Friday, March 01, 2019

Retired Ky. sheriff is appointed sheriff in another county

In Graves County, Jon Hayden can use the same
nameplate that he used in McCracken County.
A former sheriff in one far Western Kentucky county has been appointed sheriff of an adjoining county, to fill the vacancy created by the death of a friend who was re-elected in November despite being indicted in August for drug possession.

Graves County Judge-Executive Jesse Perry appointed retired McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden on Feb. 28. "After the announcement, Hayden, 52, briefly hugged Patty Redmon, widow of Sheriff Dewayne Redmon," Shelley Byrne reports for The Mayfield Messenger.

"Perry talked of healing the divide in the community caused by Redmon's indictment on drug possession charges in August, his ultimate re-election as sheriff in November and his passing Feb. 16," Byrne reports, quoting him: "This has been a tough road for Graves County, and it's time for us to rebuild this county. We've been hurting. We've been hurting for a long time. ... My plan is to bring everybody back together. It's time to start over."

Hayden will serve at least until an election in November to fill the remaining three years of Redmon's unexpired term. He declined to say if he would consider seeking the Democratic nomination for the unexpired term, saying, "We don't need politics within the Graves County Sheriff's Office right now."

"Hayden and Redmon were well known to be close friends for years. Graves County Chief Deputy Sheriff Davant Ramage also served under Hayden as a McCracken County deputy for a time," Byrne reports. "Although most of Hayden's career was spent in McCracken County, he and his wife are both from Graves County . . . His family remains in Graves County, and Hayden moved back to the county last year after retiring as McCracken County sheriff on July 1." Kentucky's residency requirement for election as sheriff is only one year.

Hayden was elected McCracken County sheriff in 2006, 2010 and 2014, the last two times without opposition. Since November, he had been working for the McCracken sheriff's office "in a newly designed role, assigned as an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and working in Kentucky counties west of Bowling Green," Byrne reports.

Man who died in 2014 left a home filled with Native artifacts and bones, likely grave-robbed; rightful owners still sought

Sperling's Best Places map
Thousands of Native American items, including the bones of about 500 people, were among the artifacts authorities removed from the home of a rural Indiana man who died in 2014 at 90. Don Miller of Waldron was known collecting souvenirs from his global travels, but many items appear to have been illegally obtained through grave robbing, Anna Werner reports for CBS News.

More than four years after Miller's death, FBI agents are still trying to return the items to their rightful owners. Holly Cusack-McVeigh, an archaeology professor from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, has been helping them. She calls the grave robbing a racist act: "We have to think about the context of, 'Who has been the target of grave robbing, for centuries?" Whose ancestors have been collected for hobby?" she told Werner. "This comes down to — racism. They aren't digging white graves."

Arikara tribal official Pete Coffey in North Dakota is working with the FBI to bring some of the remains back to tribal land. "They could very well be my own great, great, great, great grandfather, or grandmother, you know, that had been — I characterize it as being ripped out of the Earth, you know," Coffey told Werner.

Retiring editorial writer offers parting opinions on what's needed in rural Kentucky, especially the eastern part

Jamie Lucke
After more than 20 years, editorial writer Jamie Lucke (pronounced Luke, as in "Book of") is among several longtime Lexington Herald-Leader employees taking an early-retirement offer from The McClatchy Co. In her last piece, she offers a laundry list of things she wants the paper's mainly urban readers to understand, remember and do to help the rural parts of the state, particularly mountainous Eastern Kentucky.

Much of her advice is familiar to rural residents across the country. It's also sharp, well-informed, and worth a read.

Rural places should invest in more recreation-based economies, she writes, noting the recent study showing how much better off rural recreation counties are faring. She also advises Kentuckians to protect rural areas from strip mining, which offers limited benefits and hurts rural water supplies, and to skip building a proposed federal prison in Letcher County, near the Virginia border.

"I know this sounds simplistic, but the mountains have earned some kindness," Lucke writes. "Let’s do things that will make newcomers want to put down roots, even if it’s just letting some places be."

More women using opioids, meth and heroin means more babies are born with congenital syphilis in the U.S.

Pew Charitable Trusts chart: Yellow line shows syphilis cases
in women; blue bars show cases in babies (click it to enlarge)
Due to increased opioid and methamphetamine use, more American babies are being born with syphilis. That's because women are more likely to engage in risky sex while using drugs, and stimulants like meth can increase one's sex drive, making such behavior even more likely.

Congenital syphilis cases among newborns increased 154 percent between 2013 and 2017. During the same time period, the use of meth, heroin and other intravenous drugs among women with syphilis more than doubled, Alayna Alvarez reports for Stateline.

"There’s a clear connection, as we’re seeing, between drug use, the opioid crisis and the rise of syphilis and congenital syphilis," said Brian Katzowitz, a spokesperson for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Syphilis is much more serious in babies than adults. When adults contract the disease, it can be cured with antibiotics. But a baby born with congenital syphilis can have "deformities, severe anemia, an enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice or brain and nerve problems such as blindness or deafness," Alvarez reports. "Up to 40 percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die as a newborn" according to the CDC.

