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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

September 17, 2018

Des Moines Register. September 13, 2018

Sharing beds with infants leads to Iowa parents’ worst nightmare

“Way more than half of the dead babies I’ve had in the emergency room have been co-sleeping,” said Dr. Lydia Holm, a physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. “It can happen any time of the day or night.”

Holm shared with a Register editorial writer the tragedies she regularly encounters due to parents sharing a bed with or napping with infants.

“We’re in the ER, running around taking care of a variety of sick and injured kids, and the ambulance phone rings. The charge nurse looks up at me with a solemn face and a shake of the head. My heart plummets. It’s another CPR in progress — meaning that the first responders were called to a child down and are performing CPR on the way in. We immediately get ready.”

The ambulance arrives but the baby is already gone. Staffers do everything they can, opening airways, giving medications and pumping the tiny chests.

“The parents are in the corner sobbing and begging. I’m the doctor. I’m the one who has to tell mom nothing is working and we’re going to stop. I call the time of death and hear her wail, and beg us to keep going.”

She recalled an infant who arrived in the emergency room after taking a nap with a parent and ended up face down and suffocated in a blanket. She remembers at least three cases in which a mother fell asleep breastfeeding and the baby was smothered. She recently had a baby who arrived unresponsive and was revived, but died a few days later.

Her advice to parents is simple: Place your baby in its own crib, on his or her back.

That is the advice from numerous medical professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group’s latest “safe sleep” recommendations say parents should share a bedroom with infants, but not share a bed.

About 3,500 babies die each year in the United States because of “unsafe sleep environments,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet parents may disregard the advice of medical experts. Or they think a deadly accident will never happen in their family. Or they may be exhausted, nursing a newborn and fall asleep.

Unfortunately, it is not clear exactly how many Iowa children die annually from co-sleeping. That exact cause of death may not be recorded by doctors and therefore not tracked in state vital records.

“There is no specific code that would specify co-sleeping as a cause of death, said Polly Carver-Kimm, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The most recent state vital records report shows 240 Iowa children under the age of 1 died in 2016. The dozens of death categories show, for example, 31 of the babies died due to SIDS and 14 due to congenital heart abnormalities. Deaths related to co-sleeping may be counted in “other” vital record categories.

“Deaths in infants through age 1 are most often attributed to unsafe sleep environments, including location, surroundings and positioning,” according to the most recent report from Iowa’s Child Death Review Team. Yet that report includes fatalities related to co-sleeping in the broad category of accidental asphyxiation, which can include drowning.

The lack of specific death numbers makes it harder to persuade people of the dangers of co-sleeping. The public is left to piece together anecdotes from law enforcement, emergency room staff and medical examiners. Sadly, there are many.

Des Moines police in 2015 urged parents to stop sleeping with children after reporting three infants had died of apparent accidental suffocation within a week.

Polk County Medical Examiner Gregory Schmunk said at the time that of the 10 infants who died the previous year in the county, three involved definite evidence of co-sleeping and another two had evidence of prone sleeping, where babies are positioned on their stomachs. The dead included an infant sleeping on its stomach on an adult’s lap and another on a comforter on an adult bed.

SIDS-related deaths dropped dramatically after a national campaign promoting safe sleep practices for infants. A similar campaign may be needed to discourage co-sleeping.

“No one thinks they’ll roll over on the baby, or that the baby will roll onto its tummy and get stuck, or get wrapped in blankets . but those things happen,” Holm said. “I have several every year, and by the time they get to me, it’s too late. Every time it’s soul crushing. I think about the parents, and I’m devastated for them.”

How to keep your baby safe while sleeping

Here are safe sleep practices recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Placing the baby on his or her back at all sleep times — including naps and at night

Using a firm sleep surface, such as a safety-approved mattress and crib

Keeping soft objects and loose bedding out of the baby’s sleep area

Sharing a room with baby, but not the same bed


Quad City Times. September 14, 2018.

How Reynolds can fix her campaign

Gov. Kim Reynolds’s foundering re-election bid needs a reset STAT — something significant, something unexpected. Here’s an idea: Pledge to ditch the Medicaid privatization boondoggle.

Far fetched? Yeah, probably. But it wouldn’t be if facts and reason trumped partisan dogma and personal loyalty.

It hasn’t been a kind summer campaign season for Iowa’s Republican governor. She’s spent months beating back repeated instances of bad behavior among those close to her. And flouting basic tenets of transparency and ethics is seemingly standard operating procedure within the Reynolds administration.

