Tennessee editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Johnson City Press says the governor’s race should not play second fiddle to the Senate race:
With all the attention focused on Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race, voters easily could let interest wane in the state’s other essential contest.
President Donald Trump’s visit to Johnson City specifically was designed to deliver Northeast Tennessee to Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn in her tight race with former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. The outcome’s national implication in the balance of power in the Senate warrants voters’ careful consideration.
Arguably, the gubernatorial race between Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee, however, means more to Tennessee residents than the higher profile Senate competition. Tennessee’s next governor will be challenged with furthering the current administration’s progress in economic development and education while tackling some major barriers to the state’s success.
Chief among those concerns are the solvency of Tennessee’s rural and community hospitals and access to health care. Dean and Lee have decidedly different takes on how to cope with those demands, specifically whether Tennessee should accept Medicaid expansion, and voters will have to ascertain which of the two is better equipped to find solutions.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s successor also will inherit a state that continues to lag behind in workforce development, educational achievement and correlating job opportunities. The new governor will be faced with improving our failing infrastructure in roads and bridges, reforming the state’s judicial and correctional policies to curb recidivism, and pulling Tennessee out of the epicenter of the opioid addiction crisis.
These are not light challenges, and voters cannot treat the governor’s race as second fiddle.
The Commercial Appeal asks why the Memphis VA Medical Center is still rated among the worst:
There are 146 government-run veterans’ hospitals in America, land of the free and home of millions of brave and wounded warriors.
Only five of those hospitals have received the system’s lowest rating (one-star) three years in a row.
The Memphis VA Medical Center is one of the failing five.
That despite the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announcement in January that it was taking “an aggressive new approach to produce rapid improvements at VA’s low-performing medical facilities nationwide.”
That despite the fact that the chairman of the powerful U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee is Phil Roe, Republican from Tennessee, a physician and Army veteran.
That despite the hiring 18 months ago of Memphis VA Medical Director David K. Dunning, a Memphis-born 30-year Amy veteran.
That despite the recent progress made by VA medical centers in Nashville and Murfreesboro, which were upgraded this year from one-star to two-star ratings.
The VA began releasing its annual quality ratings (1-5 stars) to the public in 2016 — and only after USA TODAY obtained and published them for the first time in 2016. The VA then committed to posting them annually.
The only highly rated (four stars) VA medical center in the state of Tennessee happens to be in Johnson City, where Roe lives, the area he represents in Congress and the city he led as mayor.
“As the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Congressman representing West Tennessee veterans who seek care at the Memphis VA Medical Center, we are concerned and outraged by the recent abysmal failures at the Memphis facility,” Roe and U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Memphis wrote in a joint guest column published in this newspaper more than a year ago.
“We are encouraged to see swift action from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to get the Memphis facility on track — and will continue to closely monitor progress.”
Perhaps the words “swift” and “progress” mean something different at the federal government level.
The newest VA ratings show that the Memphis facility has made “small improvements,” but it remains one of the most persistently troubled facilities in the system.
VA records show that Memphis received its low rating because of uncommonly high levels of patient death and medical complications, including bloodstream infections and staph infections.
When it comes to uncommonly high levels of patient death and medical complications, “small improvements” aren’t swift enough or big enough.
Perhaps it’s time our wounded warriors to take a knee — and pray for the high-quality health care they all deserve and have earned, and that we all have promised.
As Roe and Kustoff stated in this newspaper a year ago: “The men and women who put on a uniform and fought for this country made a promise to serve; a promise to defend the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. In return, this country made a promise to care for the men and women who have borne the battle and to provide for their families.”
Why hasn’t the President or Congress done more to “produce rapid improvements” at the Memphis VA Medical Center?
Why aren’t all VA medical centers five-star facilities?
Why aren’t our military veterans receiving the very best quality health care everywhere from Johnson City to Memphis, from sea to shining sea?
Bristol Herald Courier on the importance of community journalism:
In 2009 an in-depth newspaper investigation revealed a state-sanctioned “secret” escrow account involving gas royalties for property owners in Southwest Virginia. Reporting about this hidden cache of funds resulted in a federal class-action lawsuit, and later legislation passed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, resulting in millions of dollars being distributed to deserving land owners in our region.
Another investigation this past year exposed the horrible consequences associated with the opioid crisis and the specific impacts on babies, the most vulnerable among us. This extraordinary series led to heightened awareness and collaborative work to seek solutions, including the introduction of legislation in both Tennessee and Virginia.
These are just two examples from one community newspaper, the Bristol Herald Courier, documenting and exposing information citizens need to know.
But it’s not just the investigative pieces that seek to right a wrong or to educate. Community journalism chronicles everyday news events, providing a record of our community’s history. Community journalism is reporting about crime, taxes, education, infrastructure and the achievements of children and adults. It’s reporting and telling stories about people, the folks we stand beside in line at the grocery store and sit beside at church.
Our founding fathers determined more than 200 years ago that for a democracy to function as they intended, there had to be a means to keep tabs on our governments — local, state and federal. The First Amendment was adopted to insure that our governments couldn’t hinder or hide our right to know or to silence differing opinions that might not agree with those in power.
The purpose of journalism is to keep citizens informed. It exists to spread information and knowledge and to offer viewpoints from different perspectives, and to provide the catalyst for people in a democracy to be involved in their governments.
Journalism matters because our democracy matters. Without journalism there would be no democracy. The two are inseparable.