AP NEWS

Editorials from around Oregon

November 28, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Eugene Register-Guard, Nov. 26, on Eugene not being Oregon’s most hateful city:

The FBI’s annual report on hate crimes is a necessity, especially in troubled times like today, but officials need to improve the collection of data to provide a more accurate and useful reflection of where and how often incidents occur.

The flaws in the current reporting system are readily apparent in the 2017 report, issued earlier this month. Eugene is listed as having had 72 reported hate crimes last year — nearly half of the 146 incidents for all of Oregon. While it’s possible Eugene has a problem worse than the rest of the state, it seems unlikely the city outpaces so many other communities.

The more likely explanation for disproportionate numbers is the way that hate crimes are reported to the FBI. It’s a self-reporting system, and Eugene — with a very active partnership between law enforcement and the Office of Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement — is well ahead of many communities in Oregon and elsewhere in documenting incidents.

Katie Babits, the office’s human rights and equity analyst, says community outreach and coordination with the police department have helped capture more data on the number of hate crimes in Eugene than in the past. In 2017, for instance, the police began to document graffiti and acts of vandalism themselves rather than rely only on reports filed by citizens.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, part of the University of California at San Bernardino, has noted previously that cities with a higher per capita number of incidents tend to have superior reporting practices. That’s clearly at play in Oregon. Portland, with about four times the population of Eugene, had 18 reported hate crimes last year, roughly four times fewer than Eugene. Meanwhile, Eugene’s neighbors in Springfield, reported only one hate crime.

By no means do the flaws in the FBI report undermine the overall value of the information or the significance of Eugene’s hate crime problem. City officials say they recorded 87 hate and bias crimes last year, up from 44 the previous year, in part because of changes in city’s better collection of data.

Whether it’s 72 or 87, the true number is likely even higher. As Babits points out, FBI research shows only 25 to 42 percent of hate crimes are ever reported. As a nation and as a community, we must do better. Only if we know when and where incidents occur and the nature of them can we respond.

Other cities in Oregon and around the country need to take hate and bias crimes as seriously as Eugene and dedicate more resources to inviting reports and documenting crimes correctly. Lawmakers in Oregon also should make their voices heard and enlist state assistance.

Hate crimes are on the rise nationally, and gathering accurate statistics is an important part of formulating an effective response. We suffer as a nation, a state and a community when we do not track - and answer - acts of hate and bias committed against people simply because of who they are.

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The Oregonian/OregonLive, Nov. 25, on setting aside our differences to help fellow Oregonians:

It’s easy to rattle off the many issues on which Oregonians are split these days, locked down on either side pointing fingers and accusing the other of moral corruption.

The fodder for division is great. The recent upheaval with the general election and Oregonians’ choices for governor. Our sanctuary status. The homeless crisis playing out across the state. Oregon’s massively underfunded public pension system. Mayor Ted Wheeler’s strategy to address the regular rallies and counter protests in downtown Portland. Freedom of speech. Scooters.

The list goes on and on. And with the closing of some minds, we see a deepening of trenches and a shaming of those who hold viewpoints that don’t fall in line.

Steve Allison of Hillsboro wrote about his feelings from one perspective in a letter to the editor earlier this month: “Following this recent election, I find myself totally alienated from my fellow Oregonians. Yes, I feel that I am an Oregonian having lived here for 42 years.

“I am a conservative who believes in obeying the law, supporting the constitution of the United States as written, secure borders, true freedom of speech and honest debate, fiscal responsibility and holding our politicians responsible to work on our behalf. Beliefs I find not held in Oregon. Despite the upheaval of the recent general election and the signs of division we see every day, so many Oregonians are searching for ways to come together.”

Other Oregonians, like Lynn McClenahan of Southwest Portland, have shared from the other side, and offered up ways they’re trying to get by. “I don’t expect to change someone’s mind. I want to respect others’ beliefs — unless they encourage harmful actions — and I want to be respected by others for my beliefs. This is easier said than done, and I know I need help with this.”

“I recently attended a workshop facilitated by Better Angels volunteers called ‘Talking across the political divide,’” she wrote. “It provided practical tools for blue and red individuals to reduce political polarization -- but more than that, it gave me hope.”

