Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
TimesNews of Kingsport on a state bill that would make details of two health systems' merger exempt from Tennessee's public records law:
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For nearly two years, officials with Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance have talked about the merger of their two systems in broad generalities. With Ballad Health now a reality, it's time to talk nuts and bolts.
The public wants and deserves to hear specifics. Alan Levine, Ballad's CEO, president and executive chairman, got the ball rolling in that direction earlier this month when he said the merged health care system must now work to end costly duplication of services and "reinvest those savings into things that will bring value to the community."
Levine also said Ballad would keep its word when it comes to promises of improving care in areas that are currently lacking. One such endeavor is creating a pediatric trauma center, which is something this region truly needs.
In obtaining a Certificate of Public Advantage from the state to create Ballad, Wellmont and Mountain States also promised to spend $85 million over a 10-year period on behavioral health and addiction treatment. Again, such a facility is badly needed, given the region's opioid addiction and methamphetamine scourges.
"The Certificate of Public Advantage has enforceable commitments that we've made, and we intend to keep those commitments," Levine said.
Ballad's promises to be true to its word sound good, but it would be a hollow gesture unless citizens can see for themselves if such promises are indeed being kept.
What's needed is the level of transparency Ballad vowed when it requested the COPA. A bill introduced recently by Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, has us questioning Ballad's commitment to that transparency.
SB 2048 would amend the COPA law (passed by the state General Assembly to facilitate the Wellmont/Mountain States merger) to make "records made or received by an independent firm or individual retained by the state to monitor, review, supervise or otherwise provide oversight" of a COPA agreement exempt from the state's public records law.
Ballad leaders said on Feb. 8 the exemption is necessary to protect the company's "competitively sensitive" information from other medical providers in such areas as outpatient services and recruitment of medical professionals.
Shelley Walker, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health, told the Johnson City Press that the state will prepare annual reports showing whether the department still considers the merger a public benefit. "These reports will be made public, and if there are shortcomings, those will appear in the reports," she said.
If Crowe's bill is approved by the General Assembly, however, citizens of this state would not have access to documents, papers, letters and other materials evaluating how well Ballad complies with the COPA. That means disclosure on operating budgets, strategic plans and facility closings is off the table. Instead, the public will be asked to take the state's word when it comes to Ballad living up to its promises.
The public should not have to be that trusting. While Ballad officials may have legitimate concerns about losing competitive edge, the state's oversight role should not be clouded by secrecy. Crowe's bill is far too broad.
We urge area residents to call Crowe's office in Nashville at (615) 741-2468 and let him know the bill needs further scrutiny to protect the public's interests in keeping with the openness Ballad promised when the COPA was created.
Cleveland Daily Banner on blood shortages at regional donor centers:
Blood shortages plaguing Blood Assurance, and probably donor centers in other regions, are alarming — not because they are unexpected, but because lives are at risk.
Valentine's Day is perhaps the most appropriate day for such discussion . because the holiday is all about the heart, and it is the heart that pumps life-giving blood to all parts of the body.
In short, blood is life, and the heart is its giver.
It is not the fault of good-hearted donors that blood supplies are critically low. The blame, instead, lies with Old Man Winter, whose icy breath has sporadically coated our roads and streets with treacherous conditions over the past several weeks.
But the old guy hasn't worked alone. His accomplice during this cold season has become a nemesis to communities, to the region, statewide and across the nation.
We speak of a bad flu bug, one (actually, many strains are involved) that has defied in most part the effectiveness of the vaccines distributed in September and October. Of course, they are still available and should be taken by anyone who has not yet received one.
Of course, here's the caveat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested the vaccine is only about 10 percent effective, because this year's strains are both diverse and virulent. That's the bad news. The good news is at least the vaccine is helping some. Plus, it is commonly believed although this season's vaccine is not preventing the flu, it is nonetheless lessening the severity.
The above reasons are why Blood Assurance is reporting seriously low blood supplies. Not only are donors being restricted by weather and the flu, the nonprofit is seeing a higher blood usage than normal. Collectively, these factors are draining the supplies of blood.
Consider this: Blood Assurance provides lifesaving, and life-giving blood, in five states. This includes 51 counties and 76 health care facilities.
