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NC DHHS Confirms Enterovirus D68 Has Reached North Carolina

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services today confirmed the presence of enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, in six patients from North Carolina.  The specimens that tested positive for EV-D68 were obtained from children ages 10 and under with respiratory illnesses. Testing was conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on specimens submitted from hospitals across the state.

Specific information about the children, including county of residence or hospital location, is not being released in order to protect patient confidentiality.

“DHHS’ Division of Public Health has been monitoring this situation very closely,” said Dr. Zack Moore, a pediatrician and epidemiologist with the Division of Public Health. “The confirmed cases were located in different parts of the state, so it is important for everyone to take necessary actions to protect yourself from EV-D68 and other respiratory viruses. There are no vaccines and no specific treatments for EV-D68, so prevention is the best option.”

There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses and 10-15 million infections across the US each year. Enteroviruses are common viruses that can cause a range of symptoms, include runny nose, coughing, mouth sores, fever and body aches. Some patients will also develop wheezing and difficulty breathing.

“EV-D68 is one of many enteroviruses that can cause illness,” said Dr. Moore. “Enterovirus infections are not generally life-threatening but can sometimes be severe, especially for children with asthma or other underlying respiratory conditions. If you or your child experience cold-like symptoms and difficulty breathing, contact your health care provider right away.”

Enteroviruses are transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. Health officials are recommending that people take the following actions to protect themselves from infection with EV-D68 and other respiratory illnesses:

1. Wash hands vigorously and often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers. 
2. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
3. Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.
4. Frequently disinfect touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.

Since people with asthma are higher risk for respiratory illnesses, health officials are reminding everyone with asthma to take their medications as prescribed and make sure their asthma is under good control. Health officials are also recommending getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible to help prevent another important cause of respiratory illness that could be going around at the same time.

Since mid-August, EV-D68 has been linked to clusters of respiratory illness in 27 other states, including some illnesses that have been severe.

For more information, visit the CDC website on Enterovirus D68: http://www.cdc.gov/non-polio-enterovirus/about/ev-d68.html.

New Hope for Rural Areas Short on Doctors

A new plan to allow multi-state licensing for physicians could help fill the gap in areas without enough health-care services. If at least seven state legislatures agree to what’s known as a multi-state compact, a licensed doctor could easily get permission to practice medicine in any of the compact states.

Kevin Bohnenblust with the Wyoming State Board of Medicine says the compact would be especially useful for bringing specialists from a big city to a rural area with a small number of patients, “They might only have three or four patients, but their services would be critical. What we’re hoping is that, where there are under-served areas, it will give added flexibility.”

The details of the compact were unveiled this month, and Bohnenblust says it’s already receiving interest from across the country. In a report released this month by the website BetterDoctor.com, Raleigh and Greensboro are among the top cities in the country facing a physician shortage, in part because of the growth of population and business in the region.

Under the compact, a doctor could pay a fee and go through a fairly simple process to get an additional license. Bohnenblust says that’s much simpler than getting separate licenses to practice in multiple states, although he says doctors would still have that option. He adds if a license under the compact was suspended in one state, it would be suspended in all of them.

Bohnenblust says the compact is designed to make services such as telemedicine easier to do, “We’re all getting more comfortable with doing things like Skyping and FaceTime. As patients become more comfortable with it, and as physicians and other health-care professionals become more comfortable, you’ll see more and more care driven that way.”

He says the compact should be especially useful for doctors who want to operate a practice on both sides of a state line, “Being able to make it so a physician can move between those two states and be able to provide care on kind of a seamless basis for a patient.”

Because of the anticipated shortage in North Carolina, the N.C. Institute of Medicine has asked medical schools to increase enrollment by 30%.

Department of Public Safety to pitch in during statewide litter sweep

The Department of Public Safety will deploy hundreds of inmates this month to help the Department of Transportation carry out its annual fall sweep to rid the state roadsides of litter.

During the 2014 Fall Litter Sweep Sept. 20 – Oct. 4, state prisons will send minimum-custody litter crews, medium-custody road squads and Adopt-A-Highway participants out to remove trash and debris from along the state’s highways and roads.

