Category Archives: Government Oversight

COPN – Don’t Leave Home Without It

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes I think we don’t personalize the effects of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) program on individual Virginians in ways that are relatable. Nor do many understand the power of the hospital monopolies.

Many readers here have followed the progress of our reporting of the increasing and relentless suppression of competition in healthcare by COPN. I will offer in this essay a single example that may personalize it.

In 2009, the regulation, not the law, that defined the radius from your home of facilities that would be considered when seeing whether you are adequately served by existing open heart surgery facilities was changed as follows:

Title 12. Health » Agency 5. Department Of Health » Chapter 230. State Medical Facilities Plan » Part IV. Cardiac Services

Article 2
Criteria and Standards for Open Heart Surgery

12VAC5-230-440. Accessibility Travel time.

A. Open heart surgery services should be within 30 60 minutes driving time one way, under normal conditions, of 95% of the population of a the [ health ] planning district [ using mapping software as determined by the commissioner ].

Simple change. Thirty minutes was changed to 60 minutes. You surely did not notice. You were meant not to notice. And your elected representatives were not asked to vote on it. Continue reading

Certificate of Public Need – This Seems Promising

by James C. Sherlock

Democrats, the primary bulwarks for the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law in Virginia, took the opportunity last year to create as part of a major revision to COPN law a new 19-member State Health Services Plan Task Force.  

That group is to advise the Board of Health on the content of the newly renamed State Health Services Plan (ex-State Medical Facilities Plan (SMFP).

I wish the task force luck.  They will need it.

The new task force is apparently a temporary casualty of COVID-19, but it shows how desperate the Democrats (read hospitals) are to revitalize COPN after a 2019 Chesapeake Circuit Court decision and supporting appeals court decision in Chesapeake Hospital Authority d/b/a, etc. v. State Health Commissioner and Sentara Hospitals.  

Both decisions exposed it for what it is — a regional monopoly protection racket that is subjectively applied — and found the administration of the COPN system in Virginia to be incompetent at the same time. Continue reading

All According to Plan – the Biggest Government Scandal in Virginia History

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Mercury published  an excellent article on the difficulties being encountered in Virginia in scheduling COVID shots.

But who could have anticipated the need? Who indeed.

This story is part of the single biggest government scandal in Virginia history and the press is either ignorant of the underlying issue or has ignored it. I think ignorance is more likely. Certainly Governor Northam’s executive branch made every effort to hide it from them.

I say the executive branch because I firmly believe — and hope really — the Governor himself never had a clue.

The now-hidden-from-public-view Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan, Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical), Virginia Department of Emergency Management August 2012 (the Plan) required planning and exercise of a vaccine distribution plan and much more.

Never happened.

The Plan specified planning, exercise and operational responsibilities for
the following executive branch organizations: Continue reading

Holding Richmond Public Schools Accountable — Part I

by James C. Sherlock

We have discussed here the failures of the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in educating its economically disadvantaged children, as well as the abysmal performance of Black children in its schools.  

I intend to help readers understand how it manages to fail repeatedly even with major federal funding as guardrails and state oversight officially in place.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) such as RPS and its schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet state academic standards.

It is useful to drill down into the details of that program so that readers can understand how every school district in Virginia is supposed to plan and execute the education of poor kids to improve their chances of success.

The question that will remain when I finish will be accountability.  

How does a system like the Richmond Public Schools continue to submit similar paperwork every year and every year fail to meet its stated goals? Where is the accountability? Why do the people of Richmond put up with it?  Continue reading

Basic Child Literacy Cannot Be too Much to Ask of Richmond City Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Half of Black 4th graders in Richmond public schools couldn’t read in 2019. That is not OK.

It is way past time to demand both better performance and accountability. Clearly neither the city of Richmond nor the Commonwealth has done that effectively.

So I have filed formal complaints with the federal government to see if the Departments that provide federal money to the Richmond City Public School District can establish accountability for how all of that money has been spent.

Jason Kamras currently serves as the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). He has first-rate credentials — National Teacher of the Year in 2005, undergraduate Princeton, masters in education from Harvard. Worked in leadership positions in D.C. Public Schools before coming to Richmond.

He is the highest-paid superintendent in Richmond history at $250,000 annually. His initial three-year contract was slated to expire this summer.  He just received a 4-year extension on a split 6-3 vote by the Richmond School Board.

The performance of Mr. Kamras’ Richmond School District is cataclysmically bad.   Continue reading

Federal COVID Funding to Virginia K-12 Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The federal government allocated a great deal of money in each of two different pieces of legislation in 2020 to provide COVID-related relief to K-12 schools.

I will endeavor here to explain briefly what that means to Virginia.