"Many addicted pregnant women forgo prenatal visits for fear of being drug tested and losing custody of their babies, doctors say. And mothers with untreated syphilis have an 80 percent chance of infecting their unborn babies, contributing to a growing crisis that many states have tried to combat in recent years," Alvarez reports. Most states require syphilis testing at the first prenatal visit, and 18 states require third-trimester screenings for women considered at high risk of infection.

Latest way to use Asian carp, to expand the market for it and get more anglers after it: Use it to make concrete

Bassmaster asks: "Will carp-crete prove as
popular as the classic Bass-O-Matic" in the old
"Saturday Night Live" skit by Dan Aykroyd?
The use of market forces to fight Asian carp may be taking a hard turn. By turning the fish into concrete.

For several years, companies in the mid-Mississippi River valley have been buying and processing the fish, largely for the Chinese market. To expand the market and get more anglers interested in fishing for them, civil engineer James Nobles developed a way to use by-products from processing as an ingredient in concrete.

"The main thing is to make (carp-crete) profitable for the fishermen so we can bring more people in to catch these fish and get them out of this lake," said Western Kentucky marina operator Wayne Breedlove, who hosted a pour of "carp-crete" this week, covered by Laurel Black of The Paducah Sun. "It's getting to the point where it's dangerous for these boaters."

"Asian carp pose a threat to the $1.2 billion fishing and recreational boating industries in Western Kentucky, and are wreaking similar havoc in Tennessee," Black notes. "The carp consume forage that popular species, like bass, rely on to survive, and one species is known to jump out of the water when startled, potentially causing injury to boaters. If carp-crete proves successful, it would help make catching Asian carp more lucrative for commercial fishermen. Commercial harvesting is the best way to manage the Asian carp population, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency."

Breedlove told Black that cost has proven to be carp-crete's only drawback so far. "The carp ash for the carp-crete was produced in Southern Illinois, which is also testing the product," she reports.

Appalachian writers fire back at 'Hillbilly Elegy' in anthology

"J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, the surprise best seller published in 2016, is a frisky memoir with a bit of conservative moralizing dangling off, like the price tag on Minnie Pearl’s hat. Nearly everyone likes the memoir sections. (His portrait of his grandmother, a 'pistol-packing lunatic,' is indelible.) The moralizing has been divisive," Dwight Garner writes for The New York Times. "A new anthology, Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to 'Hillbilly Elegy,' edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, presents the most sustained pushback to Vance’s book (soon to be a Ron Howard movie) thus far. It’s a volley of intellectual buckshot from high up alongside the hollow." Read more here.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Top manager of bankrupt coal company's Western Kentucky mines is charged with ordering falsification of dust samples

Last year, eight former supervisors for now-bankrupt Armstrong Coal Co. were indicted on charges of conspiring to submit fraudulent dust samples to the federal government. This week, their boss was charged with ordering the fraud. Glendal "Buddy" Hardison, 69, of Belton, was "one of the most senior-level former coal company officials in Kentucky," the U.S. Department of Justice office for the Western District of Kentucky said in a headline on its press release about the indictment.

The indictment alleges Hardison and his minions "conspired to commit dust fraud by knowingly and willfully altering the company's required dust-sampling procedures, by circumventing the dust-sampling regulations, submitting false samples, and by making false statements on dust certification cards," from 2013 through August 2015.

U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman and Asst. U.S. Atty. Randy Ream
announced the indictment. (Photo by Kelly Farrell, The Messenger)
U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Ream traveled 150 miles to Madisonville to hold a press conference about the indictments at the regional office of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"We're going after the bad actors, such as Armstrong Coal, and I can assure you this investigation remains open and this investigation remains active," Coleman said. "Our goal is to go up the chain to those that made decisions, very clear business decisions that exposed miners to a grave degree of risk" at Armstrong's Parkway and Kronos mines.

Kelly Farrell of The Messenger in Madisonville reports, "Michael 'Flip' Wilson of Hanson, who mined for more than 40 years, attended the press conference and said afterward he worked at Parkway Mine in Muhlenberg County. He estimated about 165 people were exposed to dust at the mine. The mine is no longer open, while Kronos Mine [in Ohio County] is in operation under different ownership."

"It's about time for somebody to stand up and do the right thing," Wilson told Farrell. "I've got black lung in both lungs and am not able to do anything now." Cases of the disease have surged in Kentucky in recent years.

Perdue says EPA won't have higher-ethanol fuel rules ready for summer driving season; EPA boss says, just you wait

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler took a few hours "to get on the same page Wednesday about whether the Trump administration's proposed rule to allow year-round sales of 15-percent-ethanol fuel would be ready in time for the summer driving season," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Morning Agriculture newsletter. "The mixed messages illustrated the uncertainty around EPA's ambitious E15 timeline, especially after the government shutdown delayed things for a month."

