Huge chunk of plants, animals in U.S. at risk of extinction -report

Reuters

Huge chunk of plants, animals in U.S. at risk of extinction -report

Brad Brooks – February 6, 2023

A Venus flytrap is seen at the meat-eating plant exhibition "Dejate Atrapar" (Let Yourself Get Caught), in Bogota
A Venus flytrap is seen at the meat-eating plant exhibition “Dejate Atrapar” (Let Yourself Get Caught), in Bogota
Endangered Key Deer are pictured in a puddle following Hurricane Irma in Big Pine Key, Florida
Endangered Key Deer are pictured in a puddle following Hurricane Irma in Big Pine Key, Florida
Endangered Arizona hedgehog cactus is seen in the Oak Flat recreation area outside Superior, Arizona
Endangered Arizona hedgehog cactus is seen in the Oak Flat recreation area outside Superior, Arizona
A full moon rises over a cactus in Phoenix
A full moon rises over a cactus in Phoenix
The endangered dusky gopher frog, a darkly colored, moderately sized frog with warts covering its back and dusky spots on its belly, is shown in this handout photo
The endangered dusky gopher frog, a darkly colored, moderately sized frog with warts covering its back and dusky spots on its belly, is shown in this handout photo

(Reuters) -A leading conservation research group found that 40% of animals and 34% of plants in the United States are at risk of extinction, while 41% of ecosystems are facing collapse.

Everything from crayfish and cacti to freshwater mussels and iconic American species such as the Venus flytrap are in danger of disappearing, a report released on Monday found.

NatureServe, which analyzes data from its network of over 1,000 scientists across the United States and Canada, said the report was its most comprehensive yet, synthesizing five decades’ worth of its own information on the health of animals, plants and ecosystems.

Importantly, the report pinpoints the areas in the United States where land is unprotected and where animals and plants are facing the most threats.

Sean O’Brien, president of NatureServe, said the conclusions of the report were “terrifying” and he hoped it would help lawmakers understand the urgency of passing protections, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that stalled out in Congress last year.

“If we want to maintain the panoply of biodiversity that we currently enjoy, we need to target the places where the biodiversity is most threatened,” O’Brien said. “This report allows us to do that.”

U.S. Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat who has proposed legislation to create a wildlife corridor system to rebuild threatened populations of fish, wildlife and plants, said NatureServe’s work would be critical to helping agencies identify what areas to prioritize and where to establish migration routes.

“The data reported by NatureServe is grim, a harrowing sign of the very real problems our wildlife and ecosystems are facing,” Beyer told Reuters. “I am thankful for their efforts, which will give a boost to efforts to protect biodiversity.”

HUMAN ENCROACHMENT

Among the species at risk of disappearing are icons like the carnivorous Venus flytrap, which is only found in the wild in a few counties of North and South Carolina.

Nearly half of all cacti species are at risk of extinction, while 200 species of trees, including a maple-leaf oak found in Arkansas, are also at risk of disappearing. Among ecosystems, America’s expansive temperate and boreal grasslands are among the most imperiled, with over half of 78 grassland types at risk of a range-wide collapse.

The threats against plants, animals and ecosystems are varied, the report found, but include “habitat degradation and land conversion, invasive species, damming and polluting of rivers, and climate change.”

California, Texas and the southeastern United States are where the highest percentages of plants, animals and ecosystems are at risk, the report found.

Those areas are both the richest in terms of biodiversity in the country, but also where population growth has boomed in recent decades, and where human encroachment on nature has been harshest, said Wesley Knapp, the chief botanist at NatureServe.

Knapp highlighted the threats facing plants, which typically get less conservation funding than animals. There are nearly 1,250 plants in NatureServe’s “critically imperiled” category, the final stage before extinction, meaning that conservationists have to decide where to spend scant funds even among the most vulnerable species to prevent extinctions.

“Which means a lot of plants are not going to get conservation attention. We’re almost in triage mode trying to keep our natural systems in place,” Knapp said.

‘NATURE SAVINGS ACCOUNT’

Vivian Negron-Ortiz, the president of the Botanical Society of America and a botanist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who was not involved in the NatureServe report, said there is still a lot scientists do not know and have not yet discovered about biodiversity in the United States, and that NatureServe’s data helped illuminate that darkness.

More than anything, she sees the new data as a call to action.

“This report shows the need for the public to help prevent the disappearance of many of our plant species,” she said. “The public can help by finding and engaging with local organizations that are actively working to protect wild places and conserve rare species.”

John Kanter, the senior wildlife biologist with the National Wildlife Federation, said the data in the report, which he was not involved with, was essential to guiding state and regional officials in creating impactful State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), which they must do every 10 years to receive federal funding to protect vulnerable species.

Currently $50 million in federal funding is divided up among all states to carry out their SWAPs. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, whose congressional sponsors say will be reintroduced soon, would have increased that to $1.4 billion, which would have a huge impact on the state’s abilities to protect animals and ecosystems, Kanter said, and the NatureServe report can act as roadmap for officials to best spend their money.

“Our biodiversity and its conservation is like a ‘nature savings account’ and if we don’t have this kind of accounting of what’s out there and how’s it doing, and what are the threats, there’s no way to prioritize action,” Kanter said. “This new report is critical for that.”

Read more:

GRAPHIC-The collapse of insects

Penguins offer varied clues to Antarctic climate change

ANALYSIS-U.N. nature deal can help wildlife as long as countries deliver

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Additional reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Death toll climbs as 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria: Here’s everything we know

Yahoo! News

Death toll climbs as 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria: Here’s everything we know

Photos show the devastation and desperate search for survivors after an earthquake hit the border of Turkey and Syria.

Dylan Stableford and Yahoo News Photo Staff – February 6, 2023

Rescuers carry out a girl from a collapsed building following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Sertac Kayar/Reuters)
Rescuers carry out a girl from a collapsed building following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Sertac Kayar/Reuters)

At least 2,300 people were killed after a 7.8 magnitude pre-dawn earthquake rocked the border of Turkey and Syria early Monday, toppling thousands of buildings and leaving hundreds of people trapped under rubble.

The quake, which was centered on Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, could be felt as far away as Cairo and Beirut, as powerful aftershocks continued to rattle the region.

Here’s everything we know about the earthquake and its aftermath.

This aerial view shows residents searching for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the twon of Harim, in Syria's rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on the border with Turkey, on February 6, 2022. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images)
This aerial view shows residents searching for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the twon of Harim, in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on the border with Turkey, on February 6, 2022. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the 7.8 magnitude quake at a depth of 17.9 km, or about 11 miles, at 4:17 a.m. local time.

The Associated Press described the moment it struck.

“On both sides of the border, residents jolted out of sleep by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside on a cold, rainy and snowy night. Buildings were reduced to piles of pancaked floors,” the news service reported. “Rescue workers and residents in multiple cities searched for survivors, working through tangles of metal and concrete. A hospital in Turkey collapsed, and patients, including newborns, were evacuated from facilities in Syria.”

An infographic titled
An infographic titled “Impact area of earthquakes in Turkey” created in Ankara, Turkiye on February 06, 2023. (Yasin Demirci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Dozens of aftershocks followed. Hours later, a 7.5 magnitude quake struck more than 60 miles away. An official from Turkey’s disaster management agency said it was a new earthquake, not an aftershock, the AP said.

Death toll climbs

In Turkey, officials said the death toll had risen to almost 1,500, with at least 8,500 injured.

In Syria, the death toll in government-held areas was at least 430 with more than 1,200 injured, the Syrian Health Ministry reported. In rebel-held areas, more than 380 people were killed, according to the Syrian Civil Defense unit, also known as the White Helmets.

Search and rescue operations continue after 7.7 magnitude earthquake hits Elazig, Turkiye on February 06, 2023. (Ismail Sen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Search and rescue operations continue after 7.7 magnitude earthquake hits Elazig, Turkiye on February 06, 2023. (Ismail Sen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the death toll will undoubtedly rise.

“Because the debris removal efforts are continuing in many buildings in the earthquake zone, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will rise,” Erdogan said. “Hopefully, we will leave these disastrous days behind us in unity and solidarity as a country and a nation.”

