Friday, October 06, 2023

Nursing schools are turning away thousands of qualified applicants despite nursing shortage

Photo via OSF HealthCare
Amid a national nursing shortage, schools are rejecting tens of thousands of qualified applicants each year because they don't have the capacity to train them. The lack of nurses nationwide can disproportionately hurt rural areas as fewer nurses may choose to work in rural medical facilities when they have so many other options available.

"At a time when registered nurses are going on strike to protest staffing shortages, applicants who want to enter or advance in the profession are being turned away from nursing schools," reports Tami Luhby of CNN. "Nearly 78,200 qualified applications were not offered spots at nursing schools last year, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which represents schools with baccalaureate and advanced degree programs." 

Nursing shortages aren't limited to hospitals and clinics; they are also a problem for nursing schools. "The programs are contending with a lack of faculty, clinical placements for students and preceptors who supervise the students during their rotations at health care providers," Luhby explains. "Preceptors also have strict limits on how many students they can oversee, with the ratios often set by state nursing boards." Community colleges that offer associate nursing degrees are bumping up against the same limitations.

As baby boomers age, the need for more nurses will only grow. "There were nearly 3.2 million registered nurses on the job in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment is projected to grow by a faster-than-average 6% between 2022 and 2032, translating into about 193,100 openings annually, on average, over that period, according to the bureau," Luhby reports. "Nursing schools have nearly 2,000 full-time faculty positions to fill, according to the nursing college association." 

Salaries for nurses with advanced degrees are a major obstacle to nursing school recruitment and retention. Luhby notes, "The national median salary for nursing school professors with master's degrees is just under $89,000, according to the Nursing College Association. However, the median salary for advanced practice registered nurses with graduate degrees is $120,000, according to the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report issued by"

In response to the national problem, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that "it will pump an additional $26.5 million into the Nurse Faculty Loan Program, which provides low-interest loans to those studying to be nursing school faculty and the cancellation of up to 85% of loans for those who work as full-time faculty after graduation," Luhby reports. Some nursing schools have forged relationships with nearby health systems to pull their current nurses into advanced degree programs. At the same time, the hospital allows shift flexibility, so an employed nurse continues to work while training to become a teaching faculty member for the nursing college.

Few Americans know much about the First Amendment; survey shows only 3% can name all 5 protections

In 2006, 22% of polled Americans could name all 5
Simpsons family members. (Image via NCC)
Americans' understanding of the First Amendment is not getting better with time. In 2006, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum commissioned a poll, which revealed that many Americans knew more about the Simpsons than the First Amendment, reports the National Constitution Center. "The phone survey found that only 28% of Americans could name more than one of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution's First Amendment, but more than half of Americans could name at least two members of the fictional Simpsons family. In addition, 22% of Americans could name all five Simpsons family members, while just 11% of folks knew that freedom of the press was guaranteed under the First Amendment."

Fast forward 17 years: Americans have a breadth of information at their fingertips that 2006 did not offer. Do we know more about the First Amendment? "Survey says: No," reports Sean Stevens of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. "In a recent AmeriSpeak panel conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, FIRE asked 1,140 Americans if they could name any of the specific rights protected by the First Amendment. . . . Almost a third of Americans could not name a single enumerated right protected by the First Amendment, and another 40% could name only one — usually freedom of speech. Among Americans who named one or more enumerated rights, roughly two-thirds named freedom of speech, about a quarter (26%) named freedom of religion, 20% named the right to assemble, 15% named freedom of the press, and 8% named the right to petition. Only 3% of Americans could name all five and, on average, could name 1.33 First Amendment rights."

Fire's survey also revealed that older Americans and citizens with a bachelor's degree had more First Amendment knowledge. But what can be done to help the rest of the country? "Americans cannot protect, preserve, and exercise their rights if they don't know what those rights are," Stevens writes. "But, there exists a ray of hope, as the Freedom Forum has also consistently found that high school students who have taken classes that include content about the First Amendment are more supportive of free speech rights. This suggests that a culture of free speech can be fostered by increasing knowledge of the First Amendment."

FIRE image
To help support First Amendment learning, FIRE offers a variety of free courses on the First Amendment, including "The History of Free Speech," "Can I Publish This?" and "The Case for Radically Free Speech," Steven reports. "We provide college orientation materials and maintain a syllabus database of courses that focus on freedom of expression. We also provide teaching resources to help K-12 teachers enrich and supplement their existing instruction on the First Amendment. We even send out complementary copies of our comic book, "Finding Your Voice," which shows teens the empowering effects of knowing and using their First Amendment rights."

Saturday is "Let Freedom Read Day," and organizers are promoting efforts to defend library books from censorship

Public libraries should have materials for everyone in the community, but with the increase in book bans, it can feel like the freedom to find "your thing" to read could be pulled from the shelf.

Tomorrow, Oct. 7, is Let Freedom Read Day. In the spirit of civic engagement, advocacy groups are asking Americans to stand up for library staff, educators, writers, publishers and booksellers who make the wide variety of books available to readers.

The organizers of Banned Books Week promote several ways for people to support the efforts:

Call a decision maker: Call school and library administrators, school board and library board members, city councilpersons, and elected representatives to ask them to support the right to read a variety of books. Find and Contact Elected Officials (

Support an advocacy organization:
The Banned Books Week Coalition includes organizations that fight against efforts to ban books. Learn more about the members of the Coalition here.

