Posts tagged with Kansas

Vaccine opt outs across state raise concerns

Last year about 1 percent of parents of Kansas kindergartners opted their children out of immunization shots. It’s a number state and local health officials don’t want to see grow.

More than half the states in the country have seen at least a slight rise in the rate of exemptions over the past five years, according to an Associated Press report last week. States with the highest exemption rates are in the West and upper Midwest.

While the 1 percent exemption rate in Kansas doesn’t seem like a lot, state epidemiologist Charles Hunt said the state tends to see exemptions concentrated in certain areas. Among the state’s nearly 800 schools, only 250 reported exemptions.

“This 1 percent is not necessarily evenly distributed throughout the state,” Hunt said.

At a Lawrence-Douglas County Health Board meeting this month, board members and health department director Dan Partridge expressed concern about a Wichita-based group lobbying to parents to opt out of vaccinations.

During the last legislative session, Kansans for Vaccine Rights introduced a bill to the House Health and Human Services Committee to add conscientious exemption to the reasons for parents to opt out of immunizations. Exemptions are already allowed on religious and medical grounds.

The bill never got out of committee, but Partridge said the group’s lobbying efforts have increased since the session ended.

“Our concern this year is they will have gathered enough momentum to get it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote,” Partridge said.

Leaders from Kansans for Vaccine Rights declined to speak to the Lawrence Journal-World but provided written information on their stance.

“Our group is not anti-vaccination, but rather pro-parental rights, pro-informed consent and pro-freedom of conscience,” they wrote. “Parents who are choosing to opt out or delay one, some or all of the required vaccinations have valid concerns and questions that are not being fully answered or resolved.”

The group said the bill will be reviewed again in the 2012 legislative session.

Nineteen states allow parents to exempt out of immunizations for conscientious, philosophical, medical or religious reasons. The group noted these states continue to have high average vaccination participation and low exemption rates. But Partridge said the decision to vaccinate is one that affects more than just the child — it’s a social obligation because a healthy, unvaccinated child could carry a disease to a more vulnerable, unvaccinated person, such as an infant.

“It’s not just about my child, my decision. It’s not an isolated consequence,” Partridge said.

Not that long ago, 450 people a year were dying from measles, Hib meningitis killed 600 children each year and polio caused up to 20,000 cases of paralysis.

Partridge said the risk of going unvaccinated is far greater than the risks associated with vaccines.

“There are risks,” he said. “But there are millions and billions of vaccines given in the world and the vast majority of complications are a sore arm or low-grade fever.”

Hunt said part of the concern has to do with the ever-increasing list of vaccines children are required to have before they can attend school.

“Things have gotten more complicated with the number of vaccines given, new vaccines developed, new schedules. Children are getting a lot of vaccines in the first years of life,” Hunt said.

These are the immunization requirements for children entering Kansas kindergartens this year:

• Four to five doses of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis.

• Four doses of polio.

• Two doses of measles, mumps, rubella.

• Two doses of chicken pox.

• Three doses of hepatitis B.

• Doses of three other vaccines are required for children under 5 who are in early-childhood programs.

But Hunt also said that parents today are exposed to a lot more information — not all of which is accurate, he said — on vaccines and their effects.

Partridge believes people have forgotten about the devastation these diseases brought before there were vaccinations.

“It follows a whole bunch of other trends in society in kind of forgetting the lessons of the past,” Partridge said.

As for what can happen when children go unvaccinated, Partridge pointed to outbreaks of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, that occurred in Douglas County this year. In October, six cases were reported, four of which were from unvaccinated children. And in March, seven cases were reported, six of which were from unvaccinated children.

“We can’t let down our guard,” Partridge said.

By Christine Metz

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Kansas ranks last in making progress on children's health insurance

Kansas ranked last in the nation in making progress in insuring children, a new study says.

Nationally, the number of children without health insurance coverage decreased from 2008-2010.

But Kansas and Minnesota went in the opposite direction.

The two states had the highest percentage increase of uninsured children during that three-year period, according to the study conducted by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute's Center for Children and Families.

