Category Archives: Transparency

Virginia’s Department of Health and Misinformation

by Kerry Dougherty

With each passing day the Virginia Department of Health looks more like a purveyor of panic than an agency protecting the health of Virginians with factual, up-to-date information.

As the governor stubbornly clings to his overly-restrictive lockdowns and mask mandate, the department has proven useful to him as it supplies the public with half-baked information that often seems designed to frighten and obscure rather than inform.

Examples?

First, the inexplicable secrecy surrounding what can only be described as Virginia’s nursing home slaughter. Since the beginning of March, 879 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19. (Check back later today, that number will rise, as it has every single day so far.) In fact, almost 57 percent of all Virginia deaths are nursing home residents.

Yet just try to find out WHICH nursing homes are experiencing outbreaks and the total number of deaths inside each facility. This information is a closely guarded secret that only a few tenacious reporters have managed to uncover. Continue reading

Loophole Allows Nursing Homes to Cover Up COVID-19 History

by Carol J. Bova

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) published an interim final rule with comment period (IFC) on May 8 that provided more flexibility for health care providers “to respond effectively to the serious health threats posed by the spread of COVID-19.” The rule amended Medicare policies on an interim basis to allow any healthcare professional authorized under state law to order COVID-19 serological and antibody testing to do so and pay new collection fees during the public health emergency.

The IFC added a number of other adjustments and changes. Perhaps the most watched is the one that established “explicit reporting requirements for long-term care (LTC) facilities for information related to COVID-19 cases and deaths among facility residents and staff,” including deaths of hospitalized residents.

CMS sent a Memorandum Summary to State Survey Agency Directors about the IFC and described the requirements for nursing homes to report COVID-19 facility data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), residents, their representatives, and families of residents in facilities. CMS said it would post the data for viewing by facilities, stakeholders, or the general public at https://data.cms.gov.

Facilities which fail to submit complete and accurate information will receive a deficiency citation and be subject to a fine. Unfortunately, the fines are unlikely to ensure compliance. Those who fail to report after a two-week grace period will receive a one-day civil money penalty (CMP) of $1,000, which will increase by $500 for each subsequent week. Continue reading

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear (of COVID-19) Itself

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) publish a wide variety of data about COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the numbers, yet the data is woefully incomplete. Perhaps the greatest deficiency is that we have no ability to track what is happening with medical conditions that are not COVID-related.

That’s a huge issue because as Tomislav Mihaljevic and Gianrico Garrugia, CEOs of the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinice, point out in a New York Times  column, as many people may die from the fear of COVID-19 as from the virus itself. Writes respectively:

More than 100,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. Beyond those deaths are other casualties of the pandemic — Americans seriously ill with other ailments who avoided care because they feared contracting the coronavirus at hospitals and clinics.

The toll from their deaths may be close to the toll from Covid-19. The trends are clear and concerning. Government orders to shelter in place and health care leaders’ decisions to defer nonessential care successfully prevented the spread of the virus. But these policies — complicated by the loss of employer-provided health insurance as people lost their jobs — have had the unintended effect of delaying care for some of our sickest patients.

Continue reading

Our Gutsy Governor

By Peter Galuszka

On June 24, 2015, Nikki Haley, a Republican who was South Carolina’s first non-white governor, called for the removal of a Confederate flag that had been flying over the state’s capitol grounds for years.

“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” she said. Her action came a few days after an avowed white supremacist walked into an African-American church and opened fire, killing church members attending a service.

I was watching the news on TV when she made her gutsy move. I was deeply impressed.

And now, Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is governor of Virginia, has taken a similarly gutsy move. He has ordered that the state-owned statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee be removed from its stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been there for about 130 years, erected by white supremacists with deep sentiment for their romantic myths of Southern history.

“I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from our past and we all know that our country needs that example right now,” Northam said. Continue reading

Beware Fake Tweets

The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia

By Peter Galuszka

Around midnight Monday, reporters in downtown Washington D.C., stood by ready to cover the next round of protests about the slaying of African Americans by police.