Can you imagine the number of surgeries, cancer treatments and emergency procedures carried out in a community hospital on any given day? For each of these medical needs, blood is an integral factor.
At last report, Blood Assurance's biggest needs include O positive, O negative, A positive and A negative blood types.
"We have experienced a much higher usage this month than is typical," said Dr. Elizabeth Culler, medical director at Blood Assurance. "Increased usage, combined with drive cancellations and people being unable to come in due to sickness, has seriously impacted our inventory."
Here's the most important message. It's more like a plea from Cutler: "We ask that anyone who can donate please give to build up supplies."
Obviously, not everyone can donate blood. Some are struggling with chronic illnesses that prevent them from giving. Some are taking medications that should not be transfused into the bloodstreams of others. Some deal with health conditions that eliminate them as potential blood donors.
Many try to donate blood, but do not pass health screenings that are performed at the donor centers for the safety of both the would-be donor and the subsequent blood recipient.
There is also another group, those who can give but who prefer not to give. This includes those who have a fear of needles, those who have limited time because of a demanding career or work schedule, and those who don't have a full understanding of the blood-donation process.
Others do not donate because of personal, and religious beliefs, and still others have a low tolerance to pain.
Of that last group, let us be clear: In the blood-donation process, there is very little, if any, pain. And what pain there is, is not significant. During the procedure, a finger is pricked in order to screen iron levels. The only other minor pain is the inserting of the needle for the actual blood donation. Again, the discomfort is minimal and it is brief.
To be eligible to donate blood, donors must be at least 18 years old; however, those who are 16 or 17 can also donate provided they have parental consent. Donors must weigh 110 pounds or more, and must be in generally good health.
Making recommended preparations for the blood donation also will lessen the possibility of lightheadedness or dizziness. This includes drinking plenty of fluids the day before, and the morning of, the donation, and also eating a good meal rich in iron at least an hour before donating, and preferably sooner.
For those can give blood, we urge you to make an appointment or simply drop in. The Blood Assurance donor center in Cleveland is located in The Village Green business complex. Designated parking is available for blood donors.
There is little we can do about the weather or a flu bug.
But we can do plenty to help agencies like Blood Assurance who are in the business of making the gift of life available for those who need it.
Johnson City Press on a 16-game winning streak by East Tennessee State University's men's basketball team:
What a run the Bucs just had. East Tennessee State University's men's basketball team racked up 16 consecutive wins until running into a roadblock Monday night in North Carolina.
The streak came to end with a 74-56 loss to Southern Conference rivals UNC-Greensboro. Despite the disappointment, our Bucs remain atop the SoCon standings at 13-1 and 22-5 overall.
With four regular season games remaining before the conference tournament, we are hopeful the Bucs will return to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year. The women's team has a shot, too, sitting in second place in the SoCon at 8-2 and 15-10 overall.
With success comes greater enthusiasm, and we are reminded of just what an asset the Bucs can be for our community.
Say what you will about the overemphasis on intercollegiate athletics vs. academics and the big business sports have become — there are no doubts that a successful program can be a rallying point for both a campus and a town.
ETSU and Buccaneer athletics contribute much to our way of life in Northeast Tennessee and Johnson City in particular — economically and socially.
For the first time in memory, we see more blue and gold ETSU apparel, bumper stickers and other regalia in and around Johnson City than we do Big Orange. Freedom Hall is recording an average attendance of 4,170 people per game, compared to the 2,742 it averaged in 2014-15 prior to Steve Forbes' arrival as the Bucs' head coach.
In its third season last fall, the resurrected ETSU football team averaged 8,008 people per game in brand new Greene Stadium. Since the opening of Thomas Stadium in 2013, baseball is pulling in twice the fans it did at Cardinal Park, although those numbers are still a drop in the bucket to the potential. When the weather cooperates, we'd like to see more of you in those seats, and not just when UT is in town.
The men's basketball Bucs will be back home for the final three games of the season beginning Tuesday when the Citadel rolls into Johnson City. Let's show those Bulldogs what Bucs fans are made of by filling Freedom Hall with a sea of blue and gold.
It's the least we can do to say thank you to the 15 young men who brought us 16 wins in a row.