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Roby Says that 67 Day Wait for Veterans with Mental Health Issues is Too Long

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday, December 1 U.S. Representative Martha Roby responded to a recent report about recent wait times for veterans. Rep. Roby called the reported 67 day wait for mental health patients a, “Major public safety issue.”

According to the new report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs new veteran patients at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care Systems (CAVHCS) seeking mental health care must wait an average of 67 days, which has actually increased from the 56 day average reported in May.

Congresswoman Roby said in a written statement that such a digression represents a disservice to veterans and a serious public safety issue.

Representative Martha Roby said, “The latest data shows we still have a major problem with mental health services at the Central Alabama VA, and it is actually getting worse.” “I hope people understand how serious a problem it is for veterans in need of mental health care to have to wait more than two months for an appointment. That is obviously a disservice to veterans, but it is also a major public safety issue for Central Alabama. To think that a soldier returning from Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has to wait two months for an appointment to get care he needs and deserves­ – it’s a disgrace.”

The GOP Congresswoman said, “We know it’s going to take time to fully reform the VA, but we should not be moving in the wrong direction.”

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Rep. Roby supports and has long been an advocate for more utilization of outside health providers to cut down on wait times at the VA. Rep. Roby said that the VA reform law passed this summer included specific requirements and funding for VA medical centers to refer patients to outside providers when demand exceeds capacity.

Rep. Roby said, “We passed a law that gave veteran patients forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment guaranteed access to outside care. So, I want to know how many mental health patients CAVHCS has referred to outside providers in light of these numbers.”

According to the report, 91.58 percent of patients at the Birmingham VA were able to get an appointment within 30 days. That ranged from a low of 88.69 percent for Huntsville to a high of 99.23 percent in Rainbow City. The average wait time for an appointment for a new mental health patient in the Greater Birmingham VA area was 25 and a half days, with Florence being the worst at over 36 days and Bessemer being the best at just 9 days.

At CAVHCS however only 72.58 percent of the appointments were scheduled within 30 days of the request. Within CAVHCS, Columbus, GA and Tuskegee performed the worst with just 64.16 percentg and 68.82 percent. Monroe County performed the best with 249 out of 254 appointments occurring within 30 days. The average wait time for a new mental health patient seeking an appointment for a new patient was over 67 days. This varied from a worst of 81 and a half days for Columbus to a best of less than 17 days for the Wiregrass.

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In Tuscaloosa, 90 percent of the appointments were scheduled within 30 days of the request and the average wait time for a new patient seeking a mental health appointment was just over 30 days.

To read the full report go here: http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/docs/pending_access_data_using_CD_and_DD_11202014.pdf

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Alabama breaks daily case record, hospitalizations reach new high for third straight day

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama on Wednesday broke the state’s record for a single-day increase in coronavirus cases, and for a third straight day had record high COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

There were 1,801 hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide on Wednesday, which was a 40 percent increase compared to two weeks ago. The rapid pace of rising hospitalizations is raising alarms among hospitals already overburdened with coronavirus patients, in addition to regular patients seeking other care.

Concern is also rising among public health experts and hospital officials that Thanksgiving gatherings will lead to the number only increasing in the days and weeks to come.

Dr. Jeanna Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told reporters Tuesday that there is a possibility that hospitals will have to set up mobile hospitals to care for the rush of patients, and that she worries hospitals may not have enough staff to care for “what might be a tidal wave of patients in the next month.” 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield made a dire prediction Wednesday during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to surge across the country. More than 90,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Redfield said.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Redfield said.

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UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, the second straight record-high day for the hospital. Huntsville Hospital on Tuesday had a record 317 COVID-19 patients. The hospital hadn’t updated daily numbers as of Wednesday afternoon. There were no formal intensive care beds available in Mobile County on Tuesday. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,928 COVID-19 new cases Wednesday but noted that 706 were older test results not reported to the department from an outside facility until Tuesday. Even without those cases included, the remaining 3,222 cases reported Wednesday amount to the largest single-day increase, excluding a similar but larger backlog of old test results reported Oct. 23. 

Alabama’s 14-day average for new daily cases was at 2,382 on Wednesday, which is a 29 percent increase from two weeks ago. 

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Rising daily cases can’t be attributed to more testing, however. Over the past week, roughly 35 percent of reported tests have been positive. Public health experts say that number — known as the positivity rate — should be at or below 5 percent otherwise cases may be going undetected and not enough tests are being performed.

