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Posts published in February 2015

This week’s Briefings

Kitzhaber

 
Governor John Kitzhaber on January 12, about a month before he would announce his resignation. (photo/Office of the Governor)

 
The resignation of Governor John Kitzhaber completely preoccupied Salem and much of the rest of Oregon last week. (It became a national and international news story.) Next: What happens as new Governor Kate Brown takes office and develops a new administration?

In Washington, the legislature has gotten down to business – which is to say, questions of money. Transportation and education budgets were the subject of negotiations last week, and more will emerge this week. By the end of this week, it may be clear whether one legislative session will suffice, or more will be needed.

The most long-range significant event of last week in Idaho may have been the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the St. Lukes and Saltzer merger, which may set major guidelines for health care administration in the state – or, guidelines that might be addressed by law. The implications are far reaching; news coverage of the case was much less so.

On the front pages

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Idahoans head to North Dakota for oil money (Boise Statesman)
Capone case costs county half a million (Lewiston Tribune)
Aquatics center called 'structurally unsafe' (Moscow News)
Pullman may build new school (Moscow News)
OPE report suggests move legal work to AG (Nampa Press Tribune)
Schools treat e-cigarettes like drugs (Nampa Press Tribune)

Setting sales cost for Eugene Electric land (Eugene Register Guard)
Feds expand Kitzhaber finance probe (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune)
Congress looking into Cover Oregon issues (Portland Oregonian)
Republicans seek advantage in scandal (Salem Statesman Journal)
Polk Co puts law enforcement levy on ballot (Salem Statesman Journal)

Unfunded initiatives may face law (Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Bremerton Sun, Olympian, Port Angeles News, Longview News)
Changes planned for 4th Street in Bremerton (Bremerton Sun)
Amazon drones may be barred by FAA (Seattle Times)
Washington rules going after carbon (Spokane Spokesman)
Pierce property taxes going up 7.7% (Tacoma News Tribune)

Living with the sword

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

We Nor’westerners are often prone to complacency when looking at tornados, hurricanes, tropical storms and other climate disasters in our old continental U.S.. Our response is usually something like “Tsk tsk. Isn’t that too bad?” Because we live on the continent’s last few feet of real estate, we acknowledge the news without having really deep feelings for local trauma of the moment in other regions.

Our own Northwest neighborhood doesn’t host many such events. Oh, we have windstorms and occasional flooding. Once in awhile, forest fires come uncomfortably close. Really though, most of us here remain unaffected in any direct way.

BUT - geologic history tells us Yellowstone Park used to be about 500 miles west of where it is now - west of downtown Boise in Southwest Idaho. Mt. St. Helens has blown its top and killed some folk in our lifetimes. Rainier, Hood, Baker, Shasta and a few other so far peaceful mountains in our region give off occasional rumbles. Just to keep us on our toes. No, nothing major in the neighborhood. Recently. Yet.

Still, we denizens of Oregon’s coastline are almost always of two minds when the morning alarm goes off. Today’s just another day - or - today may be our last day. It sort of depends on whether you’re a risk taker. After all, that Cascadia Subduction Zone and the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate are our constant neighbors. The tsunami starters.

This geologic “Sword of Damocles” exists not over our heads but off the shoreline. The plate and zone are about 40-80 miles out and affect - or could violently affect - an area from Vancouver Island to San Francisco.

It’s been a long, long time since there’s been a major “shaker” hereabouts. Most quake-watchers count January 27, 1700, as the last “big one.” It is thought to have been larger than the one that swamped Fukishima in 2011. Better than 9.0 on a Richter Scale - had there been a Richter Scale in 1700.

Next largest was more recent - March 27, 1964. Worst of it was in Alaska but four kids were killed in Newport, here on our Central Oregon coast, with houses and infrastructure destroyed down to Crescent City, CA.

