By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
In late November of last year, Pelham Police Officer Dustin Chandler and his family paid a visit to Governor Bentley. The purpose of their visit was to raise awareness about the concerns and needs of children (like their two year old daughter Carly), who suffer from a rare genetic disorder referred to as CDKL5. The disorder causes mobility and functioning problems and may also cause severe seizures.
During their visit, Chandler brought up a variety of issues including promoting early intervention in children and continuing broad funding support for public school special needs education.
By far, though, the most controversial issue the Inverness resident brought up with the Republican Governor, was the utilizing of marijuana derivatives as a treatment for CDKL5.
As has been widely touted by Chandler, CNN reported on a Colorado child whose seizures decreased from around 1,000 a month to just a few with the ingestion of a marijuana-based oil through food twice daily.
His whole argument isn’t one of medical certainty, though, but parental choice and child health.
“It would not necessarily help Carly’s disorder and make it go away. It’s just the quality of life. It’s a treatment for the epilepsy and giving them a better quality of life. So many parents are struggling to push to at least give us the chance to try it, because there is no medicine out there that works on these seizures. She’s tried the heaviest of the heavy and they don’t work. Now there’s studies coming out saying this does help.”
At the time of the meeting, Governor Bentley released a statement which seemed hesitant of the new drug treatment:
“Governor Bentley listened to the concerns of Mr. Chandler and his family. The Governor is supportive of special needs education and early intervention programs to help those with disabilities or developmental delays. Governor Bentley is opposed to legalizing marijuana.”
The Chandler family has received support from both sides of the aisle in the State Legislature. Republican Representative Mike Ball of Madison and Democratic Representative Patricia Todd of Birmingham are sponsoring legislation that would legalize the use of the cannabis derivatives for such medicinal purposes.
“You can’t get high on it and it has no street value,” Representative Ball has stated, making clear his difference in opinion on the topic that Governor Bentley.
In addition, according to Representative Todd, the benefits are obvious:
“This is a child with a severe disability that has very violent seizures every day and research demonstrates this oil is extremely effective to eliminating or decreasing the seizures that the kids have.”
Officer Chandler, who has been lobbying lawmakers Statewide before the upcoming legislative session, has made clear this is a fight he is will win.
“We’re really drafting legislation to address the issue of if we can help as many kids as we can help now and get that passed, that’s the common sense of getting it done. If we can help people now and help children now with certain disorders, that’s what we need to do.”
In addition to his lobbying, Chandler began a petition on change.org directly asking Robert Bentley to call for legalization legislation. As of now, it has just under four thousand signatures.
“There are thousands of children with epileptic disorders, including 30% of those with Autism, in the State of Alabama that need to stop suffering. In Colorado, for example, there has been great success using Cannabidiol (CBD) for seizure control. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has documented these types of treatments and how they have had a positive effect on patients suffering from Epilepsy. The parents in Alabama need to have another option for their children other than that of pharmaceuticals that do not work. They need to be able to use these treatments without the fear of prosecution from the government and the government needs to allow us access to such treatments. As a father of a suffering child, I am asking you to please seek legislation to help Carly and thousands of children. This is not a request to legalize Marijuana. This is a request to show compassion. This is a request to show you care for the children in Alabama.”
The 2014 legislative session begins January 14th. The Governor has not commented again on the matter, and no cosponsor has (as of yet) emerged on the Senate side.
AARP’s COVID-19 dashboard shows Alabama nursing home lagging behind national averages
In each of five parameters Alabama fared worse than the national average.
A recently-released dashboard shows that Alabama’s nursing homes, residents and staff alike, are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s concern over what may happen in the coming days and weeks.
“We know we’re moving into a very dangerous time right now, with flu season, and weather getting colder and people moving indoors,” said AARP Alabama spokeswoman Jamie Harding, speaking to APR on Monday.
AARP partnered with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio in the creation of the dashboard, which in this first set uses data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to look at five parameters for the four-week period ended Sept. 20.
