by Jon Baliles
There was a lot of talk and coverage this week about the City of Richmond’s Planning Commission unanimously approving the removal of parking minimums citywide with the full City Council expected to take the matter up at its meeting Monday night.
The ordinance as written would allow developers to decide how much parking to include in new developments anywhere in the city — or if they need to include any parking at all to serve the development. For decades, the city-required developments to also provide a certain number of off-street parking spaces based on the size of development, the number of dwelling units, type of use, or total floor area.
The end goal is to allow developers to determine how much parking to provide in their developments and if they don’t have to provide expensive parking, they will then increase the supply of needed housing units. The city recently declared a “housing crisis,” and the need for more housing across the entire region is urgent. The proposal is one of the recommendations from the Richmond 300 master plan, which is in favor of less “auto-centric” zoning and more in favor of denser and more walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.
AdvanSix Chemicals Plant Hopewell Virginia Courtesy AdvanSix
by James C. Sherlock
We don’t see very many industrial strikes in Virginia.
Regular readers know that I have often supported blue collar unions in the private economy.
My family roots are linked to Pennsylvania coal mines. Those miners’ strongest claims were for their own safety. Followed very closely by their demands for living wages.
I started researching the story of the current strike by unions representing some 340 workers at the AdvantSix chemical plant in Hopewell with a bias towards supporting the strike.
Safety. I still do support it to the degree that they are striking for worker and plant safety. They reasonably want the company to prevent excessive overtime of current employees under inherently dangerous conditions that require close attention to detail.
Hopewell employees tell stories of consecutive 18-hour shifts.
They want the company to hire more workers to solve that.
But that workforce is far more skilled — better educated and trained, and higher paid – than I assumed.
AdvanSix has been unable to readily fill the jobs that they already advertise. It is hard to attract skilled workers to Hopewell. The company may need to cut production instead.
Wages. I thought I would also support the union wage increase demands in excess of what the company has offered, but I have found that issue is complicated and the public does not have a clear picture of the differences. Continue reading
People don’t understand! These political leadership jobs are hard! It is a great sacrifice to serve, and it is only fair that the taxpayers contribute to the comfort and convenience of those of us working so hard for their better future. They can be so ungrateful….
Did that go through Fairfax Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s mind as he watched local WJLA-7 news kick him around like a rag doll yesterday for using a county car on personal business and, worse, political business? Or was it what should have gone through his mind: How could I be so dumb and greedy and assume nobody would notice or care?
This is not a new story, because it happens often and gets ratted out all the time. This is not a partisan story, because this behavior crosses all lines. Lack of electoral competition does contribute to this way of thinking. This may not be a fatal blow for Democrat McKay, who as board chairman recently raised his pay from $100,000 to $138,000 per year (as the televised report helpfully reminds us.)
No, this is a “when will they ever learn” story. People who don’t get the privilege of transportation with the entire bill paid by involuntary tax levies, people who must pay the hated car taxes and registration fees and fuel bills on their cars, tend to get irritated when they find out politicians (or any government employees) use public cars for tons of daily private business.
Someone please forward this to the Internal Revenue Service. I know the folks at the Virginia Department of Taxation, and they can check to see if McKay’s valuable perk was declared for tax purposes. It is very much supposed to be. Continue reading
LifePoint’s Sovah Danville Hospital
by James C. Sherlock
One thing I watch about companies in industries I cover is the ratings and outlooks on their credit.
In my experience, the SEC’S three largest nationally recognized statistical rating organizations (NRSROs), Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch, tend to know as much about company finances as their boards do.
I recently wrote about management and staffing issues at Sovah Health hospitals in Danville and Martinsburg. Both are owned by privately held LifePoint Health, headquartered in Tennessee.
Lifepoint also owns in Virginia:
- Fauquier Hospital;
- Clinch Valley Medical Center;
- Twin County Regional Hospital; and
- Wythe County Community Hospital.
The rating agencies are not in love with LifePoint’s credit.
Yes, it matters. Continue reading
The Business of Healthcare
by James C. Sherlock
The predictions for hospital finances in 2021 forecast Armageddon. Then the actual financial data from 5,600 U.S. hospitals in 2021 were assessed.