“Everyone knows that litter creates an eyesore and an image problem. But littering is not only ugly, it can be dangerous,” said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry. “Motorists who swerve to avoid debris in the road risk losing control of their vehicle.  Litter and debris blowing from unsecured loads on trucks can strike other vehicles, obscure a driver’s vision, damage vehicles and even injure drivers.”

The state spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up roadside trash that fills hundreds of thousands of garbage bags, said W. David Guice, commissioner of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.

“During last year’s Litter Sweeps, inmates picked up more than 425 tons of trash,” Guice said. “In the spring sweep earlier this year, inmates cleared more than 2,300 miles of highway and filled more than 27,500 trash bags.”

“North Carolina is a beautiful state, and Commissioner Guice and I are committed to contributing resources to this worthy initiative,” Perry said.

Sun Shines on NC Power Bills with $500 Million Investment

North Carolina could come closer to living up to its solar power potential with a $500 million dollar investment from Duke Energy. The corporation said this week it will construct three solar farms to generate 128 megawatts of electricity – in Elm City, Fayetteville and Warsaw.

John Wilson with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says greater availability of solar could ultimately stabilize consumer electric bills,”The price for these projects doesn’t go up. There’s no fuel cost increase with the sun shining, then if prices of other fuels go up, the customers will be insulated from price hikes.”

Duke Energy also announced it would purchase 150 megawatts of solar power from independent developers. Last year, 335 megawatts of solar capacity was installed in North Carolina, ranking it third in the nation and generating enough electricity for more than 31-thousand homes.

Stephen Smith, executive director of “SACE,” agrees with Wilson’s assertion that solar growth could impact the bottom line for utility customers, “They will serve as a stabilizing effect on fuel prices for North Carolina. So, the benefits will come more and more into the future, as we see these solar facilities run just any time the sun shines.”

State law dictates that North Carolina’s electric power suppliers meet an increasing amount of their customers’ energy needs with a combination of renewable energy resources. The law was passed in 2008, and Wilson says Duke’s announcement is a testament to its success,”This action by Duke is also the culmination of many years of implementation of North Carolina’s energy law, which was a far-sighted effort by the North Carolina Legislature.”

Today, North Carolina has a total of 627 megawatts of solar energy installed, powering the equivalent of more than 68,000 homes. Last year, a total of 787 million public and private dollars was invested in solar power for home and business use.

Farmers should have corn tested for aflatoxin

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is encouraging farmers to have their corn tested for aflatoxin to prevent contamination of feeds and food.

Aflatoxin is a byproduct of the mold Aspergillus flavus, and can be harmful to both humans and livestock.

“We have six drop-off locations at research stations across the state to make it easy for farmers to submit samples,” Troxler said. “I encourage farmers to take advantage of our testing service to protect feed and food against this mold.”

Some farmers may need to have corn samples tested for crop insurance or quality assurance purposes. These samples must be submitted to a grain marketing location certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The tests cost $22.20 per sample.

For insurance or quality assurance purposes, farmers must submit a 5-pound sample of shelled corn by mail, UPS or FedEx to a USDA-certified grain marketing location. The following locations can conduct USDA-certified testing, and they will accept samples between 6:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays:

Cargill Soybean Plant
Attn: Ben Honeycutt
1400 S. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC 27603
919-733-4491

Grain Grading Office
Attn: Judy Grimes
407-G South Griffin St.
Elizabeth City, NC 27909
252-337-9782

Farmers who grow or buy bulk corn to feed to their own animals can have it tested for free by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Constable Laboratory, 4000 Reedy Creek Road in Raleigh. This Laboratory is not on the Risk Management Agency’s approved testing facility list; therefore, results from this location will not be accepted for insurance claims.

Farmers may drop off 5-pound samples of shelled corn at the Constable Laboratory or at one of six agricultural research stations. Forms for submitting samples will be available at the Laboratory and the following collection sites:

Samples also may be mailed directly to the lab at the following address:

N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Food and Drug Protection Division
Attn: Forage Testing
1070 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1070

For additional information about the aflatoxin testing program, contact Jennifer Godwin or Michelle Powell at 919-733-7366.

 

SBI Announces Prescription Take-Back Day Sept. 27

The State Bureau of Investigation, along with Safe Kids North Carolina and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, is co-sponsoring a national effort to safely dispose of unused prescription medicines in locations across the state from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27.