In each of the five parameters — nursing home resident deaths per 100 residents, resident cases per 100 residents, staff cases per 100 residents, supply of personal protective equipment and staffing shortages — Alabama fared worse than the national average.
In the last month, there were 1.03 COVID-19 deaths among Alabama nursing home residents per 100 residents, tying with Mississippi as the second highest death rate in the nation, coming just behind South Carolina, which had the most, at 1.2 deaths per 100 residents, according to the AARP reports.
As of Oct. 14, 45 percent of Alabama’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic were among nursing home residents, totaling 1,088 resident deaths at the time, according to the dashboard. For the four weeks ending Sept. 20, nursing home residents made up 48 percent of the state’s deaths.
Harding also noted that by the time CMS publishes the nursing home data “it’s about two to three weeks old” so the public isn’t getting up-to-date information on what’s happening in nursing homes, but she said at least the AARP’s dashboard will show trends in the data over time.
“We want the state, we want our leadership to take this data seriously, to see that we are not performing well on these five metrics, which are very critical metrics, and we want to know how this is going to be addressed,” Harding said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has declined to release county-level or facility-level details on coronavirus in long-term care facilities and nursing homes, citing privacy concerns.
“So that’s the problem, and Alabama has stubbornly refused to release daily reports, and remains one of just a handful of states still refusing to release the daily report, and we really have no good answer,” Harding said.
Harding also discussed a COVID-19 outbreak at the Attalla Health and Rehab, first reported by AL.com, in which the facility had to be evacuated due to a huge spike in cases there, peaking on July 10. Some residents were taken to a local hospital, while others were taken to Gadsden Health and Rehab and Trussville Health and Rehab, sparking an outbreak of COVID-19 at Trussville Health and Rehab.
AL.com’s reporting noted that while at least 10 states have special strike teams ready to send staff and supplies to nursing homes experiencing an outbreak, Alabama does not.
The new outlet quoted Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health as saying that the department doesn’t have the staffing to form such teams.
“That is an indication that this was a problem they were never prepared for, and they should have been,” Harding said. “They are the Department of Public Health. This is their work. This is their job.”
Harding also said that as of at least the end of September, the Alabama Nursing Home Association hadn’t yet begun spending the $50 million in CARES Act funds, which Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Aug. 7 would be made available to reimburse state nursing homes via the hospital association’s Education Foundation for the cost of fighting against COVID-19.
John Matson, ANHA’s spokesman, told ABC 33/40 reported on Sept. 28 that the funds were in a holding account and the first claims should be paid in early October. Matson said an accounting firm had been hired to help handle the administration of the funds.
Harding expressed concern that the federal aid wasn’t being spent to help protect state nursing homes quickly enough, and said that the Attalla nursing home outbreak was made worse by a staffing shortage as workers either became sick themselves or quit to protect themselves and their loved ones. Alabama nursing homes weren’t overstaffed before the pandemic, she said.
“We would like to see some of that $50 million dollars spent to address staffing emergencies,” Harding said.
Matson, in a response to APR on Monday, said that since mid-March, Alabama’s nursing homes have been in the center of a fight to defend the most vulnerable citizens of our state from the most insidious and infectious virus attack in the last century.
“Every resource has been pushed to the extreme,” Matson said. “While critics have the luxury of creating dashboards generated from government databases, the caregivers of Alabama’s nursing homes have relentlessly fought day-by-day, risking their own health, to care for the residents who depend on us. Our people are heroes and our nursing homes have met an unprecedented challenge.”
Matson said every dollar of the $50 million spent must be justified by documentation, every claim is to be audited by an independent auditing firm before reimbursements are approved and ANHA filed regular reports to the Alabama Department of Finance which are publicly viewable.
ANHA’s report for September, filed Oct. 15, states that many facilities were just then become eligible to apply for some of those $50 million due to requirements that the facilities deduct from amounts claimed any other coronavirus aid the facility may have received from other sources, such as the “Medicaid COVID add-on of $20 per day per Medicaid patient, DHHS Provider Relief Funds; and SBA payroll Protection payment loans attributable to payroll, if any.”