Buy a "banned" book: Censorship doesn’t just harm libraries and schools; it also impacts writers, publishers and booksellers. Writers have had school visits canceled. Publishers and booksellers are encountering more obstacles to working with schools and libraries. One way to support the people who make and sell books is to buy them.

Do you want to help others access banned books? You can donate the books you purchase to:
  • Public and school libraries: Contact your local library or school to find out what they need and how to donate.
  • Little Free Library: Use the free LFL mobile app to find a Little Free Library book-sharing box in your area.
  • Fundraisers: Many public libraries have friends of the library groups that use donated books to raise money for the library.
  • A banned book giveaway or bookmobile: Call your local bookstore to see if they may be hosting a giveaway or supporting a bookmobile. 

More ideas are here.

Next week is Fire Prevention Week: Take time to 'ingrain safer habits' now including an escape plan

Photo by Donna Kallner, The Daily Yonder
As a service, the Sierra Sun Times in California shares National Fire News on its website. Thursday's update was stark: "33 large wildfires have burned 386,575 acres in 10 states. One new large wildfire was reported in New Mexico yesterday. About 3,700 wildland firefighters and support personnel are assigned to incidents nationwide." While the statistics are startling, there is something everyone can do about it, particularly in rural areas where volunteer fire departments are stretched thin and need help from every resident. In honor of Fire Prevention Week, October 8-14, Donna Kallner of The Daily Yonder gives these reminders.

In the kitchen. The focus for Fire Prevention Week this year is on home cooking fires. Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires and deaths. Home fires caused by cooking peak at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But you have time before the holidays to ingrain safer habits.

Fire extinguishers. Portable fire extinguishers are an important component in rural fire prevention. They're great for putting out or buying time against a small fire that's confined to a small area (like a wastebasket) and not growing. . . .To operate a fire extinguisher, remember the word P.A.S.S.
  • Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you as you pull the pin to release the lock.
  • Aim low, pointing the nozzle at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. More than a quarter of people killed by cooking fires were sleeping. . . . That's just one reason to make sure your home is equipped with working smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of your home. . . . If you or someone you know can't afford smoke detectors or cannot install them properly, check out this American Red Cross program.

Fire drills at home. Some things are, sadly, not at all unexpected – like filling the kitchen with smoke when sausage rolls off a frozen pizza in a hot oven. But when an unexpected alarm sounds in the middle of the night, your family needs to know what to do. There's a reason why schools conduct regular fire drills: They work. . . . Once you have a plan, practice – at least twice a year. Here's more helpful information on home fire escape plans.

Close doors. As you practice your fire escape plan, learn to close doors behind you. Changes in building construction and furnishings mean fire can spread faster now, and you may only have about three minutes to escape. Fire needs oxygen to burn. Closed doors can slow a fire's growth.

Each household can get four free Covid-19 tests, and some older tests are still good; plus a Covid 'refresher'

U.S. Government photo illustration
Just in time for the cold and flu season the federal government has relaunched its at-home Covid-19 test program. Every U.S. household is eligible for four free test kits sent directly from the U.S. Postal Service, but some older tests might also still be good, too. The easiest way to order kits is through "Officials say the tests are able to detect the latest variants and are intended to be used through the end of the year," reports Fenit Nirappil of The Washington Post. "The return of the free testing program comes after Americans navigated the latest uptick in covid cases with free testing no longer widely available."

Keep in mind many antigen tests have extended expiration dates, so tests purchased or received earlier could still be usable, reports Meryl Davids Landau of National Geographic. Check the chart available here to see if yours is still effective.

As temperatures dip and holiday seasons approach, people will spend more time inside. "Experts say free coronavirus testing proved to be an effective public health tool, allowing people to check their status before attending large gatherings or spending time with older or medically vulnerable people at risk of severe disease even after being vaccinated," Nirappil reports. "It also enables people to start antiviral treatments in the early days of infection to prevent severe disease."

If you have forgotten some of the testing details, Landau gives a brief Q & A "refresher."

Swab the throat or the nose?
It turns out nasal samples concentrate more of the virus and are therefore more likely to yield a positive diagnosis.

Can you get sick within days of SARS-CoV-2 exposure? A recent study in France confirmed what people are feeling, that those exposed to Omicron develop symptoms earlier than they did after exposure to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. . . . It’s possible that the incubation period is shorter due to the mutations.

How long should you isolate if testing positive for Covid? Whether a person has a positive test or is likely to have the disease based on symptoms and exposure, it’s crucial they go home and immediately isolate from everyone, including people with whom they live. . . . This isolation should continue for a minimum of five days, which starts the day after the positive test or the appearance of symptoms, according to the Center for Disease Control.

When is masking after isolation necessary? Once in public, the individual must wear a high-quality mask until 10 days have passed since symptoms began or testing positive. Remember: the first day is day zero. This is important because the sick person could be contagious for a full 10 days.

Who should take the antiviral drug Paxlovid? Those who are most likely to face hospitalization and death should talk with their healthcare provider about taking the antiviral medicine, Paxlovid, which continues to be effective against current strains.

Should you get the new vaccine? The Federal Drug Administration and CDC recently approved new Covid vaccines for people six months and older. The benefits of vaccination outweigh side-effect risks for all these age groups, the CDC noted.

