September 17, 2018

Noonletter: What's Happening In Kansas Today

(This is a digest of news from across the state.)
Sedgwick Deputy Killed
A call to the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department early Sunday afternoon about a “suspicious character” in a small town 10 miles west of Wichita ended with Deputy Robert Kunze and a yet-to-be-identified man both shot dead.
Witnesses, reports the Kansas News Service’s Stephan Bisaha, say the two men fought after Kunze confiscated a possibly stolen handgun and tried to handcuff the other man.
By the time a second deputy showed up in Garden Plain, both Kunze and the other man lay dead of gunshot wounds.
Authorities think the man who died along with Kunze was involved in the theft of both a vehicle and a gun. They also said that he and Kunze scuffled over a firearm. The deputy’s gun, at least, fired off a shot or shots in the incident.
Kunze was 41. He’d been working for the Sedgwick County Sheriff since 2006 and had been a sheriff’s deputy in Shawnee County before that. The deputy leaves behind a wife and child.
Nursing home sepsis
Sepsis is a potentially lethal complication that can swoop in behind infection. Chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight infection create a biological overreaction of inflammation and sometimes trigger organ failure.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen broke down a report from Kaiser Health News and found that scores of nursing homes in Kansas have been cited since 2015 for doing too little to keep sepsis at bay.
Her story includes interactive maps that show which nursing homes had what kind of citations, and that show staffing levels at different facilities.
Sepsis can pose a particular danger in nursing homes. Infections can be common. Bedsores are common. And the elderly often don’t show physical symptoms, such as fever, that would set off alarms. Or they can have trouble describing the forms of discomfort that might also alert their caregivers.
Kansas women make less than men, and women elsewhere
Women in Kansas earn, on average, 77 percent of the wages as men in the state. That gap lands Kansas 42nd in the country in a study released recently the American Association of University Women. You can find a breakdown by congressional districts here.
Another Obamacare fight
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt knows that as controversial as Obamacare has become, and as much as Republicans have fought it at nearly every turn, its guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions remains highly popular.
By joining with 19 other attorneys in a lawsuit now pending before a federal judge in Texas, Schmidt is playing a role in a case that threatens that protection for people with pre-existing conditions.
But, he told Jim McLean, as attorney general he’s obliged to challenge the requirement that everybody buy health insurance because he believes it’s unconstitutional.
Next, he said, Congress will have to look for another way to demand insurance companies cover everyone regardless of their current health.
“If we’re successful,” Schmidt said, “it may serve to accelerate that essential need for Congress to revisit the law.”
Killer pond scum takes a vacation
For the first time since 2010, Milford Lake did not experience a toxic blue-green algae bloom this year. The blooms are problematic because they’ve been known to kill some animals and leave humans who come in contact with contaminated water with diarrhea and other intestinal sicknesses.
Brian Grimmett has reported recently about efforts to better understand what causes the pond scum to take over Kansas lakes, and possible ways to prevent it.
But this year, the putrid-smelling algae has stayed away from Milford Lake.
“We didn’t see any at all,” said Mike Carney, the manager of a campground near the lake in Wakefield, Kansas. “And this is by far the fullest I’ve ever had the park.”
For the past two years, state officials have been lowering the water level of the lake during the winter and spring to allow plants to grow around the water’s edge. When the water rises again in the summer, the new plants use up some of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake that fuel harmful algae blooms.
Worth your time
Shameless self-promotion, but this podcast is worth a listen.
My Fellow Kansans” is more than just a new version of “Statehouse Blend Kansas,” it’s an artfully produced, thoroughly researched, sound-rich podcast. More importantly, it puts our current governor’s race in context by exploring the last few decades of state politics to better understand the dynamics in play today.
Give it a try. Consider a subscription (it’s free and ad-free). Give it a rating. 
 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. 

Kansas Alcohol Beverage Control Unveils Streamlined Alcoholic Beverage Label Registration

Topeka, Kan. - Kansas alcohol manufacturers and out of state suppliers will soon have a more efficient way to register beverage brands and renew liquor permits, the Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control announced Monday.

The system improvements, which go live October 1, will allow wineries, microdistilleries, microbreweries, and manufacturers to renew their license or permit and their brand labels in the same web interface. Previously, brand registration required a separate transaction on a different system for each beverage label a manufacturer produced.

“We are so pleased to offer a more intuitive way for alcohol beverage manufacturers to do business with the State of Kansas,” Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Debbi Beavers said. “This is a substantial improvement that will require less time and money from the manufacturers.”

The enhancements feature a cart where manufacturers can register multiple labels at once under a single, streamlined checkout process.

The improvements will also feature a newly reduced convenience fee structure that will be a cost saving to businesses. While the $25 per label fee is required by law to remain in place, the system enhancement will eliminate the label processing fee. Instead, manufacturers will pay a 2.5 percent credit card processing fee, or a $1.50 bank draft fee.

Kansas has 107 in-state alcoholic beverage manufactures and 1,136 out of state suppliers that register a approximately 52,000 labels with the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control every year. 