The confusion began when Perdue told the House Agriculture Committee that EPA would not have the regulation ready by June, "an outcome that would ruffle feathers among influential Midwestern farmers, ethanol groups and lawmakers," Helena Bottemiller Evich and Eric Wolff report. "EPA's work on the rule to allow year-round sales of E15 has been delayed by the five-week government shutdown, putting the agency's June 1 target date in jeopardy."

Then, at an event at USDA headquarters for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Wheeler contradicted Perdue: "That is not a fact. We are working hard to get it done before summer driving season." He told the officials to ignore reports that the rule wouldn't be out by the summer driving season, Wolff and Liz Crampton report.

Perdue later explained, "Administrator Wheeler told me a couple weeks ago that in catching up after the shutdown, it looked very doubtful they'd be able to make the commitment prior to driving time. But I think he's really pushing and driving his troops to get that done. And today he told me he thought it was very likely they could get it done and would do so if at all possible."

"The confusion might be understandable," Politico reports. "Wheeler himself told lawmakers last month at his confirmation hearing that he wasn't sure the agency could get the rule done on time."

Sunshine Week is March 10-16; time to make plans for it

It's time for news outlets and journalists to start planning for Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of the virtues of open government -- and the role of the news media in protecting it. It's an opportunity to remind the public that journalists aren't the main users of open-government laws, but are their main advocates, and that the laws facilitate journalists' pursuit of truth in service of democracy.

Sunshine Week is coordinated by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which maintain a website with an events calendar, success stories and a supply of columns, cartoons and other features for publication. But the best features are local, or at least localized, to remind readers, listeners and viewers of how open-government laws protect them.

If you think "Sunshine Week" sounds too gimmicky, or is too much "inside baseball," the website's resources page has an alternative logo limited to the message of the week: "Your right to know."

The page also links to the Whistleblower Project, created by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Government Accountability Project and other whistleblowing and news-media organizations to inform journalists on how they can safely work with whistleblowers. They have created a comprehensive case for why government employees or contractors workers who risk everything to reveal the facts should be praised and better protected.

As young leave Appalachia, who's left to care for elderly?

The decline of coal in Central Appalachia has led to an out-migration of people who are needed to take care of the region's aging population, Kara Leigh Lofton reports for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Programs that "serve the state’s aging population are overburdened, with waitlists that can stretch months or years, or require applicants to qualify for Medicaid," Lofton reports. "This leaves the older population dependent on younger family members to fill caregiving roles. Meanwhile, to find work, the state’s young people are leaving the state and thus moving away from their elders, causing those over age 65 to be the fastest-growing segment of West Virginia’s population."

This chain of events "is creating a critical gap in services needed by the elderly," Lofton says, citing a recent report by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. "In West Virginia today, about 16 percent of the population is 65 and older, according to the DHHR report. It’s projected to grow to about a quarter of the total population by 2030. So who is going to pay for the services needed by aging West Virginians and who will help care for them if the bulk of the young people leave?"

Some states seek federal money to fight invasive species

Cheatgrass, drying and posing fire hazard (Elko Daily photo)
Invasive species cause more than $120 billion in economic damage to U.S. states every year; since the Interior Department's Invasive Species Advisory Committee "concluded that federal agencies lack the authority to effectively combat that impact," so states are seeking partnerships with the federal government, Dave Nyczepir reports for Route Fifty.

Before the U.S. Senate Environment Committee Wednesday, a Wyoming official talked about the difficulty of suppressing cheatgrass, "a weed that consumes large amounts of water, degrades soil, displaces vegetation, and fuels catastrophic wildfires" and had reduced the state’s 50-year fire cycle to three years, Nyczepir reports, adding that the problem goes beyond Wyoming; "In the last 20 years, 74 percent of Department of Interior acres that experienced wildfires were on rangelands, and 80 percent of those 12 million rangeland acres had been invaded by cheatgrass, according to the Bureau of Land Management."

A North Dakota official said his state doesn't need federal aid, but from the other side of the country, a Delaware official said otherwise. “States currently don’t have sufficient resources to tackle all of the threats outlined within their wildlife action plans, so we are unable to address threats facing fish and wildlife populations from invasive species,” said Joe Rogerson, program manager for wildlife species conservation and research at the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Rogerson said federal help was helpful in eliminating the nutria, "a semi-aquatic rodent with large orange teeth native to South America," from the Chesapeake Bay area in the early 2000s, "A prolific breeder and voracious eater of grasses, nutria threatened to destroy 35 thousand acres of wetlands in 50 years."