Based on those data the median operating margin for U.S. hospitals in 2021 was actually a loss of 1.5%. Meanwhile, the average operating margin for hospitals was a loss of 11.7%.
Virginia hospitals blew those numbers away. Crushed them. Again.
As they do every year.
Newly posted state data show that the average 2021 operating margin in Virginia acute care hospitals was a positive 12.5% in 2021.
I don’t know how many standard deviations that is, but it is a lot. We are finally number one in something to do with health care, but the bad news is that the money is paid by Virginians one way or another.
If you lost that badly in a card game, you would think something was amiss.
It is in this case. Continue reading
Central State Hospital Petersburg
by James C. Sherlock
I always find it disturbing when state agencies operate institutions that they are also responsible for regulating and inspecting.
It almost cannot work.
I have brought this up with regards to the VDOE operation of a virtual learning program when that same agency oversees private providers of the exact same services.
That is small ball compared to the issues at the state’s mental health facilities.
Now we have a very recent tragic example at Central State of decades-long problems at state-run mental hospitals including overcrowding and inadequate staffing.
A 2021 Associated Press article used Central State as the leading example of overcrowding. The reporter wrote, prophetically:
Virginia sheriffs are reporting being stretched thin after responding to psychiatric emergencies that require them to hold people and transport them for treatment.
‘I’ve had deputy sheriffs tied up for days at a time,’ John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, told the newspaper in an interview on Tuesday. ‘We’re at a crisis point.’
Now seven sheriffs deputies and three Central State staffers are charged with murder in that same scenario.
I view the current management model in which a single state agency oversees, operates and inspects its own facilities as untenable.
There is a proven alternative. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
Crime, especially violent crime, is a constant topic in private conversations and in public politics, and thus here on Bacon’s Rebellion.
Comments on BR crime-related articles turn quickly to race, often without basis in fact.
I will offer below the actual crime statistics by race from 2021, the latest available year, in an attempt to cure that.
Then I will write about the causes.
I will almost certainly be called a racist. Continue reading
Posted in Budgets, Children and families, Civil Rights, Crime , corrections and law enforcement, Culture wars, Democracy and Western Civilization, Demographics, Education (K-12), Efficiency in government, General Assembly, Governance, Government Oversight, Health Care, Housing, Land use & development, Law enforcement, Mental illness and substance abuse, Parental Rights, Politics, Public corruption, Public safety & health, Race and race relations
Tagged James Sherlock
by James C. Sherlock
I have reported often about the severe and increasing shortages of nurses both in Virginia and nationally.
At some point in nearly everyone’s life, we literally will not be able to live without the help of a nurse, whether for injury or illness or just declining overall health.
We need both the nurses and ourselves to be safe when that happens. We will have to fill the shortages, first by recruitment and retention. Perhaps simultaneously by increased legal immigration of qualified nurses from other countries.
This article will focus first on what RNs were paid in 2021, both in Virginia and nationwide. We will examine it in absolute and in relative terms. Virginia in 2021 was competitive on pay in relative terms. But wages may be insufficient in absolute terms to address the shortages.
Then we will discuss what else needs to be done to recruit, train and retain more nurses. I mentioned in an earlier article that RN instructors in training programs are one of the biggest needs.
The Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics have captured the large increases in registered nurse (RN) pay across the board and the doubling of the pay of travel nurses in 2021. Those pay surges were driven by COVID supply and demand and funded partially by federal emergency money.
You will see that, by what I consider a useful calculation, Virginia RN’s median wage compensation is 18th among the states when adjusted for each state’s cost of living index. Virginia is the top-paying state among adjacent states and the District of Columbia.
Regardless of the reason, it was past time that we paid them more. We need the pay raises to stick. It is the only way over the long run to begin increasing the supply.
I say begin because there are other factors driving nurses away. Safety is a huge factor. Continue reading
By James C. Sherlock
Bon Secours’ St. Mary’s Hospital
I have written for years about Virginia hospitals and their state oversight, including Virginia’s monopolistic Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law and its administration by the Department of Health.
Virginia hospitals, and indeed those across the nation, are now under more stress than in generations.
Hospitals nationally are under financial pressures while public views of hospital finances are opaque and out of date.