Reynolds’ ethical shortcomings came into focus on Wednesday when the Associated Press reported that she last year accepted a free flight on a state vendor’s private jet to an Iowa State bowl game. To be fair, Reynolds cleared the flight with regulators by arguing the flight was an in-kind campaign contribution. But, either way, it only bolstered the narrative of an ethically challenged governor who considers patronage a perk of the job.

Reynolds’ is a campaign in desperate need to seize control of a narrative that, until now, it’s proven incapable of shaping. And more bad news this week about the incessantly increasing costs of Iowa’s experiment with privatized Medicaid provides an opportunity to do just that. Of course, it would mean Reynolds must first admit that the ideologically driven shift that’s affected health care access for 700,000 Iowans was a mistake, a conclusion that requires only a set of eyes and a fully functioning neocortex.

This week, Iowa Department of Health released projections that state Medicaid’s per-member cost will spike 6.6 percent this year. It’s expected to jump another 11 percent in fiscal year 2019. The news comes on the heels of an agreement late last month where the state boosted payments to the private firms managing the health care insurance program a whopping $103 million. Health care providers and patients alike have made no secret since the 2016 shift to private management about the firms’ penchant for denying coverage for necessary treatment. A former management firm, AmeriHealth Caritas, still owes providers $14 million in back payments. And a life-long Republican on the state board that’s supposed to oversee the privatized program last month claimed he was run out of town for asking too many questions about the ballooning costs and failing outcomes.

Iowa apparently can’t fully fund its schools nor its universities, but it can continue pouring cash down the privatized Medicaid pit until the cows come home.

Highly viable institutions, including the state’s universities, continue to struggle and ax programs thanks to revenue shortfalls caused by this year’s tax cuts. Public school districts throughout Iowa are teetering on dysfunction due to consistently miserly state support.

And yet, Reynolds persists in ducking tough questions while chanting “Iowa’s No. 1,” like a cheerleading squad trapped in an endless loop.

Meanwhile, Reynolds’ attempts to paint Democrat Fred Hubbell as some ruthless aristocrat fall somewhere between non-nonsensical and hypocritical on the Continuum of the Absurd. That’s even more obvious in light of Reynolds’ taste for jet-setting with a moneyed donor class who also does business with the state. And a recent Emerson College poll showed Reynolds trailing the Des Moines business man, though there are reasons to question the survey’s accuracy.

All in all, Reynolds — who should be the favorite in November’s gubernatorial race — is running a deeply flawed campaign, and she has no one to blame but herself. If any campaign needed drastic reset, it’s this one. Hubbell has pledged to end the Medicaid privatization experiment if elected. As it stands, the failing program is undoubtedly an anchor that’s dragging the Reynolds campaign under.

Yes, Reynolds’ mentor, former Gov. Terry Branstad, cooked up the ill-conceived shift to privatized Medicaid. Yes, the program fits nicely into conservative ideology about fiscal policy and the role of government. But, at some point, the facts should outweigh partisan canon and professional fealty.

Iowa’s Medicaid experiment is an abject failure, and the voters know it. And those voters are right to expect a modicum of intellectual honesty from their governor.


Fort Dodge Messenger. September 16, 2018

Mentors help students succeed.

The educators at the Fort Dodge Community School District do a superb job. Even so, however, some of the young folks attending our schools are not progressing as well as they could be. These young people need a little more special attention than can easily be provided in a traditional classroom setting. They may need help improving their self-confidence or their attitude.

To address that need, the school district launched a mentoring program in 1994. The goal was to recruit people from a broad spectrum of the community to spend time each week working with students at one of the district’s elementary, middle or high schools. These adult mentors develop relationships with students that help motivate them to excel as they move through their academic journeys.

“Every student is one caring adult away from being a success story,” Corey Moody, FDCSD mentoring coordinator, told The Messenger recently. “I think that is so true, because every kid could use an additional adult, a positive person to help guide them.”

The need for more individuals to accept the challenge of being a mentor is ongoing. With a new school year just starting, the search for more mentors is under way. The professionals we hire to manage and staff our school system need community support and involvement if their educational mission is to be fulfilled optimally. There are many ways Fort Dodgers can help make this town’s public schools better. Stepping forward to volunteer as a mentor could be among the most important.

If you can help, call Corey Moody, Fort Dodge Community School District mentoring coordinator, at 574-5469 or email him at cmoody@fdschools.org.

