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Opinion | Fighting to save Alabama’s rural hospitals

Bradley Byrne

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These are positive times for many Alabamians. Our unemployment rate is at an all-time low, major manufacturers continue to locate in our state, and the national championship trophy is back in the state where it belongs.

Despite the momentum, our state is certainly not free from challenges. One of the most serious issues facing Alabama hardly ever receives the attention it deserves. I’m talking about the closure of rural hospitals throughout our state.

Hospitals are the backbone of many communities in rural Alabama. In addition to being the top employer in many cases, these hospitals are critical when it comes to keeping local residents healthy. Since coming to Congress, I have visited many of these rural hospitals and seen firsthand the challenges they face.

Startlingly, since 2011, eleven hospitals have closed in Alabama, and another dozen are in danger of closing in the next two years. Today, the median rural hospital in Alabama is operating at about a minus eleven percent margin and 86 percent are losing money. You don’t have to be a businessman to realize that is unsustainable.

The impact of a hospital closure on a rural community is profound. It can leave those needing emergency or in-patient care with long – and potentially deadly – commutes to the nearest hospital. Some who need care the most simply have no way to make the burdensome trip to a metropolitan area.

The closure of rural hospitals also hurts our ability to attract new industry to our state. Without hospital access, many modern employers, such as high-tech manufacturers, will refuse to locate to the areas of our state that need investment and jobs the most.

One of the primary issues driving the problem is that Alabama has the lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the country. Alabama hospitals are reimbursed as much as twenty-one percent below the national average and at rates considerably lower than our state neighbors. Due to a poorly designed formula implemented in the 1980s known as the Medicare Wage Index, the problem continues to compound every year.

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Consider this: D.W. McMillan Hospital in Brewton, Alabama, near the Florida border, is reimbursed almost twenty percent less for the exact same treatment as a hospital right across the border in Jay, Florida. It isn’t fair, it makes no sense, and it is devastating for our hospitals.

Much of the positive development in our state has been a testament to a spirit of teamwork. Leaders in Alabama saw the need to transform our economy and work together to attract new businesses. It will take that very spirit of cooperation and teamwork to solve the problems facing our rural hospitals.

When it comes to healthcare, there are a lot of different ideas. Republicans and Democrats have some serious disagreements. It would be easy to retreat to our respective corners and blame the other side for Alabama’s hospital closure problem. But, that’s not productive, and it certainly won’t solve the problem.

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In Washington, the entire Alabama Congressional Delegation has been working with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma and Congressional leadership to come up with new and innovative ideas to fix our long-term reimbursement issue. We are committed to thinking outside the box to solve this problem and protect Alabama’s rural hospitals.

However, Congressional action alone won’t solve the problem. The solution will require a total team effort from every level of government, as well as assistance from community and business leaders.

If Alabama is going to continue to move forward, we must address the challenges facing our rural hospitals and ensure Alabamians have adequate access to hospital care. If we work together as a team, I am hopeful this issue can be resolved.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

 

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Opinion | “Just Mercy” and Justice don’t exist in Alabama

Stephen Cooper

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The chance of there being “just mercy” for Nathaniel Woods—facing lethal injection on March 5 for the killing of three Birmingham police officers—is as good as the chance Alabama will ever reform its dismal, no-justice-to-be-found-anywhere legal system; it ain’t gonna happen.

A Hollywood movie and best-selling book about a legendary lawyer getting an innocent man off of death row can’t change a culture of condemnation on its own. It can’t, by itself, defeat deep-seated hatred and crass corruption that feeds off, subjugates, and disenfranchises the poor in Alabama.

And so I hate to tell my progressive, abolitionist friends: But it is unreasonable and naive to think the undeniably decent call for “just mercy” can push the needle from out of the veins of flesh-and-blood human beings—even old, dying ones—condemned to death in Alabama.

The righteous cry for “just mercy” can’t cool the hot, facile, and feral appeal of vengeance in a state soaked in the blood of slavery and segregation, where hatred for common humanity thrived, and, where it remains, having long ago seeped into its criminal code, its policies of mass incarceration, its entrenched and inescapable poverty for so many, its abysmal prison conditions, and its terrible, twisted addiction to capital punishment.

“Just mercy” doesn’t exist in Alabama, because truth be told, justice doesn’t exist in the state either.

Elsewhere I’ve written how Alabama has been torturing poor people for a long time, how it’s been ducking and dodging death penalty accountability, and, how its sick and shrouded plan to exterminate a substantial portion of its death row population with nitrogen gas is an abomination. But this time let me offer a new, concrete, more personal anecdote to illustrate how unfair and unjust Alabama’s so-called “justice” system is.

Over five years ago, as a “capital habeas” or “post-conviction” attorney, I was involved in litigating a capital case in Alabama; the end result of our Herculean effort was that a man named Christopher Revis had his death sentenced vacated and a new trial ordered—by Marion County Circuit Court Judge John H. Bentley—because of juror misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. 