 

“Taking expired, unwanted or unused medicines to one of the pill take-back locations is the best disposal method,” SBI Director B.W. Collier said.  “This coordinated effort keeps harmful drugs out of the reach of children and prevents chemicals from ending up in the water supply.”

 

Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning, according to Safe Kids, a non-profit organization that helps parents and caregivers prevent childhood injuries.  Environmental experts say that flushing medicines down the toilet contaminates water supplies and hurts aquatic life.

 

From Aberdeen to Pilot Mountain, law enforcement agencies are participating in U.S. DEA’s National Take-Back Initiative.  The State Highway Patrol is offering drop-off sites at its eight troop offices.  (http://bit.ly/XvPxiF).  For those who do take old medications to drop-off locations, the service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.

 

State and local law enforcement officials oversee the collection of the drugs, the State Highway Patrol provides vehicles to transport the medication and personnel, and the DEA pays to have the medications destroyed at an Environmental Protection Agency-approved incinerator.

 

North Carolinians have safely disposed of approximately 61 million total doses at pill take-back events since 2009.

 

“Through these partnerships we are able to remove potentially deadly drugs from households so that they cannot fall into the hands of unsuspecting young people or drug abusers,” said SBI Special Agent in Charge Donnie Varnell of the Diversion and Environmental Crime Unit.  “This effort provides the safest way to dispose of old medications.”

 

According to DEA, medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to misuse and abuse, and a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

To find a collection site in North Carolina, go to www.dea.gov. Click on Drug Disposal in the right-hand column, then National Take-Back Initiative / Locate a Collection Site Near You.

NC Rail Projects Get Big Boost Thanks to Federal Grant Awards

Rail in North Carolina is getting a big boost thanks to two federal TIGER grants recently awarded to the N.C. Department of Transportation to improve both freight and passenger service across the state. NCDOT learned last week that it received the grants, following Transportation Secretary Tony Tata’s application submittal in April.

The largest grant, for $5.8 million, will fund a major freight improvement project in northeastern North Carolina to upgrade the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad Company in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties currently operated by Genesee and Wyoming. The 52-mile rail line serves Nucor Steel, one of the largest employers in the region. 

“This project will improve the railroad track and allow shippers such as Nucor to utilize modern, heavyweight cars that are more efficient in today’s railroad operations,” said Tata. “The overall improvements will increase mobility and safety while promoting economic development in the northeast region of North Carolina.”

“This grant was possible only through the very strong support of NCDOT, Congressman G.K. Butterfield, and the communities and customers our railroad serves,” said Jim Irvin, president of the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad.  “It will allow for the modernization of the railroad, helping support existing customers and attract new ones to the communities along our line.”

Additionally, NCDOT will invest $2 million in the project through its Freight Rail and Rail Crossing Safety Initiative, funded through dividends from the North Carolina Railroad Company, as well as $800,000 from the North Carolina Mobility Fund. The total cost of the project is $11.6 million, with more than $3 million in private investment coming from the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad Company.  

The second grant for $200,000 will be used to develop transit options along the Piedmont corridor, including terminal projects such as the Gateway Station project in Charlotte. This money will allow NCDOT to continue moving this project forward with its partners on community-based connections along the route. 

TIGER grants – which stand for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – provide a unique opportunity for the USDOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives.

Fracking Hearing Held At WCU on Friday

State officials held their final public hearing on the controversial issue of fracking in North Carolina at Western Carolina University on Friday night. Hundreds of people turned out to voice opinions on both sides of the fracking issue.

Earlier this month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said they would not test for natural gas in our western counties since it would be unlikely to find it here and due to budget issues.

Opponents of fracking say they don’t want to see natural gas drilling in our mountains due to environmental issues. Many are concerned about the chemicals used in fracking which do not have to be disclosed. While they worry about new statewide fracking regulations, others see natural gas as a needed energy source for the future and job creator.

Report: NC Health Coverage Gap Impacts Mom and Dad

Parents in North Carolina are among those feeling the effects of the state’s decision to turn down federal dollars to expand Medicaid. A new report released this week by the Urban Institute examines the impact to the more than 300,000North Carolinians who fall into the coverage gap – they don’t qualify for publicly funded-health coverage, or an insurance policy through the Affordable Care Act.