There’s been serious exploration on the Oregon coast, some up the Sixes River about where Curry and Coos County meet up. Harvey Kelsey, and Eileen Hemphill-Haley of Humbolt State found evidence of 11 large, tsunami-producing earthquakes off our coastline during the last 6,000 years.
Their work also showed each of the11was accompanied by a tsunami that spread beach sand more than two miles inland. Even way uphill! Lots of sand. Imagine the strength of the ocean push that could do that.

Then there’s this. Last of the big 11 was about 1700. Scientists think there’s an overall average reoccurrence interval of between 300-5,500 years. Given the last big shaker was in 1700 and we’re now at 2015, we’re about 300 years out. So, those who calculate such things figure we’ve got a 10-20% chance of a big one in the next 50-100 years. Plus or minus a year or two.

Now, 10-20% chance of being drowned on any given day might seem statistically pretty unlikely where you sit. But, suppose you sat here! Right next to we folk who daily watch the usually peaceful blue Pacific. If it were your home - your family - YOU - would you be comfortable? Only a 10-20% chance of being wiped out today. Nuthin’ to worry about. Right?

But we’re not done yet. Suddenly, the Cascadia fault has gone silent! No noise. No movement. Nothing. And scientists are concerned. For four years, they’ve been dropping special seismometers to the ocean floor and getting zero readings. Nothing. They fear the Cascadia plates are locked. (more…)

On the front pages

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

West Ada plans new construction funding (Boise Statesman)
Another look at the Snake Dam breaching debate (Lewiston Tribune)
Breakfast program at Vallivue at risk (Nampa Press Tribune)
Why Idaho has a low vaccination rate (Nampa Press Tribune)
Where does Old Town Pocatello go next? (Pocatello Journal)

Activists urge Kitzhaber to drop death sentences (Eugene Register Guard)
Feds go after the fisher weasel in Kkamath area (KF Herald & News)
Pot public hearing planned next week (KF Herald & News)
Incoming governor Brown profiled (Medford Tribune)
Evaluating punishments in schools (Medford Tribune)
Another look at Kitzhaber (Portland Oregonian, Salem Statesman Journal)

Clearwater Casino planned to open in June (Bremerton Sun)
Teaching review proposals at issue (Everett Herald)
Family of Pasco cop shooting victim sues city (Kennewick Herald)
Why health exchange enrollments lag (Longview News)
Longview rail project looking for funds (Longview News)
Labor secretary comes to west coast ports (Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
Legislators try moving WA away from coal (Olympian)
Scant snow seen on Olympic peninsula (Port Angeles News)
Street parking in Seattle getting more scarce (Seattle Times)
Most who work for Spokane outearn city median (Spokane Spokesman)
Class size ballot issue may reurn to voters (Vancouver Columbian)
Evaluating measles vaccinations (Yakima Herald Republic)

Medical costs and monopoly

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The St. Luke’s Idaho Health System web site lists “facilities” - mainly meaning hospitals – at locations around Idaho including Boise (two hospitals there), Nampa, Caldwell, Eagle, Fruitland, Mountain Home, Jerome, Twin Falls, McCall, Meridian and Ketchum.

That’s some major reach. The main barrier keeping St. Luke’s from monopoly status is the St. Alphonsus organization, with hospitals in Boise and Nampa, an emergency room as well in Eagle, and other facilities in Caldwell.

These are not unusual cases: Nationally, health care is seeing major consolidations. The day of the independent, more or less, local hospital is at twilight, and more health businesses and non-profits (the differences between them can be subtle in some cases) are becoming Wal-Mart behemoths. And where will that take health care?

This question was peripheral – though it did relate – to the 9th Circuit Court decision handed down last week upholding Idaho District Judge Lynn Winmill in his order that St. Luke’s divest itself of the Saltzer Medical Group. The court described Saltzer as “the largest independent multi-specialty physician group in Idaho, [which] had thirty-four physicians practicing at its offices in Nampa.”