The Messenger strongly supports this well-established mentoring project. We urge Fort Dodgers to help keep it successful in the years ahead. Making sure that the young people who are the future of our town, state and nation take full advantage of their school years is truly important work.


Burlington Hawk Eye. September 16, 2018

“I’m (asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)ing going to prison, Tim,” said officer Jesse Hill as he stood over the motionless body of Autumn Steele.

His gun in the snow, an unarmed mother dying at his feet, Hill knew he was in trouble.

Three years later, new documents and video released under protest by Burlington officials on the order of a federal judge may help explain the city’s three-year campaign to cover up the fatal mistakes leading up to Steele’s death.

Unlike other Iowa cities that routinely release such information to the public, Burlington fought and taxpayers paid for a long and costly battle to avoid a full accounting of what happened on that snowy January morning.

For years, police officials have blamed her accidental killing on an attack by the Steele family’s Collie/German shepherd mix, Sammy, and even attempted unsuccessfully to have the dog declared vicious and euthanized.

But newly released records show that no attack by Sammy the dog ever penetrated Hill’s clothing, and Hill had what could most charitably described as a minor abrasion on one leg that required no treatment — not even a Band-Aid.

Were it not circled in pen on a photographic exhibit, most people would be unable to identify any injury whatsoever.

One eyewitness interviewed by an officer with a body camera said “it looked like (the dog) was trying to play;” another said it “looked no different than if my dog jumped on somebody;” and yet another said she thought Autumn Steele must have had a weapon because the dog wasn’t doing anything or being aggressive.

None of these eyewitness statements were included in the investigating officer’s report, according to court filings. Nor was Hill’s admission that he could be “going to jail” included in any police report.

Previously sealed court testimony reveals that had Hill followed U.S. Department of Justice training available at the time, he never would have pulled out his gun in the first place.

“Only after a dog has attacked, and the attack continues for several seconds with the dog shaking the officer or individual, is lethal force an appropriate response to the threat of serious bodily injury,” according to U.S. Department of Justice training.

In fact, while Burlington officials were telling the public that Hill had done nothing wrong, those same officials were hurriedly arranging multiple rounds of training that essentially directed Burlington’s police officers to avoid pulling guns on dogs.

According to the training program, “there is no documented case of a police officer dying as the result of a dog-bite related injury,” and “more people are killed by lightning every year than dog bites.”

That’s why officers facing aggressive dogs are now asked to instead consider the use of tasers, batons or pepper spray. The department’s training even suggests using flashlights or an arm to fend off a canine. Anything but a gun.

But if Hill was somehow forced to use a gun, and if the dog was actually vicious, then basic firearms training should have come into play.

As taught by the National Rifle Association, the Boy Scouts of America, and, we would hope, police departments around the country, a key pillar of gun safety is to know your target and what is beyond, and never point your gun at something you do not intend to shoot.

Yet in his haste, he shot both Sammy the dog and Autumn Steele, who was standing within touching distance of Gabriel Steele and their 3-year-old child.

Hill fired once while slipping, then took another shot in the family’s direction after having fallen to the ground, according to his own testimony.

Was this not reckless?

Perhaps when Hill blurted out that he was “going to prison,” he was thinking about Iowa law, which defines involuntary manslaughter as “when the person unintentionally causes the death of another person by the commission of an act in a manner likely to cause death or serious injury,” according to court filings.

It wasn’t long, however, before he was singing a different tune, testifying that “if the same factual circumstances arose again (he) would conduct (himself) in the same manner.”

If Hill’s testimony can be believed, it appears safe to assume that the Burlington Police Department’s training was either ineffective or ignored.

To be sure, we know many fine police officers in Burlington, and the vast majority of their public interactions don’t end with an innocent mother dying in the snow as her 3-year-old looks on.

But it’s impossible not to ask questions when evidence that was hidden at great cost fails to support a narrative that was so forcefully pushed by those whose salaries we pay.

Incidents like the Autumn Steele shooting and its lengthy aftermath serve to remind us exactly why we must have sunshine rather than secrecy when lives are at stake.

As the city suggested in sealed arguments, “The best evidence of what was stated, when it was stated, and by whom on Officer Merryman’s body camera recording is the audio and video footage itself.”

We couldn’t agree more.

We only wish it hadn’t taken three years, untold dollars in legal fees and a federal order to bring closure to the Steele family and to Burlington’s citizens.


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