Genevieve Kenney with the Urban Institute says there’s a growing disparity between parents in states that opted for the expansion, and those that chose not to,”The parents in the states that have not expanded Medicaid have an uninsured rate that is close to 20 percent, where it’s closer to 10 percent for the states that have expanded Medicaid.”

The report says states that have accepted federal funding have seen nearly a 33%drop in the rate of parents without health insurance. North Carolina lawmakers turned down the funding because of concerns over costs to the state. The federal government is paying 100% of the cost until 2016 and will reduce its funding to 90% by 2020.

Adam Linker with the Health Access Coalition says knowing that the expansion could have provided care for thousands of uninsured people is a bitter pill to swallow,  “The most frustrating thing about this is that there’s really no reason that North Carolina is not expanding, other than ideological reasons.”

17% of uninsured parents surveyed reported having fair or poor health, and slightly more said they had mental health concerns. Linker says research indicates when parents have access to preventive coverage and care when they are ill, they’re also able to care for their families, “We know that insured parents are able to be more present in their children’s lives. They’re able to take better care of their children, because they are not themselves sick.”

According to the research, nearly half of the uninsured parents studied lived in southern states and more than half were Latino.

Search Continues for Missing Appalachian State Student

540e241252300.imageThe search continues for a missing Appalachian State student. Today marks one week since 18-year-old Anna Smith went missing. State and local investigators say Smith may now be in danger.

She was last seen at her residence hall room on campus in Boone, around noon last Tuesday, September 2nd. Smith, from High Point, is now classified as a missing and possibly endangered person.

Investigators are actively using all means to locate Anna.  Anna is possibly carrying a bright blue LL Bean backpack that contained a blue ENO hammock. Anna was possibly last seen wearing a red or orange top and black leggings. Anna typically carries a red purse as well.

Anna has short red or blonde hair, blue eyes, and stands 5 feet 9 inches tall with a slender build. She has nose piercings, a black and white sunflower tattoo on her upper right chest near her collar bone and Latin lettering over her lower left ribs.

Investigators are utilizing all means including interviews, forensic examination of records, surveillance video analysis and any other available means to attempt to locate Anna.

Her parents ask anyone with information to come forward. On Saturday morning, university police were joined by Boone police and other personnel in a search of several wooded areas on campus which turned up nothing.

Smith’s friends and family members said they distributed fliers around the campus and elsewhere in the Boone area over the  weekend. The fliers also were distributed among tailgaters outside Kidd-Brewer Stadium prior to ASU’s football game Saturday night against Campbell University.

Winning NC U.S. Senate Race Could Come Down to Youth Vote

gr-41562-1-1The race for North Carolina’s open US Senate seat could be a fight ’til the end, but the key to victory could come down to the youth vote. Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is defending her office against Republican opponent State Representative Thom Tillis. New research from a nonpartisan research group known as “CIRCLE” at Tufts University suggests the youth vote in North Carolina could determine the outcome of the November race.

The unknown, says Peter Levine with the organization, is how recent changes in voting law will impact voters, “In North Carolina, there’s a lot of controversy about the changing rules regarding photo I.D. and voter registration and stuff so some would raise questions about whether youth turnout would get suppressed by that. We don’t know, but that’s certainly a part of the story.”

North Carolina’s photo I-D requirement will not be in effect in this midterm election. Levine says almost 46% of registered North Carolina voters, ages 18 to 29, turned out for the 2010 midterm elections. There are 1.4 million citizens in that age group in the state, making it one of the ten highest in the country.

Millions are being spent on both sides in the form of traditional print and T-V campaign ads, but Levine says according to his research, the key to the youth vote comes down to old-fashioned hand shaking,”The answer is direct contact. Young people really respond well to being asked to vote, and to a conversation – either at their doorstep or on the phone – about voting, because that allows them to ask questions and find out more.”Based on historical trends, he says it is also incorrect to assume that the youth vote will automatically sway toward the Democratic Party.