Nutria (Photo via RouteFifty)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Rural teachers invited to take survey; education group hopes responses will help rural districts lure more teachers

It's getting harder to recruit and keep teachers in rural schools, so some education groups are conducting a national survey to find out what rural teachers and administrators love and hate about their jobs, in hopes of making rural teaching jobs more attractive, Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. The Survey of Rural Schools and Communities is a partnership of the National Rural Education Association, the Rural Schools Collaborative, and The New Teacher Project.

The problem has been getting worse over the past 30 to 40 years, says Gary Funk, director of the collaborative. "As more teachers reach retirement age in those school districts, there isn’t any policy to attract new teachers to those positions," he told Carey. "This is a tsunami that has been building up for some time." It's especially hard to find teachers at the secondary level, and in math, science, technical education, and special education, he said.

Though the negative aspects of rural teaching, like the frequent lack of broadband access,  are well known, there are positives too, like smaller class size, Carey reports. The collaborative hopes rural school districts will use negative survey responses to address those concerns and positive survey responses as talking points to lure new teachers. To further facilitate new hires, the survey website will eventually host a rural teacher job listing board.

The collaborative will collect responses to the survey through the end of April, and expects to release the results this summer, Carey reports. Click here to take the survey.

Diabetes is disproportionately rural; in last 2 decades rates have declined across U.S., except in the the rural South

Mortality rates from diabetes have improved in most of the country over the past 20 years, but have remained almost unchanged in the rural South, according to a newly published study from the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University.

As the seventh-highest cause of death in the nation, diabetes continues to be a significant health challenge in the U.S. "Rural Healthy People 2020," a decade-long report of rural health goals published by the university, identifies diabetes as the third most important public health issue in rural areas, where diagnosis rates can be as much as 17 percent higher than in cities and suburbs. As of 2015, 30 million Americans have diabetes and another 84 million were pre-diabetic, Rae Lynn Mitchell reports for Texas A&M's health news publication.

The study's lead researcher, Assistant Professor Timothy Callaghan, told Mitchell that diabetes is most likely more common in rural areas because of a lack of education about it, different training for health-care professionals, and/or lack of access to care. He cautioned that the study does not establish cause and effect.

The research studied publicly available data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to 2016.

Hemp cultivation means returning to Kentucky roots

Farmers across the U.S. are giving newly legal hemp a shot, despite the risks. In Kentucky, which once had 40,000 tobacco farmers and now has fewer than 4,000, hemp is more than a potential lifeline: it means returning to local roots, April Simpson reports for Stateline.

"Kentucky was the country’s greatest producer of hemp in the 19th and 20th centuries," Simpron notes, and for good reason: the Brookings Institution says the state is one of the best places in the world to grow hemp.

Southeastern Kentucky farmer Michael Calebs figures that, as a longtime tobacco farmer, he's well-situated for success with hemp. "We’ve got the labor market here; we’ve got the land; we’ve got the infrastructure, so we have the upper hand," Calebs told Simpson. "I can produce it as cheap as anybody. I have the expertise."

But there are some concerns about hemp. "Experts and some farmers worry that without tighter regulations in place, farmers may overproduce a lucrative form of hemp and the market will crash," Simpson reports. That's familiar ground for tobacco farmers, who benefitted after forming a collective to control production.

UPDATE, Feb. 28: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Wednesday that USDA probably won't have "definitive rules" for hemp until the 2020 planting season: "We'll proceed slowly and make sure we don't have another situation where productive farmers overcompensate and blow out the market before it can get started." In the absence of federal regulations, federal law and state rules apply.
Since limited hemp production has been legal in Kentucky since 2014, many farmers elsewhere will look to the Bluegrass state to see how well its highly regulated policies work. Prospective hemp farmers in Kentucky must apply for a license and submit to a background check. Those who are given a license must provide GPS coordinates of growing locations, which the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and law enforcement may inspect, Simpson reports.

Researchers study how neonatal abstinence syndrome affects babies and their communities in the long term

The opioid epidemic has triggered a rise in neonatal abstinence syndrome, in which babies of addicted mothers are born suffering from withdrawal. Health care specialists know how to treat NAS at birth and relieve withdrawal symptoms for both mother and child, but the long-term effects of the condition are well understood. So, researchers are attempting to learn more about the impact of NAS on health care, schools, and communities as a whole, as well as how early intervention can help, reports for Ohio Valley Resource, a public-radio project in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Ohio University and Nationwide Children's Hospital have established an NAS clinic in Athens, Ohio, to learn more about the long-term effects of NAS, as well as how prenatal exposure to different drugs affects development. "Ohio University is also a part of the Ohio River Valley Addiction Research Consortium, a group of colleges and universities, along with health professionals, law enforcement, social workers and advocates" that is currently studying NAS, Aaron Payne reports.

The Ohio Valley is fertile ground for researching NAS: More than 16,000 babies have born with the condition over the past five years in the radio project's three states. West Virginia has one of the highest rates in the nation; more than 5 percent of babies born there in 2017 had NAS.