How else can you protect yourself? Avoiding crowds and masking remain extremely effective protection measures, but most people don’t need to do them 24/7.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

It's Banned Book Week, and First Amendment advocates push back by training citizens how to fight bans

Photo via PEN America
Banned Book Week is this week, and First Amendment advocates are pushing to stem the tide of books removed from library shelves. "In the last few years, there has been an unprecedented wave of book bans and censorship spurred by parents and conservative groups to target books that center the LGBTQ+ community, Black history and diverse stories," reports Ariana Figueroa of The Kentucky Lantern. "During the 2022-23 school year, book bans occurred in 153 districts across 33 states, according to the PEN America report."

According to PEN, 3,300 books were banned during the 2022-2023 school year, up 33% from the prior year. To counter the dramatic increase, PEN "launched online training for students to fight book bans, and more recently, teamed up with bestselling authors to fight against book bans in Florida and across the country," Figueroa writes. "Some of those authors include Judy Blume, Ruby Bridges, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, Gillian Flynn, Amanda Gorman, Nikki Grimes, Daniel Handler, Khaled Hosseini, Casey McQuiston, James Patterson, Jodi Picoult and Nora Roberts, among others."

Lawmakers have also entered the fray, with some supporting bans and others criticizing bans as free speech violations. In September, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee "held a hearing to discuss the consequences of book bans, but senators ultimately decided it was not Congress' role to intervene," Figueroa reports. "The White House in June announced that the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights would appoint a coordinator to counter the massive wave of book bans across the country.. . . However, the department has not responded to multiple requests from States Newsroom asking about the hiring status of the new coordinator. . . . One state, Illinois, became the first state to pass a law outlawing the banning of books."

Moms for Liberty, an organization formed in 2021, is often the force behind many book bans, Figueroa explains. The group generally "'targets local school board meetings, school board members, administrators, and teachers to push right-wing policies,' as reported by Media Matters. Moms for Liberty has about 300 chapters across 47 states."

States and the number of books they have banned from July 2022 – June 2023 include:
Arkansas - 4 books; California - 1 book; Colorado - 8 books; Florida - 1,406 books; Georgia - 4 books;
Idaho - 25 books; Indiana - 3 books; Iowa - 6 books; Kansas - 7 books; Kentucky - 3 books; Maine - 13 books; Massachusetts - 1 book; Michigan - 39 books; Minnesota - 1 book; Missouri - 333 books; Nebraska - 6 books; New Hampshire - 1 book; New Jersey - 3 books; New York - 6 books; North Carolina - 58 books; North Dakota - 27 books; Oklahoma - 2 books; Oregon - 38 books; Pennsylvania -
186 books; South Carolina - 127 books; South Dakota - 2 books; Tennessee - 11 books; Texas - 625 books; Utah - 281 books; Virginia - 75 books; West Virginia - 2 books; Wisconsin - 43 books
Wyoming - 15 books

Too few volunteer firefighters is an acute crisis in rural places; The 'antiquated model' must change

Fire crews are a rural area's 'first line of defense' for most
emergencies. (Photo by Peter Crabtree, The Daily Yonder)
Rural fire departments have struggled to get adequate funding, volunteers, and employees, and the problem is getting worse. "A slow but steady decline in volunteers is catching up with America's small-town and rural fire departments," reports Caitlin Randall of The Daily Yonder. "Some solutions – like better funding, a different volunteer structure, and more publicity – aren't simple. And others – like the need for more jobs to retain young people – are beyond fire departments' control."

Wikipedia map
Randall's report focuses on a small fire department in Bennington, Vermont, pop. 15,400, working to put out a fast-burning brush fire "in one of the most remote corners of southern Vermont. By the time the first crew arrived, the fire had spread with shifting winds coaxing a rapid uphill burn. . . . With just seven volunteer firefighters available to tackle a wildfire that might torch hundreds of acres of mountain wilderness, a mutual aid request went out to four other departments, including one from across the state line in New York.

"Other crews responded, but they, too, were dealing with a depleted volunteer corps. As each new team scrambled up the rugged terrain, others stepped back, exhausted from time spent digging fire lines — dirt channels in the angled terrain — and tackling burning brush while carrying power tools and 40-pound water packs. It was grueling, dangerous work with little rest while the blaze burned on, in this case, for nearly eight hours."

The lack of volunteer firefighters is a nationwide problem, more acutely felt by rural areas, such as Vermont, where "88% of their fire crews are staffed mostly or entirely by volunteers," Randall explains. "Fewer and fewer people are joining their ranks, and long-time volunteers are aging out. The crisis isn't confined to Vermont. Nationally, 70% of fire departments are mostly or entirely volunteer, and the number of new recruits is also declining."

The National Fire Protection Association, which tracks the numbers of volunteer firefighters in the United States, says the numbers have dropped 17% over a five-year period, Randall reports -- "from about 815,000 in 2015 to 677,000 in 2020, the last year for which figures were available. It's in small towns and rural areas with fewer resources where the falloff in volunteering has been felt the most, in communities where firefighters are the first line of defense for everything from fires to car crashes to natural disaster rescue missions."

"Among the raft of recruitment and retention challenges facing volunteer fire departments, stringent training and certification guidelines top the list," Randall explains. Rural fire departments bear the added burden of needing more good-paying jobs to keep volunteer firefighters in town. 

Rabbi Howard Cohen, who served as fire department deputy chief in Bennington, told Randall, "We have huge respect for firefighters, but we need to acknowledge the fire service has been in a state of crisis for a long time. It’s an antiquated model that absolutely needs to change."

New, lifesaving antibiotics don't make it to patients. Researchers say a different business model is needed.

