Governor Bill Haslam’s new budget proposal would increase funding for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which has come under fire recently for refusing to turn over records in the cases of child deaths. Haslam’s spending plan would boost DCS funding by nearly $7 million--money The Tennessean reports would be used to hire 62 more caseworkers and investigators, while boosting pay for those already on staff.
Tennessee lawmakers are scheduled to hold hearings into why more than 70 children died last year after having some contact with the department. A group of media outlets in the Volunteer State is suing the DCS for refusing to make public agency documents concerning child deaths.
Last week, A Davidson County Chancery Court Judge ruled the DCS must provide more information regarding the causes of death, the department’s prior involvement with the children, and the results of prior contact provided to those who later died.
Pressure is building on Kentucky lawmakers to refine "pill mill" legislation.
Since it was enacted last year some physicians, pharmacists and other health care providers have complained its provisions are overly cumbersome. But Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Director Van Ingram says almost two-thirds of abusers don't get medications from doctors. He says they often steal medications from homes.
Still, Ingram believes the state's crackdown on prescription drug abuse through the pill mill law is working. He says it's prompted almost all pain clinics in the Commonwealth to shut down, leaving only eight now applying to meet the new regulatory process.
Activists said Thursday after a board meeting for the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange that they are supporting a bill to require legislative approval of the exchange, which was created by executive order of the governor.
Meanwhile, exchange executive director Carrie Banahan told board members that progress is being made in setting up a website that's supposed to make picking health insurance similar to buying an airline ticket from an online travel site. The site will allow consumers to compare costs and benefits.
Exchanges are a key part of the President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul. Banahan predicts about 300,000 people will purchase insurance through Kentucky's exchange.
The U.S. Department of Labor has approved new rules it says will improve safety at the nation's most dangerous coal mines by revising the way operators are designated pattern violators.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said they improve the Mine Safety and Health Administration's ability to hold mine operators accountable for disregarding life saving safety measures. MSHA chief Joe Main says they're long overdue and could prevent 1,800 injuries over ten years.
The changes were proposed after the Upper Big Branch mine exploded in April 2010, killing 29 men.
Two high-ranking Republicans say they’ll hold legislative meetings to examine the state’s troubled Department of Children’s Services. The Tennessean reports House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey plan to announce meetings to be held later this month when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes in Nashville.
The DCS has come under intense criticism recently for refusing to share details about the cases of 31 children who died in the first six months of 2012. Those 31 children had previously been brought to the attention of the DCS, leading to questions about whether more could have been done to place the children in a safer environment.
Democratic Rep. Mike Turner has previously called for a legislative investigation into how DCS protects vulnerable young people in the Volunteer state. The New-York based group Children's Rights is also pressing Tennessee to get the DCS to release case records.
One lesser-known aspect of the Affordable Care Act is it’s reliance on state health cooperatives — which work separate of the state- or federally run health exchange, but are free to offer their own brand of insurance on the exchange.
But recent Congressional deal-making is putting those co-ops in danger.
While states are getting grants to fund their exchanges, co-ops were getting federal loans which had to be paid back within five years.
But the Washington Post reports that the fiscal cliff deal struck weeks ago kills off the co-op loan program for many states. But because of early planning, the Kentucky Health Cooperative isn’t in any funding danger, spokesman Jim McHanie says.
“Our funding is in place and we’re moving right ahead in fact we’re in the start-up phase of development and we plan to start offering coverage effective January 1, 2014,” he says.
The number of people sickened in Tennessee related to that outbreak of fungal meningitis climbed to 145, an increase of five more patients just in the past week.
Nationwide the number of people who have gotten sick has increased to 678 patients with 44 deaths. The outbreak is linked to steroid injections from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.
The Tennessean reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said four of the new cases reported in Tennessee are infections near the spine where the injection occurred and one is a patient with both fungal meningitis and an infection at the injection site.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Kentucky has spent five weeks at its highest level of flu, which is far more than last year. That means more than half of the state’s regions have reported an increased number of cases. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokesperson Gwenda Bond says although this year’s outbreak is more severe than previous years, it is not too out of the ordinary.
"There seems to be at least one point in every flu season when all states are experiencing heavier activity and it seems like we’ve just gotten there a little earlier this year," she says.
Bond says the number in some other states has already begun to taper off, which could indicate that flu season is nearing its end. However, she says predicting the end of flu season is near impossible.
"It’s really hard to judge year to year how heavy or light a flu season will be, and we’ve been lucky for the past several years we’ve had relatively light flu activity," she says.
A national advocacy organization is asking a federal judge to force the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to hand over child death records. The New York-based Children’s Rights first sued the Volunteer State in 2000 over youth safety concerns.
Children’s Rights has filed a new motion in federal court saying two children died inside the same Tennessee foster home within six months, and that the response to the incidents by the Department of Children’s Services raised, what it called, “serious concerns.”
The Tennessean reports the New York group wants the DCS to provide child fatality records for children who died in 2011 and 2012 and who had prior contact with the department. There has been no formal response by DCS to the federal motion.
The department in the past has said it will provide records before ultimately deciding it was against releasing case records due to confidentiality concerns. The court filing by Children’s Rights says the few internal records and summaries filed by DCS in December made it “impossible to determine what transpired in those cases.”
Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner is calling for a special meeting to investigate the Department of Children's Services' refusal to release records related to the abuse and death of children under its care.