It can be difficult to determine cause and effect with NAS, since "health experts can’t say for sure if developmental delays can be attributed to drug exposure, other factors, or genetics," Payne reports. Still, there are clear trends. A recent study in Tennessee "analyzed close to 7,200 children aged 3 to 8 enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program," Payne reports. "That study found 1 in 7 children with a history of opioid exposure in the womb required services for developmental delays."

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

FCC says rural-urban digital divide dropped dramatically in 2017; Democratic commissioner disagrees

In a draft of its annual broadband deployment report, the Federal Communications Commission says the rural-urban digital divide is narrowing, and that broadband is being deployed in rural areas "on a reasonable and timely basis," Kris Holt reports for Engadget.

The draft says that from the end of 2016 to the end of 2017, the number of Americans who lacked a fixed broadband connection dropped more than 25 percent, from 26.1 million to 19.4 million, and that 5.6 million of those who gained access lived in rural areas. The federal definition of broadband is internet that delivers download speeds of 25 megabytes per second and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

However, one of the FCC's two Democratic commissioners disputed the report. Jessica Rosenworcel said in a tweet, "I beg to differ" with the report's conclusions, and said that "Millions of households—in rural and urban communities—have no access to high-speed service. That’s a fact." She did not offer other figures to support her assertion.

Microsoft researchers published a study in December that said the rural-urban digital divide is much higher than the FCC's broadband coverage map suggests because the agency doesn't actually test for broadband; it simply allows internet service providers to say which areas they cover. The FCC is investigating whether some ISPs lied about covering rural areas to tap into subsidies for rural providers.

Partisan news outlets fill gaps left by local news cutbacks

As coverage of local and state news shrivels across the nation, partisan news outlets are flourishing—and sometimes readers aren't aware of the bias, Lauren Smiley reports for Columbia Journalism Review.

A yellowhammer (
Yellowhammer News, named for Alabama's state bird, is a prime example. It looks like a straight news site at first glance, but it's conservative to the core: Republican political adviser Cliff Sims founded it in 2013, and recently sold his interest to Tim Howe and John Ross, both former directors of the state GOP in order to work as a communications aide in the White House, Smiley reports. Many of Yellowhammer's contributors also write for similarly slanted Breitbart News.

Sims founded Yellowhammer only months after Advance Publications merged The Birmingham News, the Montgomery Advertiser and The Huntsville Times into The layoffs and reduced print schedule at the made for a local news gap Sims was happy to fill. Yellowhammer makes no bones about its chief competitor, and urges its readers to reject, Smiley reports.

Yellowhammer carries enough decent journalism to muddy the waters about its bias, including Associated Press wire stories and a 2016 scoop about how then-governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, ordered state law enforcement to deliver his forgotten wallet with a helicopter. It also hid the fact that Howe and Ross were its owners until 2014, when an independent journalist published a leaked email between Sims and Howe, Smiley reports.

Why try to hide its affiliations? Because readers tend to trust local newspapers more, a tendency exploited by those trying to peddle a narrative. "It’s telling that, when Russian disinformation agents of the Internet Research Agency created Twitter profiles to meddle in US politics, they often chose names that sounded like local newspapers," Smiley reports.

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, told Smiley that journalism driven by a political point of view isn't a new trend, but rather a return to an old one. "We're reverting to a bad old form," he told Smiley, referring to the days when many papers were openly partisan.

Smiley writes, "Yellowhammer is merely a relatively mature example of the attempts to create alternative local news outlets that capitalize on America’s media polarization where it dovetails with community news credibility. And as local newsrooms continue to be wiped out, other untested publishers are rushing into the void."

One is Kentucky Today, a publication of the Kentucky Baptist Convention launched in 2015 with the help of an anonymous $300,000 donation and run until recently by a former AP reporter. In addition to its original content, it offers free wire articles to 15 local papers in Western Kentucky, a tempting alternative to AP's expensive service.

Not all the alternative publications are conservative: The Greenville Gazette in South Carolina has a decidedly liberal slant, Smiley reports. Part of the problem is that social media makes it harder to identify trustworthy information sources easier to live in an ideological echo chamber. And it's no coincidence that biased news sources are proliferating as legitimate local news suffers cutbacks. Outlets like Yellowhammer "are filling the gaps," Cross told Smiley, "But I’m afraid the audience isn’t always aware it’s from a certain perspective."

Measles outbreaks lead states to reconsider vax exemptions

"Measles outbreaks across the nation are prompting state lawmakers to consider eliminating vaccination exemptions for religious and personal beliefs that have been claimed by the parents of some children," Jessie Hellman reports for The Hill.

State laws increasingly allow exemptions as a way to protect religious freedom and personal choice, but public health experts say the exemptions are one cause for the outbreaks. "Seventeen states, including Washington and Texas, allow exemptions for both religious and personal or philosophical beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures," Hellman reports. "Both Washington and Texas have seen measles outbreaks this year."