Winter weather complicates recovery efforts

Bitterly cold temperatures and worsening conditions were complicating the search and rescue efforts, Reuters reported.

Civil defense workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Hama, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (SANA via AP)
Civil defense workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Hama, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (SANA via AP)

“Temperatures in some areas were expected to fall to near freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless,” the news service said. “Rain was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend.”

What’s more, “poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkey’s south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.”

Quake struck war-torn region

The earthquake struck a region that has been battered on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria.

Rescue teams search for victims in the rubble following an earthquake in northwestern Syrian Idlib in the rebel-held part of Idlib province, on February 6, 2023. (Syria Civil Defense/UPI/Shutterstock)
Rescue teams search for victims in the rubble following an earthquake in northwestern Syrian Idlib in the rebel-held part of Idlib province, on February 6, 2023. (Syria Civil Defense/UPI/Shutterstock)

“On the Syrian side, the region is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey is home to millions of refugees from that conflict. About 4 million people live in the opposition-held regions in Syria, many of them displaced from other parts of the country by the fighting. Many of the residential buildings were already unsafe because of bombardments.”

Mehmet Emin Ataoglu rescued under the rubble of 6-storey-building after 7.7 magnitude earthquake hits Iskenderun district of Hatay, Turkiye on February 06, 2023. (Murat Sengul/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Mehmet Emin Ataoglu rescued under the rubble of 6-storey-building after 7.7 magnitude earthquake hits Iskenderun district of Hatay, Turkiye on February 06, 2023. (Murat Sengul/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The region also sits on top of major fault lines. In 1999, a string of earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing nearly 18,000 people.

Erdogan called Monday’s quake the biggest disaster since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, which killed more than 30,000.

Biden vows support
Civil defense workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Hama, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Omar Sanadik/AP)
Civil defense workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Hama, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Omar Sanadik/AP)

In a statement, President Biden said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake” and has directed his administration to provide any and all needed assistance.

“Our teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake,” Biden said in a statement. “U.S.-supported humanitarian partners are also responding to the destruction in Syria. Today, our hearts and our deepest condolences are with all those who have lost precious loved ones, those who are injured, and those who saw their homes and businesses destroyed.”

More images from the devastation
Rescue teams evacuate a victim pulled out of the rubble following an earthquake in northwestern Syrian Idlib in the rebel-held part of Idlib province, on February 6, 2023. (Syria Civil Defense/UPI/Shutterstock)
Rescue teams evacuate a victim pulled out of the rubble following an earthquake in northwestern Syrian Idlib in the rebel-held part of Idlib province, on February 6, 2023. (Syria Civil Defense/UPI/Shutterstock)
People gather as rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
People gather as rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
A rescuer carries an injured child away from the rubble of a building following an earthquake in rebel-held Azaz, Syria February 6, 2023 in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via Reuters)
A rescuer carries an injured child away from the rubble of a building following an earthquake in rebel-held Azaz, Syria February 6, 2023 in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via Reuters)
Rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6,2023.  (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
Rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6,2023. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
Firefighters carry the body of a victim in Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Mahmut Bozarsan/AP)
Firefighters carry the body of a victim in Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Mahmut Bozarsan/AP)
Syrian civil defense members search for people under the rubble of a destroyed building in Afrin, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Zana Halil/DIA images via AP)
Syrian civil defense members search for people under the rubble of a destroyed building in Afrin, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Zana Halil/DIA images via AP)
People and emergency teams rescue a person on a stretcher from a collapsed building in Adana, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.  (IHA agency via AP)
People and emergency teams rescue a person on a stretcher from a collapsed building in Adana, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (IHA agency via AP)
People search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Sertac Kayar/Reuters)
People search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Sertac Kayar/Reuters)
People carry a victim as rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/AP)
People carry a victim as rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/AP)
Rescuers work at the site of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Cagla Gurdogan/Reuters)
Rescuers work at the site of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Cagla Gurdogan/Reuters)
A man carries a girl following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
A man carries a girl following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
People gather as rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
People gather as rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
Earthquake victims receive treatment at the al-Rahma Hospital in the town of Darkush, Idlib province, northern Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)
Earthquake victims receive treatment at the al-Rahma Hospital in the town of Darkush, Idlib province, northern Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

While COVID raged, another deadly threat was on the rise in hospitals

Los Angeles Times

While COVID raged, another deadly threat was on the rise in hospitals

Emily Alpert Reyes – February 5, 2023

Los Angeles, CA - January 02: Patients on gurneys line the hallways inside the Emergency Department at MLK Community Hospital on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Los Angeles, CA. Its emergency department was expected to handle an estimated 110 patients a day when it opened seven and a half years ago, which would have totaled roughly 40,000 patients annually. Instead, it has seen more than 400 on hectic days and ultimately exceeded 112,000 patients in 2022. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
A patient rests on a gurney inside a Los Angeles hospital. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

As COVID-19 began to rip through California, hospitals were deluged with sickened patients. Medical staff struggled to manage the onslaught.

Amid the new threat of the coronavirus, an old one was also quietly on the rise: More people have suffered severe sepsis in California hospitals in recent years — including a troubling surge in patients who got sepsis inside the hospital itself, state data show.

Sepsis happens when the body tries to fight off an infection and ends up jeopardizing itself. Chemicals and proteins released by the body to combat an infection can injure healthy cells as well as infected ones and cause inflammation, leaky blood vessels and blood clots, according to the National Institutes of Health.

It is a perilous condition that can end up damaging tissues and triggering organ failure. Across the country, sepsis kills more people annually than breast cancer, HIV/AIDS and opioid overdoses combined, said Dr. Kedar Mate, president and chief executive of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

“Sepsis is a leading cause of death in hospitals. It’s been true for a long time — and it’s become even more true during the pandemic,” Mate said.

The bulk of sepsis cases begin outside of hospitals, but people are also at risk of getting sepsis while hospitalized for other illnesses or medical procedures. And that danger only grew during the pandemic, according to state data: In California, the number of “hospital-acquired” cases of severe sepsis rose more than 46% between 2019 and 2021.

Experts say the pandemic exacerbated a persistent threat for patients, faulting both the dangers of the coronavirus itself and the stresses that hospitals have faced during the pandemic. The rise in sepsis in California came as hospital-acquired infections increased across the country — a problem that worsened during surges in COVID hospitalizations, researchers have found.

“This setback can and must be temporary,” said Lindsey Lastinger, a health scientist in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.

Physicians describe sepsis as hard to spot and easy to treat in its earliest stages, but harder to treat by the time it becomes evident. It can show up in a range of ways, and detecting it is complicated by the fact that its symptoms — which can include confusion, shortness of breath, clammy skin and fever — are not unique to sepsis.

There’s no “gold standard test to say that you have sepsis or not,” said Dr. Santhi Kumar, interim chief of pulmonology, critical care and sleep medicine at Keck Medicine of USC. “It’s a constellation of symptoms.”

Christopher Lin, 28, endured excruciating pain and a broiling fever of 102.9 degrees Fahrenheit at home before heading to the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. It was October 2020 and the hospital looked “surreal,” Lin said, with a tent set up outside and chairs spaced sparsely in the waiting room.

His fever raised concerns about COVID-19, but Lin tested negative. At one point at the emergency department his blood pressure abruptly dropped, Lin said, and “it felt like my soul had left my body.”

Lin, who suffered sepsis in connection with a bacterial infection, isn’t sure where he first got infected. Days before he went to the hospital, he had undergone a quick procedure at urgent care to drain a painful abscess on his chest, and got the gauze changed by a nurse the following day, he said. Such outpatient procedures aren’t included in state data on “hospital-acquired” sepsis.

Someone with sepsis might have a high temperature or a low one, a heart rate that has sped or slowed, a breathing rate that is high or low.

It can result from bacteria, fungal infections, viruses or even parasites — “and the challenge is that when someone walks into the emergency department with a fever, we don’t know which of those four things they have,” said Dr. Karin Molander, an emergency medicine physician and past board chair of Sepsis Alliance. Treatment can vary depending on what is driving the infection that spurred sepsis, but antibiotics are common because many cases are tied to bacterial infections.