“Therefore, due to the application of these mitigants, many facilities are just now becoming eligible to apply for and receive funds,” the report reads.
The September report also states that to guard against funds not being available “in the event of a second or later COVID-19 wave, the Foundation is holding back 25% of approved claims.”
The report also says that 12 facilities as of Sept. 30 were approved for $6.5 million in claims, with $1.6 to be held back for possible future COVID-19 waves. As of Oct. 13, there were $10.4 million in pending claims filed by 65 facilities, according to the report, and there were $16.9 million on total claims paid or pending.
Birmingham pays back $179 million in debt
This comes 9 years after Birmingham filed one the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history.
Birmingham has refunded $179 million in general obligation debt, securing the lowest interest cost for the city in decades and accruing $44 million in present value savings from bond refunding.
This comes nine years after Birmingham filed one the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history.
“When I became mayor in November 2017, it became apparent the city was not on sound financial footing,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “A key reason was the city was not paying into its pension at the level that was needed. Today, we have dramatically increased our payment to the pension. I want to thank the council for their support in this effort. We have reduced the cost of borrowing money and have strengthened our financial position.”
Bond refunding reduces the payments for debt service in the general fund by upward of $5 million per year for the next five years, allowing $13 million in real cash savings for commercial development use in the future.
Birmingham has now nearly doubled its contribution to its pension fund since the 2017 fiscal year.
The city’s commitment to increasing its pension funds, coupled with a focus on maintaining services and infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in its affluent downtown, has generated confidence in the city’s finances among rating agencies.
Four credit rating agencies — S&P, Moody’s, Fitch and KBRA — reaffirmed the city’s current ratings. A downgrade could have cost the city millions of dollars during the recent bond refunding and created bigger challenges for the operating budget.
Birmingham’s Porter White & Company and Atlanta’s Terminus Municipal Advisors LLC served as municipal advisors for the city during the refunding phase.
Adia Winfrey reports from campaigns trail
“We need your help to spread the word and continue reaching out to voters to help Democrats up and down the ticket,” Winfrey said.
The Nov. 3 general election is in less than two weeks, and Democratic congressional candidate Adia Winfrey is reporting back from the campaign trail.
“They say a picture says a thousand words, so I wanted to share a few shots from the campaign trail with you,” Winfrey said in an email to supporters. “We still need your support as we get closer to November 3rd. A poll released yesterday showed Senator Doug Jones with a huge lead among early absentee voters! This lets us know that what Democrats are doing is working, and we’ve got to keep the pressure on. Every day is Election Day!”
“We need your help to spread the word and continue reaching out to voters to help Democrats up and down the ticket,” Winfrey continued. “Make sure you tell your family and friends to get to their local courthouse for in-person absentee voting on any weekday between now and October 29th. Many counties are also hosting Saturday voting on October 24th, so look out for that option as well! Check with seniors in your communities and churches to make sure they’re able to get out to vote safely in this important election.”
Winfrey is running in the 3rd Congressional District as the Democratic nominee. She is challenging incumbent Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, who is seeking a 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to NBC News, more than 35 million Americans have already voted early and absentee. This is already more early and absentee votes than were cast in the 2016 election.
The Alabama Democratic Party said in a statement, “We’re only two weeks out from Election Day! We are proud of everything we have accomplished so far. From rebuilding of party to successfully pressuring counties into offering Saturday voting, we have already made history this fall!”
“We are going to spend the rest of this week pressuring other counties to offer their voters this same opportunity,” the ADP continued. “But we need your help. We’ve reached out to over 3 million Democrats across Alabama. We have prioritized reaching out to voters who traditionally never hear from us. Now, it’s time to put our GOTV plan into action.”
Winfrey is a psychologist and native of Talladega. Winfrey has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilberforce University and a doctorate of clinical psychology degree from the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology. She is the founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People Through Empowerment) movement.
Election day is Nov. 3.
Eula Battle, wife of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, has died
Battle announced the death of his wife and best friend, Eula Catherine Sammons Battle, in a statement Tuesday.