Antibiotics have played a major role in helping to extend the average life expectancy across the world by fighting infectious diseases. But the companies that develop and produce antibiotics are struggling to make profits on the antibiotics they produce, causing severe problems in efforts to fight newer disease strains and keep patients alive. "The Treasure Called Antibiotics" explains the drugs' impact: "Prior to the beginning of the 20th Century, infectious diseases accounted for high morbidity and mortality worldwide. The average life expectancy at birth was 47 years. . . . The antibiotic era revolutionized the treatment of infectious diseases worldwide, although with much success in developed countries. . . . In the U.S., the average life expectancy at birth rose to 78.8 years."

Stock prices slide on new antibiotic companies.
(Graph by Josh Ulick,WSJ, from Dow Jones data)
But those once powerful drugs are no longer always effective. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria require new antibiotics; however, the companies that create new strains don't make money, reports Dominique Mosbergen of The Wall Street Journal. "The push for antibiotics to fight fast-evolving superbugs is snagging on a broken business model. Six startups have won Food and Drug Administration approval for new antibiotics since 2017. All have filed for bankruptcy, been acquired or are shutting down. About 80% of the 300 scientists who worked at the companies have abandoned antibiotic development, according to Kevin Outterson, executive director of CARB-X, a government-funded group promoting research in the field."

The crux of the problem is the current model for drug company profits, "which counts on companies selling enough of a new treatment or charging a high enough price to reward investors and make a profit — isn't working for antibiotics," Mosbergen explains. "New antibiotics are meant to be used rarely and briefly to defeat the most pernicious infections so bacteria don't develop resistance to them too quickly. Companies have priced them at 100 times as much as the generic antibiotics doctors have prescribed for decades, costing a few dollars per dose. Most have sold poorly."

Infectious disease specialist Dr. John. H. Rex told Mosbergen, "Antibiotics are like fire extinguishers. You really want these drugs available, but you mostly don't want to use them. That's the paradox." Mosbergen reports, "New antibiotics should get support similar to treatments for rare diseases, said Ryan Cirz, a co-founder of Achaogen, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019 less than a year after the FDA approved its drug Zemdri for complicated urinary tract infections. . . . The Orphan Drug Act of 1983 provides subsidies, tax breaks and additional years of market exclusivity to drugmakers that develop treatments for diseases affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S."

"About 13,000 people in the U.S. each year develop a severe type of drug-resistant infection that Achaogen's drug Zemdri was developed to defeat," Mosenberg reports. "Up to half of people hospitalized with such infections die. They are among the more than 35,000 people in the U.S. who die annually from drug-resistant bacterial or fungal infections, a toll that has risen in recent years."

In 2019, the United Kingdom started a "subscription-style model to pay drugmakers for new antibiotics based on their potential public-health value," Mosbergen adds. "U.S. lawmakers have considered similar legislation. Bipartisan bills reintroduced in the House and Senate in April committed $6 billion to purchase new antibiotics to treat drug-resistant infections. They haven't received a vote." Dr. David Hyun, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Project at Pew Charitable Trusts, told Mosbergen: "It sounds like the intent is to save companies, but we're really talking about trying to fix the antibiotic pipeline itself."

Many people track the number of steps they take each day, but can increasing the amount lead to weight loss?

Step counting is a good way to measure activity.
(Photo by Arek Adeoye, Unsplash)
Kennesaw State professor Bob Buresh and his team of researchers have been trying to determine if increasing the number of steps you take day can help with the obesity problem in the United States. A condensed version of their findings published in The Conversation is shared below.

"Over the last decade, smartphones have become ubiquitous not just for sending texts and staying abreast of news but also for monitoring daily activity levels. Among the most common, and arguably the most meaningful, tracking method for daily physical activity is step counting.  . . . Counting steps is far more than a fad. The Department of Health and Human Services dedicated a sizable portion of its most recent physical activity guidelines to documenting the relationship between daily step counts and several chronic diseases.

"Unfortunately, the guidelines have little to say about how step counts might be used to aid in weight management, an outcome of critical importance given the high rates of overweight and obesity in the U.S. In the early 1980s, fewer than 14% of adults in the U.S. were classified as having obesity. Today, just over 40 years later, the prevalence of obesity is greater than 40% in the adult population, and current trends suggest that almost half of adults in the U.S. will be obese by 2030.

"I am a professor of exercise science at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, and our lab has been conducting studies examining relationships among step counts and a number of health outcomes.
While the evidence is clear that increasing numbers of adults are living in a chronic energy surplus that leads to weight gain, a key question is – why? What has changed so dramatically since 1980 that could explain why obesity rates have tripled? Although the American diet is likely a key contributor, a wealth of research points to a reduction in physical activity as a major culprit behind the expanding waistlines – and step counts are an excellent indicator of physical activity.

"Step counts may – or may not – lead to weight loss: A number of recent studies have looked at whether increasing step counts can lead to weight loss over a certain period of time. One large-scale study called a meta-analysis concluded that increasing physical activity by way of step counts was effective for attaining modest weight loss. However, many, if not most, studies examining the effect of exercise on weight loss report modest outcomes, with results that are variable and often disappointing.

"When it comes to health, it is important to remember that body weight does not tell the whole story. In fact, body composition is much more predictive of health status than body weight. Someone who weighs more than another person may be in better health if they have more muscle mass and a lower percentage of body fat than the other person who weighs less but has a higher proportion of body fat.

