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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

October 9, 2017

Des Moines Register. October 5, 2017

Do Iowa lawmakers think they will never grow old?

Perhaps greater than fear of death is fear of severe illness or disability for months or years before you expire. No one wants to rely on others for help bathing, dressing or taking medications. Yet avoiding an institution means finding someone to deliver that assistance in your home.

Who is going to provide it?

Nearly 70 percent of older seniors believe resources and services will be available in their communities to help them live independently, according to a 2012 AARP survey.

That is certainly optimistic, but likely not realistic. There are simply not enough caregivers to meet the needs of Iowans, a state with a higher percentage of seniors than most other states. And the shortage is expected to grow.

Unfortunately, lawmakers are making matters worse. The Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature cut funding for direct-care workforce programs from about $500,000 to $188,000 for the current fiscal year.

More than $100,000 was slashed for Iowa CareGivers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating a quality, caregiver workforce in this state. The money previously appropriated was used for mentoring programs, partnerships with community colleges, workforce training, stakeholder forums, public awareness and other efforts to recruit and retain direct-care workers.

“I think few realize the work Iowa CareGivers does behind the scenes to promote policies and changes that benefit workers, people served and employers. The solutions to these complex issues have been identified, tested, vetted and presented for a number of years, but rather than investing to bring to scale the efforts that hold promise, they are cut to the quick,” said Di Findley, executive director of Iowa CareGivers.

Do Iowa lawmakers think they will not grow old enough for their bodies to wear out? Do they think they could not be a victim of a sudden accident, stroke or debilitating illness? Why don’t they recognize the need to increase Iowa’s financial investment in attracting and retaining caregivers instead of slashing funding by more than half?

Have lawmakers talked to Iowans to learn how difficult it is to find experienced, reliable caregivers?

They could start with Michael Wolnerman of Des Moines. His mother, Jennie, was ravaged by Alzheimer’s for three years before she died nearly two years ago. The family sought in-home caregivers through services and word of mouth to provide around-the-clock assistance.

“Most people were great,” Wolnerman said. “Some weren’t. Sometimes they would just abandon her. They left her in the middle of the night. They wouldn’t show up. Not well-educated on how to care for a person.” One worker spilled soda and food she didn’t clean up.

Although this family had plenty of money, workers did not simply materialize. Finding and keeping them was an ongoing challenge.

Attracting and retaining workers requires raising awareness, valuing caregivers as much as other health professionals and paying them a decent wage.

Home-care workers earn a median hourly wage of $10.49 per hour. Because of inconsistent work hours, they typically earn $13,800 annually. About half of them rely on some form of public assistance. While they care for others, many do not have health insurance.

All of us can help. Parents and teachers can encourage young people to become certified nursing assistants. Early retirees should consider this line of work, recognizing it is as much a public service as a job. Health insurers, including Medicaid, could raise reimbursement rates for in-home services.

An adequate, trained workforce makes social and fiscal sense. Elderly and disabled people who want to remain in their homes cannot do so if there is no one to help care for them. Publicly financed Medicaid frequently pays the bills for more expensive nursing home stays.

Elected officials are willing to give away millions in tax incentives to attract new businesses. They have taken action to lure doctors to the state and encourage Iowans to pursue teaching as a profession. They must finally be willing to invest in the workers who literally do the heavy lifting in caring for the most vulnerable Iowans.

Iowa CareGivers was founded in 1992 by Di Findley. After working as a nurse’s aide for 13 years, she wanted to give a voice to direct-care workers. With her garage sale telephone and desktop computer, she started the organization in her basement. Twenty-five years later, she is more passionate than ever.

Yet state funding for the non-profit’s direct-care worker programs and services was cut from about $290,000 to $173,000 this fiscal year. The Iowa CareGivers’ Board and Direct Care Professional Leadership Council are equally passionate about these issues and are launching the Iowa CareGivers Endowment with contributions from two former members of the organization’s board. The fund will be managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and will support education, recognition, advocacy and research.

Contributions can be made online at iowacaregivers.org or a check can be mailed to Iowa CareGivers, 1231 8th Street #236, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265. Call 515-249-0138 to learn more about how to support the Endowment.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. October 5, 2017

We stand with the troops

Send-off ceremonies are always hard. We realize this because we’ve covered enough by now to see the emotions up close. It makes us all the more proud of those people who care enough to serve — whether that is in the active military or the National Guard.

Last Friday, about 100 Iowa Army National Guard members from the 248th Aviation Support Battalion were recognized during a send-off ceremony held at the West Gymnasium on the University of Northern Iowa campus.

Three other ceremonies were held throughout Iowa that day, in Davenport, Muscatine and Boone.

