Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on Department of Children's Services:
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services and its commissioner, Kate O'Day, have been under fire the past few weeks after complaints that the department is not properly intervening in cases where children might be at risk and for violating a state law that requires the agency to report to lawmakers each death of a child under investigation.
The situation has not attracted much attention on this side of the state, but it raises important questions about accountability and transparency in protecting the safety of children in state custody. There is no room for lapses in these standards.
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The heightened scrutiny came after news reports that DCS said 10 infants whose cases were under active investigation were among 31 deaths of children in 2012 investigated by the department. Among the deaths, according to the reports, were 17 children whose care had been investigated by DCS. Four children who were in state custody have died this year.
Gov. Bill Haslam called the 31 deaths distressing, but said there was no immediate evidence of wrongdoing by DCS. O'Day, meanwhile, said she is reviewing how severe child abuse cases are being handled and that she will work closer with child advocacy centers across the state to make sure severely abused children are not being overlooked by the state. That is a good start, but the public has to wonder why this has not been the norm.
Child abuse is a serious problem in this state and nationally. No child deserves to suffer injury or death at the hands of an abusive or negligent adult. DCS is there to protect at-risk children, to place them in homes where they will find nurturing and safety. But the agency's job doesn't stop there. There must be sufficient follow-up to make sure those children are receiving proper care and to intervene when there are signs that children's safety and welfare appear to be in jeopardy.
It is incumbent upon the governor and the General Assembly, in this era of state budget cuts, to make sure DCS has the staff to that.
And, O'Day needs to impress upon her staff the importance of transparency and proper reporting. It is easy to lose the trust and confidence of legislators and the public if the department nourishes a perception that DCS operates behind a veil of secrecy.
Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel on Great Smoky Mountains National Park funding:
Americans are nearly unanimous in their support for national parks, but the bitter political divisions in other realms of public policy could wind up gutting the National Park System, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park likely won't be spared.
The threat to the Smokies and other units in the National Park System is growing acute as the country approaches the "fiscal cliff." Regardless of how the election turns out, Tennessee's congressional delegation must return to Washington ready to make the hard decisions to avert sequestration, which is the term for $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts automatically triggered in January if lawmakers don't pass a budget.
According to a survey conducted for the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Park Hospitality Association, 92 percent of respondents said funding for the national parks should be maintained or increased. The survey, conducted by polling organizations affiliated with both major parties, found agreement among an overwhelming majority of Republicans (88 percent) and Democrats (96 percent).
Sequestration threatens that funding. The Office of Management and Budget released a report last month stating that the National Park Service would see a cut to its operating budget of $183 million — 8.2 percent. The Park Service has not disclosed how it would wield the fiscal knife, but such deep cuts cannot help but affect every unit in the system, including the Smokies, which is the most-visited national park.
The National Parks Conservation Association has warned that sequestration could force the closure of more than 100 of the Park Service's 397 units, including national monuments, recreation areas, battlefields and parks. While the closure of less-visited units of the system might lessen the effect of the cuts to the Smokies, park operations could be crippled if the Park Service makes its cuts across the board. A loss of roughly $1.5 million from its budget of more than $18.7 million likely would mean program and personnel cuts, though park officials are mum on the possible ramifications. ...
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a strong advocate for the parks in general and the Smokies in particular, and the rest of the Tennessee delegation have the opportunity to use this issue to help forge a compromise. The future of the national parks, including our beloved Smokies, depends on it.
Chattanooga (Tenn.) Free Press on the meningitis scare:
Americans are understandably inclined to believe that the medicines prescribed for them are approved and provided under the safety regulations of the federal Food and Drug Administration. And in most instances, that's true. But as the current multistate outbreak of 105 meningitis cases and eight deaths (half of the latter in Tennessee) linked to spinal epidural injections shows, that's not always the case. The problem appears to lie with the growth of so-called compounding companies that do not fall under FDA oversight.
State-regulated pharmacies are allowed to create, or compound, specialty medicines to fill local physicians' prescriptions for patients' special needs. Given the supply-and-demand economics that tilt pharmaceutical plants toward high-volume production, however, some of these local compounding operations in recent years have apparently assumed the role of small manufacturing plants for specialty drugs. They've filled a niche market that FDA-regulated drug makers have either neglected, abandoned or not fully served. ...
This is apparently what happened with the injectable steroid methylprednisolone, which may be mixed with a numbing agent and/or a preservative, like alcohol. Spinal neurologists use the drug to treat severe pain emanating from inflamed nerves. It's especially noted for its treatment of pain of the sciatic nerve caused by pressure from injured or deteriorating vertebrae and discs. In fact, some 5 million Americans — half of them Medicare recipients — received such lumbar injections in 2011.
New England Compounding, a Massachusetts operation and one of the nation's larger compounding companies, is now suspected of distributing batches of the drug since mid-May that were contaminated by bacterial fungi, which reportedly caused the current outbreak of non-communicable but potentially crippling or lethal meningitis. ...
The investigation of the meningitis outbreak isn't yet complete. But what is already known is troubling enough. Compounding operations that establish manufacturing facilities of scale and range that enable them to compete with FDA-regulated pharmaceutical companies should fall under FDA oversight. Congress should ensure that that happens, and free-market critics of government regulation should support the use of FDA rules in the interest of safety for patients who rely on reasonable standards to protect their health and lives.