The pandemic piled on the risks: A coronavirus infection can itself lead to sepsis, and the virus also ushered more elderly and medically vulnerable people into hospitals who are at higher risk for the dangerous condition, experts said. Nearly 40% of severe sepsis patients who died in California hospitals in 2021 were diagnosed with COVID-19, according to state data. Some COVID-19 patients were hospitalized for weeks at a time, ramping up their risk of other complications that can lead to sepsis.

“The longer you’re in the hospital, the more things happen to you,” said Dr. Maita Kuvhenguhwa, an attending physician in infectious disease at MLK Community Healthcare. “You’re immobilized, so you have a risk of developing pressure ulcers” — not just on the backside, but potentially on the face under an oxygen device — “and the wound can get infected.”

“Lines, tubes, being here a long time — all put them at risk for infection,” Kuvhenguhwa said.

Experts said the pandemic may have also pulled away attention from other kinds of infection control, as staff were strained and hospital routines were disrupted. California, which is unusual nationwide in mandating minimum ratios for nurse staffing, allowed some hospitals to relax those requirements amid the pandemic.

Nurses juggling more patients might not check and clean patients’ mouths as often to help prevent bacterial infections, Kumar said. Mate said that hospitalized patients might not get their catheters changed as often amid staff shortages, which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections.

Hospitals might have brought in traveling nurses to help plug the gaps, but “if they don’t know the same systems, it’s going to be harder for them to follow the same processes” to deter infections, said Catherine Cohen, a policy researcher with the RAND Corp.

Armando Nahum, one of the founding members of Patients for Patient Safety U.S., said that pandemic restrictions on hospital visitors may have also worsened the problem, preventing family members from being able to spot that a relative was acting unusually and raise concerns.

Molander echoed that point, saying that it’s important for patients to have someone who knows them well and might be able to alert doctors, “My mom has dementia, but she’s normally very talkative.”

Sepsis has been a longstanding battle for hospitals: One-third of people who die in U.S. hospitals had sepsis during their hospitalization, according to research cited by the CDC. But Mate argued that sepsis deaths can be reduced significantly “with the right actions that we know how to take.”

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Jefferson Health began rolling out a new effort to combat sepsis in fall of 2021 — just before the initial Omicron wave began to hit hospitals.

Its system includes predictive modeling that uses information from electronic medical records to alert clinicians that someone might be suffering from sepsis. It also set up a “standardized workflow” for sepsis patients so that crucial steps such as prescribing antibiotics happen as quickly as possible, hospital officials said.

The goal was to lessen the mental burden on doctors and nurses pulled in many directions, said Dr. Patricia Henwood, its chief clinical officer. “Clinicians across the country are strained, and we don’t necessarily need better clinicians — we need better systems,” she said.

Jefferson Health credits the new system with helping to reduce deaths from severe sepsis by 15% in a year.

In New York state, uproar over the death of 12-year-old Rory Staunton led to new requirements for hospitals to adopt protocols to rapidly identify and treat sepsis and report data to the state. State officials said the effort saved more than 16,000 lives between 2015 and 2019, and researchers found greater reductions in sepsis deaths in New York than in states without such requirements.

If your child gets sick, he said, “you shouldn’t have to wonder if the hospital on the right has sepsis protocols and the one on the left doesn’t,” said Ciaran Staunton, who co-founded the organization End Sepsis after the death of his son. His group welcomed the news when federal agencies were recently directed to develop “hospital quality measures” for sepsis.

Such a move could face opposition. Robert Imhoff, president and chief executive of the Hospital Quality Institute — an affiliate of the California Hospital Assn. — contended that expanding the kind of requirements in effect in New York was unnecessary.

“I don’t think hospitals need to be mandated to provide safe, quality care,” Imhoff said.

State data show that severe sepsis — including cases originating both outside and inside hospitals — has been on the rise in California over the last decade, but Molander said the long-term increase may be tied to changes in reporting requirements that led to more cases being tracked. California has yet to release new data on severe sepsis acquired in hospitals last year, and is not expected to do so until this fall.

For Lin, surviving sepsis left him determined to make sure that the word gets out about sepsis — and not just in English. In the hospital, he had struggled to explain what was happening to his mother, who speaks Cantonese. After recovering, Lin worked with local officials to get materials from Sepsis Alliance translated into Mandarin.

“I can’t imagine if it were my parents in the hospital,” he said, “going through what I was going through.”

50-car train derailment causes big fire, evacuations in Ohio

Associated Press

50-car train derailment causes big fire, evacuations in Ohio

February 4, 2023

In this photo provided by Melissa Smith, a train fire is seen from her farm in East Palestine, Ohio, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in the Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below. (Melissa Smith via AP)
In this photo provided by Melissa Smith, a train fire is seen from her farm in East Palestine, Ohio, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in the Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below. (Melissa Smith via AP)
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
In this photo provided by Melissa Smith, a train fire is seen from her farm in East Palestine, Ohio, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in the Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below. (Melissa Smith via AP)
In this photo provided by Melissa Smith, a train fire is seen from her farm in East Palestine, Ohio, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in the Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below. (Melissa Smith via AP)
ASSOCIATED PRESS

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — A freight train derailment in Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line left a mangled and charred mass of boxcars and flames Saturday as authorities launched a federal investigation and monitored air quality from the various hazardous chemicals in the train.

About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine at about 9 p.m. EST Friday as a train was carrying a variety of products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said Saturday. There was no immediate information about what caused the derailment. No injuries or damage to structures were reported.

“The post-derailment fire spanned about the length of the derailed train cars,” Michael Graham, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters Saturday evening. “The fire has since reduced in intensity, but remains active and the two main tracks are still blocked.”

Norfolk Southern said 20 of the more than 100 cars were classified as carrying hazardous materials — defined as cargo that could pose any kind of danger “including flammables, combustibles, or environmental risks.” Graham said 14 cars carrying vinyl chloride were involved in the derailment “and have been exposed to fire,” and at least one “is intermittently releasing the contents of the car through a pressure release device as designed.”

“At this time we are working to verify which hazardous materials cars, if any, have been breached,” he said. The Environmental Protection Agency and Norfolk Southern were continuing to monitor air quality, and investigators would begin their on-scene work “once the scene is safe and secure,” he said.

Vinyl chloride, used to make the polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products, is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute. Federal officials said they were also concerned about other possibly hazardous materials.

Mayor Trent Conaway, who earlier declared a state of emergency citing the “train derailment with hazardous materials,” said air quality monitors throughout a one-mile zone ordered evacuated had shown no dangerous readings.

Fire Chief Keith Drabick said officials were most concerned about the vinyl chloride and referenced one car containing that chemical but said safety features on that car were still functioning. Emergency crews would keep their distance until Norfolk Southern officials told them it was safe to approach, Drabick said.

“When they say it’s time to go in and put the fire out, my guys will go in and put the fire out,” he said. He said there were also other chemicals in the cars and officials would seek a list from Norfolk Southern and federal authorities.

Graham said the safety board’s team would concentrate on gathering “perishable” information about the derailment of the train, which had 141 load cars, nine empty cars and three locomotives. State police had aerial footage and the locomotives had forward-facing image recorders as well as data recorders that could provide such information as train speed, throttle position and brake applications, he said. Train crew and other witnesses would also be interviewed, Graham said.

Firefighters were pulled from the immediate area and unmanned streams were used to protect some areas including businesses that might also have contained materials of concern, officials said. Freezing temperatures in the single digits complicated the response as trucks pumping water froze, Conaway said.

East Palestine officials said 68 agencies from three states and a number of counties responded to the derailment, which happened about 51 miles (82 kilometers) northwest of Pittsburgh and within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the tip of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.

Conaway said surveillance from the air showed “an entanglement of cars” with fires still burning and heavy smoke continuing to billow from the scene as officials tried to determine what was in each car from the labels outside. The evacuation order and shelter-in-place warnings would remain in effect until further notice, officials said.

Village officials warned residents that they might hear explosions due to the fire. They said drinking water was safe despite discoloration due to the volume being pumped the fight the blaze. Some runoff had been detected in streams but rail officials were working to stem that and prevent it from going downstream, officials said.

Officials repeatedly urged people not to come to the scene, saying they were endangering not only themselves but emergency responders.

