue after hearing concerns from the public.

“I just want us to be very conscious of our local vendors. They have financial investments here, they have employees here, they have bricks and mortar. And I’m not just talking about local pharmacies, I’m talking about Walmart and Walgreens and CVS and Target,” Brunson said.

Some local pharmacies say they are already feeling the consequences of the choice.

“We haven’t had a ton of people (stop coming yet), because they got 90-days in December, but we have seen some,” said Matt Donato, pharmacist and owner of Golden Isles Pharmacy.

While he’s seen some county employees come in for 30-day medication supplies, Donato said he expects to see the number drop over time if the county keeps the mail-order requirement. Getting a 90-day supply is usually cheaper and more convenient.

“Most people like doing 90-days, because they don’t have to come back here as often and it saves them money in the long run,” Donato said.

Michael Lewis, with Altama Discount Pharmacy, said it’s too soon to say, but he expected the change to impact his business in some way eventually.

“It’s too early to tell, but we are hoping the county will reconsider,” Lewis said.

Even if the county returned to patronizing local pharmacies, Murphy argued at the personnel committee meeting that the potential $93,300 revenue would be spread across multiple pharmacies. The benefits to each individual business may be small in comparison to the total, he said.

“My concern about voiding this potential cost savings to the county government is the fact that prescription drugs are not declining in price. It’s not like they’re getting cheaper toward the end of the year,” Murphy said.

As new drugs and treatments become available and costs rise, Murphy said the county may end up saving more money in the long run than projections based on current prices.

The Glynn County Commission is expected to discuss the issue at its next meeting on Feb. 21.

'A Night to Shine' proms held for special-needs community
 lmcdonald  / 

Looking glamorous in their suits and ties and flowing gowns, the students made their way down the red carpet one-by-one, as cameras clicked and on-lookers cheered.

The big event had finally arrived — Glynn County’s first “A Night to Shine,” a prom sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation for special-needs individuals and held Friday in Brunswick.

Gilead Ministry, host of the event, had been transformed by nearly 80 volunteers into a glittering, elegant event venue. A red carpet ran from the church entrance into the main room. A photo-shoot set up stood in one corner, and a DJ kept the beats bumping on stage.

Gilead Ministry applied this year to bring the first “A Night to Shine” prom to Brunswick. More than 500 churches around the world held their own “A Night to Shine” event this past weekend.

The community then came together to make this first event happen, including the Southeast Georgia Health System, Glynn County Schools, Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority and Family Connection Glynn County.

“It’s been a collaborative,” said Bishop Kendall Shaw, pastor of Gilead Ministry.

Shaw said the prom night is just the start of more local special-needs ministries to come.

“One of the concepts of ‘A Night to Shine’ is not just to have a one-time event, but it’s actually helping establish special needs ministries in the city,” Shaw said. “So traditionally, this ‘A Night to Shine’ will be launching special-needs ministries.”

Dresses and suits were donated, and students came to pick their outfits out a few days before the prom. HelloGoodbuy, a local thrift store, donated much of the attire.

Students also had their hair and makeup done inside by volunteers before the prom began.

“Paparazzi” lined the halls, taking hundreds of photos of the students as they arrived with their “buddies” — volunteers who paired up with the students for the event.

Earlier on Friday, another photo shoot commenced in the parking lot outside the movie theater in Brunswick, where members of SOAR, a local nonprofit that serves adults with developmental disabilities, met to board charter buses to Jesup, where they’d be attending Wayne County’s “A Night to Shine” event.

About 30 SOAR members, ranging in age from 23 to 65, arrived in the parking lot already gussied up for the prom.

“A Night to Shine” proms provide individuals with special-needs with an opportunity many otherwise might miss out on in school.

“Everybody likes to go to prom and go to dances,” said Allie Pinson, coordinator for SOAR’s adult enrichment health and wellness program. “It’s that night to dress up, have fun, see all your friends. And just look nice and be able to go dance and laugh with friends.”

The event is free, but the memories it creates will be cherished for a long time.

Pinson said SOAR’s members had been talking about the upcoming event nonstop for months. One member had posted a countdown on Facebook for five weeks, and others had been discussing their outfit selections since the day the prom was announced.

“We have another guy who’s like, ‘You’re not going to recognize me, I’m going to be in a tux, I’m going to look totally different,’” Pinson said.

The events also always include a rest area for parents and guardians, Pinson said.

“It’s also a nice night for the parents, because there’s a whole different respite room that they can go in to just watch and make that networking contact too, which is huge for some of the parents also,” she said.

Christ Church Frederica gave SOAR a grant that paid for the two charter buses to Jesup. Before the group loaded on the buses Friday, everyone posed for final photos.

A couple hours later, at Gilead Ministry, attendees began to arrive for Brunswick’s “A Night to Shine.”

Once attendees had made their grand entrance, walking down the red carpet and posing for photos along the way, the prom commenced with a few high-energy pop songs that had nearly everyone on their feet, smiling and dancing.

“It’s that night to dress up and have fun,” Pinson said.

Three indicted for child sex crimes
 wwolfe  / 

A Glynn County grand jury indicted three men Wednesday for various alleged sex crimes involving children.

Travis Deon Fuller was charged with two counts of child molestation and one count each of aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, incest and false imprisonment. According to the indictment, the offenses allegedly took place between June 1, 2013, and June 30, 2017, involving a family member of the accused. During this period, the alleged victim was younger than 10 years old, which is what triggered the aggravated sodomy charge.