Proposed measures in Minnesota, Colorado and Washington state would eliminate personal exemptions but retain religious exemptions, and proposals in Maine and Oregon would eliminate both exemptions, Hellman reports. Kentucky recently made it easier for parents to exempt their children, and vaccination rates dropped. This could be a local story in many places.

Appeals court denies rehearing for ruling that blocked Atlantic Coast Pipeline; foes say 'back to the drawing board'

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a major blow to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Monday when it refused to reconsider a ruling that threw out a permit for the pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail, Denise Lavoie reports for The Associated Press. The 605-mile pipeline would begin in West Virginia and run through North Carolina and Virginia.

In December a three-judge panel of the court said the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to allow the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail and "also said the agency 'abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources' when it approved the pipeline crossing the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, and a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trail," Lavoie reports.

Lead pipeline developer Dominion Energy and the Forest Service then requested a full-court rehearing, but the court has refused. The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Sierra Club, which filed the lawsuit, said in a statement that the ruling sends the pipeline "back to the drawing board," Lavoie reports.

Louisiana and Washington attempt 'Netflix-style' model for Hepatitis C medications to treat the poor, to save money

Louisiana and Washington state are trying a new way to fight the rise of hepatitis C among Medicaid recipients and prisoners: a Netflix-style model in which the states pay a flat fee for an unlimited supply of drugs to treat the liver disease. Washington also plans to supply the drugs to state employees, retirees and teachers, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline.

"The new design illustrates how states are trying to think creatively to tackle one of their costliest but most important long-term challenges: providing health care access to low-income residents and people in the state’s care," Ollove reports.

Hepatitis C is a growing threat in rural areas, often spread by opioid users who share needles or engage in risky sexual behavior while under the influence. Nationwide, it kills more Americans each year than any other infectious disease, Ollove reports. About 2.4 million Americans had the disease in 2016, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many of them aren't aware they're infected.

"In the Washington model, the winning bidder would provide the drugs until 2023 for a set treatment course price up to a total maximum each year, about the $80 million the state spent last year," Ollove reports. "Once that maximum is reached, the manufacturer would provide the drugs for a negligible amount, perhaps as little as pennies per course of treatment."

Louisiana would cap the amount it spends on antivirals to $35 million for five years, the amount it spend in 2018. The winning bidder would agree to provide all the needed antivirals to the state for that amount, Ollove reports.

It's unclear if the subscription model will work. Bids for the project are not yet due, and while it's unknown whether any of the major manufacturers of hep C drugs are interested, Ollove reports that they've submitted "detailed questions" to both states about the plans.

"Even if Washington and Louisiana officials aren’t able to negotiate better prices through the Netflix model, health officials said it will offer more certainty about how much the states spend to treat hepatitis C from one year to the next," Ollove reports. States are obligated to provide medications required to treat the disease to the poor and prisoners, according to recent court rulings in several states. It can get expensive. Kentucky, which has the nation's highest rate of new hep-C infections, spent $83,673 per case in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Injured rural workers more likely to be prescribed opioids

Chart by Workers Compensation Research Institute; for a larger, clearer version, click on it
A study has found that injured workers who live in rural areas are more likely to be prescribed opioids, especially older workers, employees of small companies, and workers in physically challenging occupations such as mining and construction.

The Workers' Compensation Research Institute, an independent nonprofit, analyzed data from 1.4 million post-injury pain medication prescriptions in 27 states from October 2014 to September 2015 (before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tightened opioid prescription guidelines, in 2016) to see how a worker's age, injury, occupation and location affected whether they were prescribed opioids, Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder.

"According to the study, two-thirds of injured patients in rural and very rural areas received at least one opioid prescription, where one third received two or more prescriptions," Carey reports. "But those in rural areas were only slightly more likely to stay on the prescriptions longer, with 10 percent of those injured workers on opioids having prescriptions for 60 days or more, as compared to 9 percent in rural areas."

The study didn't address causality, but Dr. Vennela Thumula, the study's author, told Carey that rural-urban differences in health care, education, income, unemployment, and other quality-of-life factors can play a role in opioid prescription rates.

The size of the injured person's employer also mattered. The study found that "injured employees who worked for small businesses, or those having a payroll of less than $20 million, were [also] more likely to be prescribed opioids," Carey reports. "The study found that 54 percent of injured employees of companies with payrolls between $1 million and $4 million were given at least one prescription for opioids, compared to 47 percent of those employed by companies with payrolls between $20 million to $80 million. Injured workers at those small companies were also more likely to have two or more opioid prescriptions, and to have long term prescriptions."

WCRI studied data from Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, Carey reports.

Black woman replaces publisher slammed for KKK editorial

Elicia Dexter (LinkedIn photo)
"A newspaper in a small city in Alabama that drew condemnation over an editorial calling for the Ku Klux Klan to 'ride again' has a new editor and publisher: a 46-year-old black woman," Sarah Mervosh reports for The New York Times.