The evacuation area covered 1,500 to 2,000 of the town’s 4,800 to 4,900 residents, but it was unknown how many were actually affected, Conaway said. A high school and community center were opened, and the few dozen residents sheltering at the high school included Ann McAnlis, who said a neighbor had texted her about the crash.

“She took a picture of the glow in the sky from the front porch,” McAnlis told WFMJ-TV. “That’s when I knew how substantial this was.”

Norfolk Southern opened an assistance center in the village to take information from affected residents and also said it was “supporting the efforts of the American Red Cross and their temporary community shelters through a $25,000 donation.

Elizabeth Parker Sherry said her 19-year-old son was heading to Walmart to pick up a new TV in time for the Super Bowl when he called her outside to see the flames and black smoke billowing toward their home. She said she messaged her mother to get out of her home next to the tracks, but all three of them and her daughter then had to leave her own home as crews went door-to-door to tell people to leave the evacuation zone.

She Lost Her Childhood Home Over Taxes. Then It Erupted in Flames.

The New York Times

She Lost Her Childhood Home Over Taxes. Then It Erupted in Flames.

Tracey Tully – February 2, 2023

She lost home over taxes. Then it erupted in flames.
Eve Morawski waged an epic battle against real estate investors who bought her debt and seized her Maplewood, N.J., home, pushing her to the brink.
Owed more than $100K in unpaid taxes, fees
The Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, N.J., on Jan. 13, 2023. (Bryan Anselm/The New York Times)
The Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, N.J., on Jan. 13, 2023. (Bryan Anselm/The New York Times)

MAPLEWOOD, N.J. — It was dark by the time Eve Morawski managed to break into her home of 60 years.

The locks had been changed by sheriff’s deputies enforcing an eviction order. Movers hired by investors who took possession of the house after she fell behind on taxes had been inside most of the day, packing up photos and knickknacks her family had spent a lifetime accumulating.

She was infuriated to find the house in disarray.

Sometime before dawn, a police report shows, she located a book of matches and a knife.

“Jersey Girl Justice will hopefully prevail in the end,” Morawski wrote to friends on Facebook just before fire trucks began roaring down the pretty block in Maplewood, New Jersey.

“Aloha.”

To neighbors, the Dec. 7 fire that burst from second-floor windows and licked at the eaves of Morawski’s former home was a spectacularly sad end to an epic real estate battle that had played out publicly on social media and in state and federal courts. To her only sister, it was a tragic, avoidable coda to a 20-year family feud.

“There’s a lingering sense of: Is there something more as a community we could have done to help?” said John Guterman, a friend of Morawski who lives down the street and shared her love of animals, smoked barbecue and the New York Mets.

Well known and well liked, Morawski was a fixture in Maplewood, a commuter town 20 miles from Manhattan. Classmates recalled her as the smart kid in advanced placement classes who went on to earn an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Returning home as an adult, she volunteered at area animal shelters and on the board of a preserved 18th-century house dedicated to sharing Maplewood’s history.

A longtime member of the local Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Committee, she accepted a prestigious award in May for her dedication to keeping the lessons of the Holocaust alive. It was a passion fueled largely by devotion to her Polish immigrant parents, Roman Catholics who she has said were imprisoned by the Nazi and Soviet regimes during World War II. They went on to build a life in suburban New Jersey — a triumph that, to her, was embodied in the four-bedroom house they purchased at 60 Maplewood Avenue.

Privately, she was consumed by a cascade of debt and drawn-out legal battles that had pushed her to the emotional and financial brink.

Two acrimonious divorces. A three-year probate fight with her sister over their parents’ estate. A federal discrimination complaint against a former employer. Dueling lawsuits from a romance that ended badly. And, finally, bankruptcy.

Unable to afford a lawyer, she often represented herself. By her own telling, she was always the victim.

A cancer diagnosis in 2021 complicated everything.

By the time she lost the house, Morawski, 60, had accumulated more than $100,000 in unpaid taxes and fees, a burden that was further exacerbated by a state law heavily weighted toward real estate speculators. New Jersey is one of just a dozen states that permit investors to make huge profits on the debt of struggling homeowners, ultimately allowing them to foreclose on the property and keep all the profit.

“This has been an egregious travesty of justice,” she wrote in a letter to local officials shortly before the fire. “I need immediate help to stop the steal of my home.”

‘The house and legacy I need to save!’

Morawski’s childhood home on Maplewood Avenue sits three blocks from a commuter rail station and the quaint storefronts at the center of town, a pedestrian-friendly hub that residents call “the village.” Always considered a desirable community, Maplewood drew a flood of new buyers during the pandemic, and recent sales of renovated houses on the street have ranged from $755,000 to $1.6 million.

Long before the fire, the house was notable for its peeling buckskin-beige paint and tattered roof, outward signs of the difficulty Morawski had keeping up with repairs and household bills. But she was determined to hold on.

“The house and legacy I need to save!” she wrote on a GoFundMe page a friend created in 2019.

Details of Morawski’s fight to save the house are based on more than two dozen interviews with neighbors, friends, community leaders and lawyers, as well as tax documents, federal, state and county court records and her own social media posts.

After divorcing her first husband, who was in the Navy and stationed in Hawaii, she returned to Maplewood in 2000 to care for her ailing parents. She worked briefly for a management consulting firm and sometimes gave historical walking tours, but had trouble finding full-time work. An assortment of part-time jobs as a swim instructor ended with the onset of the pandemic.

But she had struggled to make ends meet since at least 2010. Desperate for money, she sold her burial plot, patched her leaky roof with tarps and, unable to buy a new water heater, took to showering at a YMCA.

“I have never said I do not owe back taxes + obscene interest,” she wrote to township leaders, “but the global pandemic impacted the intended course of action.”

She had been advised to sell the house rather than lose the accrued equity in a property that real estate sites valued at roughly $700,000 before the fire, friends, relatives and town officials said. The conversations never went far.

“She just wanted to stay in the home she grew up in,” said Andy Golebiowski, host of the Polish American Radio Program, who met Morawski on Facebook. “Those were her roots.”

Morawski spoke proudly of those roots when she accepted the Holocaust education award.

Her father, Michael (Szeliga) Morawski, earned Poland’s highest military honor, the Virtuti Militari. He had been imprisoned, she said, in concentration camps after trying to drive the Germans from the capital during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, a rebellion that lasted 63 days and led to the deaths of more than 180,000 residents.

Wanda Morawski, a nurse born in what was then the Polish city of Borszczow (it is now part of Ukraine), ran field hospitals for the Allied forces during the war after being freed from a prison in Russia, according to her 2002 obituary.

After marrying in England and moving to Brooklyn, the couple spent 10 years “saving every penny” to buy “their American dream,” Morawski wrote.

Over the next four decades, their house in Maplewood was often filled with recent immigrants of various faiths. Her mother “would order, then pick up, kosher in Brooklyn,” Morawski said at the Holocaust remembrance event. “Everyone would speak Polish and feel comfortable for a few hours as they navigated a challenging new world.”

Morawski’s parents died within five months of each other, leaving a contested estate that led to a bitter fight between the two sisters for control of the house. In the end, Morawski was instructed to pay her sister $130,000 and was awarded the house. Her sister won title to another residential property that was in their parents’ name but was told by the court that she had “no right to enter the premises” at 60 Maplewood Avenue.

Morawski’s sister said she drove by the home each day for 15 years.

Mental health concerns

Morawski was often spotted on the block walking her dog, Hana, or tending to repairs of her 1992 Dodge Dakota. She was quick with a compliment and eagerly asked about neighbors’ children.

“Always seemed to be in the same mood — pleasant,” said Kevin Photiades, who lives down the street.

“She’s a wonderful, generous, amazing person,” said Kim Brown, a friend who remained close with Morawski after they worked together in the early 1990s at a consulting firm in Linden, New Jersey.

“I couldn’t imagine, emotionally, what she was going through.”

Morawski wrote about her financial trouble on social media as foreclosure loomed in 2019 and later discussed her battle with blood cancer.

Neighbors said that they had donated to the GoFundMe campaign or lent her money directly. Friends wrote to the township’s congresswoman to ask for help and dropped off soup and meals. A member of her historical book club regularly drove her to chemotherapy.