Kansas' rate of uninsured children in 2010 was 8.2 percent, up from 7.4 percent in 2008. That represents an increase of uninsured children of 7,853 from 51,930 in 2008 to 59,783 in 2010.

Over the same period, even with more children living in poverty, the nationwide rate of uninsured children decreased from 9.3 percent to 8 percent, which meant there were nearly 1 million more children insured. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia experienced a decrease in the uninsured rate of children.

The improvement was attributed to more children getting coverage through states' Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs.

So why did Kansas rank at the bottom?

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said Monday it was because Kansas' efforts to provide health care coverage for more children from low-income families were made later than most other states.

An expansion of eligibility and changes in procedures to make it easier to sign up for Medicaid and HealthWave were not fully implemented until 2010.

"We took some steps in the right direction," she said. "We are not seeing the fruits of those labors yet. We need to stay the course."

She added, “KAC has launched a statewide campaign to enroll more children in HealthWave, a program that provides quality, cost-effective health insurance to parents who can’t get or can’t afford private health insurance. Many kids in Kansas are eligible for HealthWave, but their parents may not know it. We aim to change that.”

Joan Aker, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, said Kansas can learn from other states to reduce the rate of uninsured children.

"No matter where they live, families that are struggling to meet their children’s health care needs during perilous economic times should get the help they need. Overall, on a national level, these data highlight a rare piece of good news at a challenging time for children – poverty has gone up, but across the county more kids are insured," Aker said.

Because of high unemployment rates and increasing cost of private insurance, more families have applied for coverage under Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs. President Barack Obama signed an extension of CHIP and earmarked $87 billion to the states in economic stimulus to help pay for Medicaid.

By Scott Rothschild

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Drug traffickers using Kansas highways to move their products

There’s a good chance illegal drugs smuggled into the United States from Mexico will travel through Kansas, and maybe Lawrence, on their way to the East Coast, according to a recently released federal report.

“Kansas is kind of that gateway,” said Lt. Scott Herrington, spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol, which monitors Kansas highways.

The National Drug Intelligence Center released the 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment recently — which identifies how illegal drugs flow into, and then around, the United States.

Interstates 70 and 35 play a prominent role in drug trafficking, according to the report. Both highways are listed as major trafficking routes for marijuana, heroin and cocaine. Kansas City, where I-70 and I-35 converge, was cited as a major hub in drug trafficking trends. The report details how drugs smuggled into Texas and California make their way east and north, through Kansas, on their way to Chicago and other eastern parts of the country.

While illegal drugs might travel through Lawrence on I-70, it’s less clear what role — if any — Lawrence plays in the larger international drug trade.

Sgt. Steve Lewis, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said deputies in their Intensive Criminal Enforcement Unit monitor I-70 aggressively for illegal drugs.

“Stopping the flow of illegal drugs through Douglas County is a high priority for the team,” Lewis said.

But Lewis and Herrington said they didn’t have specific details about whether Lawrence is a hub, or major stopping point, for smugglers.

Curbing the flow of illegal drugs through the state is often a combined effort among state, federal and local law enforcement, Herrington said. One example is the I-135/I-70 Drug Task Force organized by the Saline and Dickinson County Sheriff’s Offices, formed in 1993. Since then, the task force has seized more than $55 million worth of illegal drugs.

One trend in Kansas is an increase in the amount of marijuana seized by the Kansas Highway Patrol, which nearly doubled between 2008 and 2010, up to more than 13,000 pounds last year.

Herrington also said officers are seeing other roads — such as Kansas Highway 4 and U.S. Highway 36 — utilized by smugglers trying to avoid law enforcement.

Regardless of how much they seize, it’s an uphill battle stopping drug traffickers, Herrington said.

“As soon as a trooper makes an arrest, there’s more coming,” he said.

By Shaun Hittle

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Gov. Sam Brownback says water plan will help Ogallala Aquifer

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday unveiled a proposal he said will help conserve the Ogallala Aquifer.

The proposals were pushed forward by an advisory committee that reviewed issues with the Ogallala, a vast underground water table beneath eight states, including western Kansas.