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Over five years have passed since that magical, momentous, Hollywood movie-like day when Bentley ruled. But, guess what? Christopher Revis still has not had his new trial. 

That’s right: Even though Revis was ordered to have a new trial on capital murder charges over five years ago, he hasn’t had it. Nor has his case otherwise been resolved. Instead, the only thing that has happened to Revis during all this time is he has remained in Holman prison—locked down in a place that is otherwise known as “hell on earth”—where he had already been incarcerated for nearly a decade before I met him.

Last year, after more than four years had passed since Revis was ordered by Judge Bentley to have his new trial, I re-activated my Alabama bar card and traveled to Alabama for a few days to see if I could suss out—as a freelance writer who still cares about my former client, his family, and the rule of law—what the heck is happening. I failed.

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But I am not alone. Because does anyone in the legal community, press, or the public know why Christopher Revis has not had his new—constitutionally mandated—trial yet? Has any competent, conscientious journalist anywhere ever looked into Christopher Revis’s case and this question before?

Nope and nope.

Have I, as Revis’s former lawyer, and after having been contacted and asked to do so at various times by Revis’s desperate family—over the years since I left law practice—done everything possible to alert members of the legal community and the press (both local and national) of the unconscionable passage of time in Revis’s case? Yup. But you can google for yourself to find out just how little that has accomplished.

And so, although I don’t relish being in the role of spoiler and bearer of bad news: In my opinion, based on my own personal experience, before “just mercy” can be anything but a wishful and fleeting slogan on highway billboards in Alabama, the state must first be able to competently and fairly provide justice to its citizens. Citizens like Christopher Revis. So far it hasn’t.

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq

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Opinion | A lesson in civility

Larry Lee

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As already mentioned here, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9, I participated in a League of Women Voters forum in Dothan to debate the pros and cons of Amendment One.  I opposed the measure.  Senator Greg Albritton from Atmore supported it.

I had done my homework and so had he.  We both spoke with passion and conviction.  There was no doubt we were on opposite sides.

However, we were friends when we got there and we were friends when we left.

I respect Greg and the fact that he was duly elected by the majority of voters in his senate district.  He certainly has a right to his viewpoint and his opinions.  I have no doubt he feels the same about me.

Our exchanges were lively and even interspersed with moments of laughter and good will.

In other words, we were civil.

And as I drove back home to Montgomery, I couldn’t help but think of how what had just played out was in such stark contrast to what we see far too often in politics these days, especially in Washington.  Both civility and respect have become four letter words in the nation’s capital where if someone disagrees with you they are usually ridiculed, berated and the object of insults.

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We are destroying what is most dear to this republic. The presumption that as a whole we are better than the sum of all our parts.  That all citizens should be treated with dignity, not chastised because they don’t think like we do.

I understand better than most that 2020 is an election year and that in such times, passion often replaces common sense.  But even so, even that does not condone so much of the junk we see on TV and Facebook right now.

It is shameful.

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Of course, I will vote NO on amendment one.  And Greg will vote YES.

But to me, the larger lesson of this forum was not so much about the pros and cons of this legislation as it was that civil discourse and disagreement can–and should–be conducted with civility.

When it is not, we are all diminished.

 

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Opinion | President Trump has the best week of his Administration

Bradley Byrne

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Last week was President Trump’s best since moving into the White House.  After giving a well-received State of the Union address, the President was acquitted by the United States Senate, announced the killing of a major terrorist, and received a great jobs report.  On the other hand, Democrats suffered several significant embarrassments.

It began Monday at the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.  Despite months of work to manufacture enthusiasm, Democrats experienced extremely low turnout across the state.  Things went from bad to worse as a host of errors prevented the counting and reporting of votes!  Of course, it isn’t hard to see why the people of Iowa were not eager to support Democrat priorities.  Socialist policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and confiscation of firearms are radical and dangerous, and most Americans reject them.

 In contrast, the very next day, President Trump presented a clear vision for keeping America great in a rousing State of the Union speech.  I left my seat many times to applaud the President and his many guests, each of whom had inspiring stories.  Two of hi s guests were Stephanie Davis and her daughter Janiyah from Pennsylvania.  Janiyah had been on a waitlist of over half a million students to receive a scholarship to go to a better school.  President Trump shocked the crowd by awarding her a scholarship right then and there!

The story of Janiyah was especially important to me because the President called on Congress to pass my bill, the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act, so that one million American children could have the same opportunity for a scholarship!  I developed this bill with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senator Ted Cruz.  President Trump is right that no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school, and I am proud to lead this important Trump administration priority.

The State of the Union ended on an embarrassing note for Democrats as Speaker Pelosi ripped up her copy of the President’s speech.  This petty, undignified tantrum plainly displayed the level of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” that she and her cohorts suffer from.  They simply cannot stand to see President Trump succeed.  They are in crisis after their impeachment plan failed.  In fact, it backfired and lost support as their rigged process was exposed.  Realizing her mistake, Speaker Pelosi appealed to Facebook and Twitter to have videos of her ripping the speech taken down!