But as the date of her eviction neared in December, close friends grew increasingly worried about her mental health. She appeared to have no future plans other than lashing out publicly against the injustice she believed had caused her to lose the house.

A federal judge assigned to Morawski’s bankruptcy case, who had attended high school with her, was “heartless and biased,” she complained to the chief judge of U.S. Bankruptcy Court. “A smart, smug jock, the epitome of a privileged white male.”

A state judge who signed the eviction order was “ridiculously obsequious to the opposing attorney, who was mocking and mean to me.”

She publicly suggested that she was considering suicide. “I expect this is the last letter I will ever write,” she said in a letter to the bankruptcy judge three days before the fire. “Too bad, because I had a LOT left to offer.”

That same day, she dropped Hana at Brown’s house. The next night, she left several cherished family mementos on the back porch of her sister’s house and emailed a niece to let her know they were there.

A friend called the police and asked officers to conduct a wellness check. They arrived at the house around dinnertime, and Morawski was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where she spent 25 hours under psychiatric evaluation, according to her lawyer and a message she posted on Facebook.

She was cleared to leave hours after the eviction order became final and the locks to the house were changed.

Tax liens as investments

Many of Morawski’s problems stemmed from the difficulty she had paying taxes on the house at 60 Maplewood, a home her parents purchased in 1962 and had long ago paid off.

New Jersey requires communities to auction off unpaid tax and sewer debts annually. The buyers — lien holders — can charge 18% interest on debt over $1,500 and are entitled to pay any future overdue taxes on the property, expanding their investment and its steep rate of return. Bidding is often aggressive, particularly for desirable properties in affluent or gentrifying towns.

After two years, if the debt is unpaid, investors can foreclose on the property.

Unlike most other states, New Jersey permits the lien holder to keep all resale profit. Former owners get back none of their accrued equity, no matter the size of the original debt.

“When people hear about it, they think, ‘This can’t be the whole story,’” said Christina Martin, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian-leaning nonprofit that tracks lien sale foreclosures nationwide. “But it is the whole story. Government thinks it can take a windfall at the expense of society’s most vulnerable people and either keep it for the public purse or give it away to private investors for their enrichment.

“Either way, it’s gross,” Martin said.

Lawyers for the foundation are preparing to argue that the practice — they call it “home equity theft” — violates the Constitution in a Minnesota case that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in January to hear.

Between 2014 and 2021, in 31 of New Jersey’s largest communities, the owners of 661 residential properties lost homes after a foreclosure that resulted from tax or sewer debt, according to an analysis by the legal foundation. The owners forfeited roughly $115 million in equity, the group found.

The lien that led to the loss of Morawski’s house dated to 2016, when Effect Lake LLC, a Virginia-based company run by Peter Chinloy, a former Temple University professor, and his son, was the winning bidder at an October tax-certificate auction.

Three-quarters of Morawski’s unpaid taxes from 2015, $12,809, plus penalties, were put up for sale.

Competition was brisk. To win the right to buy the lien, Effect Lake not only agreed to charge zero-percent interest on the initial debt, but it paid Maplewood a $92,800 premium to do so — a routine practice used to outbid competitors.

Within weeks Effect Lake had also written checks for the $17,360.04 in taxes Morawski failed to pay in 2016, debt that would grow by the maximum 18% interest rate. The Chinloys’ company also paid all the taxes and sewer fees for the next three years.

Morawski would later say that Effect Lake deliberately mailed crucial legal notices too late for her to respond. “Real estate investors,” she wrote, “have aggressively and ruthlessly pursued foreclosure of my property so they can flip it.”

Her sister said she offered to pay the roughly $110,000 debt in exchange for the deed to the house — a deal Morawski found unfair and refused to accept.

In 2019, Effect Lake began foreclosure proceedings.

And on Jan. 30, 2020, after an investment of roughly $175,000, it held the deed to a home worth at least three times that much. Soon after, Morawski filed for bankruptcy, arguing that the property transfer had been fraudulent, a claim the judge rejected.

While fighting to save the house in bankruptcy court, she was also undergoing chemotherapy treatments that she said sapped her energy and left her unable to focus — conditions she believed should have led the court to slow the process down.

Chinloy, who earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard and was the director of real estate programs at Temple’s business school until 2020, has written extensively about investor real estate strategies and home foreclosures. He declined to comment for this article.

‘Over her dead body’

The day of the fire Morawski lit five matches at strategic points on the first, second and third floors of the house, according to a police report.

Then she walked to the basement, “laid down on a couch and proceeded to stab herself with a knife four times in the chest,” a detective wrote.

Neighbors watched as she was taken out on a stretcher and rushed to a hospital.

Three days later, charged with aggravated arson and burglary, she was transferred to a jail in Newark. A not-guilty plea was entered on her behalf for crimes that carried a maximum penalty of more than 10 years in prison.

Her lawyer, Lisa Lopata, a public defender, stressed that Morawski was “at a very low point,” and that she “deeply regrets what happened, especially the idea that anyone could have been put at risk.”

A prosecutor, Adam Wells, argued against her release from jail, in part because of her apparent determination to risk it all to make a defiant final point.

“She made a statement and apologized for her own cliché,” Wells told a judge on Jan. 13, “that over her dead body would anyone take the house.”

Ten hours later, after more than a month in custody, Morawski walked out of jail alone wearing borrowed, oversize clothes. She waited in the dark at a nearby New Jersey Transit bus stop and transferred at Newark Penn Station, en route to a friend’s apartment in South Orange, New Jersey, where she remains in home detention.

“These property tax lien holders have gotten away with everything,” Morawski said in an interview.

“If I start crying, I’m just afraid that I won’t stop.”

Weeks after the blaze, much of the first floor of the house appeared intact, largely untouched by flames. But out front, a haunting reminder of the saga’s explosive end remained etched into a sidewalk poured months ago.

“EVE M LIVED HERE 1962-2022,” Morawski had carved into the wet concrete. “LIVE. ALOHA.”

While Ron DeSantis Is Fighting Culture Wars, Millions Of Floridians Are Losing Their Health Care

HuffPost

While Ron DeSantis Is Fighting Culture Wars, Millions Of Floridians Are Losing Their Health Care

Jonathan Cohn – January 31, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis keeps making news with his self-described campaign to fight “woke” ideology. The latest headlines came about two weeks ago, when the Republican announced that he was prohibiting public high schools from offering a new Advanced Placement course in African American history. The course, his administration explained, “lacks significant educational value.” 

The announcement thrilled his supporters on the political right while infuriating his critics on the left. It’s safe to assume these were precisely the reactions that DeSantis wanted because they elevate his national profile and improve his chances of winning the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, which, as you may have heard, he is likely to seek.

But DeSantis has some other governing responsibilities, too. One of them is looking out for the health and economic well-being of Florida residents, including those who can’t pay for medical care on their own because they don’t have insurance. 

Florida has quite a lot of them ― nearly 2.6 million as of 2021, according to the most recent U.S. census figures. That’s about 12% of its population, which is well above the national average of 8.6%. It’s also more than all but four other states.

Floridians without insurance suffer because when they can’t pay for their medical care, they end up in debt or go without needed treatment or both. The state suffers, too, because it ends up with a sicker, less productive workforce as well as a higher charity care load for its hospitals, clinics and other pieces of the medical safety net.

DeSantis could do something about this. He has refused. In fact, as of this moment, his administration is embarking on a plan that some analysts worry could make the problem worse.

This story probably deserves some national attention as well.

DeSantis Has A Clear Record On Health Care

The simple, straightforward reason so many Floridians have no health insurance is that its elected officials won’t sign on to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which offers states extra federal matching funds if they make the program available to everybody with incomes below or just above the poverty line.

Most states have now done just that. It’s the single biggest reason that the uninsured rate nationwide is at a record low. But eleven states have held out, leaving in place the much more limited eligibility standards they had established before the Affordable Care Act took effect. 

Florida is one of them. Childless adults in the Sunshine State can’t get Medicaid unless they fall into a special eligibility category, like having a disability. And even adults with kids have a hard time getting onto the program because the standard income guidelines are so low ― about 30% of the poverty line, which last year worked out to less than $7,000 for a family of three. That’s not enough to cover rent, food and other essentials, let alone buy a health insurance policy.

