West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Inter-Mountain on what’s causing a delay in West Virginia’s medical marijuana law:
It may seem strange that the primary obstacle in implementing West Virginia’s medicinal marijuana law is not the health care aspect of the matter but, rather, banking. But, as an Associated Press story a few days ago noted, that is the case.
State officials believe they may have found a way to get around federal laws that prohibit financial institutions from working with marijuana producers and sellers. It may require several months to get the banking solution in place.
Legislators approved medicinal marijuana in 2017, with the goal of having businesses in place by July 1. That did not happen — and state officials say it may take another two years to get all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in place.
Among them are rules for patients seeking medicinal marijuana (actually, the active chemical ingredient, not the smokable plant). And, rules for producers and retailers must be established.
While all this is going on, West Virginians who think their health could be improved by medicinal marijuana will wait impatiently. Their frustration is understandable.
But, as we have suggested previously, getting the system right — or as much so as possible — is of critical importance. Especially when it comes to health and safety concerns, including those of law enforcement, no corners should be cut.
The Herald-Dispatch on the potential effects of obesity in the Huntington area:
The Huntington area has made progress in the fight against obesity in the decade or so since The Associated Press gave the city the shameful title of America’s Fattest City, but more work remains.
The issue is a concern — or should be — because obesity heightens the risk of a variety of diseases and other health conditions that threatens people’s lives or harms their quality of life. Among the better known are heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
But there is another harmful consequence of obesity that is lurking out there, and there has been little public discussion of it.
Obesity can damage a person’s liver in ways that are often undetectable. The prevalence of obesity in the Tri-State has caused an uptick in liver disease that likely could get worse in the next decade, and the region’s hospitals are not prepared for it, says Dr. Uma Sundaram, vice dean of research and graduate education at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we have to do to take care of these patients,” Sundaram told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Bishop Nash in an article in Sunday’s newspaper.
Obesity is a major contributing factor in developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), or the buildup of excess fat around the liver, Sundaram said.
NAFLD is split into two conditions: non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL), which typically does not damage the liver; and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which includes liver inflammation (hepatitis) and can lead to life-threatening diseases such as cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
About 10% of otherwise-benign NAFL cases typically progress to NASH, neither of which have any overt symptoms.
Nationally, between 28% and 30% of adults are at risk for developing NAFLD, but the numbers could be worse in this area.
In a study of every patient through the doors of Marshall Health’s main campus, Cabell Huntington Hospital, and the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center (all adjacent buildings in Huntington), between 56% and 60% are at risk for NAFLD, Sundaram said. That’s more than twice the national average.
That represents more than 130,000 individuals in the Tri-State alone with the potential to develop NAFLD, and almost none of them are aware of it.
NASH is the primary reason for liver transplants, but West Virginia is not prepared to deal with what could come. West Virginia ranks last in access to the latest treatment for obesity and its complications, Sundaram said. No hospitals in the Mountain State perform liver transplants in part because they are so expensive. On average a transplant costs $600,000 to $1 million for the liver to be replaced and six months of aftercare.
Is this a valid concern, or an overblown doomsday scenario based on a faulty interpretation of statistics? Even the physicians at Cabell Huntington can’t say for certain that an epidemic of liver disease is only 10 years away, but it’s still something we need to be prepared for.
Preventing this possible increase in liver disease will require efforts on many fronts. Individually, people must be more careful of their diet and they must ensure they get enough exercise. Schools are working on teaching children better eating habits. State and federal governments and private insurers had better prepare for the health care costs they could incur if the worst-case scenario comes to pass.
The bottom line is the fight against obesity in the Huntington area is nowhere near over, and even harder and more expensive battles may be only a few years down the road.
The Register-Herald on the education reform debate during West Virginia’s legislative session:
While Senate President Mitch Carmichael and his Republican minions were spending inordinate time this legislative season on behalf of charter schools in the name of education reform, much policy was left off the table and many important voices were left out of the discussion.
The end result? Reform is still desperately needed. You don’t need to study the menu long to see the veritable smorgasbord of issues begging for attention in West Virginia. High on the priority list, however, should be education. What is also clear, disappointing and contrary to progress is that the legislative agenda in this particular matter is being guided by those with a profit motive — not those who have a genuine interest in shaping the education of our children.
In a front-page story in today’s Register-Herald, reporter Erin Beck captures important voices of recent high school graduates and those of education and economic policy experts — perspectives that were either not heard, dismissed or purposely muted during the school reform debate.
What we read in Beck’s story are two simple realities: Our kids would prefer to find and build a career right here at home. They love it here — the natural beauty, their families, their friends, the sense of community, all of it — and they want to stay. That comes through loud and clear.
So, too, does their disappointment that they may have to move out of state. Because they can read the handwriting on the wall, because they can dispassionately analyze the downward arc of the coal mining industry, they are not inclined to head underground. They are hoping for, asking for, economic diversity so that there might be jobs that play to their interests, that would contribute to local and state economies.
The second notion is this: Our political leaders are failing to marry economic and education policy, rather treating them as separate and distinct entities and failing to see their symbiotic relationship. As John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said in the story, “I fear that the discussion has really been focused too narrowly because of all this discussion of charter schools and not a discussion of all the other issues that we face that are complex.”
Mara Casey Tieken, associate professor of education at Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine, added this: “One thing that I think can be a real challenge with educational policy-making, and particularly rural education policy-making, is that it’s often made not in coordination with other sorts of policies.”
The Legislature came up short this year and that is disappointing. This most recent pass could have seriously and effectively inspired our collective thinking about how to improve education in West Virginia. To achieve that, legislative leaders must be willing to hear from educational experts, perhaps even drawing on them — and not greedy special interest — to help write a credible, workable plan.
Let’s be clear: Camichael et al. were not all that interested in improving educational outcomes as they claim. If they were, we all may have witnessed a robust conversation about how to structure a school curriculum that speaks to different interests, that establishes separate tracks of study, that serves those who are eyeing the trades, those who are passionate about the arts and those who have special aptitudes in STEM.
But Carmichael’s crew was simply doing the bidding of their benefactors — google Americans for Prosperity for the details — who are rather handy and flush with cash when the campaign season rolls around.
Of course, there are smarter ways forward without charter schools, and there is more serious and effective policy that could be and should be developed.
We applaud — again — legislators for providing funding for wrap around social services for so many of our children who come from homes turned upside down by the drug epidemic. The need for that piece of this omnibus legislation was immediate and necessary.
So, too, with the 5 percent teacher pay raise. That should help attract, in small measure, quality candidates into the profession and fill some of the 700 classroom positions where noncertified teachers are delivering lessons in subjects in which they are neither invested nor knowledgeable.
But charter schools? They fix nothing that’s broken. But we do know who they serve and it’s not the school children of this state.