The two pieces of 2020 federal legislation that provide funding to K-12 schools were:

  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on March 27, 2020; and
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) signed into law on December 27, 2020

Two of the major program elements under each of those two bills are :

  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER and ESSER II) funding – Virginia’s allocation is $1.2 billion dollars, 90% of which is to be sub-allocated by formula to school districts.
  • Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEERS and GEERS II) funding – $132 million to be allocated to the neediest public schools and non-public schools at the Governor’s discretion.  Money for the Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) program is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.  Virginia’s EANS allocation was $46,618,019. For comparison, total Virginia K-12 school spending from all sources was estimated by the NEA at $17.8 billion in 2018-19.

By way of comparison, the federal government sent $1 billion to Virginia for K-12 schools in 2019, including big money from the Department of Agriculture for the National School Lunch program ($247 million) and other non-educational programs, so the 2020 COVID supplementals already exceed the original annual federal appropriations for Virginia. Continue reading

Probably a Coincidence – COPN, the Monopolization of Health Care and the Marginalization of the Poor

by James C. Sherlock

The Business of Healthcare in Virginia

I have been asked many times about how freer markets in healthcare can coexist with our need to treat the poor. I will try to briefly cover some of the complexities of the answer to that question.

And I will show that of all of the government healthcare control systems, COPN is the only one that has proven to disproportionally hurt poor and minority populations by its decisions and their effects.  

And it does so by design. Continue reading

COPN Scores a Kill

by James C. Sherlock

More than eleven months ago I wrote an essay titled, “The Legal Corruption of (Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need) COPN.” That system needs overhaul, not adjustment, and the people of Hampton Roads need help.  The Governor needs to lead in both efforts.

Today I offer the third in a series (first two here and here ) of essays providing background and potential future solutions to the closure of Bon Secours DePaul Hospital in Norfolk.

This is the story of the public, state-sponsored execution of DePaul and a simultaneous attempt to create a bleak future for Bon Secours in Hampton Roads.

COPN mortally wounded that hospital in 2008. It lasted until now as Sentara gnawed away at it  Its death was announced this past week. Pending is how Bon Secours will look at its future in Hampton Roads.

Continue reading

DePaul Hospital’s Closing Presents a Unique Opportunity for Hampton Roads

De Paul Medical Center Jan. 29, 2021. Photo Credit: James C. Sherlock

by James C. Sherlock

Not too long ago, before the decline of the malls and COVID, the healthcare community coined what they called the Nordstrom Rule.

The meaning was that if you wished to optimize profits in your healthcare business, build it close to a Nordstrom. The theory was that Nordstrom had already done the market research to identify concentrations of wealthy customers.

I wrote yesterday about the Sisters of Charity and Bon Secours, Catholic charities both. The Sisters were not in it to serve wealthy patients. They purposely located their hospitals among the poor. So 19th and 20th century of them.

Sentara, a more sophisticated public charity, avoids locations close to the poor.

In 1991, Sentara purchased the Humana Bayside Hospital in Virginia Beach, renaming it Sentara Bayside Hospital. That cleansed Virginia Beach of a competitor. But Bayside served Virginia Beach’s largest concentration of economically disadvantaged minorities. So Sentara closed it at the first opportunity.

The Virginia Department of Health brokered the closing of Bayside in 2008 under the cover of the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) process that fatally wounded DePaul, allowing Sentara to relocate the Bayside beds to the new Sentara Princess Anne, far from the minority citizens of Bayside.

The closest hospital for many residents served by Bayside was then, you guessed it, DePaul. No longer. Continue reading

Biden Ups Vax Plan. Will Northam Be Ready?

Image by torstensimon from Pixabay

by DJ Rippert

Joltin’ Joe. President Joe Biden increased his planned administration of the Coronavirus vaccine from 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office to 150 million doses. Given that the United States is already distributing around one million doses per day Biden almost had to increase his plan if he wanted to make good on his campaign promise of an aggressive rollout of the vaccine. Biden added to his new plans by claiming that anybody who wants a Coronavirus vaccine will be able to get vaccinated by “spring.” Yet even Biden’s newly found optimism about the pace of vaccine distribution was insufficient for some people. An Op-Ed in the New York Times urged the president to strive for 200 million doses in his first 100 days.

Unfortunately, the planned acceleration at the Federal level will be of little use in Virginia unless the Commonwealth finds a way to accelerate its administration of the vaccines received. As of yesterday, Virginia was dead last in administration of the vaccines it has already received. Number fifty out of fifty states. Or, number 52 out of 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. This miserable performance obviously renders any acceleration by the Feds moot in Virginia. If we can’t administer more than 42.22% of the vaccines we received at a one million doses per day at the national level, what good will it do for the Feds to go to one-and-a-half million doses per day or even two million doses per day? The case could easily and logically be made that the accelerated distribution of vaccine doses by the Feds should be limited to states that have shown the competence to distribute the doses they have already received. That would clearly exclude Virginia. Continue reading

Fix the Structurally Broken Virginia Government

by James C. Sherlock

Great Seal of Virginia

When offered a choice of reasons for failures of large scale government actions, your first choice should always be incompetence, not bad intentions.