They started getting tweets marked #dcblackout suggesting that internet service was being interrupted because of a secret program presumably run by the government that would cut them off.

The curious thing, NBC News reported, is that the reporters’ cell phones worked just fine. Later Twitter was contacted and began to investigate. It was curious that the questionable tweet seemed to be coming from the left-wing ANTIFA group that is said to have helped organize protests around the country.

A tweet labeled as been sourced with ANTIFA proclaimed “Tonight’s the night, comrades. Tonight we say F&*^The city and we move into the residential areas, the white hoods and we take what’s ours.”

Twitter quickly uncovered the problem. The tweets were fakes put out by a far-right white nationalist group called Identity Evropa. Twitter took down the sites because they violated the company’s policy against using social media to incite violence, NBC reported. Continue reading

The Real Danger with ANTIFA

By Peter Galuszka

Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..

But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.

First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”

That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why Northam Is Such An Important Governor

By Peter Galuszka

This is a bit like throwing chum at a school of sharks, but here is my latest in Style Weekly.

I wrote an assessment of Gov. Ralph Northam that is overall, quite positive. My take goes against much of the sentiment of other contributors on this blog.

They are entitled to their views but, to be honest, I find some of the essays shrill and not really fact based. If Northam wants to delay elective surgeries at hospitals for a week or so, some want to empanel a grand jury.

An acute care health facility in Henrico County becomes one of the most notorious hot spots for coronavirus deaths and it is immediately Northam’s fault even though the care center has had serious problems that long predated the governor’s term in office.

He’s a trained physician who served as an Army doctor in combat during the Iraq War yet he is vilified as being incompetent and incapable of understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s like the constant repetition of the “Sins of Hillary” on Breitbart and Fox News about emails and Benghazi.

Like him or not, Northam is bound to be one of the most consequential governors in Virginia history given the gigantic problem of the pandemic. He’s not a showboat salesman like Terry McAuliffe nor a smarmy, small-time crook like Robert F. McDonnell.

Anyway, here’s the piece.

Why the Secrecy about Hospital Beds and COVID?

by Kerry Dougherty

Anyone remember why the country is locked down?

I do.

With images of Italy’s collapsing healthcare system and Italian death panels doling out beds and ventilators in early March, we were told we had to take radical steps so that American hospitals would not be similarly overwhelmed by the COVID-19 virus.

“Fifteen days to slow the spread,” they told us.

And we complied.

Fifteen days became 30, which then became 45 and in some places — like Virginia — the shutdowns have no end in sight.

As you sit at home, worrying about your mental health, your job, your finances and your family do you ever wonder just how many beds are occupied by COVID patients in the hospital nearest you?

Good luck finding out. Continue reading

Right Wing Uses Virus To Stifle Needed Reforms

Statue of Gov. Harry F. Byrd on the state capitol grounds.

By Peter Galuszka

Right-wingers in Virginia have been apoplectic for months that Democrats finally captured the General Assembly after years of Republican control.

They also were enraged that the legislature this winter passed a number of reforms that would draw Virginia into the 21st Century such raising the minimum wage, boosting collective bargaining, tightening rules on carbon pollution and raising taxes for cigarettes, a deadly product.

Now such conservatives are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to throttle or delay such needed reforms. They have banded into groups such as the Coalition fort a Strong Virginia Economy. They have used the Virginia Municipal League’s complaints against the reforms, claiming they cost too much, as a way to derail new measures.

According to the left-leaning blog site Blue Virginia, one of the more extreme advocates for scrambling changes is Dave LaRock, a far-right Republican delegate from Loudoun County. A pronounced gay-basher, LaRock wants to squelch all of the reforms made by the more progressive General Assembly. Continue reading

More Transparency Coming for Higher Ed?

by James A. Bacon

The General Assembly is considering three bills that would improve transparency and governance in higher education. If enacted, they would a add small measure of accountability to Virginia’s colleges and universities.