There’s a sense among many health providers that moving toward integrated systems, unifying the networks of physicians and health care organizations, is the best avenue toward controlling and maybe reducing health care costs. There’s some logic to this. The efforts underway to some extent nationally and to a larger degree in some states (Oregon and Washington for two) toward coordinated care are aimed at focusing on better health results for patients and a reduction of the pay-per-service approach, and systems that routinely bring people into the system via emergency rooms, which between them help drive up many costs. These efforts rely on bringing broad networks of health providers together to seek out efficiencies, rather than pit everyone individually to grub as much money out of the system as they can.

The 9th Circuit noted that “Saltzer had long had the goal of moving toward integrated patient care and risk-based reimbursement. After unsuccessfully attempting several informal affiliations, including one with St. Luke’s, Saltzer sought a formal partnership with a large health care system.” That turned out to be St. Luke’s. And leadership at St .Luke’s has mentioned as well the idea of more cooperative systems as a way to control health costs and improve results.

There’s some tension here between that possible improvement and concerns about monopoly. From the 9th Circuit decision again: “The district court expressly noted the troubled state of the U.S. health care system, found that St. Luke’s and Saltzer genuinely intended to move toward a better health care system, and expressed its belief that the merger would “improve patient outcomes” if left intact. Nonetheless, the court found that the “huge market share” of the post-merger entity “creates a substantial risk of anticompetitive price increases” in the Nampa adult PCP [primary care physician] market. Rejecting an argument by St. Luke’s that anticipated post-merger efficiencies excused the potential anticompetitive price effects, the district court ordered divestiture.” (more…)

On the front pages

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Boise still has no police ombudsman (Boise Statesman)
New Senate concealed weapons bill (Boise Statesman)
Youth boot camp passes, opposed by local rep (Lewiston Tribune)
Kitzhaber resigns as governor (Lewiston Tribune)
Washington looks at police body cam use (Moscow News)
Urban renewal bills reviewed in legislature (Nampa Press Tribune)
Dixie Drain projects cleanup en route (Nampa Press Tribune)
Leader for jail expansion effort chosen (Nampa Press Tribune)

Kitzhaber resigns as governor (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Salem Statesman Journal, Medford Mail Tribune, KF Herald & News, Pendleton E Oregonian)
Brown prepares to become governor (Eugene Register Guard, Salem Statesman Journal, Medford Mail Tribune, KF Herald & News)

Senate passes bill to mesh pot medical, other markets (Vancouver Columbian, Bremerton Sun, Longview News)
Another move to commercial air at Paine Field (Everett Herald)
Property tax increases likely at Snohomish (Everett Herald)
Oregon Governor Kitzhaber resigns (Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman, Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Olympian, Longview News)
Sawmill hours reduced at Longview (Longview News)
Lacey loosened commercial sign rules (Olympian)
Effort to restart Bertha comes next week (Seattle Times)
Many in WA still can't afford health insurance (Seattle Times)

Planting ideas (colleges)

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Congress has recognized the importance and the value of tribal colleges. A Senate resolution sets Feb. 8 as the “National Tribal Colleges and Universities Week.”

There are 32 fully accredited tribal colleges and universities on some 75 campuses across the country, reaching thousands of students, delivering higher education for a fraction of the cost of other public institutions.

“All across America we have teachers helping students in some of the poorest, most remote corners of our nation. We have students who are committed to persevering, have been raised with the cultural strength of their tribe, and are determined to shine brighter to make this world a better place,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and sponsor of the resolution. “In North Dakota, I’ve been awestruck by the commitment I’ve seen from our educators and staff at all five of our tribal colleges to engaging with our Native kids – to showing them that they can achieve higher and grow stronger both personally and professionally.”

But when it comes to public policy, tribal colleges do not get the resources required.

A few weeks ago, the Atlantic published a critical report about tribal colleges and called them a “poor return on more than $100 million a year in federal money.” And, a top line of a hundred million sounds like a lot of money. The primary complaint was that the schools’ graduation rates are lower than other institutions.