ADPH also reported 73 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to at least 3,711 deaths. Of those deaths added to the count today, 20 occurred during the month of November, 32 occurred in previous months, and 21 aren’t yet dated by the department, meaning they could be new deaths from late November or early December.

Of the 779 deaths added to the death toll in November, 34 percent died in the month of November, 56 percent died during previous months and the remaining 10 percent haven’t yet been dated. 

Deaths are lagging indicators, and it can take weeks, and sometimes months, for ADPH to review medical data and confirm a person died of COVID-19 and verify the date on which they died, so it will likely be many weeks before a clearer picture emerges as to how many Alabamians are currently dying from coronavirus.

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

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News

Two more Alabama inmates die after testing positive for COVID-19

The deaths mark the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two inmates in Alabama prisons have died after testing positive for COVID-19, marking the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

Ash-Shakur Halim Shabazz, 60, who was serving a 26-year sentence at Limestone Correctional Facility, was transferred to a local hospital on Nov. 20 after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Shabazz suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions, dying the same day he was admitted to the local hospital. The full autopsy concluded that Shabazz was positive for COVID-19 at the time of his death, according to the ADOC press release.

Three days later, a second inmate, Danny Joe Mann, 66, died after being transferred to a local hospital.

Serving a 20-year sentence at Hamilton Community Based-Facility/Community Work Center, Mann likewise suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions and was transferred on Nov. 23 after showing symptoms of COVID-19. He was tested upon admission and a positive test result was confirmed. Mann died later that same day.

As of Nov. 27, 834 inmates and 645 ADOC staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC’s COVID dashboard. Of those inmates, 40 have recently tested positive at eight separate facilities, while 30 workers at nine facilities recently tested positive.

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National

Department of Justice sues Ashland Housing Authority alleging racial discrimination

“AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race,” the complaint alleges. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority of Ashland violated the Fair Housing Act by intentionally discriminating against Black people who applied for housing because of their race.

The DOJ in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, names as defendants the Housing Authority of Ashland, the Southern Development Company of Ashland Ltd., Southern Development Company of Ashland #2 Ltd. and Southern Development Company LLC, which are the private owners and managing agent of one of those housing complexes.

The department’s complaint alleges that the Ashland Housing Authority denied Black applicants the opportunity to live in overwhelmingly white housing complexes on the city’s East Side, while steering white applicants away from properties whose residents were predominantly Black in the West Side. The AHA operates seven public housing communities spread across both areas, according to the complaint.

“From at least 2012 to the present, AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race and by maintaining a racially segregated housing program,” the complaint alleges.

The federal government states in the complaint that as of June 2018, 69 percent of all AHA tenants were white, but 99 percent of tenants at Ashland Heights, on the East Side, were white, 92 percent of tenants at another East Side community were white and 91 percent of tenants at yet another East Side housing development were white.

Similar disparities were seen in public housing communities in the West Side, the complaint states.

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AHA kept separate waiting lists for both segregated areas, the complaint alleges and allowed applicants who decline offers of housing “without showing good cause, even when they decline offers for race-based reasons,” to maintain their position on the waiting list, in violation of AHA’s own policies intended to prevent race discrimination.

“On April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the United States enacted the Fair Housing Act to outlaw race, color and other forms of discrimination in housing. Denying people housing opportunities because of their race or color is a shameful and blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in a statement. “The United States has made great strides toward Dr. King’s dream of a nation where we will be judged by content of our character and not by the color of our skin.”

“The dream remains at least partially unfulfilled because we have not completely overcome the scourge of racial bias in housing,” Dreiband continued. “Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious because it comes with the support and authority of government. The United States Department of Justice will not stand for this kind of unlawful and intolerable discrimination. The Justice Department will continue to fight to protect the rights of all Americans to rent and own their homes without regard to their race or color.”

U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama said in a statement that individuals and families should not have their rights affected by their race or national origin. “Our office is committed to defending the civil rights of everyone,” Escalona said.

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The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate victims, civil penalties to the government to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring action to correct the effects of the defendants’ discrimination.

The DOJ in a press release encouraged those who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination at the defendants’ properties should contact the department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 9997, or by email at [email protected] Individuals who have information about this or another matter involving alleged discrimination may submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov.