Free After 30 Years: Convictions Overturned for Two NC Men

Henry Lee McCollum, seen with his attorneys, and Leon Brown were declared innocent and released from prison after serving 31 years for a crime they did not commit. Photo credit: Gerda Stein.

Henry Lee McCollum, seen with his attorneys, and Leon Brown were declared innocent and released from prison after serving 31 years for a crime they did not commit. Photo credit: Gerda Stein.

They spent 30 years behind bars and today, two North Carolina men can walk free. On Tuesday, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission presented DNA testing to a Robeson County judge exonerating Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown in a 1983 rape and murder. District Attorney Johnson Britt agreed they are innocent of all charges and consented to their release.

Ann Kirby, an attorney for Brown, says the case highlights the need for better investigations and people willing to stand up for what’s right, “District Attorneys with the kind of courage that Johnson Britt has, as a true minister of justice, which is what prosecutors are charged to be – Not going in just to get convictions, but to go in and just give the truth. Because that’s what we need is the truth – and sometimes, we stop before we get there.”

McCollum and Brown were sentenced to death, accused of the rape and suffocation of an 11 year old girl. Brown’s sentence was later reduced to life in prison, but McCollum has remained on death row through decades of appeals. The DNA evidence matched a man currently serving a life sentence for rape and murder, who lived at the time near where the victim’s body was found.

Both McCollum and Brown have intellectual disabilities and were teenagers at the time of their arrest. James Payne, who also represented Brown, says the evidence that tied them to the crime was false, coerced confessions and investigators rushed to judgment, “Taking the easy answer and ignoring all the other indicators that there was another answer to the question led to two of them being on death row – one for five, one for 31 years. ”

Henry McCollum’s attorney, Ken Rose, called it “terrifying” that the justice system allowed the men to be wrongfully imprisoned. He added there’s a problem with the reliability of the convictions of people on death row.

 

Cut 45302 :14  “Mostly, these cases are old cases, before there were important reforms in the state. And I think there are a lot of problems in a lot of those cases. So, it’s a powerful message that we should not restart executions, and we should consider abolishing the death penalty.”

Tag:  According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, there are 153 people on death row.

 

 

Vaccinations are the Cure for Unnecessary School Suspensions

VaccineThe North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reminding parents to ensure children are up-to-date with vaccines to avoid suspension from school. North Carolina law requires children who are home-schooled or attend a public, private, charter or religious school to be up-to-date with North Carolina-required vaccinations within 30 calendar days from the first day of school.

Failure to show proof, such as shot records, will result in the suspension from school until the required immunization has been obtained.

Vaccine-preventable diseases, such as chicken pox, meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough) and others, are still experienced throughout North Carolina. Staying up-to-date with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccinations is the best way to protect schools and communities from diseases that can cause unnecessary illnesses and death.

For a complete list of required vaccines or additional information, visit: www.immunize.nc.gov

Experts Say Pick Up a Book to Better Bond with Your Child

Finding time to stop and read to your child can be hard at the end of the day, but experts say making the time will pay off in the long run. Programs in North Carolina, such as Reach Out and Read, work to encourage reading.

Brian Gallagher with the organization explains how the simple act of reading aloud to your child can make a difference, “By having the parent hold the child, sit with the child, have the child hear the parent’s voice, the book in many ways helps to create that interaction.”

Tag:  In North Carolina, Reach Out and Read distributes almost 223-thousand books annually. The program works with North Carolina pediatricians to hand out books at annual well-check visits. According to Child Trends, 55% of children aged three to five in the US are read to every day.

 

H.W. Cumming is a technology executive and dad who in spite of travel made time for nightly reading to his children. Some nights he made up stories and recently turned them into a children’s fantasy novel that’s been published this summer.  “It was always something that we kept very sacred. It was just something that we had to do. It was something that we did that was our bonding time, and we never missed it.”

Gallagher says by working with doctors to distribute donated books, Reach Out and Read is able to connect with children and their parents, “The doctor is that trusted messenger. When the doctor hands that child a book, starting when they’re babies, the parent’s going to hear that message very early on that this is something that’s good for your child, it’s good for you.”

Tag 2:  In addition to making reading to your child a part of your everyday routine, Gallagher recommends letting your child turn the pages, talk about the pictures and ask your child to retell the story.

