Kentucky editorial roundup
Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
The Lexington Herald-Leader on a Kentucky county’s drinking-water crisis:
Martin County’s drinking-water crisis has been used to spotlight the effects of failing infrastructure, rural poverty, pollution, the power of the coal industry and weather. CNN has visited. Erin Brockovich has weighed in.
Pick your narrative, the long-suffering customers of the Martin County Water District can probably fit it.
What has not emerged: A ready source of money to fix decrepit water lines, the system’s most urgent physical need.
The Kentucky Public Service Commission on Nov. 5 set the stage for finally bringing in competent management — from outside — while also approving a permanent rate increase and a pair of surcharges to repair the “crumbling water system” and pay down its $1.1 million debt.
If the district fails to meet deadlines for hiring expert management and submitting a rehab plan, the PSC said it will cancel the surcharges and seek to appoint a receiver to run the utility.
Bravo for this PSC, which seems to mean business — after decades of commissions that let Martin County’s chronic mismanagement slide.
Two grants totaling $4.6 million announced early this year by Rep. Hal Rogers and Gov. Matt Bevin don’t directly address the most urgent problem: unaccounted-for water loss of 64 percent.
Most of the water that leaves the treatment plant never reaches anyone’s tap. Broken lines account for most of that loss, though theft or customers not being billed could cause some. Groundwater enters the broken lines as pressure fluctuates. The result: frequent outages and boil-water advisories, discolored and smelly tap water. Those who can afford bottled water use it for drinking and cooking. Many in this poor county can’t afford it. The district estimates the cost of needed upgrades and repairs at $13.5 million.
With the rate increase and if both surcharges take effect, by next year the average Martin countian using 4,000 gallons of water a month will pay $57.53. That’s almost $21 more than they would pay in Lexington.
More frequent, smaller rate increases — spent on regular maintenance — would have been cheaper in the end. But a politically-appointed board shied from raising rates, which is one of the reasons the system is, as the PSC said, on the brink of collapse.
Martin County is the state’s worst water district, says the PSC, but it’s far from the only one plagued by failing infrastructure, outages and frequent boil-water advisories, raising two points:
? The legislature should authorize the PSC and Division of Water to deal swiftly with such crises. As PSC chairman Michael J. Schmitt of Paintsville wrote in a concurring opinion, “the public interest would be best served if the Commission had the authority to immediately seize control of Martin County’s water utility and put a management team in place.” Instead, Schmitt said, the only options are a drawn-out court fight to appoint a receiver, who would be paid through even higher rates, or trying to force a merger. “Unfortunately, surrounding water districts are faced with similar management problems and it is unlikely they could provide either the financial stability or the managerial expertise required to remedy the problems,” Schmitt wrote.
? Rural places facing population decline are going to need low-interest loans to maintain infrastructure. Federal loan programs, however, are geared toward expanding water infrastructure, which benefits exurban areas more than rural places. At the very least, authorities should allow the $4.6 million in grants from abandoned mine lands funds and the Appalachian Regional Commission to be reprioritized to meet Martin County’s most pressing needs.
The Daily Independent of Ashland on a grant that will allow a nonprofit to expand mental health services for more than 3,000 children:
Anyone who has had a child who suffers from mental illness knows how important it is to get professional treatment.
Many patients see great improvement when treated by a professional. The treatments can, quite literally, be life changing. Add to the mix the fact that children are going through the most formative years of their lives and this access to treatment is doubly important.
This brings us to the incredible news from Pathways — that the nonprofit in Eastern Kentucky has received a $930,000 grant from the United Health Foundation. The three-year grant was announced this month. It will allow Pathways to expand mental health services for over 3,000 children across its 10-county service area using telehealth technology.
“We will install telehealth technology in all 16 of our outpatient offices and our specialty residential units to connect children to a specialist through interactive, safe and secure audio and video,” said Pathways CEO Dr. Kim McClanahan.
The children will be connected to child and adolescent psychiatrists, eliminating the need for families to drive as long as two hours to access a child’s mental health specialist.
Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Adam Meier said the state is often finding that children are overmedicated because they don’t have access to appropriate care.
“This is another way for the expansion of care, appropriate care, appropriate services that can help eliminate some of these issues that we’re seeing,” he said, adding that the state is also seeing higher rates of suicide in youth.
The United Health Foundation said it wants to help children with a long-term goal of also being able to expand the services to adults. The telehealth equipment will be starting a pilot in two weeks.
There are a couple of important facts here that need to be noted. One, as mentioned previously, mental health care for kids is so important, and we really love the idea of reducing prescription medications for kids in these circumstances whenever possible. Another fact is that, in rural eastern Kentucky, technology can help bridge a lot of gaps. Technology is a double edged sword in our view. There have been many great benefits to the transformation of our society due to computers, the internet, and now robotics. There are also significant negatives — the loss of manufacturing jobs is just one example.
Today we have an example of how technology can help Eastern Kentucky by linking kids and their families to the resources they need. A special thanks goes out today to the United Health Foundation, the leadership at Pathways and all those involved in making this project a reality. It is an incredible public service.
The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown on mental illness:
With what authorities compared to a precise military attack, 28-year-old Ian David Long methodically shot and killed 12 people last week at a California nightclub.
Long, a U.S. Marine veteran, frequented the Borderline Bar & Grill. This time, he took with him evil intention, smoke bombs and a .45-caliber handgun. Once inside, he opened fire, reportedly uploading chilling messages on social media accounts at some point during the rampage. After killing a dozen people, including a Ventura County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, at the scene, Long turned the gun on himself.
Long is the latest in a line of mass shooters with reported mental health and behavioral issues.
In April, a Ventura County Sheriff’s Office mental health crisis team responded to Long’s home after neighbors called with concerns about yelling and crashing noises inside. Deputies and counselors choose not to take Long into custody on a psychiatric hold, determining he was not a threat to himself or others.
Others around him described Long to be irrational at times, verbally violent toward his mother with whom he lived and behaviorally volatile. Former high school coaches described him as a “ticking time bomb,” one who quickly became irate when he disagreed with them. A mental health counselor suggested the likelihood that Long suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his combat experiences in Afghanistan.
Long’s is a recurring story. In the aftermath of killings, many report seeing signs of a potentially violent downward spiral. Few report these concerns. Little comes as a result of the unease voiced by those who do speak out. And law-enforcement officers are put in precarious and difficult position of having to act like mental health experts while carrying out police duties.
Mental health is an epidemic across the country, impacting law enforcement’s ability to protect the communities they serve. It has been reported that 64 percent of the roughly 11 million people revolving through American jails and detention centers suffer from some form of mental illness. One in five people in the U.S. have or will experience mental illness.
According to research, those suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than commit violent acts. But researchers also point to a causal link between the propensity for acts of violence with PTSD and other mental illnesses. Where drug or alcohol abuse also is present, the risk of violent behavior increases substantially.
A recent forum at Elizabethtown’s Pritchard Community Center brought law enforcement and health care system experts together to discuss best practices being used in communities across the country to deal with the problem.
Hosted by the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Crime and Justice Institute, the forum sought to discuss law enforcement, first responder and criminal justice responses to behavioral health challenges.
While these experts discussed new and more effective strategies to divert those in mental crises to the health care system rather than just placing them in jail, a larger common denominator is present everywhere.
State and national funding falls short to effectively deal with the burgeoning crisis of mental illness. An adequately funded comprehensive approach is needed if the epidemic is to be impacted positively.
Federal and state lawmakers must recognize this need and provide the financial resources states and communities require providing the help that is desperately needed.