Goodloe Sutton stepped down from The Democrat-Reporter in Linden on Thursday and handed the reins to Elicia Dexter, a Chicago native who was hired six weeks ago as the weekly's front office clerk. She had recently moved to her father's hometown in nearby Sweet Water, Ala., Mervosh reports.

"Dexter is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in speech communication," Michael Brice-Saddler reports for The Washington Post. "She also received a master’s degree in human services from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago and a master’s degree in counseling from Argosy University in Virginia."

Dexter told the Post she had planned to quit the paper if nothing changed after the editorial. She said she and Sutton had had an "open and honest" discussion about his comments, and that he offered her the paper on Thursday. "He told Dexter she could carry on the legacy of his family, which has operated the Democrat-Reporter for decades, by taking the paper in a 'new direction,'" Brice-Saddler reports.

"The Democrat-Reporter, which has served Linden since 1879, had been in Mr. Sutton’s family for decades. But the newspaper, which has a circulation of a few thousand, had dwindled to what amounted to a one-man show in recent years," Mervosh reports. The paper received national acclaim in the 1990s for its reporting on a corrupt sheriff, but Linden mayor Charles Moore told the Times that the paper lost its credibility when Sutton's wife Jean died. "She was a very good investigative reporter, and also a real sweet person," Moore said.

Sutton will retain ownership but no longer oversee the paper's daily operations. On Saturday he told the Times that he handed over the paper because of his age, not because of the controversy. He didn't apologize for the editorial, and said that editorials were meant to "upset people, make them take action," Mervosh reports.

Sutton "said he had hoped the editorial would draw attention to corruption in Washington and the FBI, though the editorial did not mention the agency. He said he wrote it 'in irony' to suggest that the 'lowlife' KKK investigate the FBI, which he said he held in even lower regard," Mervosh reports.

Dexter said she didn't agree with invoking the KKK, and said there are "other ways you can talk about cleaning Washington without using that group," Mervosh reports.

EPA issues 'emergency exemption' for fourth year to allow limited use of a pesticide that is harmful to bees

The Environmental Protection Agency will allow farmers in 18 states this year to use an insecticide that may kill bees on two crops, sorghum and cotton, that attract bees.

This is the fourth straight year that EPA has issued an emergency exemption for sulfoxaflor, which is not approved for general use. Dow AgroSciences marketed the pesticide, sold under the brand names "Closer" and "Transform" as an alternative to neonicotinoids that harm bees, Zoe Schlanger reports for Quartz. But the pesticide apparently failed to live up to expectations, and was banned in 2015 after beekeepers, environmental groups and honey industry advocates filed suit.

Sulfoxaflor behaves very like neonicotinoids, researchers found. "A paper published in Nature in August 2018 found that exposure to sulfoxaflor significantly lowered bees’ ability to reproduce. Exposed colonies had fewer than half the number of offspring as unexposed colonies," Schlanger reports.

In 2016 EPA reapproved sulfoxaflor but said it could only be sprayed on bee-attracting crops after their bloom period. It allowed exceptions for cotton and sorghum, and could extend further exceptions in the future: "In October 2018, Dow submitted an application to expand the use of sulfoxaflor to rice fields, avocado trees, household plants, tree farms, and greenhouses," Schlanger reports.

Trump extends China tariff deadline

President Trump announced Sunday that he will extend a deadline to impose new tariffs on Chinese imports because of "substantial progress" over the weekend in trade talks.

"Trump had warned he would escalate the tariffs he has imposed on $200 billion in Chinese imports, from 10 to 25 percent, if the two sides failed to reach a deal. The increase was scheduled to take effect at 12:01 a.m. EST on March 2," Paul Wiseman and Catherine Lucey report for the Associated Press.

If the talks continue to go well, Trump said he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, to finalize an agreement, The AP reports.

Illinois farmers try solar-panel farming; revenues steadier

Randy DeBaillie checks on the solar panels at his Orion, Ill., farm. (Washington Post photo by Youngrae Kim)
"Across the flatlands of Illinois, a new crop is rising among the traditional waves of grain," Genevieve Bookwalter reports for The Washington Post. "Hundreds have applied to host acres of solar panels on their property, a move encouraged by a state law requiring that renewable resources provide 25 percent of Illinois power by 2025."

Some object to the move because it takes fertile soil out of production, but selling electricity may be a steady alternate source of income for farmers hurting from the trade war with China. "Prices last year for the state’s most prominent crops were far below original projections, with University of Illinois data showing corn 7 percent lower and soybeans 15 percent lower," Bookwalter reports. Other farmers told Bookwalter they liked the idea of doing their part to fight climate change.

The project offers three sizes of solar-panel projects. The smallest are appropriate for individual homes or small businesses, the medium-sized take up about 15 acres and can power up to 2,000 homes, and the largest can cover thousands of acres and produce almost as much electricity as a power plant, Bookwalter reports.

