Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers – The News Tribune

Des Moines Register. October 12, 2017

Here’s how the Iowa Legislature can help Main Street Iowa: Leave it alone

Memo from local officials to the Iowa Legislature:

Let us be.

That message came through loud and clear at the Register’s “Changing Iowa” event Tuesday in Fort Dodge. We came asking for ideas on how the state can revitalize the main streets of Iowa’s midsize cities.

Those micropolitan areas — defined as cities between 10,000 and 50,000 population — often get lost amid the attention that rural areas and metros demand. Yet they are hubs for manufacturing, education, health care and other services.

And many have suffered. An Iowa State University report shows that, when compared with rural and metropolitan areas, Iowa’s 17 micropolitan areas had the lowest median household income and highest poverty and unemployment rates.

Cities like Fort Dodge aren’t asking for a bailout, however. Just the opposite. Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich was among those repeating the “leave us alone” mantra:

Don’t deprive us of property tax revenue — thanks to the cut in commercial property taxes — and then threaten to take away the backfill paid to offset that loss in revenue.

Don’t preach the virtues of local control and then give us little say in the siting of hog confinements.

All Iowans, not just those in midsized cities, should be concerned about the knives being sharpened for the next Legislative session. The budget will be lawmakers’ major focus, and the solution could be more cuts rather than addressing the state’s revenue problem.

But lawmakers just might want to look up from the ledger and take a broader view. They might want to listen to folks in places like Fort Dodge. If lawmakers and other state officials really wanted to help these communities, they could:

Treat housing as an economic development tool. This is an issue facing many rural and midsize cities. Webster County has attracted more than $1 billion in private investment and 1,800 new jobs in the last four years, but it faces challenges attracting and keeping workers. Over and over, participants noted the need for affordable housing of many types.

Dennis Plautz, CEO of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, said he fears that the Legislature, in its zeal to push tax reform, will target tools that communities need. That includes the Workforce Housing Tax Credits, which are awarded to housing developers by Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Encourage the next generation of local leaders. Terry Lutz, a former Fort Dodge mayor, now works with communities around the nation as CEO at McClure Engineering in Des Moines. He identified the No. 1 factor in determining a community’s strength: progressive leadership. “If you don’t have strong leadership, you probably don’t have a bright future,” he said.

Iowans must think about how they’re preparing our immigrant populations to move into those roles in county, city and, yes, state government.

More: An idea for rural Iowa business matchmaking: Link aging owners, immigrants

Support public education. That includes funding for the arts and industrial and tech education.

Promote the need for middle-skill jobs, which often require two-year degrees. These are plentiful in manufacturing, agribusiness and construction industries throughout Iowa.

Fix roads and improve other infrastructure, including providing incentives for better broadband service, which was mentioned repeatedly in our session.

Give communities incentives to work together regionally. Rather than taking a parochial outlook, participants at the Fort Dodge event brainstormed ways to collaborate with neighboring cities, pool resources, and identify strengths and weaknesses among adjacent communities.

Iowa is too small to be divided. Small towns, midsize cities and metros have more in common than they might think. And rather than fight among themselves for scant resources in the Legislature, they can identify common needs.

Maybe then, lawmakers will get the message.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. October 11, 2017

Elderly deserve more direct care

Perhaps greater than fear of death is fear of severe illness or disability for months or years before you expire. No one wants to rely on others for help bathing, dressing or taking medications. Yet avoiding an institution means finding someone to deliver that assistance in your home.

Who is going to provide it?

Nearly 70 percent of older seniors believe resources and services will be available in their communities to help them live independently, according to a 2012 AARP survey.

That is certainly optimistic, but likely not realistic. There are simply not enough caregivers to meet the needs of Iowans, a state with a higher percentage of seniors than most other states. And the shortage is expected to grow.

Unfortunately, lawmakers are making matters worse. The Iowa Legislature cut funding for direct-care workforce programs from about $500,000 to $188,000 for the current fiscal year.

More than $100,000 was slashed for Iowa CareGivers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating a quality, caregiver workforce in this state. The money previously appropriated was used for mentoring programs, partnerships with community colleges, workforce training, stakeholder forums, public awareness and other efforts to recruit and retain direct-care workers.

“I think few realize the work Iowa CareGivers does behind the scenes to promote policies and changes that benefit workers, people served and employers. The solutions to these complex issues have been identified, tested, vetted and presented for a number of years, but rather than investing to bring to scale the efforts that hold promise, they are cut to the quick,” said Di Findley, executive director of Iowa CareGivers.

Do Iowa lawmakers think they will not grow old enough for their bodies to wear out? Do they think they could not be a victim of a sudden accident, stroke or debilitating illness? Why don’t they recognize the need to increase Iowa’s financial investment in attracting and retaining caregivers instead of slashing funding by more than half?

Have lawmakers talked to Iowans to learn how difficult it is to find experienced, reliable caregivers?

They could start with Michael Wolnerman of Des Moines. His mother, Jennie, was ravaged by Alzheimer’s for three years before she died nearly two years ago. The family sought in-home caregivers through services and word of mouth to provide around-the-clock assistance.

“Most people were great,” Wolnerman said. “Some weren’t. Sometimes they would just abandon her. They left her in the middle of the night. They wouldn’t show up. Not well-educated on how to care for a person.” One worker spilled soda and food she didn’t clean up.

Although this family had plenty of money, workers did not simply materialize. Finding and keeping them was an ongoing challenge.

Attracting and retaining workers requires raising awareness, valuing caregivers as much as other health professionals and paying them a decent wage.

Home-care workers earn a median hourly wage of $10.49 per hour. Because of inconsistent work hours, they typically earn $13,800 annually. About half of them rely on some form of public assistance. While they care for others, many do not have health insurance.

