Editorials from around Ohio

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 14

The bad news about this year's Lake Erie algal toxins is that the harmful blooms are likely to be "significant" and could range up to 9 on a severity index that has only gone over 10 once.

That would make this year's algal blooms potentially the worst since 2015, when they hit 10.5 on the severity index, the highest ever recorded.

The even worse news is that this year's blooms -- both in western Lake Erie and in Sandusky Bay, where they are produced by different types of toxin-producing algae -- are already yielding small amounts of microcystins, the liver toxin that can kill pets and livestock, close beaches and threaten public water supplies.

And even as the toxic algae return to threaten one of Ohio's most important economic and natural-resource assets, the state lacks a clear plan of attack for reducing their cause: phosphorus and nitrogen runoff.

The chief culprits in this runoff are known: Prior studies by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency identified fertilizer, manure and other runoff from farms and livestock operations in the Maumee basin as the main sources feeding western Lake Erie's toxic algal blooms.

But opponents to credible plans to reduce this runoff are powerful. An effort by Gov. John Kasich last year, late in his administration, to kickstart the planning and regulatory process needed to reduce Maumee basin runoff was stymied by powerful agricultural interests.

Since taking office, Gov. Mike DeWine has been silent on whether he will initiate a similar directive.

DeWine has not been silent about Lake Erie, however.

He has pledged to reduce Ohio's phosphorus runoff as part of regional efforts to cure the algal problem. He's properly called Lake Erie a jewel. He's asked the legislature for a nearly $1 billion H2Ohio fund to pay for freshwater protections throughout the state.

But none of these adds up to a real game plan for phosphorus reductions where it counts, in the vast watershed of the Maumee River feeding these nutrients directly into Lake Erie. As our editorial board has said more than once, an actual phosphorus reduction plan is critical.

The harmful algal bloom forecast released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its partners is just a prediction. It includes a severity forecast of 7.5 for this year's blooms, just below 2017's 8.0, and a possible range from 6 to 9.

The rainfall this spring and early summer -- rainfall that's expected to make the blooms more severe -- also has kept lake temperatures relatively cool, delaying the predicted onset of the worst of the blooms until later this month.

There's an additional unknown, however: The toxicity of a bloom doesn't correlate with its size. And scientists don't know what causes some algal blooms to be more toxic than others. The 2014 bloom that cut off Lake Erie drinking water to nearly half a million people in the Toledo area, for instance, registered at less than 7 on the severity scale -- lower than the predicted severity rate this year.

NOAA and allied researchers, including at Ohio universities and the Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory, are actively investigating what drives a bloom to produce large amounts of the potentially lethal microcystin liver toxins.

As just one venture, NOAA and others are using unmanned underwater vehicles to assess the depth of toxins and gather samples for later genetic analysis.

Researchers from Bowling Green State University's Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health, meanwhile, are trying to understand what's behind toxic algal blooms in Sandusky Bay. There, the blooms trace to Planktothrix, a type of microcystin-causing algae that feeds off nitrogen rather than phosphorus. It turns the water a lighter green than the pea-green algae of western Lake Erie.

Such research is critical. But the only way to reduce the persistently harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie is to attack them at their source: the agricultural runoff from the Maumee basin that fuels them in the first place.

If Gov. DeWine truly believes Lake Erie is the jewel it is, he must act to create a credible, practical, enforceable plan -- in consultation with farming interests, but not in thrall to them -- that will finally reduce phosphorus and nitrogen runoff.

Online: https://bit.ly/2JxWY46

____The Akron Beacon Journal, July 14

President Trump put country first last week in ending his quest to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census. He returned to where his administration appeared to stand two weeks ago when the Justice Department announced the printing of census forms would proceed without the question. The absence of the question means the Census Bureau is better positioned to deliver an accurate count, or an "actual enumeration" of persons living here, as the Constitution requires.

The president didn't get to this position easily. He initially balked at the Justice announcement, insisting the administration was "absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question." In conceding on Thursday, he charged that opponents are "trying to erase the very existence of a very important word and a very important thing, citizenship."

That hardly is so. As the president now acknowledges, there are alternative means for collecting citizenship information, including the American Community Survey, a creation of the past two decades, designed as a continuing effort to collect data about the country. The trouble with including a citizenship question in the census conducted once every 10 years is many immigrants, both legal and undocumented, may balk at participating, fearing their information will be shared with law enforcement or lead to harassment.

That risks an incomplete count, experts putting the likely shortfall at 6.5 million. An errant number has consequences with $900 billion a year in federal funding linked to census data, not to mention the redrawing of district lines for the U.S. House, state legislatures and local jurisdictions. The shape of the Electoral College is at stake.

In forgoing a general citizenship question, the president has sided with the consensus of experts. After the 1950 census, experts raised concerns about an undercount. Thus, a decade later, the Census Bureau adopted two forms, short and long. The latter went to a small fraction of households and included a type of citizenship question through the 2000 census. By 2010, the American Community Survey was up and running, amounting to an improvement over the long form.