“The Ogallala Aquifer is the primary source of water for the western third of Kansas,” said Gary Harshberger, chairman of the Kansas Water Authority. “It is essential to find ways to help extend and conserve the life of the aquifer.”

Brownback’s proposals for the 2012 legislative session, which starts in January, include:

• Eliminating the “use it or lose it” policy for groundwater rights in areas closed to new water right development.

• Providing a process for proactive conservation plans.

• Allowing development of additional groundwater “water banks.”

• Giving irrigators expanded flexibility in managing their crop water over a five-year period.

State officials have scheduled four public meetings to talk about the proposals. Those meetings will be Dec. 8 in Wichita; Dec. 9 in Topeka; and Dec. 13 in Garden City and Colby.

By Scott Rothschild

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Indiana school considers opening college of osteopathic medicine in Kansas

An out-of-state school is looking at possibly opening a college of osteopathic medicine in Kansas.

Indiana Wesleyan University President Henry Smith was quoted in that college's newspaper as saying, "Currently, we are getting good support from a wide constituency in Kansas. However, we are still in the planning and exploration and do not have approval as of yet to actually establish a COM (College of Medicine)."

Kansas Board of Regents staff said that IWU is looking at possibly purchasing land in south Johnson County for the college. IWU has said it hopes to have its college open by fall 2015.

Officials at Kansas University, which operates a College of Medicine in Kansas City, Kan., have no comment on the proposal at this time.

C.J. Janovy, director of communications for the KU Medical Center, said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, and KU Med Center Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson are scheduled to meet with IWU officials soon.

Bob Williams, executive director of Kansas Association of Osteopathic Medicine, said on Wednesday that IWU has been in contact with the association and that the association supports the proposal.

Williams said it is not unusual for a school in one state to seek to branch out to another state and that the Kansas City-area makes sense for a college of osteopathic medicine because of its central location and the need to train more primary care physicians in the region.

He said IWU is in the exploratory phase of the proposal. "It's a very expensive, complicated process that you have to go through," Williams said.

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback vows to keep Boeing in Wichita

Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday vowed to hold Boeing to its commitment to building a portion of the U.S. Air Force's new refueling aircraft in Wichita.

On Monday, Boeing announced that it was conducting an internal study on the future of its defense plant in Wichita, including the possibility of closing it.

Brownback, a former U.S. senator, said and he and the Kansas congressional delegation fought long and hard to help Boeing secure the $35 billion contract to build 179 aerial refueling tankers. The contract award came earlier this year after years of contentious wrangling and high-dollar lobbying.

"In many respects you wouldn't have this contract if it wasn't for the effort of the Kansas delegation," Brownback said.

Brownback said he is pursuing a meeting with Boeing officials to find out what is going on.

He read from an April 30, 2010 news release from Boeing in which the company said Kansas would benefit from approximately 7,500 jobs with an estimated $388 million annual impact if Boeing was selected as the contractor for the refueling aircraft. "Boeing employees working at the Wichita, Kan. site will play an important role in modifying 767 airplanes into NewGen military tankers if the company is selected for the contract," the news release said.

Brownback said, "We are going to hold the Boeing company to these words."

He said there wasn't anything the state could do legally to force Boeing to stay in Kansas, but he noted that Kansas has two U.S. House members that serve on the House appropriations and budget committees. "Boeing is a major user of federal funds," Brownback said.

State Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, said Boeing's announcement was "unsettling news."

"Kansas has been really good not just for Boeing but aviation in general," he said.

By Scott Rothschild

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Gun safety, wildlife conservation the main focus of hunter education course

Floyd Pearson, hunter safety instructor, guides some students through a practice walk out during a safety course on Saturday, Nov. 19. The goal of the walk out is to practice safe gun handling and safe spotting in the field.

Floyd Pearson, hunter safety instructor, guides some students through a practice walk out during a safety course on Saturday, Nov. 19. The goal of the walk out is to practice safe gun handling and safe spotting in the field. by Laura Herring

How to safely handle a gun. How to responsibly maintain a wildlife population. How to safely handle crossbow.

