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VA Uses an Old Trick at Failing Nursing Homes: Hide the Report Card

Bad grades? What bad grades?:  Nearly half of all Department of Veterans Affairs nursing homes received the agency’s lowest possible quality ratings as of December. But until very recently that information was hidden from families looking for a home for their loved ones, an investigation by The Boston Globe and USA Today found. The VA made some of the ratings public last week, while reporters waited for officials to explain why they were kept secret, and then blamed the fact that they weren’t previously released on the Obama Administration. Still more data remains hidden, including rates of antipsychotic drug prescriptions and rates of injury or infection, data that federal regulations require private nursing homes to make public.

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Cars on fire: More than 100 car owners have complained that their Kia or Hyundai has caught fire spontaneously, and now the Center for Auto Safety wants federal regulators to investigate. The complaints involve  2011-2014 models of the Kia Sorento, Kia Optima, and Hyundai Santa Fe, which were manufactured at the same Georgia factory, and in the same model years of the Hyundai Sonata, manufactured in Alabama. The vehicles have been the subject of another 200 complaints about melted wires, smoke, and burning odors, according to the consumer advocacy group, which has formally petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to begin a safety defect investigation. In one case, a Sonata owner drove to the store, went in to do some shopping and returned to a car in flames. Because new complaints continue to be filed, “it is reasonable to conclude that more Kias and Hyundais will catch on fire, leading to fatalities or serious injuries,” Executive Director Jason Levine wrote in the group’s petition.

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Doing less for workers at OSHA:  Enforcement activity by regulators charged with protecting workers from on-the-job injuries has declined since President Trump took office, even as work-related fatalities are on the rise, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project. The report analyzed units of enforcement activity, which are weighted to account for more complicated investigations, such as when a fatality occurs, and found an especially steep decline over five months ending in February. The total number of inspectors at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration also fell, from 814 in January 2017 to 764 in January 2018.

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Nurses, teachers drafted as prison guards: Under a government hiring freeze implemented four days after President Trump took office, staffing levels at federal prisons have dropped precipitously, leaving about 12 percent of positions unfilled as of this March, Danielle Ivory and Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times report. Support staff – nurses, teachers, case workers – increasingly are asked to fill in as guards without proper training for the role, with no one to do the work they typically do, and with few people available to provide backup if something goes wrong. The staffing issues continue even as the prison population is expected to grow this year and next. “People are going to get hurt,” one worker at a Texas prison told them, “all because they want to save a little money.”

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On banks and bump stocks: The bank that processed Slide Fire’s online sale of bump stocks is holding $1.6 million hostage, according to a lawsuit the company filed in federal court. The Utah-based Merrick Bank said it’s holding the money in reserve to cover any potential liability to its business after a gunman used bump stocks to shoot hundreds of people at a Las Vegas music festival last year, killing 58. “Experts say the suit may be the latest sign that financial institutions are deciding that dealing with the firearms industry is more trouble than it’s worth — either in terms of liability, or bad press,” Ann Givens of The Trace writes.

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Brain Balance: Founder Robert Melillo has promised that his Brain Balance program can make ADHD, dyslexia and autism “a thing of the past,” and families have paid thousands of dollars to enroll their children. But experts say there is little evidence to back that up, Chris Benderev reports for NPR.

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Coyote killing contests take heat: A coalition of scientists and wildlife activists are calling on Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and other state leaders to cancel the Georgia Coyote Challenge, saying the indiscriminate killing of coyotes is not a wildlife management plan with any merit. The contest, now in its second year, runs through Aug. 1 and is billed as a way of demonstrating how people “can effectively handle nuisance coyote issues.” Participants send photo evidence of 10 coyotes killed (roadkill not eligible) to be entered into a drawing for a lifetime state hunting license. But such contests have met with growing protest in recent years, including from some hunters. FairWarning wrote about coyote contests in 2015, just as California’s ban was about to take effect. Vermont recently became the second state to prohibit the contests. And other states have been considering such bans, Ted Williams writes for Yale Environment 360. One biologist told Williams that randomly shooting coyotes can disrupt the natural order among the coyotes themselves, causing some “undesirables” to fill the void and become more of a public nuisance. The National Coalition to End Wildlife Killing Contests sent a letter to Deal calling the Georgia event a “state-sanctioned killing contest” that is “antithetical to responsible hunting ethics that encourage respect for wildlife and their habitat and discourage nonfrivolous use of wildlife.”

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Deadly impact of environmental rollbacks: Using federal data and what they called “an extremely conservative estimate,” Harvard scientists estimated that an additional 80,000 people will die per decade if the Trump administration succeeds at weakening water and air quality rules.
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And now some good news: The osprey are back at Chesapeake Bay. Hundreds of dolphins have been seen dancing in the bay. And the green underwater grasses where young fish grow up are thriving in places where no vegetation could survive in the past. The health of the Chesapeake Bay is better than it’s been in 33 years, researchers say. They credited the 15-year plan launched in 2010 in which six states and Washington, D.C., are accountable for improving wastewater treatment facilities and decreasing agriculture runoff into tributaries. President Trump tried to eliminate and then dramatically cut funding for the program, but congressional support remains strong, writes Darryl Fears of The Washington Post.

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An ‘orchestra’ of cries, and public outrage: Chances are you’ve heard the recording of young children, separated from their parents by immigration officials, calling for their mothers and fathers. It was posted by ProPublica on Monday, obtained from a Texas civil rights attorney whose client “heard the children’s weeping and crying, and was devastated by it,” the lawyer said. A reporter played that recording during a press briefing Monday afternoon with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Reporters in the room tried to ask her about it, including “How is this not child abuse?” Nielsen said, “The children are not being used as a pawn,” but that the children will continue to be separated from their parents and held in temporary detention centers unless Congress acts to change the nation’s immigration laws. ProPublica editor Stephen Engelberg notes that the separations result from a discretionary change in policy by the Trump administration. The separations have prompted widespread outrage, including from conservative religious leaders, from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other physician groups concerned about the trauma the children face.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.