"Parsing the numbers: We have used our data to develop a model that predicts average daily step counts per unit of fat mass from body fat percentage. We believe that this model can be used to determine how much people would need to walk to achieve a specific amount of weight and body fat reduction.

"A person's body fat percentage is every bit as important as their weight. That's because how much muscle you have affects how hungry you get, as well as how many calories you burn. Muscle mass requires energy to maintain, and this requirement leads to increased appetite, which means taking in more calories." 

The Conversation is a platform for journalism by academics.

Is the U.S. inching toward recession? Ag economists weigh in on warning signs

Graphic by Lindsey Pound, Farm Journal
Over the past two years, many economists and business leaders have warned that an economic downturn is on the horizon. "While ag economists continue to be at odds when it comes to the likelihood of a recession in the United States, there are also concerns about economic woes around the globe," reports Tyne Morgan of Farm Journal. "Some economists doubt the United States' biggest importers will be able to avoid a recession over the next 18 months."

Ag Economists' Monthly Monitor has kept tabs on U.S. trade partners' ongoing efforts to prevent  a recession. "A survey of nearly 60 ag economists from across the country were asked if the United States' major importers will avoid a recession over the next 18 months," Morgan writes. "Of those who answered the question, nine said 'yes,' but eight responded 'no.' Four remained unsure. . . .when asked to explain their reasoning, the answers revealed a host of concerns, including labor shortages, risks in China and Europe, and the strength of the U.S. dollar."

The U.S. economy has proved robust, but many economists "point to red flags that continue to flash caution signs moving forward," Morgan explains. "One is the fact credit card debt is climbing at a time when inflation continues to eat away at consumers' spending power." 

September's Monitor conducted an anonymous survey asking economists to name the top three indicators they use when considering possible recession. Their replies included:

"I follow Fed monetary actions, interest rates and unemployment levels."

"I follow unemployment rate, hourly wage rate and consumer prices."

"I don't think the Fed can get inflation down to the 2% mandate without a recession if it holds to that mandate."

"Employment growth remains fairly strong, and the U.S. unemployment rate remains historically low. As long as there is not a sizable decline in demand for labor (which is what I believe), the U.S. should, at worst, have a shallow and relatively short recession."

"Ag economists' view on the overall ag economy is also starting to erode," Morgan reports. "The September Monitor shows lower commodity prices, concerns about demand, and a negative outlook for China's economy, all contributing to the changing views, even as the cattle herd and U.S. corn and soybean crops continue to shrink." 

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Loss of federal money for child-care centers could hurt rural areas; should care be funded similar to K-12 education?

U.S. Child care is more expensive than 'any other
advanced country in the world.' (Shutterstock photo)

Many parents, especially in rural areas, are concerned about affordable child care options  after the $24 billion pandemic-era federal Child Care Stabilization Program expired on Sept. 30. That program is credited with helping many child-care businesses continue to operate and maintain lower prices. Parents could be forced to leave the workforce to stay home, and children may miss out on early learning, reports West Virginia Today.

Two West Virginia University scholars, Melissa Sherfinski, an associate professor of early childhood and elementary education, and William Franko, an associate professor of political science, say the situation is dire. One solution would be to change the status of child care from an affordable luxury to a necessary public good with permanent funding similar to K-12 education. 

A condensed version of their opinions is below.

Sherfinsk: “I am concerned about rural areas, including many places in West Virginia. These can be ‘child care deserts’ with only one child care center in commuting distance. If that center closes, there may be no viable options for local families. The effects of closures in rural communities may be particularly dire because families could be forced to move to places with child care opportunities.

"While young children are resilient, they need smooth transitions. The child care cliff has positioned millions of children in the U.S. to experience disruption with potentially negative effects on their behavior and learning.

“I also expect to see ripple effects for groups like college and university students with children. First-generation college students and students with high levels of financial need may lose their dreams of college matriculation due to rising child care costs and a lack of alternative child care spaces.

"And I foresee that in states like West Virginia where K-12 teachers receive relatively low pay, the increased cost of child care may cause teachers to leave the profession, especially combined with additional economic challenges such as expensive rent and home prices, and student loan repayments restarting.”

Franko: “The underlying problem with the child care industry is underfunding. Rather than treating child care as a public good, like we treat K-12 education, child care in the U.S. is more expensive than in any other advanced country in the world. This leaves many working families with difficult choices about whether to stay out of the workforce or to pay up to half of their income toward child care services.

"The solution is relatively straightforward. The industry needs a permanent source of public funding. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced legislation in April — the Child Care for Working Families Act — that would lower child care costs, increase access to centers and support child care workers. . . . Republican members of Congress focused on cutting government spending are unlikely to support a plan that would substantially improve child care funding, although some party members do acknowledge the problem."

In the shadow of the coal industry, the Mountain Valley Pipeline runs into resistance in Appalachia

The Daily Yonder graphic

The long relationship between Appalachian people and energy industry representatives was barely forged before it started to fracture due to misrepresentation and unscrupulous contracts pushed by coal representatives, reports Hannah Wilson-Black of The Daily Yonder. More recently, Mountain Valley Pipeline representatives have come calling, and wiser Appalachians are not all-in for their contracts or pipeline.

"When speculators and early corporations first came to the hollers of Central Appalachia's coal country in the late 1800s, they wanted to buy landowners' mineral rights — not the rights to their farmland, but to the coal underneath," Wilson-Black writes. "Knowing that these landowners were subsistence farmers who had little money and were not fluent in legal language or the going price of coal, the land agents offered to buy mineral rights for as little as fifty cents an acre. Or, as West Virginian community organizer Maury Johnson put it, for 'a little bit of nothing and a Christmas turkey.'"