September is Grape And Wine Month in NC

grape muscadineIn recognition of the state’s growing wine and grape industry, Gov. Pat McCrory has proclaimed September 2014 as North Carolina Wine and Grape Month.

The state’s wine and grape industry has grown significantly in recent years. It now employs more than 7,600 workers and has an economic impact of nearly $1.3 billion.

One indicator of the industry’s maturity is the federal government’s recent designation of a fourth American Viticultural Area in the state. The Upper Hiawassee Highlands AVA covers 690 square miles within the upper Hiawassee River basin in Western North Carolina. It joins the Haw River, Swan Creek and Yadkin Valley AVAs.

Having four distinct AVAs in North Carolina is a testament to the variety and quality of wines that NC is able to produce.

North Carolina boasts more than 400 commercial grape growers. Muscadines are grown mainly in the East, while European-style vinifera grapes are grown in the West and Piedmont. While many of the grapes are used to make wines and other specialty products, there is also a significant fresh market for the fall fruit. In September and October, shoppers can find fresh, native muscadine grapes at farmers markets and roadside stands.

North Carolina’s grape-growing history dates to the late 1500s, when Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers first noticed wild scuppernongs on Roanoke Island.

Americans Are Not Saving For Retirement

Much has been written about the “sandwich generation” — middle-aged Americans who are caught between their financial obligations to elderly parents and to their children, while they also try to prepare for their own retirement years.

Yet millions of Americans face an even bigger bind: More than one-third of all working-age adults haven’t managed to save any money toward retirement, according to a new survey by Bankrate.com. The personal finance site found that 26 percent of people 50-to-54-year-olds and 14 percent of those age 65 and older have no savings.

The survey of over 1,000 adults living across the U.S. also found that 69 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds and a third of 30-to-49 year-olds have yet start putting something away for their later years.

The Bankrate findings jibe with other research that illustrate the death of retirement savings. The median retirement account balance for all working-age households in the U.S. is $3,000, and $12,000 for near-retirement households, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.

However,  Those who are saving for retirement are starting earlier than in the past. And Millennials — people born between 1980 ad 2000 — at least feel more financially secure than any other age group surveyed, which may account for their lack of retirement savings.

Of course, preparing for retirement in a post-recession economy is easier said than done. A recent CBS News poll found that about 70 percent of working Americans are finding it hard to save for retirement at all, as they attempt to pay bills and meet their basic living expenses.

Only 18 percent of U.S. workers say they are very confident of having enough money to live comfortably during their retirement years, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Report: Not All Cancer Care in NC is Created Equal

UNC research found that proximity to care impacts publicly insured patient's ability to continue cancer treatment. Photo courtesy National Cancer Institute

UNC research found that proximity to care impacts publicly insured patient’s ability to continue cancer treatment. Photo courtesy National Cancer Institute

The quality of cancer care you receive in North Carolina could depend on where you live. That’s the conclusion of two studies recently published in the North Carolina Medical Journal.

Stephanie Wheeler at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill analyzed people on Medicaid in the state to evaluate the frequency and availability of chemotherapy treatments, “Distance does matter, and we found that in urban areas, as we would expect, the further away that you live from a radiation provider, the lower odds you have of receiving radiation.”

One surprising outcome of Wheeler’s research – rural patients living less than 10 miles away from their provider are less likely to receive therapy than those living further away. She attributes that to the fact that people who live in rural areas are accustomed to driving further for their needs.

 

A separate study released this summer from the American Society of Clinical Oncology found there is a projected shortage of 1,500 physicians over the next 10 years to care for cancer patients.Wheeler also points out rural areas often have fewer specialists in close proximity. “There’s quality of care issues everywhere. I think what some of the issue might be in rural settings is that sometimes the oncologist practicing in those settings are more often generalists.”

The study also found that two-thirds of small oncology practices reported they were likely to merge, sell or close within a year. The report suggests an expansion of tele-medicine to give patients greater access to specialists and reducing the instability of payments from publicly insured patents that have a disproportionate impact on small community practices.