Increasing shortages of qualified medical personnel are both driving up costs and challenging services in all of Virginia’s hospitals. The worst shortages are where you think they are. In hospitals serving poorer populations.
One study quoted by Oracle
…projects that if US workforce trends continue, more than 6.5 million healthcare professionals will permanently leave their positions by 2026, while only 1.9 million will step in to replace them, leaving a national industry shortage of more than 4 million workers.
That Oracle article is worth a read.
We will see increasing cutbacks of hospital services in Virginia. Some may find themselves unable to maintain some or all of their inpatient services.
A few may close.
I interviewed Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources on this front-burner situation.
Valley Health Winchester Medical Center
by James C. Sherlock
We read far too often about funding “crises” in government institutions and programs.
The general public, me included, would be far more attentive and sometimes supportive if government would follow the lead of private companies and continually right-size itself and emphasize customer-facing services.
The health care industry — or rather the private healthcare industry — consistently shows the way.
Even not-for-profits are not for losses.
Count, if you can, the number of times in your life that a government organization has announced job cutbacks in administration in order to optimize expenditures and provide better service.
Yeah, me neither.
Students at one of my favorite state schools (it is northwest of Richmond and west of Orange County) are protesting that their faculty is underpaid.
The solution to that problem, if indeed the Board of Visitors considers it a problem, writes itself. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
For those who support local control of schools no matter what, I will offer you a “what” to consider.
For those who are nervous about even discussing why some jurisdictions in Virginia have failed to ensure “an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained” for Black children, that works for Black children no matter their circumstances, you are reading the wrong article.
Twenty percent of Virginians are Black, as were 22% of our public school students in 2022.
Virginia lost 4% of its Black public school student registrations in the last three years, compared to 2.6% of all students including Black students. Black chronic absenteeism statewide jumped from 13.1% to over 25%. All student chronic absenteeism including Black students was 20%.
Ten jurisdictions with at least 2,000 Black students at the start of that period lost higher percentages of their Black students than the state average. Some much higher.
Those ten lost 8,668 Black student registrations. The entire state lost 10,674. Chronic absenteeism of black students in those jurisdictions increased in line with statewide increases.
Without even bringing up school quality, this is unacceptable if we care about the futures of Black kids.
We have to get them in school. I say “we” because it will be a long-term disaster for both these children and Virginia if we don’t.
Lots of different things have to be done to get them there, which is where school quality comes in. But I will share some of the raw numbers. Continue reading
Courtesy Norfolk Southern
by James C. Sherlock
After the Ohio disaster, it is timely to review rail safety in Virginia.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation is the federal rail safety regulator in cooperation with state authorities.
FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety employs 400 railway inspectors. Federal safety management teams are organized by railroad or type of railroad.
The FRA summary of State rail safety participation states:
state programs emphasize planned, routine compliance inspections; however, States may undertake additional investigative and surveillance activities consistent with overall program needs and individual State capabilities.
FRA both conducts and pays for training of state inspectors.
Code of Federal Regulations 49 CFR Part 212 provides state rail safety participation regulations.
Railroad Regulation represents one of the original areas of responsibility assigned to the State Corporation Commission (SCC) when it was created by the Virginia Constitution of 1902.
Virginia statutory authority is found in Code of Virginia Title 56 Chapter 13.
Virginia today has two Class I (major) railroads (Norfolk Southern and CSXT), nine Class II (short line) railroads, and more than 6,700 miles of track. Continue reading
by Joe Fitzgerald
Those aren’t wood chips or bark in the cow pasture.
David Foster Wallace tells the story of two young fish swimming along when an older, wiser fish swims past and asks, “How’s the water?” One of the young fish looks at the other and asks, “What’s water?”
Absurdity is the water that proponents of the Bluestone Town Center (BTC) are swimming in. Like the young fish, they’ve been in it long enough and deeply enough that they don’t know that’s what it is.
Consider this scenario. A city council member who serves as the council’s representative to the planning commission listens to a long recommendation from the planning staff. She then makes a motion to more or less accept the recommendation. Four weeks later, she asks the planning staff what their recommendation meant.
Yes, this really happened. So did the argument that building apartments in a cow pasture would preserve farmland.