The non-expansion states all have Republican governors or legislatures or both, and are nearly all in the Deep South. They represent the last line of resistance against Obamacare, which Republicans have spent more than a decade fighting and, famously, came very close to repealing in 2017.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown at a recent appearance in Daytona Beach, doesn't have much to say about Medicaid expansion -- or why he's opposed it.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown at a recent appearance in Daytona Beach, doesn’t have much to say about Medicaid expansion — or why he’s opposed it.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown at a recent appearance in Daytona Beach, doesn’t have much to say about Medicaid expansion — or why he’s opposed it.

DeSantis was no mere bystander to that effort. As a Republican serving in the U.S. House, he was part of a far-right caucus that voted against the first ACA repeal bill that leadership brought to the floor because, DeSantis and his allies said, it didn’t undo enough of the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. 

GOP leaders eventually put forward a more aggressive repeal. DeSantis and his colleagues voted yes on that one, but it failed in the Senate.

With repeal now off the political agenda, the main question about the Affordable Care Act is whether states like Florida will follow the lead of all the others and finally open up its Medicaid program to everybody living at or just above the poverty line.

If it did, several hundred thousand currently uninsured residents would become eligible for the program, according to independent estimates. 

End of a Pandemic Relief Effort And Its Impact

Florida’s refusal to expand Medicaid is not a new story. But it is newly relevant because of an expiring federal pandemic measure and its likely effect on access to health care for low-income residents.

When COVID-19 hit, the federal government offered states extra money to fund Medicaid as long as states agreed not to disenroll anybody who joined or was already on the program ― on the theory that in the midst of a public health emergency, the overwhelming priority was maximizing the number of people with insurance. 

That arrangement is about to end. States will have a year to go through their Medicaid enrollment files, removing anybody who cannot reestablish their eligibility. And in every state, significant numbers of people are likely to lose coverage ― in some cases simply because they aren’t aware their coverage is in jeopardy or because they can’t make their way through a complex, confusing process their state has put in place. 

Officials in some states are going out of their way to minimize coverage losses. Oregon, for example, will be letting all children younger than 6 stay on Medicaid automatically. Illinois is making it easier for adults to stay on the program while taking more time to go through the process of reestablishing eligibility.

Florida just announced its plan and, according to Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, the state seems intent on pushing ahead quickly even though its own projections suggest 1.75 million Floridians could lose insurance as a result. 

“They’re very anxious to get almost 2 million people off of Medicaid, which is scary,” Alker told HuffPost. She added that she is especially worried about children, who represent a disproportionate number of Florida’s Medicaid population because the income guidelines for young people are looser than they are for adults.

Alker was careful to say that it was impossible to be sure how Florida will ultimately handle the process of reviewing Medicaid enrollment. She also said she was pleased that state officials made statements acknowledging the special predicament of children. 

A spokesperson for the Florida Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that has been tracking the state’s plans, offered a similarly mixed assessment ― crediting state officials with an “intentional” plan that stressed communicating with parents clearly about their options while stating that it’s “too soon to tell whether the efforts outlined in the plans will be enough to make sure that Medicaid-eligible Floridians keep their coverage.”

But however Florida officials decide to handle this process, and however it works out, one thing is clear: If Florida were part of the Medicaid expansion, the number of people losing health coverage would be a lot lower.

The Uninsured In Florida Have A Difficult Time

Frederick Anderson, a family medicine physician, knows better than most what a difference health insurance can make for people in Florida. He oversees medical operations at a Miami-area clinic focusing on underserved populations, where large numbers of people have no insurance. He thinks a lot about one woman in particular. 

She’s the primary caregiver for a son with autism, Anderson told HuffPost, and she has no insurance because her below-poverty income is too high for the state’s Medicaid threshold. She’s been suffering from serious, debilitating headaches, but she can’t pay for the MRI she needs or find a neurologist with an open appointment.

It’s a problem he sees all the time, Anderson explained, because there just aren’t enough safety net providers to meet the demand. Patients end up waiting for the care they need or skipping it altogether. “We do the best we can,” Anderson said, “but many of our patients will need to see orthopedists, or neurologists or you name it, and these individuals have no easy access to those services. Or they would benefit from certain medications that I would like to prescribe for them, but … it’s just unaffordable.”

Anderson lives and works in Miami-Dade County, where the uninsured rate is among the highest in Florida. But rural areas of Florida face their own, special challenges.

The economics of health care make it more difficult for rural hospitals to survive without help from Medicaid, which is why in states like Florida that haven’t expanded eligibility, rural hospitals are struggling and in some cases closing, depriving communities of more than just acute care.

“We think of hospitals as places to go when you have something major that is wrong,” Scott Darius, executive director of the advocacy group Florida Voices for Health Care, told HuffPost. “But in those rural areas, we’ve learned, hospitals are the primary care location for large portions of the population.”

DeSantis Hasn’t Had Much To Say On Medicaid

These accounts are consistent stories reporters covering health care hear all the time. They also echo some of the anecdotes that an organization called the Florida Health Justice Project has collected on its website as part of an ongoing campaign, in conjunction with other advocacy groups, to bring expansion to Florida.

“Florida ranks [near the bottom] for the rate of uninsured residents,” Alison Yager, executive director at the Health Justice project, told HuffPost. “Expanding Medicaid, as all but 11 of our sister states have done, would surely boost our shameful showing.”

But the cause has been a tough sell in Tallahassee, where Republicans have had nearly uninterrupted control of the Florida’s lawmaking process since 1999. Two previous efforts to get expansion through the state legislature failed. DeSantis’ spokesperson confirmed in 2021 that he remained opposed to it.

That was two years ago, and since then he’s managed to avoid saying much about the issue, including to HuffPost, despite several inquiries to his office over the past three weeks. Medicaid expansion got only sporadic attention in the 2022 gubernatorial campaign, although Democrats tried initially to make it an issue, and it didn’t draw so much as a mention in the lone debate DeSantis had with Democratic nominee Charlie Crist.

A year before that, DeSantis signed a much narrower measure: a 2021 bipartisan bill increasing Medicaid’s postpartum coverage from 60 days to a year. It was a priority for the outgoing GOP House speaker, and it’s always possible political circumstances will align and lead to more legislation like that in the future.

But DeSantis’ hostility to government health care programs runs deep.

Protesters rally near the U.S. Capitol after House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. DeSantis was one of those House Republicans.
Protesters rally near the U.S. Capitol after House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. DeSantis was one of those House Republicans.

Protesters rally near the U.S. Capitol after House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. DeSantis was one of those House Republicans.

Long before he was attacking “critical race theory” lessons and supposed sexual brainwashing in the schools, he was railing against Obama-era programs generally (as New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait has explained) and the Affordable Care Act specifically (as The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie has written) as fundamentally incompatible with American principles of freedom and private property.

DeSantis may also have more practical objections to expanding Medicaid. Maybe he thinks it’s too big a drain on state finances or too wasteful a program, as many conservatives and libertarians argue. Maybe he thinks Medicaid does more harm than good for beneficiaries or that people on the program could find insurance on their own if only they were more industrious and got paying jobs. 

Those latter claims don’t hold up well under scrutiny. The majority of Floridians missing out on Medicaid expansion are in families with at least one worker, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And when the uninsured get Medicaid, their access to care and financial security improves, according to a large and still-growing pile of research

Their health outcomes also seem to improve, though the evidence on how the Medicaid expansion has affected mortality specifically remains the subject of some debate.

The Politics of Medicaid May Be Different Nationally

Advocates today have their eyes on trying to expand Medicaid through a ballot initiative, which is the way it’s happened in Idaho, Missouri and several other states where Republican lawmakers had blocked it. 

But Florida Republicans are already working to make that process more difficult because it’s a way for voters to circumvent GOP opposition to popular causes. And it’s not like waging a ballot campaign is easy now. Organizers recently told the Tampa Bay Times that 2026 is the earliest they could realistically get a Medicaid measure on the ballot.

