North Carolina editorial roundup


Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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July 11

The News & Observer of Raleigh on legislation regarding nursing homes and assisted-living facilities:

Older people in North Carolina who live in nursing homes and those in assisted-living facilities will be a little less safe now thanks to an unfortunate bit of legislation brought about by the lobbying clout of the long-term care industry. It would be hard to pinpoint the worst work of this edition of the General Assembly, but this one would be near the top.

Lawmakers apparently bowed to industry influence and eliminated the state’s Penalty Review Committee. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill, of course, so he shares responsibility.

The committee since 1989 has held public hearings and proposed fines and other penalties against nursing homes and assisted-living centers that violate state regulations. The new law tucks the responsibility for watching the homes under the state Department of Health and Human Services, which is run by gubernatorial appointees and is subject to pressure from lawmakers. The department also can avoid some aspects of public disclosure. As North Carolina Health News reported, advocates for the elderly are aghast at this maneuver.

Sharon Wilder, the state ombudsman for long-term care residents for 18 years until her retirement, said, “When facilities are not even meeting minimum standards and people are dying, sometimes horrible deaths, there needs to be a public airing. I was just shocked about it and feel really badly about it for the long-term care residents and their families.”

Older people in North Carolina who live in nursing homes and those in assisted-living facilities will be a little less safe now thanks to an unfortunate bit of legislation brought about by the lobbying clout of the long-term care industry. It would be hard to pinpoint the worst work of this edition of the General Assembly, but this one would be near the top.

Lawmakers apparently bowed to industry influence and eliminated the state’s Penalty Review Committee. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill, of course, so he shares responsibility.

The committee since 1989 has held public hearings and proposed fines and other penalties against nursing homes and assisted-living centers that violate state regulations. The new law tucks the responsibility for watching the homes under the state Department of Health and Human Services, which is run by gubernatorial appointees and is subject to pressure from lawmakers. The department also can avoid some aspects of public disclosure. As North Carolina Health News reported, advocates for the elderly are aghast at this maneuver.

Sharon Wilder, the state ombudsman for long-term care residents for 18 years until her retirement, said, “When facilities are not even meeting minimum standards and people are dying, sometimes horrible deaths, there needs to be a public airing. I was just shocked about it and feel really badly about it for the long-term care residents and their families.”

Online:

http://www.newsobserver.com

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July 8

The Times-News of Hendersonville on coal ash spill cleanup:

When the N.C. Legislature adjourned last week, it was no surprise that lawmakers gave Duke Energy a pass on having to fully clean up coal ash lagoons across the state. The glare of publicity that followed the massive 2014 coal ash spill has long faded, eclipsed by other news such as the transgender bathroom law debacle and North Carolina’s status as a swing state in the presidential race.

Yet the problem of toxic coal ash promises to outlive those headlines.

It took more than 50 years for the state to accumulate the 108 million tons of toxic ash stored in 32 open pits at 14 Duke Energy sites across the state. The question before the public now is whether the bill the General Assembly approved last week will be adequate to clean up the mess.

The bill will allow Duke to cap half of its coal ponds with the sludge in place instead of excavating and moving it to lined storage pits as originally required. It also calls for neighbors of coal-fired powered plants with leaking coal ash ponds to be connected to clean water supplies by fall 2018, and requires Duke to build three facilities to process coal ash into concrete or other reuse.

N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, a veteran environmental advocate, worked with Senate leadership to craft the legislation but ended up voting against it.

“The bill was good in that it provided water to households adjoining the coal ash basins and had a strong provision dealing with beneficial reuse of coal ash,” McGrady said in his constituent newsletter. “The bill was unsatisfactory, in my opinion, because it will result in all of the largest coal ash basins being classified as low risk and likely capped in the place. Having no confidence in the Department of Environment Quality, I voted against the bill, although it passed by a vote of 82-32.”

McGrady helped craft an earlier version that would have re-established an independent commission to oversee disposal of coal ash. That was dropped from the final bill because legislators did not want another legal showdown with Gov. Pat McCrory, who had fought in court against a legislative panel.

Allowing Duke to cap coal lagoons in place and pipe clean drinking water to neighbors is sure to be less expensive than excavating all 32 lagoons. The nation’s largest utility had estimated that would cost up to $10 billion and wants to pass those costs on to ratepayers.

The Department of Environmental Quality in May determined that all coal ash ponds should be excavated by 2024 to comply the state’s 2014 coal ash law, passed after a catastrophic coal sludge spill into the Dan River. Both the bureaucrats and Duke pushed to change the law to allow for less costly options.

With a governor who worked 28 years at Duke and a legislature ready to do its bidding, it will be up to advocates and the public to ensure that the cleanup protects the environment and public health.

Online:

http://www.blueridgenow.com

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July 11

The Winston-Salem Journal on the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte:

The recent death of a teenager from a brain infection that was in all likelihood contracted at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte was tragic. Gov. Pat McCrory is right to press for more oversight of the center.

The Charlotte Observer reported recently that the center is the only one of three similar parks that is not regulated to help prevent waterborne illnesses.

“I think there needs to be a total re-examination of classifying this type of park similar to a swimming pool, where there’s ongoing testing,” McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, told the Observer.

Legislators are working on an amendment aimed at more regulation.

Lauren Seitz, an 18-year-old from Westerville, Ohio, died on June 19 from a rare but deadly amoebic infection that was likely contracted during her church group’s visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte on June 8, The Charlotte Observer reported. Seitz was in a raft that overturned, the paper reported, and infections can happen when water goes up the nose.

Investigators don’t know for certain that Seitz contracted the amoeba at the center, but since they’ve been unable to identify any other circumstances that could have led to the infection, it’s a logical hypothesis.

Mecklenburg County Health Department Director Marcus Plescia told the Observer that “any time you go into a lake or pond, there are things in the water that can cause illnesses.”

That’s true. But officials must do all they can to ensure that the center’s water is clean and prevent another illness or death.

The whitewater center told the Observer that it disinfects its water with an ultraviolet radiation. The center also uses a disc filtration system and conducts water quality tests weekly.

But the amoeba is elusive. It could be absent during a testing period, then appear from soil runoff.

McCrory told the Observer that there should be a total re-examination of how facilities like the whitewater center are handled in comparison with swimming pools. “My heart sinks for the young girl that lost her life and think there could be some lessons learned based upon the bacteria that was found,” McCrory told the Observer.

He said he plans to talk more with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James told the Observer that it is likely that the county will adopt rules for the center similar to those for public pools. State Sen. Joel Ford, a Democrat from Mecklenburg, offered to help craft new state legislation in a prepared statement. “It is paramount that we have in place measures to monitor water quality and ensure that patrons have a safe and healthy environment,” he said.

The center has temporarily suspended rafting and kayaking, but all other activities are open for operation, the Observer reported.

More regulation is needed to return the public’s trust in the safety of the popular outdoor center and to prevent future tragedies. We hope the governor will vigorously follow through on this crucial issue.

Online:

http://www.journalnow.com

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