MVP representatives first approached West Virginia and southwest Virginia landowners in 2014, "seeking 'right-of-way' easement agreements that would allow the pipeline to go through private property without requiring purchase of the land itself. Johnson, a resident of Monroe County, was one such landowner," Wilson-Black reports. "An analyst sent by the company asked to survey his farm, and Johnson agreed — with the stipulation that he accompany the surveyors. . . . Johnson claimed that when he followed the surveyors around, he watched them omit the existence of springs or dangerous karst formations on his property in their reports, and said the surveyors would only note the geographic obstacles when he drew attention to them."

Sunset in Monroe County, W.Va., one of the counties the MVP
pipeline passes through. (Photo by Hannah Wilson-Black)
Johnson and Arietta DuPre, who also lives in Monroe County, told Wilson-Black that MVP representatives employed some of the same undervalue-offer tactics coal companies used years ago. Johnson told her: "A lot of people, they've never dealt with this. They don't know what they're doing. I didn't know what I was doing. They [MVP representatives] say, 'We'll give you X amount of dollars, this is the best you're going to get."

Johnson found a way to protect his property. Wilson-Black reports, "He retained an eminent domain attorney who negotiated a higher price for his easement based on 'real impacts to the property,' as he put it. This allowed him to avoid a protracted — and expensive — court battle with MVP. He was also able to stipulate, through his final contract, which crops or chemicals MVP must use to restore the land."

As the pipeline build continues, landslides and explosions remain a top concern to residents who fear a repeat of the Leach XPress Pipeline explosion in Marshall County, West Virginia, where "a fireball burned for several hours after an 83-foot section of the pipeline burst into flames, releasing more than $430,000 worth of natural gas," Brittany Patterson reported for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Land shift was blamed for the explosion, which left a crater in the ground and a stark reality burned into Appalachian communities.

Pheasant hunting offers a chance for shared camaraderie among rural and urban sportsmen and women

Nick Jorgensen and family host about 500 hunters in
Ideal, S.D. (Photo by Ariana Schumacher, Agweek)
A farming family in Ideal, South Dakota, is using its hunting lodge as a venue to teach urban hunters about food and farming. Over a weekend, barriers come down, and both sides enjoy the hunt and find some surprisingly common ground, reports Ariana Schumacher of Agweek.

The Jorgensens family owns the Lazysee Lazy J Grand Lodge and Jorgensen Land and Cattle, which hosts about 500 pheasant hunters a year. One of the appeals of pheasant hunting is camaraderie built on the challenge finding the sneaky quarry; pheasants can cleverly avoid becoming prey by circling just behind hunters.

Beyond the hunt, the Jorgensens "see the hunting lodge as an opportunity to teach visitors about agriculture and where their food comes from," Schumacher writes. Nick Jorgensen, CEO of Jorgensen Land and Cattle, told Schumacher, "We view this as an opportunity for our business to do what we call agriculture advocacy. . . . [Guests come] from large metro areas, on the coast, Nashville, Houston, California ... and they are very disconnected from agriculture."

A farm tour is a required part of the hunting experience, Jorgensen told Schumacher. "So, we load them on a bus. We drive them 4 miles away to the feedlot. We go drive through the pens. We go show them a farm field that maybe has some cover crop growing in it. We stop and look at the cows out in the grass, and it’s just an opportunity for us to tell our story on how food is made."

"While many guests come in thinking this operation is a far cry from the business world they know, they soon learn that there is common ground to be found," Schumacher reports. Jorgensen told her: "They get to our operation where we farm 15,000 acres, we have a large feedlot, we have a large cow-calf herd, we are the largest seedstock producer in the United States ... and they think, 'Wow, this is a big business, and these are largely business people. We can talk about how raising food really is a business."

Pheasants came to America from China in the 1880s.
(Photo via Meadowbrook Game Farm, Tenn.)
Because the lodge is a hunting preserve, each pheasant taken on a hunt is replaced. "They want guests to have success without diminishing the wild population," Schumacher explains. "Operating this way allows hunters to take between 4,000 to 5,000 roosters a season. . . . They hope that with this experience, their guests walk away with some agricultural knowledge while enjoying the South Dakota landscape and one of the state’s most popular pastimes: hunting."

Reporting on 'forever chemical' hazards can be hard, but this previously obscure database of information can help

A contractor documents potential PFAS contamination in a waterway.
(Photo by Michigan DEQ, Flickr Creative Commons via SEJ)

A once obscure database can help journalists uncover previously hidden "forever chemical" hazards. "The advocacy nonprofit Environmental Working Group has found a Trump-era loophole in U.S. chemical reporting law, which allowed major companies to hide the amount of toxic PFAS they released into the environment," reports Joseph A. Davis of the Society for Environmental Journalists. What the working group did was "compare and cross-check two databases. One database was the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory and the other was the Chemical Data Reporting database. The CDR's data collection is required under the Toxic Substances Control Act ...  as is the TRI."

"Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, companies are required to report to the EPA every four years about chemicals they use in commerce or import," Davis explains. "The field covers more chemicals than TRI, essentially all chemicals in commerce, namely those included on the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory. This list now includes more than 86,000 chemicals."