I was proud to be a leader in that fight against the sham impeachment.  Thursday, a day after the President was exonerated, I was among a handful of House members invited to the White House to celebrate.  It was an amazing honor and surprise to receive President Trump’s personal thanks for fighting by his side throughout this process.

Later Thursday, the President announced that an American airstrike had killed Qassim al-Rimi, a terrorist and the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.  AQAP claimed credit for the December 2019 shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station that took the lives of three servicemembers, including Ensign Joshua Watson from Coffee, Alabama.  President Trump has made clear that our enemies will pay for taking American lives, and terrorists across the globe now know that he isn’t messing around.

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Finally, an excellent January jobs report was released.  Employers added 225,000 jobs as the economy continues to strengthen.  Importantly, wages for working Americans are rising.

Put it all together and its obvious why the President’s approval rating is at the highest levels of his administration.  Clearly the Democrats’ misguided prioritization of an unpopular impeachment scheme has them in dire straits.  I vow to keep fighting with the President against radical socialism and to support his America First agenda.

 

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Opinion | Positive results from the Alabama Department of Labor

Fitzgerald Washington

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With the closing of the past decade, and at the beginning of a new one, economic conditions in Alabama couldn’t be much better.  We at the Alabama Department of Labor have been busy wrapping up statistics and facts for 2019, and we’re happy to share those positive results with everyone.

If you’ve noticed the news reports over the last year, you’ll know that Alabama is currently experiencing a period of record growth and success.  In 2019, we announced brand new economic records nearly every single month. We closed out 2019 with the lowest unemployment rate on record – 2.7 percent! In fact, until last year, Alabama had NEVER experienced an unemployment rate below 3.0 percent. We hit that mark three times last year.  Nationally, our unemployment rate decreased more than any other state (over the year).

With that record low unemployment rate, it’s no surprise that we also have record high employment – meaning more people are working today in the state of Alabama than EVER BEFORE.  In December, more than 2.2 million Alabamians were counted as having a job, representing a yearly increase of nearly 84,000 people.   Every single month in 2019 saw a brand-new record high level of employment.  So did our labor force. That means that more people were in the workforce than ever before.  That’s significant because it shows that people believe there are jobs to be had.  And, #wehavejobs.  We have a lot of jobs.

Last year, our economy supported more jobs than it ever has at any point in time in our history.  Employers reported more than 2.1 million jobs in November and December.  Over-the-year job growth reached record highs, and we met or surpassed the national job growth rate for 11 out of the last 12 months. Alabama employers continue to post jobs on the state’s online jobs database, www.joblink.alabama.gov.  More than 210,000 jobs were posted on the site last year, and nearly 800,000 people visited it.

For four years in a row now, we’ve soundly beaten economists’ job growth projections.  In 2019, economists projected Alabama would gain 22,000 jobs.  We gained 75,000. (Based on year to date growth, January 2019 – December 2019.) For 2020, they’ve projected a gain of 29,000 jobs.  We’re hopeful we can beat those projections for yet another year. By the way, the jobs we’re gaining aren’t just any jobs.  The majority of the growth was in the professional and business services sector, which includes professions like engineers, architects, and computer systems designers.  Wages in this sector reached a record high last year, notching a more than $20 weekly wage increase (over the year).  At least seven sectors and subsectors saw record high weekly wages last year, and overall wages, also at a record high, experienced a nearly $9 increase.

Despite all these positive indicators, we know we still have plenty of work to do. Even with record low unemployment rates, there are still some 60,000 Alabamians who are unemployed.  Our mission is to connect every Alabamian who wants a job, with an employer who needs a worker.  We won’t slack on that mission now.  We know our job will never get easier.  In fact, as the economy improves, our job in some ways becomes harder.  We still have companies locating in Alabama that need workers, and we have an obligation to provide a qualified and trained workforce.  With that in mind, we’re working on the following goals:

  • First, we are committed to helping Governor Kay Ivey realize her goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled employees to the workforce by 2025.

In order to meet the needs of our employers, we must continue to work hard every day to train and equip our workforce to respond to today’s challenges.  Through the Success Plus initiative, Alabama’s workforce community is committed to add 500,000 credentialed workers by 2025.  This can be accomplished in many ways; either through accreditation programs via Alabama’s Community College System, training from the state’s workforce development agency, AIDT, On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship programs, and more.  Our 50 Career Centers, located throughout the state, provide access to all of these programs and more.  We are committed to doing our part to ensure the continued success of the state.

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  • We want to increase awareness of the services available to both employers and jobseekers throughout the state.

Through targeted outreach efforts over the past several years, more and more Alabamians are aware of the free, valuable services available to them through our Career Centers.  Not only for the unemployed who are looking for work, we also provide services to those who are looking for a new career.  We can help you get the right training, or the right education, to make those dreams a reality.  For employers, we can help you narrow your search to find the perfect candidates, and even help with wage costs.  There’s truly something for everyone at your local Career Center.   Please take a moment and check us out, we’d love to help you! Find out more at www.labor.alabama.gov.

 

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