All of us can help. Parents and teachers can encourage young people to become certified nursing assistants. Early retirees should consider this line of work, recognizing it is as much a public service as a job. Health insurers, including Medicaid, could raise reimbursement rates for in-home services.

An adequate, trained workforce makes social and fiscal sense. Elderly and disabled people who want to remain in their homes cannot do so if there is no one to help care for them. Publicly financed Medicaid frequently pays the bills for more expensive nursing home stays.

Elected officials are willing to give away millions in tax incentives to attract new businesses. They have taken action to lure doctors to the state and encourage Iowans to pursue teaching as a profession. They must finally be willing to invest in the workers who literally do the heavy lifting in caring for the most vulnerable Iowans.

Iowa CareGivers was founded in 1992 by Di Findley. After working as a nurse’s aide for 13 years, she wanted to give a voice to direct-care workers. With her garage sale telephone and desktop computer, she started the organization in her basement. Twenty-five years later, she is more passionate than ever.

Yet state funding for the nonprofit’s direct-care worker programs and services was cut from about $290,000 to $173,000 this fiscal year. The Iowa CareGivers’ Board and Direct Care Professional Leadership Council are equally passionate about these issues and are launching the Iowa CareGivers Endowment with contributions from two former members of the organization’s board. The fund will be managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and will support education, recognition, advocacy and research.


Sioux City Journal. October 12, 2017

Nation’s opioid problem deserves attention in Iowa

Iowa isn’t immune to America’s opioid crisis.

A new report by the University of Iowa shares troubling numbers about the extent to which this state faces a problem of opioid abuse. A class of drugs, opioids include legal pain relievers available by prescription and the illegal drug heroin.

“Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use — even as prescribed by a doctor — can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

According to the UI report, which was compiled through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to UI’s Injury Prevention Research Center, shows:

- Prescription opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled in Iowa since 1999.

- Heroin deaths have increased more than ninefold in the past 15 years, three times higher than the national average.

“While the rates of prescription opioid overdose deaths are lower in Iowa than in many states, these are disturbing and tragic trends that mirror the national prescription opioid epidemic,” said Carri Casteel, associate professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health and report co-author.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

- 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids every day.

- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

- An estimated 4 to 6 percent of those who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.

- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

“The misuse of and addiction to opioids — including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare,” according to the Institute. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total ‘economic burden’ of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.”

Later this month, the UI report will be discussed with an interim legislative study committee charged with evaluating Iowa’s response to the nation’s opioid crisis. The committee will make recommendations to Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Legislature by Nov. 15.

We give credit both to the U of I for its eye-opening report and to state government for its examination of ways Iowa should respond to this problem. We look forward with interest to hearing what the legislative study committee proposes.

Opioid abuse isn’t the only drug problem in Iowa, of course. For example, the Omaha World-Herald on Sunday reported on a resurgence of the methamphetamine scourge in Nebraska and Iowa.

In 2005, Iowa reclassified pseudoephedrine — the key ingredient in making meth — a Schedule V controlled substance available only in pharmacies and placed limits on how much product containing the substance could be purchased within a 30-day period without a prescription.

Combined with the 2010 establishment of an electronic system through which all pharmacies in the state can track the purchase of pseudoephedrine and prevent individuals from amassing more than the legal limit by making purchases at multiple locations, the 2005 law helped Iowa make significant progress in the meth war. In fact, the number of meth labs in the state by 2012 (382) was down about 75 percent from what it was in the year before the 2005 law was passed.

“The decline in use that followed the demise of home labs was short-lived, though,” the World-Herald reported. “International drug cartels soon stepped in to fill the gap in production, pumping high volumes of highly potent meth into Nebraska and other states from large-scale laboratories in Mexico. As a result, law enforcement officials throughout the Midwest continue to rank meth as the top drug threat to the region, according to a survey by the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.”

Clearly, as Iowa keeps one eye on the relatively new opioid drug problem, it’s essential to keep another one on the old drug nemesis of meth.


Fort Dodge Messenger. October 13, 2017

Recognition for innovative thinking

Dedicated government workers often fail to receive the recognition they deserve for outstanding work they perform. Consequently, it is terrific news that Fort Dodge city employees have been among those who have just received a prestigious honor for an exceptional project.

The Fort Dodge city staff and a consulting firm were honored by a group of professional planners for creating a blueprint to revitalize the northwest side of the community. They received the Innovation in Economic Planning and Development Award from the Iowa Chapter of the American Planning Association. The honor, announced Oct. 6, recognizes the city staff and Snyder & Associates Inc., of Ankeny. Fort Dodge City Manager David Fierke singled out the work of Carissa Harvey, the senior city planner, for special praise. He said she was “the driving Force behind the project.”

The project that gained this statewide attention was a concept for the Northwest River District.

It calls for infrastructure improvements, such as the reconstruction of Third Avenue Northwest. It includes trail connections and improved access to Lizard Creek. It also advocates building a big box store or strip mall near U.S. Highway 169. It envisions gateway features to mark the entrances to the neighborhood.

The plan was adopted by the City Council on Oct. 26, 2015. Its creation was largely paid for with money won in the America’s Best Communities contest. Fort Dodge submitted an entry outlining the scope of a proposed plan for the city’s northwest side in 2014. The city was named a quarterfinalist in the competition, was awarded $50,000 for the plan and was subsequently selected as a semifinalist. That enabled a local delegation to travel to Durham, North Carolina, in April 2016 to outline the project. The group, led by Harvey, made the presentation. Although the Fort Dodge project didn’t advance any farther in the contest, the city did receive an additional $25,000 for the project.

The Messenger takes pride in the outstanding work by our city employees that led to this award. We have a superb team of professionals serving our community. Harvey and her colleagues deserve our applause and congratulations for a job well done.


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