Kansas Among States Challenging Obamacare In Court

Derek Schmidt
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt acknowledges that a multi-state attack on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, could wipe out some popular consumer protections.
But, Schmidt said, he believes Congress will step in to preserve certain parts of the law if he and 19 other Republican attorneys general succeed in striking down the individual mandate — that everybody buy coverage or face a fine on their tax return — as unconstitutional.
“The most popular policy in the world cannot stand if the Constitution doesn’t permit it,” Schmidt said in an interview. “I am convinced that the Constitution does not permit the mandate absent the tax component.”
That is the crux of the case. The states are arguing that the mandate requiring Americans — with few exceptions — to purchase health coverage became unconstitutional when Congress repealed the tax penalties needed to enforce it.
Still, Schmidt said, the potential consequences of the lawsuit, which is now pending in a federal court in Texas, “give me pause.”
“Congress is going to have to revisit the ACA one way or the other,” he said.
Polls indicate that Americans are particularly concerned about the part of the law that says insurance companies cannot return to their pre-Obamacare practice of refusing to issue policies to people with pre-existing health conditions. They also want to keep provisions to prohibit insurers from charging sick people more for coverage.
“I have a strong suspicion that in the event we prevail, pre-existing conditions, in particular, will be revisited quickly,” Schmidt said. “There is a bipartisan group of mostly Republicans in Congress that just recently introduced legislation to do that.”
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder is among the co-sponsors of a resolution introduced last week that calls on Congress to “support protections” for those with pre-existing conditions.
“Throughout our ongoing health care debates, I have made a promise: I will protect those with pre-existing conditions and ensure they are not denied the affordable coverage and care they need to survive,” Yoder said in a statement, which also noted his sponsorship of H.R. 1121, the Pre-Existing Conditions Protection Act.
Introduced more year-and-a-half ago that bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Still, Yoder, a four-term incumbent locked in what appears to be a competitive race against Democratic challenger Sharice Davids, could be vulnerable on the issue because of his vote last spring to repeal Obamacare.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called Yoder’s sponsorship of the non-binding resolution an “empty gesture.”
“It’s no coincidence that 54 days out from election day, vulnerable Rep. Kevin Yoder is doing damage control to hide his unpopular record of voting to gut protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and raise health care costs on Kansas families,” the DCCC said in a statement.
The issue is also making waves in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri between incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general.
Hawley, according to the Kansas City Star, is saying that he too wants to maintain pre-existing condition protections. But, McCaskill said, that is the opposite of what that he and other attorneys general are pushing for in the lawsuit. It argues that striking down the individual mandate should invalidate the entire law.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

Kansas Nursing Homes Cited For Failings That Can Increase Risk of Infection, Deadly Sepsis

A screenshot of the interactive map embedded lower in the story shows nursing homes without citations in green. Yellow, orange and red represent citations.
A screenshot of the interactive map embedded lower in the story shows nursing homes without citations in green. Yellow, orange and red represent citations.

Sepsis hits nearly two million people in the U.S. a year and kills more than a quarter million. It’s a particular problem in nursing homes, where the aging, confused and immobile are especially susceptible.
In Kansas, scores of nursing homes have received federal citations since 2015 for practices that can put residents at a higher risk of sepsis.
Kaiser Health News compilation of those warnings to nursing home operators shows eight Kansas nursing homes earned the most serious level of citations.
Those health issues matter, says sepsis expert Steven Simpson at the University of Kansas Medical Center, because of where they can lead.
“Sepsis is one of the most common causes of death if you’re in a nursing home,” he said.
Simpson’s school works with nursing homes across Kansas to teach them about early signs of sepsis, warnings that can save a patient’s life.
“People think a lot about heart attacks. People think about strokes,” he said. “But infection is a huge, huge killer.”
Sepsis occurs when your body is fighting off an infection but the chemicals flowing into your bloodstream inadvertently trigger other life-threatening complications, including potential organ failure.
Recognizing the signs of sepsis earlier and more often would cut down on annual deaths from it. Even better would be preventing sepsis from taking hold at all -- by keeping elderly residents from developing bed sores or other complications that open the door to infection.
The Kansas News Service has published the Kansas-specific data from Kaiser Health News above. Zoom in and hover over the map pins in your area to view citations since 2015, if any, at nursing homes in your area.
The citations relate to infection prevention and control, catheters, feeding tubes and bedsores.
Citations are ranked on a scale. Immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety is most serious. Want more info about a given nursing home? You can view additional health indicators and read inspection reports in detail on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid nursing home website.
Risk for developing infections leading to sepsis can relate directly to staffing levels at nursing homes.
Residents who can’t move easily without help, for example, require frequent attention to stave off bedsores. Mayo Clinic’s tips for preventing bedsores include shifting one’s weight every 15 minutes if seated in a wheelchair.
That lack of mobility is just one reason nursing home residents are especially vulnerable to sepsis, Simpson said.
Additionally, immune systems weaken with age. Some elderly also may not develop fevers or elevated heart rates that serve as clear warning signs. They may also have trouble describing their discomfort.
“Probably the most important things to look out for in your family member who is in a nursing home are mental status changes,” Simpson said.
For instance, if someone who is normally clear-headed suddenly becomes confused and can’t remember basic facts, sepsis might be the cause.
Kaiser Health News also published federal data on staffing levels at nursing homes around the country. The Kansas News Service has reproduced the Kansas data on the map below.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.