So Barack Obama didn't remove the citizenship question, as claimed by Rush Limbaugh and Kellyanne Conway. If anything, their comments highlight the partisanship at play. The president indicated as much when he explained last week: "(T)his (citizenship) information is also relevant to administering our elections. Some states may want to draw state and local legislative districts, based upon the voter eligible population."

Political boundaries drawn according to citizenship data would favor Republicans, an argument made by the late Thomas Hofeller, a Republican strategist whose papers reveal contacts with the Trump team about including a citizenship question. This revelation reinforces the Supreme Court conclusion two weeks ago that the administration's rationale for the question is "contrived." In other words, it isn't about improved enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

One day after pulling back on the citizenship question, the president talked about "a major operation," starting Sunday, involving nationwide raids to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. This effort raises the worry: How much damage has been done? In that way, the citizenship controversy looks like another vehicle for stirring fear, deterring immigrant participation in the census to Republican advantage.

Thus, it is pleasing to see state and local officials mobilizing to promote participation. The census doesn't belong as a partisan endeavor. It is an opportunity for the country to rally behind an accurate count, helping to ensure federal money is spent properly and political boundaries are drawn fairly. Many businesses and other organizations depend on census numbers for decision-making. So the country is well served going ahead without a citizenship question.

Online: https://bit.ly/2XTNkMV ___

The Marietta Times, July 15Officials at Mount Carmel Health System near Columbus appear to be working hard to correct the problems that made possible the deaths of at least 25 people due to excessive doses of painkillers, for which only one person — William Husel — is facing charges.

At least 23 other employees are being fired, and leadership — the chief executive and chief clinical officer — is stepping down to allow for a change at the top. Though the 23 employees being fired will not face prosecution, most of them are being reported to their respective professional boards for review for further potential disciplinary action. (Eleven other people are being given the change to retain their jobs if they go through more training.)

In announcing the firings, outgoing President and CEO Ed Lamb also said "We are deeply sorry for the additional grief and frustration this has caused and are working to provide reasonable settlements with affected families."

Financial settlements and news of the additional firings are likely cold comfort to the families of those who were killed.

But the acknowledged size of the problem at Mount Carmel may mean the deaths were probably aided by systemic failures that could exist in other hospitals.

Employees on Mount Carmel's physician, nursing and pharmacy management teams were all deemed responsible enough by internal investigators to warrant their firing. The news should prompt an analysis of training, policies and procedures by all Ohio hospitals. Placing an emphasis on cultures of vigilance and accountability- on all rungs of the ladder — is essential, too.

No one should have to worry a hospital is not doing all it can to "do no harm" to their loved ones.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Jy4FHm

___The Toledo Blade, July 14

An executive order that President Trump signed last week has the potential to cut kidney disease rates, make dialysis more convenient, and increase the number of organs available for transplant.

That means an improved quality of life for some Americans and a second chance at life for others. The order also creates an opportunity to reduce racial, geographic, and income-based health disparities.

Mr. Trump's order requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing kidney disease, which the American Kidney Fund calls the nation's ninth-biggest killer. Kidney disease affects an estimated 31 million U.S. adults. It's closely associated with poverty and disproportionately affects people of color. It's also more prevalent in some areas than others because of variations in diet, accessibility of health care, and other factors.

Simple lifestyle choices can help people ward off kidney disease, and early detection is important for those who do get it. A public education campaign, national in scope and modeled after the ad blitzes responsible for increasing seat belt use and decreasing tobacco consumption, could have a huge impact.

Mr. Trump ordered the human services department to make proposals for supporting additional research into kidney disease, including the development of an artificial kidney, and he directed a possible restructuring of the Medicare payment system so that patients requiring dialysis can have it at home instead of in clinics. That has the potential to bring comfort and convenience to millions of Americans who now have to spend hours at dialysis clinics each week.

The executive order also requires the government to cover more costs associated with so-called living donor transplants — a step that could boost organ donation rates.

Healthy people only need one kidney to live, leaving one that can be donated to family, friends, or strangers if donor and recipient are compatible. People may donate part of their liver too, and rarely a uterus or segments of other organs. While the recipient's insurance picks up the donor's medical bills, Mr. Trump's order would have the government cover lost wages, child care, or other costs that prevent more people from becoming living donors.

Other parts of Mr. Trump's order are concerning. He directed the department to develop metrics for better measuring the performance of organ procurement organizations — the 58 groups nationwide involved in recovering organs from deceased donors — and he ordered the department to develop a better kidney allocation process. The first is to be done in 90 days and the other in 180 days.

Both are unrealistic time frames for work Mr. Trump hasn't even justified doing. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the United Network for Organ Sharing already ride herd on organ procurement organizations. UNOS also establishes — and periodically tweaks after exhaustive study — the rules for organ dissemination.

If these parties aren't doing their jobs, Mr. Trump needs to provide the evidence. The last thing the transplant system needs is bureaucratic or political meddling, and any changes should include input from UNOS and all parts of the transplant community.

About 113,000 people are on U.S. transplant waiting lists, and there aren't nearly enough organs for all of them. The government should adopt policies that cut chronic disease rates and maximize organ transplantation while relying on the excellent transplant system infrastructure already in place.

Online: https://bit.ly/32pXPLL