A better accounting of costs. HB 927, introduced by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, would provide for the State Council 0f Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to collect financial data from public colleges and universities broken down by program and discipline. The data would include operational or instructional costs, General Fund and Nongeneral Fund revenue, and planned expenditures.

This would be fantastic. For years I have been calling for deeper analysis of the cost structures of Virginia’s public universities, and SCHEV is the logical organization to collect and examine the data. SCHEV is already doing some of this. For instance, right now it embarking upon a five-year review of the number of degrees granted and majors declared in different programs and departments. HB 927 would drill deeper.

Universities love to grow new programs but hate to shrink old ones. Continue reading

Lobbying Entertainment Data Still Deceptive

“Reported” entertainment events for the 2018-2019 cycle, a fraction of the actual number due to loopholes in Virginia law. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

‘Our friends at the Virginia Public Access Project are a bit later this year with their data and visuals on Virginia’s embarrassingly weak and intentionally vague lobbyist entertainment reporting.  It is still nothing but a sham, exactly how the legislators and lobbyists want it.

The 2018 VPAP coverage was subject of a May 2018 Bacon’s Rebellion report, but this time we are five weeks away from tight elections in both bodies.  Voters are not short of things to get outraged about, but we can add this to the list.

The basic 2019 report is little changed from VPAP’s 2018 data.   Last year 109 of the 140 legislators admitted accepting at least one entertainment event, and this year it appears 111 did.  The number who report accepting five or more has dropped.  The key word in that sentence is “reporting”.

UPDATE:  VPAP has now added this year’s graphic on the high number of lobbyist disclosures that simply ignore the directive to be specific about the “matters” that get their attention.  A few well placed $100 fines and red faces would fix that, but of course, the point is to PRETEND to disclose….

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The Latest Front in Virginia’s Energy Wars: Rural Electric Co-Ops

One in six Virginians get their electricity from a rural electric cooperative. In theory, because co-ops are owned by their electrical customers, the interests of owners and customers and owners are aligned — in contrast to Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., in which the interests of stockholders and customers often come into conflict. But in the real world, the agency problem intervenes: The electric co-ops are run by professional managers, and a question arises as to whether entrenched management is putting its own interests ahead of the owner-customers they serve.

The policies of Virginia’s electric co-ops has been the source of considerable consternation among environmentalists. As noted last month by Ivy Main, a Sierra Club of Virginia blogger and contributor to the Virginia Mercury, “While a few co-ops have adopted innovative customer-friendly programs, most actively resist change.”

By “actively resisting change,” Main refers to their reluctance to embrace the environmentalists’ clean energy agenda. Coal accounts for 75% of energy generated by electric cooperatives nationwide, compared to less than 28% for all utilities nationally. “Worse,” she writes, “failing to see the promise of distributed generation, most co-ops have locked themselves into long-term supply contracts that give them little room for self-generation with solar and wind. … In fact, stuck with the dirty black stuff, rural electric cooperatives are much more likely than investor-owned utilities to support coal and oppose climate regulations.” Continue reading

Virginia’s Ten-Year Pedestrian Death Toll: 865

Unsafe roads are ubiquitous in sprawling, low-density settlement patterns

Smart Growth America’s 2019 “Dangerous By Design” report compiles a Pedestrian Danger Index based on annual pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people between 2008 and 2017. Among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the safest metro in the country for pedestrians is Provo, Utah. The most dangerous is Orlando, Fla.

Washington-Arlington ranked 24th safest in the country. The region’s 764 pedestrian fatalities over the decade amounted to a rate of 1.25 death per 100,000 residents.

Virginia Beach-Norfolk was close behind, ranking 26th safest. The region’s 213 pedestrian fatalities amount to a rate of 1.24 deaths per 100,000. Continue reading