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Tennessee editorial roundup

February 21, 2018

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Feb. 20

Bristol Herald Courier on two health systems merging and bills that would keep certain information from public record:

Based on our poll results on the subject, the official rollout of Ballad Health — the merger between Wellmont and Mountain States Health Alliance — raised concerns about a monopoly and the impact on health care costs from an overwhelming majority of readers.

Even the laborious process to gain the approval of the Tennessee and Virginia departments of health obviously did little to soothe skeptics. Now, two bills in Tennessee that would hide some information from public view might aggravate those worries — or at least raise eyebrows in the more optimistic.

Both SB 2048 and HB 2020 propose similar terms for the merger, which seek to disqualify or protect (depending on one’s view) certain bits of information from public record in Tennessee. Business plans, financial audits, and agreements with physicians, employees and vendors are some of the documents that would be kept from the public but made available to the state to enforce the agreed-on provisions of the certificate of public advantage, or COPA, that allowed the merger.

Although some provisions that would “unnecessarily impair competition,” as both bills express, make sense to preserve — marketing and strategic plans, for example — others should raise interest from both Northeast Tennesseans and Southwestern Virginians.

Some materials proposed for confidentiality might hinder the quality of some patients’ health care decisions. Without access to information about services or facilities, the public becomes stripped of the ability to make customized, informed decisions, whether as current or prospective patients.

Take the following provisions from both bills, for instance:

. Additions and deletions of services: This includes different types health care available, such as orthopedic, cardiovascular/heart and emergency medicine. Restricting changes in those services from the public record means those changes — such as altered or eliminated services — won’t need to be communicated to the public. Current patients would likely be notified by email or letter, but the general public wouldn’t be informed. Because the availability of those services impacts the community, residents have a right to know about changes.

. Facility closures or repurposing: While the COPA necessitates that Ballad inform the state about any facility closures, the public would be lawfully excluded from notification, per the proposed bills. Clearly, the decision to close a hospital should be public information, especially considering the already limited access to health care in some parts of Virginia.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, who is sponsoring SB 2048, previously noted that the new health system is subject to more requirements for reporting than other privately held systems in the state, and his bill simply aims to maintain Ballad’s competitive ability.

But it’s the nature of this merger and the demographic conditions and needs that grant it exceptions from normal expectations. Ultimately, compliance with both Virginia and Tennessee’s conditions for operation combine transparency and accountability, not simply at the state level but at the individual level, too.

Consider also what the sequence of events could imply for Ballad: Both states’ health commissioners set forth demands for proceeding with the merger, which both Wellmont and MSHA agreed to. Weeks later, legislation is introduced that would exempt Ballad from some of those demands.

For a business venture with patchy public support from the start, a move like this jeopardizes the perceived integrity of the deal — and if our poll results are any representation of public opinion at large, both bills could sabotage the infant reputation of Ballad.

As before, we remain optimistic that the thorough approval process for the initiation of Ballad ensures the region’s benefits of the merger. Although the sponsors of these bills seek to create a more-palatable and business-friendly operation for Ballad, they’d also do well to consider what the public needs to know to make informed, personalized health care decisions within Ballad’s structure, now and in the future.

Online: http://www.heraldcourier.com/

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Feb. 17

Cleveland Daily Banner on church security amid shootings in South Carolina and Texas:

It is sad that church security and parishioner safety have come to this, but a keynote speaker at the recent training forum at Waterville Baptist Church spoke of the need by quoting the Scriptures.

Dewey Woody, a Bradley County son and special agent with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, chose two passages from the Bible to defend the cause of protecting our houses of worship.

He read from each in his opening remarks at the Friday evening seminar attended by more than 200 pastors, associate pastors, elders and members of multiple congregations in Cleveland and Bradley County, as well as the surrounding area.

They include:

. Ezekiel 44:14: “And I will appoint them to guard the temple for all the work that is to be done in it.”

. Ezekiel 44:15: “The Lord said to me, ’Son of man, look carefully, listen closely and give attention to everything. I tell you concerning all the regulations and instructions regarding the temple of the Lord. Give attention to the entrance to the temple and all the exits of the sanctuary.”

In today’s words, it means protecting our houses of prayer — and all within — is as important as the very concept of freedom of religion. It also means such safeguards have been in place for centuries, and not just during these recent days of tragedy.

From Woody’s perspective, “Guards have been appointed to guard the temple since man has been in existence.” That which has changed has been the type of weaponry used, and the brand of violence.

Regardless of the size of congregation — from a tiny neighborhood assembly to one of our community’s largest like First Baptist or North Cleveland Church of God — members and visitors must feel secure.

Such security, Woody explains, is provided best by a multi-layered safety system.