The CDR's original purpose was to "help the EPA manage the regulation of chemicals under TSCA, rather than to inform the public about exposure. It is meant to be comprehensive, but there are exemptions for certain substances and companies below a certain size. And companies are only required to report if they handle more than a certain amount," Davis reports. "The database is, however, publicly available and downloadable online. It is not, however, easily searchable online. Here's the access point for downloading data files."

The EPA maintains a superfund priorities map.
Other environmental reporting sources include the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services. Its website has multiple resources, including a "Toxic Substance Portal" and "Toxicological Profiles." The agency's work includes: "Investigating emerging environmental health threats; conducting research on the health impacts of hazardous waste sites; and building capabilities of and providing actionable guidance to state and local health partners."

The Environmental Protection Agency has a "superfund" map, which is useful for hazard site background and discovering where your community might be as far as EPA priorities go. The listing also provides site listing narratives, progress profiles and Federal Register Notices.

Feinstein's death raises the question of how vacant Senate seats are filled. The answer depends on where you live.

Dianne Feinstein in 1950
(Photo by Underwood Archives,
Getty Images via Conversation)
The death of California's longtime senator, Dianne Feinstein, left a vacancy in the U.S. Senate and a question in many Americans' minds: How are Senate seats filled when a person dies while in office? The short answer is it depends on where you live because individual states establish their own rules.

The 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlines the basics: "When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct," explains Gibbs Knotts for The Conversation, a platform for journalism by academics.

That usually means the state's governor will pick the predecessor. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has already named his pick, Laphonza Butler, who will remain in office until the 2024 election. However, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin "do not allow governors to make temporary appointments," Knotts reports. "Those states only fill U.S. Senate vacancies by special election, but laws specify time periods in most states."

How long appointments last also depends on state law. "If a person appointed to the seat by the governor then wins a special election or a contest scheduled alongside statewide elections, they will serve the remainder of the vacating senator's term," Knotts explains. "Otherwise, if someone else wins the special election, they get to serve out the vacating senator's term."

There are rules and processes appointing governors must follow. "In 10 gubernatorial appointment states, U.S. senators must be from the same party as the prior incumbent. Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming have this restriction," Knotts notes. "In Utah, the governor is required to select from a list of three candidates submitted by the party of the U.S. senator being replaced. In the rest of the states, the governor has the power to appoint a successor, regardless of party, including in California."

State legislatures have some say in the process. Knotts adds, "Most notably, legislators establish the appointment procedures and set the general rules about when an election must occur. If they don't like the process, they have the power to change it."

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Health investigation finds startling gap in funding to prevent maternal deaths, new grant award aims for change

USA Facts map, from CDC data
National maternal mortality rates have been on a steady incline, with far more minority women dying while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy than white women, reports Sarah Jane Tribble of KFF Health News. Despite the rate difference, a federal program designed to "combat the alarming rates of rural women dying from pregnancy complications. . . . hadn't sent a grant to serve mothers in majority-Black rural communities."

A KFF Health News investigation discovered the possible funding-bias and criticized the program for neglecting some of the most marginalized women. The program has addressed that problem by "supporting an organization that serves predominantly Black counties in the Deep South," Tribble writes.

The Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health in Madison, Mississippi, was "one of two winners in the latest round of an initiative administered by Health Resource and Services Administration," Tribble writes. Mississippi has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. and the highest proportion of Black births in the U.S. "In June, KFF Health News found that HRSA's Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies Program had failed to fund any sites in the Southeast . . . . despite a White House declaration to make Black maternal health a priority, and despite statistics showing America's maternal mortality rate rising sharply in recent years."

Peiyin Hung, deputy director of the University of South Carolina's Rural and Minority Health Research Center, is a member of the health equity advisory group for the maternal grant program. Hung said "the Mississippi nonprofit is an unusual awardee because it is not part of a larger health system." Tribble reports: "The grant application process skewed toward large health systems because they 'have much higher capacity to form a statewide network', Hung said. That's, in part, because grant winners were required to create a network of specific health care clinics, hospitals, and the state Medicaid office. In recent years, the agency has 'become much more flexible,' Hung said."

Tribble adds: "The success of the Mississippi application is a 'promising signal' for states that don't have large rural health systems focusing on maternal care, said Hung, who hopes a South Carolina applicant receives a grant in the future."

$2.25 million in new funding will increase statehouse reporting; awards are designed to 'fill gaps' in coverage

Wyoming Public Media received a CPB
statehouse reporting grant. (WPM logo)
Americans need fact-based statehouse coverage with consistent, insightful and informative reporting by well-trained journalists. But amid newspaper closings and journalist layoffs, that type of reporting is in short supply. To address staffing needs, the "Corporation for Public Broadcasting is providing $2.25 million to assist seven public media newsrooms and NPR with statehouse reporting," Tyler Faulk reports for Current. "The grant program responds to a 'drop in the overall number of full-time statehouse reporters across the country,' CPB said in a press release announcing the grants."

In the release, CPB President Patricia Harrison said the grants will “address an urgent need as we increase the number of journalists at public media stations reporting statehouse news and policy decisions. Their coverage will be made available to all citizens in those seven states.”