They are being deployed to provide aviation support for the U.S. Central Command in the Middle East. The deployment is part of a 500-soldier force from four states being deployed, which is the largest deployment since 2010. Another 35 soldiers from Detachment 1, Company C, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion in Waterloo also were deployed in August.

These send-off ceremonies are a nice way for a community to recognize the sacrifices of those being deployed to problem areas overseas. For those leaving, however, and their families who will be worrying about them, it can be a tough experience. It makes us all the more proud of those people who care enough to serve.

Brig. Gen. Steve Warnstadt addressed the soldiers during the ceremony.

“We appreciate the sacrifices that you’re making. You do represent the finest that this state has to offer, but you’re not alone,” Brig. Gen. Steve Warnstadt said to the soldiers. “There’s another group of patriots that I do want to address here, and that’s the families. The only thing tougher than being a soldier is loving one. You didn’t ask to carry this burden. You represent all that is admirable in our great country.”

He challenged the community members present to offer support to those families while their spouses are deployed and acknowledged the large crowd of more than 500 people present to see off the soldiers.

“I’d ask that, frankly, Northeast Iowa become a beacon of everything that is right about this country, rallying and wrapping your arms around these family members,” Warnstadt said. “To the troops, it looks to me like your communities have your back.”

Certainly, it was good to see such strong support from the community. For years now, we have empathized with these soldiers and families during similar sendoffs.

In each of them, families were being separated. There were young children, too young to understand the situation, giving their fathers or mothers a final hug until they return.

They all know the hazards. Still they serve.

At the very least, we want the soldiers — and the families they have left behind — to realize how grateful we are. And we look forward to the day when all of them are able to participate in their welcome home ceremonies.

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Sioux City Journal. October 5, 2017

BPI demonstrates character by helping workers

As we have said from the beginning, Dakota Dunes-based Beef Products, Inc. didn’t deserve what we have described as a “shameful” ″emotion-driven campaign of misinformation” in 2012 about its lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) — lost business, closed plants and laid-off workers.

A Sept. 27 Journal story provided more evidence about BPI’s positive character.

In fashion both commendable and unsurprising for this well-regarded local corporate citizen, BPI followed up confidential settlement in June of a $1.9 billion lawsuit against ABC News and correspondent Jim Avila related to LFTB reports by reaching out to impacted former workers.

Eldon Roth, BPI founder, late last month announced establishment of a $10 million fund to benefit them.

Some 750 BPI workers were laid off at the company’s corporate offices in Dakota Dunes and its plants in South Sioux City, Neb., Waterloo, Iowa, Amarillo, Texas, and Garden City, Kansas. The latter three plants were closed.

“We remain committed to employees and communities and so are dedicating $10 million to benefit the employees who lost their jobs in 2012,” Roth said in the announcement. “While it took us longer to get here than we had hoped, we are pleased to finally be able to reconnect with those former employees and see what we can do to help them continue to recover.”

The company plans to begin the process of collecting and reviewing applications for money from the fund this month.

Meanwhile, the road to recovery for BPI continues.

At the height of unfair controversy related to LFTB, sales of the product fell from about five million pounds to about 1.3 million pounds per week, according to the company. However, in remarks to the Sioux City Rotary Club in July, BPI co-founder Regina Roth said sales have increased to about three million pounds per week.

A rebound in sales - that’s something BPI deserves.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. October 5, 2017

Write-in bid comes at a price

Just Monday, we commended Dubuque City Council members Luis Del Toro and Jake Rios, as well as Deb Buol, wife of the mayor, for taking steps toward patching up their relationship.

The patches, if there were any, were yanked off Tuesday when Rios announced his write-in campaign to deny Mayor Roy Buol’s bid for a fourth four-year term.

So much for improving the strained relationship, which went off the rails in a public way last month. Del Toro and Rios, who are of Hispanic descent, took to social media to respond to comments in Deb Buol’s private email, subsequently shared, that made a reference to Hispanics.

After that hit the headlines, all three subsequently indicated that they had communicated toward resolving things and improving their working relationship.

Apparently, that has changed.

The declaration by Rios, a first-term council member still learning the ropes, that he will try to unseat Mayor Buol, with more than 20 years on the council — he was a member before becoming mayor — as a write-in candidate is a long-shot at best but a virtual sure shot for continuing the friction.

Rios’ announcement comes too late to get his name on the ballot — Buol’s will be the only name there — and so voters supporting Rios must write in his name and mark the line on the ballot.

It’s hard to see this ending well for Rios, but at least voters now have a choice in who will serve as Dubuque mayor the next four years.

While they work to win or retain their offices on Nov. 7, we hope that the candidates will also work to find a way to build and then maintain a professional relationship. It won’t be easy.

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