For instance — and yes, it sounds extreme but remember those Ezekiel passages — some members can be armed for Sunday services. Likewise, pastors, deacons, door greeters and ushers, among others, can be trained to keep a watchful eye for anything, or anyone, out of the ordinary.

Another means for layered protection is to enlist the help of a medical professional who is a member of the congregation, and who could be added to a church’s safety team.

Woody also spoke to the need for safeguarding all facets of operations within a church. It’s not just a matter of providing layered security for Sunday services, but all church functions: Wednesday night services, Bible studies, dinners, homecoming services on the ground, concerts, trunk-or-treats, weddings and funerals, as well as others.

Indeed, these are trying days and dangerous nights.

What used to be sacred is no longer so.

What once was a place of sanctity and safe refuge must now be seen as a potential target for the criminally insane.

What has always been accepted as a defensible fortress against evil now feels the threat of the evil of wrongdoers.

What our grandparents understood to be holy is now a hunting ground for those who bear arms against others, not because of who they are but for what they represent.

It is convenient to call atrocities like the murders in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as an attack on Christianity. A similar assault on Wednesday night parishioners in Charleston, S.C., could also stand as war by those who are bad against those are good.

Yet, not all such misdeeds are carried out because of faith, and faith alone. Some acts — in fact, many — are premeditated by those afflicted by mental illness, and who still have unfettered access to guns.

It is a debate that has raged for years and for decades, and in times past. It is a debate that will continue for years and for decades, and well beyond.

Is it the gun that kills people? Is it people who kill people? Is it the proliferation of guns or is it the ability for anybody to buy a gun from anyone . whether legitimately in a responsible gun store, on the street or on the black market?

Here’s another scenario: Theft. Guns that are owned by responsible homeowners are sometimes stolen by burglars and thieves. In this circumstance, the argument could be made it is guns who kill people . because they are in the hands of the wrong people.

Regardless of who is doing the shooting and the type of gun that is used, the least-deserving victims — our churches — are now becoming the targets. It is for this reason — using the violence in Charleston, S.C. and Sutherland Springs, Texas, as our inspiration — that we must find ways to protect the heart of our moral conscience.

The ongoing series of church security sessions in our community is a good start. The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office is to be commended for making them possible.

Yet, the final line of defense must lie with the churches themselves. They must find ways to protect their flocks.

Until this is done, and until church leaders recognize this despicable threat is real, the safety of their parishioners will hang in the balance.

Few could have imagined that society could devolve into this. But it has.

For this reason, our houses of worship must rise in their own defense . with a Bible in one hand, and a willingness to act in the other.

Similar security sessions are scheduled for March 9, April 9 and April 30.

We urge our churches to be represented.

Online: http://clevelandbanner.com/

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Feb. 18

Johnson City Press on adding highway lanes:

We were happy to see work completed in 2015 to improve Exit 13 at the Interstate 26/Tenn. Highway 75 interchange in Gray. It took Johnson City and Washington County officials many years of prodding to get the $14 million Gray interchange project approved by the state officials in Nashville.

And we were pleased earlier this month to hear state legislators promise the long-awaited diamond interchange at Exit 17 in Boones Creek will be completed over the next 18 months, although it’s troubling to learn that no state dollars have yet been appropriated for $12.3 million project.

Meanwhile, work is winding down on a $3.6 million project to improve two I-26 interchanges in Johnson City. Crews are currently working to connect the on-ramp from Exit 23 — Main Street — eastbound on I-26 to the Exit 24 off-ramp at University Parkway.

Now is the time for the state to consider adding lanes to I-26 through Johnson City. Time and time again, city leaders have asked the state to add as many as four new lanes in some sections of I-26. TDOT officials have said traffic counts show additional lanes are not needed. State and local officials have also estimated the project could cost as much as $200 million.

Those traffic counts could be outdated. TDOT needs to do a comprehensive study of the traffic flow on I-26 during rush hour. And there are things other than reducing congestion that should be examined when talking about adding lanes to the interstate.

Would adding lanes improve safety? Would adding a dedicated high occupancy vehicle lane encourage more car-pooling in the area?

Again, these are all questions state officials could answer if they do an updated traffic study of I-26 that goes beyond a simple traffic count.

TDOT has tried to be responsive to calls from Johnson City leaders to do more to improve safety on I-26. In 2009, TDOT began installing longitudinal cable barriers along both sides of the median of I-26 through Washington County. These flexible cable barriers help prevent cars from crossing over and colliding with oncoming traffic.

Cable barriers are less costly than the concrete walls and guardrails that Johnson City officials have asked TDOT to install along sections of I-26. Appropriate safety barriers are needed to prevent head-on crashes along narrow sections of the interstate that wind through the city.

While the cable barriers are welcomed, and do provide some help, they must be properly maintained. Too often, it is months before damaged sections of the cable barrier are repaired.

Online: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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