"Proposals for midsize projects have become so popular that Illinois is hosting a lottery to determine who will be awarded contracts to sell solar electricity to large power companies in the state, which then delivers it to subscribers," Bookwalter reports. "The state anticipates about 1,000 applications, with many of the proposed projects located on farmland, officials said. About 100 agreements will be issued starting in March."

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ambulance runs for rural patients are 76% longer when their hospital closes, and for seniors, it's 98% longer, study finds

Rural and Underserved Health Research Center chart; click on it to enlarge
When a rural hospital closes, it's logical to assume that patients in its former service area will spend more time in ambulances getting to an emergency room farther away. A University of Kentucky study has figured out just how much more: "An estimated 11 additional minutes in an ambulance the year after a hospital closure in their ZIP code, a 76 percent increase compared to before the closure," reports UK's Rural and Underserved Health Research Center.

And it's even worse for seniors: "The times increased from 13.9 minutes to 27.6 minutes, a 13.7-minute or 97.9 percent increase," report researchers SuZanne Troske and Alison Davis. They noted that other studies have found that communities, rural and urban, where hospitals have closed "tended to have a higher percentage of elderly and poor residents."

Rural and Underserved Health Research Center chart, adapted
The study is based on data from 2011 through 2014, with 73,000 ambulance calls and about the same number of hospital closures inside and outside metropolitan areas. The researchers found no change in transportation times in metro areas. Most of the closed hospitals were the only ones in their ZIP codes, but those areas are smaller in metros. "When hospitals close, rural patients requiring ambulance services are disproportionately affected," they write.

The researchers describe their methods: "Intuition suggests that patients are in an ambulance longer after the nearest hospital closes. However, no one has previously measured the travel time change. Our study is the first we are aware of that measures change in time in an ambulance based on reported ambulance trips." They noted that the study "should not be used to draw conclusions about transport times for rural patients who may have relied on a closed hospital but do not reside in the zip code of that closed hospital."

Addressing the implications for rural areas, Troske and Davis wrote, "More than half the hospitals in the country are located in rural areas and are the primary source of emergency medical services in these communities. When asked to rank attributes of rural health care facilities in a recent study, rural residents strongly valued access to emergency services through emergency departments s in their communities. . . . Access to emergency department services in communities, especially rural communities, persists as a priority for the Medicare program. In the 2017 annual report of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, the commissioners stressed the need to find more efficient and financially stable ways to deliver emergency services in rural communities. In the MedPAC report, they stated while there was reduced demand for inpatient hospital care, there was still need for emergency care among Medicare beneficiaries."

Tom Hendrix died two years ago today, but the wall he built to honor his Yuchi Indian great-great-grandmother lives on

Tom Hendrix in 2014 (NYT photo by Robert Rausch)
Two years ago today, Tom Hendrix died at 87, and The Rural Blog failed to take note. We regret that, and are trying to make up for it now, mainly because he built what is probably the largest completed memorial to a Native American: a winding stone wall to honor his great-great grandmother, a Yuchi named Te-lah-nay who was forced to take the Trail of Tears' southern route in the 1830s but found her way back to the northwest corner of Alabama, made a life for herself and left a legacy.

After Hendrix took early retirement when an automobile plant in Muscle Shoals closed, he met a Yuchi woman who told him, “We shall all pass this earth. Only stones remain. We honor our ancestors with stones. That's what you should do,” Anne Kristoff reported for Alabama News Center. He spent the next 25 years building the Wachahpi Commemorative Stone Wall in a wooded tract on his land. He told The New York Times in 2014, “I wore out three trucks, 22 wheelbarrows, 3,700 pairs of gloves, three dogs and one old man.”

Hendrix did little to publicize his work, saying that any visitors were meant to find it, but he was mentioned in the 2013 documentary "Muscle Shoals," and the Times story called his work "the largest unmortared wall in the United States." The wall "has drawn a multitude of visitors from every state in the union and from many foreign countries," said Hendrix's obituary in the Florence Times Daily. "The book he wrote about Te-lah-nay’s journey, If the Legends Fade, has sold more than 17,000 copies. He loved nothing better than greeting visitors at the Wall, telling his great-great-grandmother’s story, and answering questions. He was a gifted storyteller, and he loved people."

New York Times map
We knew that, because we visited Hendrix and the wall in 2006, on the strong recommendation of his cousin, Rudy Abramson, who had helped start the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. In 2008, after Rudy died in an accident at his home in Reston, Va., Tom came to his memorial service at the Newseum. So, we're doubly sorry that we didn't know about his death, but happy to report that his son Trace welcomes visitors to the wall from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The wall is also open to visitors during those hours Monday through Friday. It's at 13890 County Road 8, Florence, Ala., just off the Natchez Trace Parkway, about four miles south of the Tennessee line.
--Al Cross