As for DeSantis, his record on health care could become a key point of contrast in a hypothetical 2024 White House campaign. President Joe Biden, after all, is the guy who called Obamacare a “big fucking deal” and just signed into law reforms that make the program’s financial assistance more generous. Any conceivable replacement on the Democratic ticket would have a similar record of votes in Congress or state actions to support coverage expansions

There’s no way to be sure how an issue will play out in the next election ― or whether it will even matter at all. But it’s not hard to imagine the contrast on health care working to the Democrats’ advantage. The Affordable Care Act is relatively popular these days, and Medicaid expansion tends to poll well even among Republican voters

That may help explain why DeSantis and his spokespeople have so little to say on the subject. But that silence doesn’t change the real-world impact of his posture ― or what it reveals about his priorities.

DeSantis Takes On the Education Establishment, and Builds His Brand

The New York Times

DeSantis Takes On the Education Establishment, and Builds His Brand

Stephanie Saul, Patricia Mazzei and Trip Gabriel – February 1, 2023

Patricia Okker, facing camera, president of New College of Florida in Sarasota, is embraced by a supporter on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.  (Todd Anderson/The New York Times)
Patricia Okker, facing camera, president of New College of Florida in Sarasota, is embraced by a supporter on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Todd Anderson/The New York Times)

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, as he positions himself for a run for president next year, has become an increasingly vocal culture warrior, vowing to take on liberal orthodoxy and its champions, whether they are at Disney, on Martha’s Vineyard or in the state’s public libraries.

But his crusade has perhaps played out most dramatically in classrooms and on university campuses. He has banned instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade; limited what schools and employers can teach about racism and other aspects of history; and rejected math textbooks en masse for what the state called “indoctrination.” Most recently, he banned the College Board’s Advanced Placement courses in African American studies for high school students.

On Tuesday, DeSantis, a Republican, took his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment, announcing a proposed overhaul of the state’s higher education system that would eliminate what he called “ideological conformity.” If enacted, courses in Western civilization would be mandated; diversity and equity programs would be eliminated; and the protections of tenure would be reduced.

His plan for the state’s education system is in lockstep with other recent moves — banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, shipping a planeload of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and stripping Disney, a once politically untouchable corporate giant in Florida, of favors it has enjoyed for half a century.

His pugilistic approach was rewarded by voters, who reelected him by a 19 percentage-point margin in November.

Appearing on Tuesday at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, one of the state’s 28 publicly funded state and community colleges, DeSantis vowed to turn the page on agendas that he said were “hostile to academic freedom” in Florida’s higher education system. The programs “impose ideological conformity to try to provoke political activism,” DeSantis said. “That’s not what we believe is appropriate for the state of Florida.”

He had already moved to overhaul the leadership of the New College of Florida, a small liberal arts school in Sarasota that has struggled with enrollment but calls itself a place for “freethinkers.” It is regarded as among the most progressive of Florida’s 12 public universities.

DeSantis pointed to low enrollment and test scores at New College as part of the justification for seeking change there.

“If it was a private school, making those choices, that’s fine, I mean, what are you going to do,” he said. “But this is paid for by your tax dollars.”

The college’s board of trustees, with six new conservative members appointed by DeSantis, voted in a raucous meeting Tuesday afternoon to replace the president and agreed to appoint Richard Corcoran, a former state education commissioner, as the interim president beginning in March.

Corcoran will replace Patricia Okker, a longtime English professor and college administrator who was appointed in 2021.

While expressing her love for the college and its students, Okker called the move a hostile takeover. “I do not believe that students are being indoctrinated here at New College,” she said. “They are taught. They read Marx and they argue with Marx. They take world religions. They do not become Buddhists in February and turn into Christians in March.”

DeSantis also announced Tuesday that he had asked the Legislature to immediately free up $15 million to recruit new faculty and provide scholarships for New College.

In all, he requested from the Legislature $100 million a year for state universities.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” he said.

New College is small, with nearly 700 students, but the shake-up reverberated throughout Florida, as did DeSantis’ proposed overhaul.

Andrew Gothard, president of the state’s faculty union, said the governor’s statements on the state’s system of higher education were perhaps his most aggressive yet.

“There’s this idea that Ron DeSantis thinks he and the Legislature have the right to tell Florida students what classes they can take and what degree programs,” said Gothard, who is on leave from his faculty job at Florida Atlantic University. “He says out of one side of his mouth that he believes in freedom and then he passes and proposes legislation and policies that are the exact opposite.”

At the board meeting, students, parents and professors defended the school and criticized the board members for acting unilaterally without their input.

Betsy Braden, who identified herself as the parent of a transgender student, said her daughter had thrived at the school.

“It seems many of the students that come here have determined that they don’t necessarily fit into other schools,” Braden said. “They embrace their differences and exhibit incredible bravery in staking a path forward. They thrive, they blossom, they go out into the world for the betterment of society. This is well documented. Why would you take this away from us?”

Corcoran, a DeSantis ally, had been mentioned as a possible president of Florida State University, but his candidacy was dropped following questions about whether he had a conflict of interest or the appropriate academic background.

A letter from Carlos Trujillo, the president of Continental Strategy, a consulting firm where Corcoran is a partner, said the firm hoped that his title at New College would become permanent.

Not since George W. Bush ran in 2000 to be “the education president” has a Republican seeking the Oval Office made school reform a central agenda item. That may have been because, for years, Democrats had a double-digit advantage in polling on education.

But since the pandemic started in 2020, when many Democratic-led states kept schools closed longer than Republican states did, often under pressure from teachers unions, some polling has suggested that education now plays better for Republicans. And Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 victory in the Virginia governor’s race, after a campaign focused on “parents’ rights” in public schools, was seen as a signal of the political potency of education with voters.

DeSantis’ attack on diversity, equity and inclusion programs coincides with the recent criticisms of such programs by conservative organizations and think tanks.

Examples of such initiatives include campus sessions on “microaggressions” — subtle slights usually based on race or gender — as well as requirements that candidates for faculty jobs submit statements describing their commitment to diversity.

“That’s basically like making people take a political oath,” DeSantis said Tuesday. He also attacked the programs for placing a “drain on resources and contributing to higher costs.”

Supporters of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and diverse curricula say they help students understand the broader world as well as their own biases and beliefs, improving their ability to engage in personal relationships as well as in the workplace.

DeSantis’ embrace of civics education, as well as the establishment of special civics programs at several of the state’s 12 public universities, dovetails with the growth of similar programs around the country, some partially funded by conservative donors.

The programs emphasize the study of Western civilization and economics, as well as the thinking of Western philosophers, frequently focusing on the Greeks and Romans. Critics of the programs say they sometimes gloss over the pitfalls of Western thinking and ignore the philosophies of non-Western civilizations.

“The core curriculum must be grounded in actual history, the actual philosophy that has shaped Western civilization,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want students to go through, at taxpayer expense, and graduate with a degree in zombie studies.”

The shake-up of New College, which also included the election of a new board chair, may be ongoing and dramatic, given the six new board members appointed by DeSantis.

They include Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at Manhattan Institute who is known for his vigorous attacks on “critical race theory,” an academic concept that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions.

At the time of his appointment, Rufo, who lives and works in Washington state, tweeted that he was “recapturing” higher education.

Another new board member is Eddie Speir, who runs a Christian private school in Florida. He had recommended in a Substack posting before the meeting that the contracts of all the school’s faculty and staff be canceled.

The other new appointees include Matthew Spalding, dean of the Washington, D.C., campus of Hillsdale College, a private college in Michigan known for its conservative and Christian orientations. An aide to the governor has said that Hillsdale, which says it offers a classical education, is widely regarded as the governor’s model for remaking New College.

In addition to the governor’s six new appointees, the university system’s board of governors recently named a seventh member, Ryan T. Anderson, the head of a conservative think tank, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which applies the Judeo-Christian tradition to contemporary questions of law, culture and politics. His selection was viewed as giving DeSantis a majority vote on the 13-member board.

Valley fever could be spreading across the U.S. Here are the symptoms and what you need to know

Fortune

Valley fever could be spreading across the U.S. Here are the symptoms and what you need to know

L’Oreal Thompson Payton – January 31, 2023

Kateryna Kon—Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Valley fever, a fungal infection most notably found in the Southwestern United States, is now likely to spread east, throughout the Great Plains and even north to the Canadian border because of climate change, according to a study in GeoHealth.