In today’s Opinion section, Tom Bowerman and Jackman Wilson of Eugene share a commentary piece, “Finding common ground in a not-so-divided Oregon,” in which they argue that a majority of Oregonians aren’t as fractured as we may feel. At least when it comes to caring for our environment and creating a more equitable health care system. That’s reassuring.

“The overall picture is one of great complexity,” they write. “Oregonians see the world in full color, not just red and blue. Deep disagreements do exist, but not nearly so much as agreement.”

And, as they do every year, readers of any political stripe can support local programs that will help Oregonians in need access health care, food, educational programs and a variety of other local services through The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Season of Sharing.

The annual campaign, which launched last week, allows readers to donate to a number of local social service agencies through our 501(c)(3) nonprofit with an understanding of exactly how their dollars will help.

For instance, Oregonians may give $75 to Neighborhood House through Season of Sharing and help to provide 10 rides to medical appointments and shopping trips for seniors who are in need. The Neighborhood House, which was founded more than 100 years ago by the National Council of Jewish Women, offers programs across the city to welcome and support new immigrants to the area during their difficult early transition. A $25 donation can provide 100 pounds of healthy food through the nonprofit’s emergency food box program.

Or readers may give $10 The Shadow Project and provide sensory tools that will help a student with dyslexia focus while they are learning to read. The Portland nonprofit organizes two dozen volunteers who mentor nearly 1,600 kids in schools across the metro area. A $50 donation can put helpful technology into the hands of a child who is struggling to understand the printed word.

So far, 2018 has been a difficult year. Many of us have found it hard to escape local and national politics and the fear, frustration and powerlessness that often follow. End the year on a higher note, providing hope and support to local groups that work hard every day to help fellow Oregonians, no matter their political views.

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Medford Mail Tribune, Nov. 25, on state mismanagement hurting patients:

More than a year after Gov. Kate Brown fired its director, the Oregon Health Authority still can’t seem to avoid controversy and questions about its ability to manage the state’s massive Medicaid program. The OHA’s most recent scandal involves severely mentally ill patients kicked out of locked facilities at the recommendation of an outside contractor hired to determine the patients’ eligibility for Medicaid benefits.

In a lengthy investigative report, The Oregonian found that in at least three cases, vulnerable patients were injured after they were discharged from locked facilities over the objections of care providers that they were not capable of managing their own affairs. In many cases, patients were told they no longer qualified for care, but the state had no place else to send them, resulting in extra charges to leave them in place.

The contractor, Kepro, was instructed to review patients’ eligibility for care with the goal of reducing the average length of stay in locked residential facilities. The federal Justice Department also was pressing the state to make sure more mentally ill people were living in community settings.

Kepro’s contract says the more people the company disqualifies from Medicaid eligibility, the more money it can make — $1,000 extra per person disqualified, up to $10,000 a month. But OHA director Patrick Allen insists the incentive language isn’t resulting in bad decisions denying care.

Still, The Oregonian’s reporting found Kepro was moving faster to deny coverage than OHA’s ability to keep up, prompting Allen to tell his staff to instruct Kepro to slow down its work. That instruction apparently never got to Kepro; the agency can’t say why.

Other things the agency can’t say: It doesn’t know why the contract with Kepro calls for cutting the average length of stay in locked facilities by 64 percent rather than the 20 percent figure the state and the Justice Department had agreed on. And it doesn’t know how many of the hundreds of people Kepro recommended for removal from locked facilities ended up hospitalized, homeless or dead.

The specific cases in the newspaper’s report are chilling. They include a 54-year-old woman with severe schizophrenia who was moved out of a locked facility over the objections of her care providers. She walked away from the unsecured facility she moved to, went missing for a week and was found catatonic and suffering from exposure. Another schizophrenic patient went off his medication and drank bleach within weeks of being moved from a locked facility into an apartment. A professional guardian told the newspaper that six of her clients wound up in a higher level of care after Kepro disqualified them; one is in jail on assault charges.

Allen maintains the overall data show a drop in hospitalizations after discharge from a locked facility, from 9 percent before Kepro’s contract started to 6 percent the next year.

But overall performance data aren’t much comfort to the families of patients who suffered because they were discharged when they should not have been. Human beings don’t fit neatly into statistical pigeonholes. It’s the Oregon Health Authority’s responsibility to manage the state’s Medicaid program as efficiently as possible, but also to protect the vulnerable people who receive care.

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