Colin Tyree Hippard faces two counts each of rape, statutory rape and child molestation. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 27, 2019, he — while older than 21 years old — allegedly sexually assaulted a girl younger than 16 in the living room of a residence in the 200 block of King Cotton Road. The method the charges are presented in the indictment suggests he allegedly did this twice.

Apparently unrelated, he’s also indicted for entering an Altama Avenue convenience store on Aug. 14 with the intent to commit theft.

The third case is of William James Gordy, who is charged with six counts of sexual exploitation of children. The indictment states that on Oct. 3, he had six specific and different video files of minor females engaging in sexual acts.

The grand jury also indicted three people for serious violent crimes. Lovett Leonard Foster is charged with aggravated assault, aggravated assault in violation of the state Family Violence Act, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, first-degree criminal damage to property and fleeing to elude a police officer.

On Nov. 10, he allegedly used a .32-caliber firearm to shoot into a gray Chrysler 200, which carried the mother of his child, and a second person.

According to the indictment, he later led police on a chase along I-95 in which he allegedly drove his vehicle more than 20 miles above the posted speed limit.

Derek Charles Gunderson faces eight counts — home invasion, armed robbery, robbery by force, aggravated assault in violation of the state Family Violence Act, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, false imprisonment and two counts of kidnapping.

Allegedly on Nov. 21, Gunderson, while carrying a Ruger .380-caliber pistol, forcibly entered his father’s residence. The indictment states that while there, he took an AR-15 rifle, an undisclosed amount of money and a 2014 Infinity Q70.

Bennett Russell Lewis is charged with three violations of the Family Violence Act — simple battery, battery and aggravated battery. On May 14, he caused a person with whom he was living a fractured orbital bone, a black eye and a lacerated lip. He also allegedly pushed the alleged victim to the ground repeatedly.

Crowds flock to Jekyll for Wiskey, Wine and Wildlife
 ladkison  / 

Blustery winds whipped through the Jekyll Island Beach Village Saturday afternoon, but the gusts did not deter the thousands that flocked to Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife. The annual food and spirits festival drew participants from throughout the region and beyond who turned out to sample a multitude of libations, food and homemade wares. The proceeds from the event benefited the Jekyll Island Foundation, which supports area wildlife.

Bundled up against the elements, Randy Urben, Amy Sullivan, Ann Grainger and Jackie Butcher, all of Brunswick, made their way through the lines of assembled vendors.

“It’s a beautiful day ... we don’t mind the wind, it keeps the gnats away. And I’m in good company,” Urben said with a laugh. “Plus it’s all for a good cause, benefiting wildlife.”

“We’re regulars here,” Grainger added. “It’s nice to get outdoors. It has a really relaxed atmosphere and is a great way to kick off the new year.”

Gregg Snyder agrees. The master distiller and his team with Dixie Vodka and Chicken Cock Whiskey traveled down from Charleston to participate in the weekend’s events. Snyder led a master pour class at the Westin Friday and was on hand to share his knowledge with attendees Saturday.

“I’ve been in the business for 40 years, but it’s very different now. People are much more knowledgeable and much more engaged,” he said. “They ask great questions, and they really get into it. We love coming down for this.”

Other vendors shared that sentiment. Sarah Marie Johnston of Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails in Jacksonville traveled with her team to share samples and spread the word about their restaurant.

“This is our second year here. My husband, the chef, Tom Grey, did the Thursday night dinner this time and now we’re out here,” Johnston said Saturday. “We really love it because it’s so well orchestrated. We see a lot of new guests and we see as many people from Jacksonville as from other places.”

Of course, not all the participants were from out of town. Christopher Gannt who is opening a new location in downtown Brunswick, Reid’s Apothocary, was also on hand to meet the crowd. Gannt and Steven Bogert participated in the bartender’s challenge, serving up a cocktail made with Cooper’s Craft Whiskey, which included chamomile, ginger syrup, acaia honey, lemon and clove.

“We’re out here promoting the new restaurant and meeting people,” Gannt said. “It’s definitely a lot of fun.”

That was true event though Gannt didn’t walk away with the award for the best beverage. That went to Bretta Van Bockel of Moondoggy’s in Brunswick. Attendees also voted for the best barbecue with the honor going to Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin BBQ in Savannah.

While the food and libations flowed, the weekend would not be complete without the third element of the mix — the wildlife. Throughout the day, members of the Jekyll Island Authority offered segments highlighting animals in the area. And, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular was the “protecting our predators” portion, which featured snakes.

Attendees, young and old, flocked to the centrally located tent where Joseph Colbert of the JIA introduced the crowd to various serpents who call the coast home. While some declined to get up close and personal with the special guests, one visitor simply could not get enough.

Kingston Myers, 4, watched the demonstration with his father and was entirely enthralled. The little one gently petted Sylvester, a black rat snake, and smiled.

“It’s cool,” he summarized, grinning.

Jan Gourley of AdFish, who helped organize the event, says that this year’s W3 was the largest ever.

“Saturday was a record attendance day — 2,000 people — windy weather encouraged whisky drinkers,” she said.

“We’re looking forward to brainstorming with the Jekyll Island Authority on how to make it even better festival guest experience for next year.”