Students in a hunter education course taught in De Soto over the weekend learned all of these lessons from instructors certified by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

More than 50 students filled the De Soto VFW on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18-19, to take the 10-hour course and accompanying exam, a requirement for anyone over the age of 16 to receive a hunting license in the state of Kansas. Kids as young as 11 are eligible to take the exam though several adults were enrolled in the course as well.

"I like the outdoors and I wanted to get my full hunting license, that's why I'm here," said 50 year-old Teresa Brummett of Olathe. "For me the class was more of a formality but I think it's an important thing for hunters to do, especially the kids."

While most enrolled in the course were from De Soto, people from all around Johnson County came to the class, a testament to how difficult the course can be to find.

"There aren't many of these classes offered anywhere around us and those that are fill up very fast," said course organizer Paul Stonestreet. "I wanted to find a class for my son for a while now and when I couldn't I just thought I'd try to get one here."

Stonestreet said he was surprised by the response to the class in De Soto.

"I wasn't even sure the class would fill up but I had 25 students in about 24 hours," he said. "From there I went up to 55 and that's where the state capped me, we had a waiting list and managed to squeeze a few more in. We have 58 students total today."

Each one of the 58 students passed the final exam, a 50-question multiple choice test on which students had to get 80 percent of the questions correct.

"I've learned a lot in the class," said 11 year-old De Soto resident Robbie Stallbaumer. "I'm glad that I'll be able to hunt with my dad and brothers now."

"The goal of these courses is to make sure these kids, and all hunters really, stay safe," said head instructor Floyd Pearson. "In my experience students are always eager to learn and really get into it."

For some in the course, learning about gun and hunting safety was more the goal than the hunting license.

"My husband and my son both hunt so I'm here today more just to learn about their hobby and know more about it," said Carrie Carr of Shawnee. "The safety lessons are very important to me because now I feel like I'll be able to reinforce that more with my son."

The De Soto course took things to the next level by allowing students the opportunity to handle loaded guns and practice safe practices on a real shooting range, an added bonus to the requirements of the course.

"It's not required that we actually take students into the field and have the walk through safety steps or how to take a safe shot but we like to do that whenever possible," said Pearson. "It's just another step we can take to make sure the safe practices are really grasped."

More information on hunter education can be found on the KDWPT website.

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Kansas earns high marks from MADD for efforts against driving drunk

Kansas earned the highest rating possible for laws designed to combat drunken driving, Mothers Against Drunk Driving announced Thursday.

The nation as a whole received a three-star rating, while Kansas was given five stars.

“The five-star out of five-star rating provides an important indicator of where the state stands in its efforts to eliminate drunk driving,” said MADD Kansas volunteer Chris Mann. “Although our state is definitely on the right track in our fight against drunk driving, we must remain committed to effective implementation of the tools outlined in the report in order to see fewer deaths and injuries as a result of drunk driving.”

Kansas has passed laws requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers, utilizing administrative driver’s license revocation for drunken driving offenders, enhanced penalties for those who drive drunk with children in the vehicle, and other measures.

MADD credited Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, and Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, for getting the ignition interlock legislation passed.

Of Kansas’ neighboring states, Missouri and Oklahoma earned three stars, Colorado, four and Nebraska, five.

By Scott Rothschild

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Analysis: Kansas will take 3 years to recover jobs

It will take Kansas three more years to fully recover the jobs lost in the Great Recession that started in 2008, according to a recent national economic analysis.

“It’s a very slow-moving economy right now,” said Bob Tomarelli, an economist at Massachusetts-based IHS Global Insight, which conducted the state-by-state study.

He said the projected recovery in Kansas matches the median time frame among all states — the fourth quarter of 2014 — mostly because the state didn’t experience as drastic of unemployment drops as states crippled by manufacturing job losses, such as Michigan and Ohio, or by the real estate bubble, such as California, Nevada and Florida.

But it also is not projected to recover as quickly as the Dakotas, Nebraska and Texas. North Dakota is gaining energy jobs from an oil boom, for example, and Texas is projected to return to its “pre-recession employment peak” in 2012.

