AP NEWS

Tennessee editorial roundup

June 12, 2019

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

June 12

The Johnson City Press on robocalls:

Ever get a call from your own phone number? It happens, thanks to the number spoofing technology spammers and scammers use to make robocalls.

More often, you’ll receive a call seemingly from your own area code. Might it be your doctor’s office? Your bank? Your sister’s new number? Even legitimate businesses — satellite radio for example — use the local number trick in hopes you’ll answer.

Since caller ID is not universal, you never know who might be on the other end. So you answer, only to receive another message about saving on your high-interest credit cards, buying an extended warranty or supporting who claim to be local volunteer firefighters.

Frustrated, you press 1 when prompted and demand to be taken off the call list. Click. A few hours or a few days later, another call comes from another local number. Protest. Click.

How many times have you repeated this maddening routine? Federal and state “do not call lists” are useless against these unscrupulous, victimizing callers. These automated campaigns are capable of sending out millions of calls in a single day.

Some relief could be on its way. After a storm of complaints from the public, the Federal Communication Commission earlier this month finally voted 5-0 to allow phone carriers to identify the numbers and block the calls by default. Carriers have until the end of the year to develop the technology.

It can’t come soon enough. The annoyance alone is enough to force the issue, and blocking is a step in the right direction.

But consumers should demand more of regulators. Beyond the pestering nature, these calls are predatory. Unsuspecting consumers may be bilked into buying useless services and providing credit card numbers and other personal information that could lead to identity theft.

The FCC already prohibits anyone from making robocalls to cell phone numbers without the recipients’ prior consent. The FCC allows non-commercial robocalls to landlines, but they must provide two things: pre-recorded messages to identify the caller and a telephone number or address where the caller can be reached. The FCC cracked down on some extended warranty scammers 10 years ago, as have some states.

So why do we get the calls at all? Why are spammers still in business? The federal government must step up its efforts to end caller ID spoofing and to prosecute people and companies who make automate commercial calls. Furthermore, political campaigns, pollsters and charitable organizations really have no business intruding with random robocalling either, even to landlines. The practice should be banned altogether.

In the meantime, you can do your part. The FCC recommends hanging up on illegal robocalls and protecting yourself with technology like a call blocking app. Allowing a number you don’t recognize to roll to voicemail is another good strategy. If it’s truly an important call intended specifically for you, the caller will leave a message.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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June 4

The Kingsport Times-News on the merger of two hospitals

The plan to financially save the region’s two merged hospital systems appears to be working.

In a significant achievement that reinforces the necessity of merging the Wellmont and Mountain States health systems, Ballad Health has turned a decade of losses into gains. For the nine months (that) ended Dec. 31, 2018, Ballad said operating cash flow improved to $158.7 million from $141.4 million in the prior year, a 12.2% improvement. For the past quarter, operating and total cash flow increased and revenue rose by 1.4%, while expenses decreased by 0.2%.

Merging major organizations with thousands of employees that operate on thin — or no — profits with highly complex balance sheets is extremely hard work. It involves taking stock of huge physical plants and other resources, identifying strengths and weaknesses, factoring in manpower allocation, and developing an operating plan that slowly but steadfastly turns failure into success. Often, there are unseen stumbling blocks.

“We know that in order to fulfill the vision of Ballad Health — to truly become a health improvement organization for our region — we must be strong stewards of our resources, especially given the headwinds all providers are facing,” Alan Levine, Ballad Health chairman, president and CEO, said in a news release. “We are pleased by the strong financial performance improvements over the past three quarters and will strive to continue to improve.”

This accomplishment didn’t come easy. Ballad said its bottom line improved due to “exceptional expense management” including a 31.3% reduction in the use of contract labor and improvements in productivity and focused supply cost management.

On the other hand, that opened capital to reinforce professional staff including a recently announced $10 million investment in increasing direct care nursing staff and nursing support salaries.

“Ballad Health’s investment into the region’s labor force continues to be powerful, with Ballad Health expected to spend more than $1 billion on the region’s labor force in the fiscal year,” the company said. “These improvements are in spite of challenges both reflective of what all providers are facing and also some that are unique to Ballad Health and the region.”

The road ahead will be rocky and not an easy one to navigate. Ballad identified continuing challenges as including declining volumes in certain services, a decline in total surgeries, and declining inpatient and hospital utilization rates, a phenomenon being experienced throughout rural America. The decline in admissions in Ballad Health’s service area is driven in part by efforts by Ballad Health and area physicians to utilize lower-cost alternatives to hospital stays as appropriate.

This reduction, combined with no population growth, reduces the overall volumes. As Levine puts it, Ballad faces “a rapidly changing landscape where our financial success is no longer judged solely by volume, but increasingly how we care for fewer people more efficiently, effectively and with better outcomes.”

But Ballad’s plan for improved financial performance is to be proactive with continued investment in new equipment, diagnostic technology, information technology and building improvements. Ballad Health expects to spend more than $172 million on capital improvements in the current fiscal year, which ends June (30).

Ballad still has a lot of work to do and a long way to go, but that it could this quickly report a financial turnaround is great news for the region and demonstrates a well-structured plan.

Online: http://www.timesnews.net/

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