In 2015, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy lacked training on implicit bias. As a cadet there then, Natasha Greene sought discussions on her own about some of the mistaken beliefs officers might hold of others, such as expecting a black person to be dangerous or more crime prone from stereotypes, ideas that could come from television or passed from family and friends. Now an Iowa State Police Department officer, Greene said these conversations were uncomfortable, as awkward as telling someone the zipper on their pants is down but you still do it.
“If I’m talking to somebody I care about and their fly’s down, of course I’m going to tell them their fly’s down because it would be more harmful for me to just let them carry on without knowing,” Greene said. Today those discussions are more serious and more uncomfortable as the May 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police brought the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for defunding police. Implicit bias and training officers became part of the national conversation.
One by one, COVID-19 outbreaks popped up in April and May at meatpacking plants across the country, fanning fears that the infectious coronavirus could spread rapidly into rural states. Plants closed temporarily in small metro areas like Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but also smaller Iowa towns like Tama, Columbus Junction and Perry.
Leaders at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake, a northwest Iowa town of 10,500 with a Tyson Foods packing plant, knew their time would come. “We just didn’t know to what degree,” Rob Colerick, the hospital CEO and administrator, said. “I mean, you saw it in Columbus Junction. You saw it in Waterloo.
Quicker planning. Working together as networks. Focused staff deployment. The COVID-19 pandemic is giving hospital administrators and their healthcare providers ample opportunity in real time to learn new best practices to delivering medical care.
The quick fixes they’ve tried since the pandemic broke have included more reliance on telemedicine, communicating frequently with the public and an old standard: getting government money. This story is part of a nationwide collaboration of Institute for Nonprofit News members examining the effect COVID-19 is having on rural health care.
There is one week set aside each year to salute newspapers for the important role they have played in our nation, a role that goes back to the beginning of these United States. This year, however, waiting until Oct. 4-10 and National Newspaper Week has been difficult, because the coronavirus pandemic and a variety of major news events across our land have tested newspapers, and our communities, in ways we might never have fathomed. Taking stock of the contributions by newspapers, large and small, serves as an important reminder of why our founding fathers wrote freedom of the press into the Constitution’s Bill of Rights – and why the theme for this year’s National Newspaper Week, “America Needs Journalists,” is so appropriate. We have seen our lives and our communities change in dramatic ways because of coronavirus.
Voters in one Iowa county of 9,000 cast their ballots the same way people purchase a Big Mac: in the drivethrough. The Bloomfield Fire Department, the usual polling location for Bloomfield, served all of Davis County’s eight sites this year. Cars could pull into the emptied equipment bays — where the firetrucks normally sit — and drivers could vote behind the wheel and then pull forward to exit. All across Iowa, COVID-19 precautions changed the 2020 primary with a huge vote-by-mail push and other steps like curbside or drive-through options happening Tuesday. Rural counties, with fewer options for buildings, got creative.
Drunk drivers, motorcyclists and young or distracted motorists make up the majority of those involved in fatal vehicle crashes, and many states are failing to pass key safety measures that could prevent such deaths, according to a new report by a highway safety group. The nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety each year releases a report card grading states on their legislative efforts to reduce traffic deaths. The group’s 2020 report credits seven states—Rhode Island, Washington, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, California and Louisiana, along with the District of Columba—with having the best laws to reduce crash deaths. Twelve states—South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, Ohio, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, Vermont, New Hampshire and Virginia—ranked worst in the report card. In 2018, the most recent year for which federal data is available, 36,560 people died in traffic collisions in the U.S. The figure marks a 2.4 percent decrease from 2017, but is still high compared to earlier in the decade.
Iowa’s efforts to privatize a state agency tasked with protecting the elderly and disabled have stalled in the face of escalating complaints that the office is routinely violating federal and state law. Many of the complaints are coming from within the agency itself. Rep. Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, says the Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office seems to be in disarray and is struggling with staff defections, internal complaints and an uncertain future. “I’m not happy with that,” she said. “It’s not a good situation over there.”
Newly released data from the National Ombudsman Reporting System shows that of the nation’s 50 state long-term care ombudsmen, Iowa ranks last in on-site visits made to care facilities.
Iowa health officials are withholding $44 million from an insurance company that provides health coverage to Iowans under the state’s privatized Medicaid program, pointing to unresolved issues with payments to health providers. Iowa Department of Human Services staff told Iowa Total Care representatives Friday that the state will withhold about a third of the amount it would have otherwise paid the company this month. Michael Randol, Iowa’s Medicaid director, said in a letter released Friday that Iowa Total Care had not paid more than 100,000 claims that providers had submitted.
“Ample opportunity was given (to Iowa Total Care) to remedy the issues,” Randol’s letter said. The state’s action Friday was the first time Iowa’s DHS has withheld payment to a Medicaid insurance provider. Medicaid is the $5 billion federal-state program that provides health coverage to poor and disabled Iowans. Nearly 650,000 Iowans, including children, are enrolled in Medicaid.
Fewer than half of the vehicles from the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s two largest law enforcement divisions were equipped to give officers the option of locking up weapons in those vehicles with designated equipment such as locking rifle racks or handgun vaults as recently as May 2019, an IowaWatch investigation revealed. Vehicles purchased since 2017 have locking devices to secure firearms beyond locking a vehicle’s door or trunk. The Department of Public Safety declined for safety reasons to provide updated numbers of vehicles with the capability. “Information regarding security and storage of weapons is a significant officer safety concern,” Catherine Lucas, general counsel of the Iowa Department of Public Safety wrote to IowaWatch in a response to a public records request in late September. Adam DeCamp, Division of Criminal Investigation special agent in charge, said a vehicle is secure when its doors are locked.
Internal firearm policy directives for the Department of Public Safety obtained by IowaWatch did not show any policy for the safe storage of handguns in an unattended vehicle.
Iowa Department of Public Safety vehicles sustained a five-year high of $849,878 worth of damage in 220 incidents in 2018, department officials said. Although only six more incidents were reported in 2018 than in 2017, the total damage reported in 2017 was worth $519,429 — $330,449 less than in 2018. The total damage for the two years combined cost $1.37 million. Lt. Rick Pierce, commander of Iowa State Patrol Fleet and Supply, said the cost of repairs may sound like a lot, but the Department of Public Safety has approximately 650 vehicles.
The most common cause of damage was “act of nature damage,” including at least 59 accidents involving deer reported in both 2017 and 2018, funding requests sent to the Executive Council of Iowa reveal. Hail was the second most common with 36 accidents reported to the council in the same time span, records examined by IowaWatch showed.
Former Vice President Joe Biden drew more people but Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a presumptive long-shot in a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, still was able to rouse Democrats and generally curious Iowans who heard both men speak at the Iowa State Fair Thursday. Such is the landscape in Iowa, the state with the nation’s first precinct caucuses that start gauging real delegate support for selecting a party’s 2020 presidential nominee: first-time national candidates, in this case seeing an opportunity to defeat a controversial Republican president in Donald Trump, vie with national figures more familiar to voters to gain support for higher office. Iowa gets them all before the winnowing process begins. Bullock told fairgoers the election must be about more than defeating Trump. “Look, I’m a pro-choice, pro-union, populist Democrat that won three eletions in a red state, not by compromising our values but by getting stuff done,” he said.