The Kansas Department of Labor’s September estimate put the state’s unemployment rate at 6.6 percent, down from 6.9 percent in August. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, unchanged from August and down from 7 percent one year ago. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state’s unemployment rate reached a high of 7.6 percent in August 2009.

State labor officials last month warned job growth was still both tentative and anemic. The September jobless rate was 6.3 percent in Lawrence and 5.9 percent overall in Douglas County. The state is scheduled to release its October report next week.

Donna Ginther, a Kansas University economics professor, said compared with the Dakotas and Nebraska, Kansas is more dependent upon manufacturing, especially aviation production in the Wichita area.

“General aviation is a luxury good for businesses and people,” said Ginther, who is also director of KU’s Center for Science, Technology and Economic Policy. “As long as the stock market is gyrating and there’s a lot of uncertainty about future economic growth, it’s going to be slow to recover.”

Some areas in western Kansas have a much lower unemployment rate than the state average, likely because of their dependence on agricultural and energy sector jobs. Ellis, Finney, Ford and Seward counties all had September jobless rates below 5 percent, for example. But Ginther said agriculture and energy sectors typically don’t employ the same volume of workers the manufacturing and construction sectors do, making it more likely statewide the recovery will still take years.

Because the recession and financial crisis hit the state and nation so hard, it has likely increased public frustration for a quicker recovery, she said. Plus, there’s uncertainty surrounding the debt crisis in Europe along with an ongoing fiscal debate in Washington, D.C.

“Low growth is not much better than a recession,” Ginther said, “and that’s just where we are.”

By George Diepenbrock

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Garden Calendar: Oak leaves have little effect on soil pH

Although oak leaves do have the potential to acidify soil, they are highly unlikely to be causing problems in your yard in northeast Kansas. If you are having trouble growing grass (or anything else) under an oak tree, the real culprit is most likely root competition, low light and soil compaction, or some combination of all three.

As far as oak leaves and acidification, I know your neighbor or your friend or your relative who gardens may have told you otherwise. They probably heard about it from their neighbor who heard about it from their neighbor. In some parts of the country, some oak disease problems have been associated with oaks growing in acidic (low pH) soils. Here, however, there are more oak diseases and problems associated with basic (high pH) soils.

The simplest way to know for sure whether your soil pH is less than ideal is to test the soil. Take samples from several locations around the tree and mix them together to get a representative sample of the area. Use a knife or a trowel to take slices of soil four to six inches deep. Test the soil pH with a pH testing kit or through the K-State Research and Extension – Douglas County office at 2110 Harper St. Testing kits are available at most garden centers. (If you test through the Extension office, you will also get recommendations to correct the soil pH if necessary.)

If pH is not the problem, fight soil compaction by core aerating the lawn under the tree. Select grass seed that contains three to four varieties of turf-type tall fescue, as they perform the best in shade trials in this area. Grass seed labeled as “sun/shade mix” or “shade-loving” often contain grass species that are inappropriate for our area. Avoid overwatering as it will encourage shallow root growth.

Another good indication that soil is not too acidic for lawn grasses is when it is too basic for good oak tree growth. Ever see a pin oak with light green or yellow leaves? Chlorotic pin oaks are common in the Midwest. In oaks, chlorosis is caused by an iron deficiency that is almost always the result of the tree’s inability to take up iron. Iron is tied up in high pH soils. Adjusting the soil pH requires applications of sulfur and may take years.

Researchers in France who studied the relationship between oak leaf litter accumulation and soil acidity note that the trend was different in each of the 30 oak trees in the study. Soil clay content plays a role in soil acidification, as well as soil organisms, bark and the soil parent material. The only conclusion drawn from the study was that on average more acidification and litter accumulation occurred near the trunk base.

Pine needles carry the same reputation as oak leaves and acorns, but also have little effect on soil pH. White pines are a good indicator — they often suffer from iron chlorosis in high pH soils just like pin oaks.

Another option if you are having trouble growing grass under an oak or pine tree is to cover the area with mulch or a drought-resistant ground cover.

— Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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