“As the temperatures warm up, and the western half of the U.S. stays quite dry, our desert-like soils will kind of expand and these drier conditions could allow coccidioides to live in new places,” Morgan Gorris, who led the GeoHealth study while at the University of California, Irvine, told Today.com.

As the infection continues to be diagnosed outside the Southwest, here’s what you need to know about valley fever.

What is valley fever?

Valley fever, which commonly occurs in the Southwest due to the region’s hot, dry soil, is an infection caused by inhaling microscopic spores of the fungus coccidioides. About 20,000 cases of valley fever were reported in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 97% of cases were reported in Arizona and California. Rates are usually highest among people 60 years of age and older.

While most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, those who do typically feel better on their own within weeks or months; however, some will require antifungal medication.

What are the symptoms of valley fever?

Symptoms of valley fever may appear anywhere from one to three weeks after breathing in the fungal spores and typically last for a few weeks to a few months. About 5% to 10% of people who get valley fever will develop serious or long-term lung problems. Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Rash on upper body or legs
How is valley fever diagnosed?

Valley fever is most commonly diagnosed through a blood test; however, health care providers may also run imaging tests, such as chest X-rays or CT scans, to check for valley fever pneumonia.

Who is most likely to get valley fever?

People who are at higher risk for becoming severely ill, such as those with weakened immune systems, pregnant people, people with diabetes, and Black or Filipino people, are advised to avoid breathing in large amounts of dust if they live in or are traveling to places where valley fever is common.

Is valley fever contagious?

No. “The fungus that causes valley fever, coccidioides, can’t spread from the lungs between people or between people and animals,” according to the CDC. “However, in extremely rare instances, a wound infection with coccidioides can spread valley fever to someone else, or the infection can be spread through an organ transplant with an infected organ.”

How can I prevent valley fever?

While it’s nearly impossible to avoid breathing in the fungus coccidioides in places where it’s common, the CDC recommends avoiding spending time in dusty places as much as possible, especially for people who are at higher risk. You can also:

  • Wear a face mask, such as a N95 respirator
  • Stay inside during dust storms
  • Avoid outdoor activities, such as yard work and gardening, that require close contact with dirt or dust
  • Use air filtration systems while indoors
  • Clean skin injuries with soap and water
  • Take preventive antifungal medication as recommended by your doctor
Is there a cure or vaccine for valley fever?

Not yet. According to the CDC, scientists have been working on a vaccine to prevent valley fever since the 1960s. However, researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson have created a two-dose vaccine that’s been proved effective in dogs.

“I’m really quite hopeful,” Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, told Today. “In my view, right now, we do have a candidate that deserves to be evaluated and I think will probably be effective, and we’ll be using it.”

These jobs are most likely to be replaced by ChatGPT and AI

CBS News

These jobs are most likely to be replaced by ChatGPT and AI

Megan Cerullo – February 1, 2023

Chatbots and artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT that can almost instantly produce increasingly sophisticated written content are already being used to perform a variety of tasks, from writing high school assignments to generating legal documents and even authoring legislation.

As in every major cycle of technological innovation, some workers will be displaced, with artificial intelligence taking over their roles. At the same time, entirely new activities — and potential opportunities for employment — will emerge.

Read on to learn what experts say are the kinds of workplace tasks that are most vulnerable to being taken over by ChatGPT and other AI tools in the near term.

Computer programming

ChatGPT can write computer code to program applications and software. It can check human coders’ language for errors and convert ideas from plain English into programming language.

“In terms of jobs, I think it’s primarily an enhancer than full replacement of jobs,” Columbia Business School professor Oded Netzer told CBS MoneyWatch. “Coding and programming is a good example of that. It actually can write code quite well.”

That could mean performing basic programming work currently done by humans.

“If you are writing a code where really all you do is convert an idea to a code, the machine can do that. To the extent we would need fewer programmers, it could take away jobs. But it would also help those who program to find mistakes in codes and write code more efficiently,” Netzer said.

Basic email

Writing simple administrative or scheduling emails for things like setting up or canceling appointments could also easily be outsourced to a tool like ChatGPT, according to Netzer.

“There’s hardly any creativity involved, so why would we write the whole thing instead of saying to the machine, ‘I need to set a meeting on this date,'” he said.

Mid-level writing

David Autor, an MIT economist who specializes in labor, pointed to some mid-level white-collar jobs as functions that can be handled by AI, including work like writing human resources letters, producing advertising copy and drafting press releases.

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“Bots will be much more in the realm of people who do a mixture of intuitive and mundane tasks like writing basic advertising copy, first drafts of legal documents. Those are expert skills, and there is no question that software will make them cheaper and therefore devalue human labor,” Autor said.

Media planning and buying

Creative industries are likely to be affected, too. Noted advertising executive Sir Martin Sorrell, founder of WPP, the world’s largest ad and PR group, said on a recent panel that he expects the way companies buy ad space will become automated “in a highly effective way” within five years.

“So you will not be dependent as a client on a 25-year old media planner or buyer, who has limited experience, but you’ll be able to pool the data. That’s the big change,” he said.

Legal functions

ChatGPT’s abilities translate well to the legal profession, according to AI experts as well as legal professionals. In fact, ChatGPT’s bot recently passed a law school exam and earned a passing grade after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation and torts.

“The dynamic that happens to lawyers now is there is way too much work to possibly get done, so they make an artificial distinction between what they will work on and what will be left to the wayside,” said Jason Boehmig, co-founder and CEO of Ironclad, a legal software company.

Common legal forms and documents including home lease agreements, wills and nondisclosure agreements are fairly standard and can be drafted by a an advanced bot.

“There are parts of a legal document that humans need to adapt to a particular situation, but 90% of the document is copy pasted,” Netzer of Columbia Business School said. “There is no reason why we would not have the machine write these kinds of legal documents. You may need to explain first in English the parameters, then the machine should be able to write it very well. The less creative you need to be, the more it should be replaced.”

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“There aren’t enough lawyers to do all the legal work corporations have,” Boehmig added. “The way attorneys work will be dramatically different. If I had to put a stake down around jobs that won’t be there, I think it’s attorneys who don’t adapt to new ways of working over the next decade. There seem to be dividing lines around folks who don’t want to change and folks who realize they have to.”

CDC warns that a brand of eyedrops may be linked to drug-resistant infections

NBC News

CDC warns that a brand of eye-drops may be linked to drug-resistant infections

Erika Edwards – January 31, 2023

One person has died and at least three others are left with permanent vision loss because of a bacterial infection possibly linked to a brand of over-the-counter eyedrops, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A majority of those affected reported using preservative-free EzriCare Artificial Tears before becoming ill, the CDC reported in a statement dated Jan. 20.

While the infections have not been definitively traced to the eyedrops, the CDC recommended that “patients immediately discontinue the use of EzriCare Artificial Tears until the epidemiological investigation and laboratory analyses are complete.”

So far, the CDC team has identified at least 50 people in 11 states with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of bacterium resistant to most antibiotics. Cases have been reported in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Most patients said they’d used EzriCare Artificial Tears before becoming ill.

EzriCare Artificial Tears (EzriCare)
EzriCare Artificial Tears (EzriCare)

Eleven developed eye infections, at least three of whom were blinded in one eye. Others had respiratory infections or urinary tract infections. One person died when the bacterium entered the patient’s bloodstream.

It is unclear whether the affected patients had underlying eye conditions, such as glaucoma or cataracts, that would have made them more susceptible. Symptoms of an eye infection include pain, swelling, discharge, redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to light and the feeling of some kind of foreign object stuck in the eye.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria are commonly found in water and soil and even on the hands of otherwise healthy people. Infections usually occur in hospital settings among people with weakened immune systems.

This type of bacterium is often resistant to standard antibiotics.

“That’s what’s so concerning,” said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Our standard treatments are no longer available” to treat this infection.

The drops under investigation are labeled as preservative-free. That is, the product does not contain anything that might prevent microbiological growth. The product could have been contaminated during the manufacturing process or when a person with the bacteria on his or her skin opened the container.

The CDC found the bacteria in bottles of the eyedrops and is testing to see whether that bacteria matches the strain found in patients.

As of Tuesday, EzriCare Artificial Tears had not been recalled. They have been sold on Amazon and at stores such as Walmart.