Eula Battle, the wife of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, passed away Tuesday after a bought with cancer. She was 65.
Battle announced the death of his wife and best friend, Eula Catherine Sammons Battle, in a statement.
Eula was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on Sept. 29, 1955, to Dr. Robert A. Sammons and his wife, Calvert Sammons. She was the second youngest of five children.
She graduated of Huntsville High School, got a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wesleyan College. She worked 31 years as a schoolteacher. After her first year of teaching in Conyers, Georgia, Eula returned home to teach kindergarten in the Madison County School System. She was named Madison County Teacher of the Year in 2000 for her outstanding service and dedication.
Once Eula “retired” from public education, she went on to support and teach in the newly formed Greengate School, an academic program focused on students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
In 2010, she co-founded Free 2 Teach, a non-profit that supplies free school materials for local teachers. To date, Free 2 Teach has distributed more than $7 million in supplies and materials to Huntsville-area teachers.
Eula’s focus on education also influenced a mayoral initiative, the Mayor’s Book Club, where she championed businesses to fund more than 100,000 books for students in Title 1 schools. Eula and Tommy wanted children in need to be able to build their own personal libraries to hopefully instill a love of reading and learning.
Eula campaigned with Tommy door to door on their dates when he was first running for mayor in 1988. She was instrumental in garnering public support for his subsequent bid for mayor in 2008 and tirelessly traveled the state when Tommy entered the 2018 governor’s race, always promoting Huntsville and gathering a network of more friends and fans along the way.
“Eula never met a stranger and those who had the honor of meeting and knowing her will miss her gregarious spirit, robust laughter and fierce devotion to family and friends. She was everyone’s favorite aunt, best friend, and enthusiastic cheerleader. Eula was a terrific cook, challenging Tommy’s culinary expertise, making mealtime at the Battle house a delicious affair.”
Eula was exceptionally proud of her son, Drew, and her two grandsons, George and Benjamin.
She was actively involved in her community her entire life. She was a former member of the Junior League of Huntsville and Grace Club, was an active member of Trinity United Methodist Church, was selected as a participant in the Leadership Huntsville Class 26 and belonged to Alpha Kappa Delta, an honorary organization for women educators, and to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
She was honored by the Women’s Economic Development Council Foundation in 2014, received the DAR Founders Medal for Education in 2019, and received the 2020 Boy Scouts Whitney M. Young Community Service Award. In 2019 Athens State University established the Eula S. Battle education scholarship so she could have a hand in developing future teachers. In 2020, Eula was a White Linen and Wine Honoree for the Russell Hill Cancer Foundation.
Eula is survived by her husband, Tommy Battle; their son, Drew Battle and his wife, Lauren; grandsons, George and Benjamin; brothers, Dr. Robert Sammons (Louise), Dr. Calame Sammons (Dianne), and Bill Sammons (Laurie); a sister, Susan Sammons Sullins (Bill); and 12 nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be sent to Free 2 Teach or Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville. Laughlin Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said in a statement, “Martha and I extend our deepest heartfelt sympathies to the entire Battle family as they grieve the loss of Eula Battle. Eula’s tremendous legacy will be felt in Huntsville for decades as her kindness and charity ripple through the many lives she touched. May God’s peace be with the Battle family. Eula’s many loved ones can be assured she is now in a better place.”
Gov. Kay Ivey, “I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Eula Battle. She was a loving and supportive wife to Mayor Battle, and as he refers to her, his ‘best friend.’ I extend my deepest sympathies and prayers to their family in this hard season.”
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said, “The Tennessee Valley lost one of its most dedicated community leaders with the passing of Eula Battle. Eula devoted her life to teaching and provided her students with valuable lessons that they carry to this day. Kendall and I send our prayers of condolence to the Battle family.”
Speaker of the Alabama House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said, “Charitable acts and generosity were Eula’s trademarks, and her presence in the Huntsville community will be dearly missed. My wife, Debbie, and I lost a true friend with the passing of Eula, and I pray that God provides comfort to Mayor Battle and his family during this time.”