Big government requires competent legislatures, competent management and  control of executive departments, apolitical oversight by attorneys general and objective studies of its failures if it has any hope of being efficient and effective.

Absolutely no one after seeing the Virginia government reaction to COVID would accuse it of any of that. We need to fix it.

Unintended consequences of legislation

Readers just had an extended discussion over my column on the unintended consequences of minimum wage hikes.

It should be not too much to ask that Virginia politicians demand a full study of the effects of legislation, including minimum wage legislation, that is guaranteed to have far-reaching effects on the state. But they do not do it in the case of minimum wage hikes.

A structural problem in the General Assembly Continue reading

COVID Has Exposed Massive Failures in Governance

by James C. Sherlock

In a comment to my previous post, we saw a statement “most parents are happy with the education their kids are getting.”   That is no longer true. Polls say overwhelmingly it is not.

On a personal note, my two grandsons in Albemarle County schools, twin seniors, haven’t set foot in their high school this year. Albemarle County has during this same time period declared itself the state’s first antiracist school district. Excellent timing. Shows where the superintendent’s head was. The school board rubber stamped that policy. No one noted that black students were and are unable to go to school.

COVID has exposed a fatal lack of government imagination, planning and execution in good times. It simply did not do the blocking and tackling.

Remember my story about the decades-long lack of hospital and nursing home inspectors? Remember the nursing home deaths that resulted?

Remember the University of Virginia Board of Visitors more than a decade ago fired the president of that school in part because she would not invest enough in distance learning? Remember that the board itself was then threatened with firing by the Governor and she returned triumphant? Now remember what happened when that school and others had to switch to remote learning under COVID? Continue reading

School Superintendents Are Accountable for Special Ed Compliance

by James C. Sherlock – Updated 23 Dec. with division-by-subject table of bad SOL results for students with disabilities.

Old School House Photo by Steve McKinzie

I just finished reading the December 14 JLARC Report. “K–12 Special Education in Virginia 2020.”

The report is highly critical of public school special education in Virginia, but it misses the mark on its findings as well as its recommendations.  

The major problem with the findings is that the report does not specify which school districts do a good job in special education and which districts do a poor job.  

The major problem with the recommendations is that the bulk of them recommend new regulations by the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) and additional oversight by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The current regulations, especially federal regulations that come with the federal money for special education, are quite specific. And not uniformly followed.

As big a critic as I have been of VBOE and VDOE — they need to do better — but the biggest culprits are the superintendents of Virginia’s school districts. Those men and women are highly educated and experienced in the requirements of their jobs and highly paid to execute them.  Continue reading

What Do We Do “For the Children” Now?

by James C. Sherlock

Flickr: Don Harder

I just read Jim Bacon’s column. In it he revealed:

“Most Virginians (64%) said they were somewhat or very satisfied with how school officials have handled instruction this fall. Only 22% were dissatisfied.

At the same time, an even larger majority is worried that their children will fall behind:

53% very concerned
22% somewhat concerned
8% not too concerned
16% not at all concerned

Really? Wanna bet?

That will last until the Spring 2020 SOLs currently required by the federal government. The SOLs themselves will be a dumpster fire. Parents will look for the arsonist, and they won’t look in the mirror to find him.

Now the cynic/realist in me says that in the first two weeks of the Biden administration the federal law requirement for progress testing will be cancelled for Spring 2021 just like it was for Spring 2020.  The teachers unions and Democratic Governors will insist.

But the SOLs do not fix a problem, they just measure it. Continue reading

Chronic Absenteeism and SOL Failures in Virginia Schools

by James C. Sherlock

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

Sometimes common sense is not so common as we think.

Common sense will tell you that if a kid misses too much school, he or she is not going to keep up with the academics. That apparently has not occurred to the Virginia Board of Education or the Department for which it sets policy.

Chronic absenteeism in Virginia is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year – more than 18 days.

The chronic absenteeism that VDOE reports to the federal government correlates directly with SOL math, reading and writing failure rates for all students, white students, black students, Hispanic students and economically disadvantaged students. Directly. In each subgroup. In every subject.

Yet the Board of Education did not see fit to deliver that information to the Governor or the General Assembly in its 2020 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia. The word absenteeism appeared nowhere in that report in which structural racism, teacher quality and money were featured as causes of minority academic failures.

Continue reading