The DOJ in August the U.S. Housing and Urban Development determined that the Decatur Housing Authority was disallowing Black people to live in public housing located in riverfront towers while requiring Black people to live in less attractive apartments elsewhere.

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Economy

Clean water advocates want a comprehensive water plan for Alabama that creates jobs

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Environmentalists are optimistic about making progress on water resource issues and the state’s climate change preparedness under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and next Congress, particularly because the president-elect is indicating that economic gains go hand-in-hand with protecting the environment.

“It’s really exciting to see the Biden administration put jobs in the same conversation with their climate and environmental policies, because for too long there has been that false argument that jobs and the environment don’t go together — that you can’t have a regulated business sector and create jobs,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of Alabama Rivers Alliance.

On a recent post-election call with other advocates, Lowry said that the current policy outlook reinforced the importance of voting. There have been some steps forward for conservation during the presidency of Donald Trump, she said, like the president’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act in August, but the administration has prioritized industry interests.

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

“We have spent so much time and energy as a movement trying to defend and basically just hold the line against so many of the rollbacks, and now we can focus on moving forward on certain areas,” Lowry said.

Julian Gonzalez, a clean water advocate with the nonprofit Earthjustice in Washington D.C., said on the call that the incoming Congress will be the “most environmentally aware Congress we’ve had.” Still, the real work remains.

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“Everything needs to be one conversation, and you should be able to go call your Congressperson and say, ‘How are you going to fix America’s water problem?’ and they should have an answer, but right now that’s not the case,” Gonzalez said.

For Alabama’s water advocates, priorities are what to do with coal ash, how to prepare for droughts and flooding, improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure and providing relief to communities that have been affected by environmental degradation.

While production of coal ash has reduced due mostly to market-driven decreases in the burning of coal, enough facilities still use it that Alabama is developing its own permitting process and regulations for storing it. The Biden administration can provide leadership on the issue, Lowry said.

While many people associate water issues with drought, Lowry said the topic encompasses much more than that. Pipes that contain lead need to be replaced. There’s plenty of water, she said, but the state needs a comprehensive water plan that prepares communities for drought management, especially as more farmers use irrigation, which uses more water.

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Her organization has been working toward a state plan that can ensure fair access to water without depleting the environment of what it needs to remain stable.

With the increased frequency and intensity of storms being attributed to climate change, water infrastructure will need to be upgraded, Lowry said. Many communities rely on centralized treatment centers to handle their wastewater, and many of those facilities are overburdened and experience spills. Storms and flash floods push old pipes and at-capacity centers past their breaking points — pipes leak or burst and sewage pits overflow.

Lowry said that there has been some progress in recent years on funding infrastructure upgrades in communities and states. It’s a more bipartisan conversation than other environmental issues, and communities that have been hit hard by multiple storms are starting to have new ideas about how to rebuild themselves to better withstand the effects of climate change.

Still, Alabama’s preparedness efforts are all reactionary, which is why a comprehensive water plan is a priority, she said.

“Policies like that — proactive policies that are really forward-thinking about how we will make decisions if we do run into challenges with our environment — are something that this state has not been very strong on,” she said.

Lowry hopes for more emphasis on environmental justice, with official agencies working more with local municipalities to provide relief to communities hurt by pollution and weather events. Such problems are characteristic of the Birmingham area, where Lowry is based, and the Black Belt.

She wants to see stronger permitting processes for industry projects and easier access to funding for cleanups in communities that need them. North Birmingham activists have been trying for years to get a Superfund site there on the Superfund National Priorities List.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address these problems, Lowry said. Having multiple avenues for access to funding is important so that all communities have options. Smaller communities can’t always pay back loans, so they need access to grants.

Lowry emphasized that new jobs must be created without exacerbating climate change. Although Alabama tends to look to heavy industry for economic gains, she said she’s hopeful that a different approach by the Biden administration will trickle to the state level.

Lowry also said that conversations about climate change in Alabama have to be put in terms of what is happening in Alabama.

For her and other environmentalists working in the Deep South, it’s all about relationships and establishing trust. The environment becomes a less partisan issue when you focus on the basics, she said, because everyone wants clean water.

“I’ve found it much more easy to have conversations with elected officials at the state level in places like Alabama, where people do kind of grow up a little closer to nature and conservation, and [by] just kind of meeting people where they are,” Lowry said.

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