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Promising choice

SoVaNow.com / April 09, 2014
Whaddaya say to a roundalay?

After a run of disquieting, frankly perverse front-page headlines — messing with buried caskets? That’s a new one, even after 30 years in the business — it’s almost a relief to lead off today’s paper with news of the sale of Community Memorial Healthcenter. In terms of potential impact on the community, it’s hard to top Mecklenburg’s foremost health care provider jumping into the embrace of its new Richmond parent, VCU Health Systems.

CMH officials let it be known long ago that the hospital’s days as an independent, community-owned system were numbered. Hospital president Scott Burnette even narrowed the list of in-the-running suitors to three: VCU, Bon Secours and Duke Lifepoint. So Monday’s announcement of the CMH-VCU deal comes as no great surprise. Obviously the acquisition will have a huge impact on health care in Southside going forward, although where, exactly, the path may lead is impossible to know with any certainty.

But on first glance, the choice looks like a superb one. CMH already has benefited enormously from its affiliation with VCU on cancer care, and one has to think that a full-bore alliance with an urban, university-based system like VCU opens up a world of possibilities for medicine in our corner of Southside Virginia. The Richmond-South Hill tie-in makes sense purely in terms of geography. The additional prospect of tapping into the resources of a major medical center (and teaching hospital) is not only reassuring, it’s worth getting excited about.

Of course, the devil is forever hiding out in the details. Any time an institution changes hands, one can pretty much assume that business-as-usual is in for a period of upset. But so far the relationship between CMH and VCU has been nothing but positive for the community, and there’s good reason to think it will remain so. Given the perilous state of the hospital business, and Southside’s woeful outlook on any number of health and wellness metrics, it’s fair to say a lot was riding on CMH’s pick of a parent health care system. Here’s hoping, and expecting, that the choice pays off.

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After last week’s screed on our state senator and his risible nonsense regarding the proposed expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program, I guess I should resolve not to get dragged into the dreary job of fact-checking state Sen. Ruff’s column. (How would you even label such an undertaking? Polifrank? Frank’n’Facts?) Still, there’s this contribution from this week’s installment that leaps out: “First, the bureaucrats are eliminating Medicare Advantage forcing changes on those who signed up for this popular program. They will reduce fees healthcare providers can charge, thereby discouraging providers from coming to those communities with more retirees and poor folks.”

From the Associated Press, in a report that came out Monday on the Obama Administration’s decision to reverse previously planned cuts: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Monday that 2015 payments to the [Medicare Advantage] plans should increase less than 1 percent overall. That compares to a drop of nearly 2 percent that the government forecast in February.”

As the great Bob Dylan once said, the talking points, they are a’ changin’ ….

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If you didn’t catch the segment on rural health care in Virginia that aired this week on “60 Minutes,” the venerable CBS news magazine program, do yourself a favor and find a fast-enough Internet connection to watch it on-line. (Links are available all over the web and at http://www.cbs.com/60Minutes).

The piece nicely illustrates the challenges that residents of hardscrabble Southwest Virginia face in attempting to maintain a semblance of health and a secure lifestyle. Only one could easily change the setting to Southside and the story would remain the same — of folks who, for reasons either of their own making or not of their own making, are down on their luck and forgo medical treatment until in many cases it’s too late to stave off personal disaster. These are the people that Medicaid expansion will help. They deserve something better than the constant excuse-making and misrepresentations they hear from the program’s opponents.

We’ve asked the question before, we’ll try again: How do Frank Ruff, Tommy Wright, et al, propose to make health care accessible for thousands of their constituents who can’t afford to see a doctor?

Any answer at all?

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It’s been a while since the Dan River coal ash spill reared its ugly headwaters in this space, and when the sun comes out and the lake shimmers on the horizon it’s tempting to put the entire unpleasantness involving Duke Energy and its reckless waste disposal practices out of mind. Nor is this an entirely unjustified reaction: Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston are massive impoundments, and dilution — along with nature’s healing powers — are formidable forces working to keep the waterways healthy. To the naked eye, the damage from the Eden, N.C., spill occurred in the first few days, when the Dan turned gray and people wondered if the water through their taps was safe to drink.

Memories — and visible evidence — may fade, but there’s good reason to worry about more insidious impacts from the spill. I keep going back to an article that appeared in the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record in March in which a Wake Forest University professor warned about the long-term effects of selenium contamination on marine life. (Arsenic, mercury, lead — the toxic metals that get most of the attention — are not major concerns, at least according to this one authority.) The clear implication was that it will take a while for the full scope of the damage to manifest itself on the Dan. One can be optimistic the Lake Country will be spared; upstream near Eden and Danville, the outlook is less promising.

On the same subject, the Greensboro News & Record (http://www.news-record.com) and the Danville Register & Bee (http://www.godanriver.com) have done some fine reporting in the aftermath of the spill. As sludgy subjects go, not even the release of 39,000 tons of coal ash can compete (figuratively, of course) with the inevitable shift in the action into the courtroom. The Greensboro paper, by virtue of being on the ground in North Carolina, especially is a valuable read. It’s well worth the bookmark in your web browser.

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On the subject of media excellence, I don’t want to let the moment pass without congratulating Susan Kyte, The Sun’s do-everything reporter, for her 1-2-3 showing in the Virginia Press Association’s annual News & Editorial Contest. In competition with non-daily newspapers around the state, Susan’s work merited a first place award (for feature writing) and second and third place awards for her work in the category of general news coverage. It’s a deserved nod to one of the hardest-working people in our business (or any other), and the sort of thing I’ve come to expect not only of Susan but the entire Sun staff. Which, of course, makes me one very lucky editor.













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