Women’s Equality Day Activities Planned Across North Carolina

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote 94 years ago this week. Now the anniversary of the amendment's signing marks Women's Equality Day nationwide. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote 94 years ago this week. Now the anniversary of the amendment’s signing marks Women’s Equality Day nationwide. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Today marks the 94th anniversary of the signing of the 19th Amendment – granting women the right to vote. Events are planned in cities across the state including Charlotte and Raleigh to commemorate the day. Women’s groups are also using it as an opportunity to talk about policy changes that impact women in their pursuit for equality, including education and health care.

Ashley Simons-Rudolph with the Women’s Center at NC State explains what the day means to her,”There are always going to be ebbs and flows with equality, but you know I’m really proud to be North Carolinian and really proud of my state.”

Today in Raleigh women will gather at the State Capitol in recognition of Women’s Equality Day. The event is part of a Moral Week of Action, with citizens gathering all week to urge state leadership to reconsider public policies they see as counterproductive to the wellbeing of citizens.

Tara Romano with NC Women United is coordinating the Raleigh event and says the Moral Week of Action is a platform to discuss issues like the repeal of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and the decision to not expand Medicaid, “We are excited to be a part of it because we do feel it’s an opportunity for us to talk about issues that don’t typically get talked about, like child care and women’s dual roles as breadwinners and caretakers.”

Simons-Rudolph says budget cuts to health and education programs in recent years are forcing organizations to maximize resources. “I think everyone in the state is learning to do more with less, and we just need to continue to do the good work that we’re doing. ”

Wednesday the Moral Week of Action will continue with discussion of Medicaid expansion, health care and environmental justice, and Thursday will conclude with a rally for voting rights in North Carolina.

A Little Help Please? Fewer Teaching Assistants in NC Classrooms

gr-41300-1-1School is well under way and public school teachers may be feeling the burden of a new year a little more this year. Many teachers in younger grades won’t have the help of teaching assistants this year, as North Carolina lawmakers opted to shift$105-million dollars away from a funding source for hiring teaching assistants.

Mark Jewell with the North Carolina Association of Educators says with fewer Teaching Assistants now being shared between classrooms and grade levels, it will be impossible for them to meet students’ needs,”The quality of the work that they’re able to do has been diminished. That’s a big concern for us out there, when you’re removing another highly qualified adult away from direct contact with their students out there.”

Teaching assistants work with individual and small-group learners, communicate with parents and help create materials used in the classroom.

The multimillion-dollar cut from the teacher assistant budget eliminates 22-percent of the money local schools have to hire them. It’s left school systems such as Charlotte-Mecklenberg without funding for 90 positions, and Winston-Salem with a potential loss of 125 assistants. Jewell sees this cut as part of a larger problem, “You can’t educate North Carolina children on the cheap, and this is the kind of philosophy that North Carolina has transitioned to over the past two years.”

Speaker Thom Tillis publicly defended the budget change, saying the money was shifted to a fund where schools can decide if they increase teacher pay or continue to pay for assistants. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the move makes it more difficult for schools to reallocate the money to Teaching Assistants.

NC Voucher Program Ruled Unconstitutional

On Thursday, a Wake County judge ruled against the state’s new school voucher program, immediately ending the transfer of millions of public education dollars to fund private schools. The judge found fault with the “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” set to begin this school year.

Chris Fitzsimon with the North Carolina Justice Center explains the reason behind the court’s ruling,  “It seems to clearly violate the constitution of using public money for a private purpose. This program allows our public taxpayer dollars to go to entirely unaccountable, unregulated schools and we have not idea where this money is going.”

Judge Robert Hobgood said the funds should be “exclusively used for establishing a uniform system of free public schools.” Supporters of the voucher program argue that it is increasing access to educational opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to lower-income families.

Hobgood also noted that private schools receiving the voucher funds are largely unregulated and therefore, are not obligated to demonstrate improvement in student performance.

Fitzsimon says based on the judge’s ruling, the vouchers won’t be dispersed, leaving qualified North Carolina families unclear whether there will be funding for their child’s private education this year, “The judge was clear that funds will be frozen. It’s my understanding that no funds will be dispersed until there’s either a trial that finds this program constitutional, or the Court of Appeals rescinds the stay.”

In 2013, state lawmakers allocated 10-million dollars for the “Opportunity Scholarships” to begin this fall. The vouchers are worth $4,200 dollars apiece.