The two-year funding grants will go to:

  • Alaska Public Media in Anchorage — $196,588 for a full-time, year-round state government reporter.
  • Connecticut Public in Hartford — $217,775 for a full-time, year-round state government reporter.
  • WHYY in Philadelphia — $300,000 to provide multimedia enterprise coverage of the state government in Delaware.
  • Louisville Public Media in Kentucky — $294,727 to expand its state government news team to four journalists.
  • KOSU in Stillwater, Okla. — $250,000 to add a full-time journalist to report on state government and public policy issues.
  • Wyoming Public Media in Laramie — $360,999 to partner with Jackson Hole Community Radio in hiring a multi-platform journalist covering state government and a full-time digital content coordinator.
  • KERA in Dallas — $250,000 to support one editor and one reporter focused on investigative reporting for the Texas Newsroom.
  • NPR in Washington, D.C. — $380,577 to add a second state government editor who will work with station reporters to identify trends in legislation and governance across states and to provide training for state government reporters.

    The grants require the stations to "share their state government coverage with public media and other outlets across the state," Faulk reports. "In Connecticut, for example, the reporting will be shared with WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.; public media stations in the New England News Collaborative; Spanish-language news outlets; and the nonprofit digital news organization CT Mirror."

    "Recipients were chosen from 20 proposals and 'fill gaps' in state government coverage that were identified in CPB’s 2022 study of public media’s statehouse coverage."

There aren't enough rural veterinarians; new legislation sets out a plan to attract new graduates

Rural America needs more veterinarians.
(Farm Journal photo)
Forty years ago, there were plenty of country veterinarians to care for livestock and other food animals. That's no longer the case and lawmakers are working to address the issue. "New legislation has been introduced to address the critical shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural America," reports Rhonda Brooks of Farm Journal. The bipartisan legislation, the Rural Veterinary Workforce Act S.2829, was introduced this past week as a plan to address the steep decline of veterinarians practicing in rural areas. "A report commissioned by Farm Journal Foundation in 2022, noted that more than 500 counties across the U.S. have shortages of food animal veterinarians." 

The act would provide student loan tax benefits for graduates who choose  rural practice. The break helps "give more veterinarians the opportunity to practice in small, rural communities where their services are needed most," Brooks reports. "This change would reflect similar exemptions provided to medical doctors and other human health practitioners."

The lack of food animal veterinarians isn't just about farmers and animals; it can affect the public's food supply. Cornell University's Dr. Clinton Neill told Brooks, "The decline in food animal veterinarians in rural areas heightens concerns for several risks, including food safety threats, animal disease outbreaks, the potential passing of animal diseases to human populations, and decreasing rural economic growth. In essence, veterinarians protect the whole of the human and animal population, so it is critical that we have a strong pipeline of practitioners to work in rural areas."

Reasons new vet school graduates steer away from rural practice include "high levels of education debt that have outpaced potential earnings, especially in the rural U.S.," Brooks explains. "[The legislation] is encouraging more veterinarians to pursue companion animal practices and work in urban and suburban areas where incomes are often higher."

Legislation sponsors: Debbie Stabenow (D), John Boozman (R), Susan Collins (R), Mike Crapo (R), Kirsten Gillibrand (D), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), Angus King (I), Amy Klobuchar (D), Jerry Moran (R), Lisa Murkowski (R), Patty Murray (D), James Risch (R), Tina Smith (D)

UPDATE: Police chief who led raid of Marion County Record resigns; questions raised about role of county attorney

Gideon Cody
(Photo by KSHB, Kansas City)
The police chief who led a raid on the Marion County Record newsroom has resigned just three days after being suspended, reports Eric Meyer of the Record.

The resignation by Marion (Kansas) Police Chief Gideon Cody was effective immediately. Mayor David Mayfield made the announcement at a meeting of the Marion City Council on Monday, according to Meyer.

Patrol officer Zach Hudson has been named as the interim chief, and "is the sole remaining member of the Marion police force fully certified as a law enforcement officer," Meyer reports.

Hudson told Meyer after the appointment that he would resume giving the newspaper "weekly reports about police activities. Cody had stopped a 50-year tradition of providing such reports after taking office four months ago," according to the report.

Hudson was present for the Aug. 11 raid on the newspaper, Meyer reports, and called Cody's attention to a confidential file that contained information the newspaper had obtained about Cody's alleged problems while working with another law enforcement agency. The fallout from the Marion County Record newsroom raid continues as the police chief who led the raid has been suspended from his job.

Mayfield suspended Cody last Thursday, reports Phyllis Zorn of the Record. Mayfield had previously resisted calls to suspend Cody until the Kansas Bureau of Investigation released its review. KBI's investigation is ongoing, and it is unclear what made Mayfield change his mind. The city's code allows the mayor to suspend a city official, but only the council has the authority to fire one.

Police body camera footage recorded this file during the raid.
(Marion County Record photo)
Previous reporting on the raid noted that Cody was being investigated by the Record, and he did not want their negative findings published. "Newly reviewed body camera video of the Aug. 11 raid reveals that police went out of their way to inspect confidential material a Record reporter had obtained about Cody's misdeeds with the Kansas City Police Department," Meyer reported. The video showed a file labeled "Capt. Gideon Cody," but there is no recording of to what extent Cody reviewed the file, if any.

The Record has also uncovered evidence that the county attorney, Joel Ensey, knew about the search three days prior to it occurring, according to the news site Meyer reports, "Ensey eventually withdrew the warrants, which he admitted were 'legally insufficient,' but did not do so until five days after the raid. The reported that among more than 200 emails it received was a lengthy email. . . that Cody had sent to Ensey three days before Cody obtained the search warrants."

"When KBI eventually does release its report, it typically would go to the county prosecutor -- in this case, Ensey," Meyer adds. "The Record plans to ask for a special prosecutor to be appointed instead."