But here is the rub: The same report acknowledged how much less is being spent on Native students. “Congress sets tribal college funding and is authorized by federal law to give schools a maximum of $8,000 per student. But in reality the schools get $5,850 per student on average. And that funding can be used only for Native American students; nearly a fifth of those enrolled don’t identify as Native,” wrote Sarah Butrymowicz for The Atlantic. “Howard University, a historically black college, by comparison averages more than $20,000 per student from the federal government.”

And that’s just the beginning. A report by the Century Foundation estimates the total cost for a community college averages $10,242 per student.

But The Atlantic piece seemed to blame tribal colleges themselves for inadequate resources — and a performance metric based only on graduation rates.

Fortunately there is another way to look at this issue. The Montana Legislature is considering legislation that would boost funding non-Indian students who attend tribal colleges on a per student basis. A bill by Rep. Susan Webber, D-Browning, would match the amount of funding that state community colleges receive on a per capita basis. Under current state law tribal colleges — seven based in Montana — receive about half as much per student as community colleges. Non-Indian students make up nearly a third of the student body at Montana’s tribal colleges. As Blackfeet Community College President Billie Jo Kipp put it: “Compared to what Dawson Community College gets, we get $3,000. They get $6,740. We provide similar services, we provide similar—if not more—training programs, workforce development programs, to non-Natives as well.”

Tribal colleges remain, in my mind, an unfair bargain. A bargain because they deliver higher education at a much lower cost per student. And an unfair bargain because they should not have to do that. There should be the resources available to get the job done.

Tribal colleges serve another critical role. Let me explain. If you look at the economy of a local community, pick the town, you’ll find that there are often four pillars of activity that create jobs. These are: government, health care, higher education and private sector. We know that government (tribal and federal) plays a huge role in any reservation economy. It’s the same with Indian health (now Indian Country’s single largest employer). In communities with strong tribal colleges, that becomes a third leg for economic development because there’s an infrastructure surrounding a campus that creates good gigs ranging from professors to maintenance workers. The fourth leg, the private sector, is usually the weakest link for a lot of reasons. (more…)

On the front pages

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Six same-sex marraige licenes in Idaho invalid (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune, Moscow News)
More Idaho drone companies plan their move (Boise Statesman)
Legislature reviews open meeting penalties (Boise Statesman)
Whitman farm cleared for pot planting (Lewiston Tribune)
WA justices agree with WSU golf on water (Moscow News)
12th avenue gets development attention (Nampa Press Tribune)
Bill would pull Idaho from common core group (Nampa Press Tribune)
Concealed weapons bills hit legislature (TF Times News)

State officials urge Kitzhaber resignation (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Salem Statesman Journal, Medford Tribune, KF Register Guard, Pendleton E Oregonian)
Property manager and money vanish (Eugene Register Guard)
Salem warns about owl attacking joggers (KF Herald & News)
Medford area eagle killed by poison (Medford Tribune)
Senators moving on timber payment bill (Medford Tribune)
Fed budget could cut conservation research (Pendleton E Oregonian)

School districts review vaccination policy (Bremerton Sun)
State roads bill hits $570m (Seattle Times, Vancouver Columbian, Everett Herald)
Campbell named city manager (Longview News)
Chorus of calls for Kitzhaber resignation (Vancouver Columbian, Longview News)
Legislature sees push for gas tax increase (Tacoma News Tribune, Yakima Herald Republic, Olympian)
Big new Amazon fulfillman center at DePont (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
Bill would limit lawsuit awards in records cases (Olympian)
Another measles case on the peninsula (Port Angeles News)
North Idaho waters near flooding (Spokane Spokesman)
Building book seen in Kootenai apartments (Spokane Spokesman)
Tacoma graduation rate exceeds the state's (Tacoma News Tribune)
Leaders in Washougal oppose oil terminal (Vancouver Columbian)

“a bizarre and unprecedented situation”

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

A statement released this morning from Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown. The third paragraph is the most notable.

Late Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from the Governor while I was in Washington, DC at a Secretaries of State conference. He asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.

I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. I was escorted directly into a meeting with the Governor. It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition.

This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.

I informed the Governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign. Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon.