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October 15 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. 

Meningitis cases increase by 3 since Friday (Associated Press)

Tennessee health officials say the number of meningitis cases in the state have increased by three since Friday. The Health Department said on its website Sunday that there are now 53 cases, with an unchanged number of six deaths reported. On Friday, health officials determined that a June shipment of epidural steroids was not part of a recalled batch that has been linked to the deadly fungal meningitis outbreak. The department had said on Friday that it became aware of the batch and officials were trying to determine whether it was part of the massive recall issued by the New England Compounding Center after the shots were linked to the outbreak, which has sickened more than 200 people in 14 states and led to 15 deaths.

Meningitis outbreak keeps local, CDC labs busy (Tennessean/Bliss)

Outbreak probe painstakingly slow Mold can grow slowly. Sometimes, agonizingly so as evidenced in the meningitis outbreak. In row upon row of test tubes inside Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s microbiology lab, culture samples from the spinal fluid of potential meningitis patients sit and develop. Spores thrive and reproduce, but in many cases the pace is more like a tree than a weed. It can take up to a week for the first colored fuzz to appear.

DCS struggles to answer child abuse hotline calls (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Urgent investigations begin with hotline; new computers help call takers Child abuse investigations usually begin with a phone call. More than 400 times each day, someone in Tennessee — a family member, concerned neighbor, teacher, police officer, or doctor — dials a hotline to warn of a child in danger. More often than not, the call ends up on hold. During the last two years, the department hasn’t answered its phones as quickly as it used to, so more callers than ever have been hanging up — as many 25 percent in the early months of 2012, department data show.

Tennessee voter ID law challenge continues as early voting starts (Tenn/Sisk)

Tennesseans will begin casting ballots this week in a general election for the first time under the state’s new voter identification requirement, but the law’s future remains in question as a Nashville court prepares to hear arguments on whether it should be struck down. Early voting starts Wednesday for the Nov. 6 election, one day before the Tennessee Court of Appeals is to hold a hearing on the constitutionality of the law that requires voters to show photo ID at the polls.

Williamson County elections lacking in challengers (Tennessean/Adams)

After pondering their choices in federal contests, voters in Williamson County won’t have to spend too much time filling out the rest of the ballot. There is, after all, only one contested race in the county’s three municipal elections. “It’s just been very unusual this year,” said Chad Gray, who works in the county’s election office. “I was a little surprised.” True, Nolensville voters will answer the question of whether liquor should be sold at retail stores. And in Thompson’s Station, a property owner wants his land annexed into the city limits, but because of a quirky state law, the only vote that counts is that of the property owner.

Scott DesJarlais could face discipline over affair (Tennessean/Carroll)

At least five Tennessee physicians have been disciplined for having consensual sexual relationships with patients since mid-2005, state records show. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, isn’t one of them, despite conducting such a relationship with a patient he met on the job. His record shows no history of patient complaints, and he’s still a registered family practice physician whose license doesn’t expire until 2014. But even though it’s at least a decade old, a phone transcript that revealed DesJarlais pressuring his former patient to abort a pregnancy could lead to disciplinary action.

Bill to add wilderness areas in Tennessee mired in politics (TFP/Sohn)

Conservationists are getting antsy that Congress for more than a year has failed to take up a bill that would cost nothing and protect 19,556 acres of Volunteer State wilderness — most of it in Southeast Tennessee. The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011, introduced in May 2011 by Sen. Lamar Alexander and co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, would expand five existing wilderness areas in the Cherokee National Forest and create the first new one in 25 years. The five expansions include two in Polk County and one in Monroe County.

TN voters attract little attention from candidates driven by Elec. College (CP/Hale)

Earlier this month, the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations including the major television networks and the Associated Press, announced it would be providing state-level exit polling in only 31 states. Dan Merkle, director of elections for ABC News, told the Washington Post that given rising survey costs, the goal was “to still deliver a quality product in the most important states.” Tennessee was among the 19 states that failed to meet that standard.

U.S. Ties Hospital Payments to Making Patients Happy (Wall Street Journal)

Grady Memorial Hospital here, doctors are being taught to stop interrupting patients while they are speaking. Nurses recently got hand-held phones so patients can reach them instantly. New bedside comforts include cable sports channel ESPN and a menu featuring wild salmon. Grady is making these changes in response to a shift in how the federal government pays hospitals for treating people on Medicare, the federal health-care program for seniors. Nearly $1 billion in payments to hospitals over the next year will be based in part on patient satisfaction, determined by a 27-question government survey administered to patients.

School officials consider possible hiring freeze (Associated Press)

Nashville school officials are facing a loss of $3.4 million after school board members rejected a charter school proposal. They say a partial hiring freeze is one option for absorbing the loss.The Tennessee Department of Education decided last month to withhold the funding after the city’s school board voted 5-4 not to approve Great Hearts Academy’s application. Opponents of the charter school said its proposal lacked a plan for promoting diversity. Chris Henson, the district’s chief financial adviser, told The Tennessean that preliminary discussions have taken place on how the district would handle the funding loss.

Host of questions leave suburbs in limbo over superintendent search (CA/Bailey)

Bartlett last week became the first Shelby County suburb to hire a consulting firm to search for a potential school superintendent, but other outlying cities aren’t far behind. Germantown will consider on Oct. 22 contracting with Southern Educational Strategies to act as consultants on researching candidates, just as Bartlett did last Tuesday. Meanwhile, Millington officials are expected to discuss the matter at a meeting of the city’s education transition committee the same night.

 

OPINION

 

Free-Press Editorial: TFACTS is a pricey failure (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is tasked with, among other thing, tracking children in the state’s care, maintaining a database on cases of child abuse and neglect, monitoring the state’s foster care system, and making sure that payments to foster care parents are made quickly and accurately. Such serious responsibilities require a sophisticated computer system. A capable computer system is particularly important for DCS, given that a dozen years ago, a federal court order required that Tennessee develop a system to monitor the state’s foster care system after a number of problems were revealed, including placing young children in emergency shelters for months on end.

Guest columnist: Photo ID trek shows law’s unfairness (Tennessean)

Last week, I tagged along while my wife took her mom, Bonnie, to the Department of Safety so she could get a photo on her valid driver’s license. The reason for this trip was the recently enacted legislation in Tennessee that requires most people (although there are exceptions, which I’ll mention later) to have a photo license to vote. While it may not sound like a big deal, it was a very big deal for Bonnie. She has fought back from two strokes in three years and suffers from high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Nevertheless, she was determined to make the trek to exercise her right to vote. Arriving at the driver’s service center, we quickly got a number, then sat down to wait … and wait.

Columnist: DesJarlais is news, like it or not (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee found itself in the national spotlight last week. But not for a good reason. Newspapers and websites across the country — ranging from the Washington Post to thehollywoodgossip.com — were abuzz Wednesday with news that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Jasper Republican who describes himself as pro-life, pressured his mistress to have an abortion. Making matters worse is that DesJarlais is a physician and the woman at one time was his patient. A reader asked me Thursday why the Times Free Press chose to run the story stripped across the front page and whether that was fair given that voters decide in less than five weeks whether DesJarlais will go back to Washington for a second term. My emphatic answer: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Guest columnist: TN must improve its supply chain (Tennessean)

Tennessee has emerged as a noticeable force in manufacturing. Our state has the advantage of being a premier location in terms of logistics, transportation and supply-chain management expertise. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Tennessee boasts 6,296 manufacturers operating in the state, employing 304,373 people. Supply-chain management is the management of a network of interconnected businesses that works to address all aspects of distribution, logistics, and information and inventory flow. Tennessee’s strength comes from a commitment to supporting its workforce and to constantly improving in manufacturing and supply-chain processes.

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