New England Sees 900% Increase in Organ Donations Tied to Opioid Epidemic


October 14, 2016; NPR, “Shots”

This year, some hospitals in Massachusetts, like Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, have dramatically increased the number of organ transplants they perform. The sources of these lifesaving gifts are the victims of the opioid epidemic. Although the increase in available organs represents hope for some and brings a small degree of comfort to the families of those lost to deaths from drug abuse, the wait continues for many more on the transplant list as well as families of addicts seeking services.

On June 30, 2015, Colin LePage found his thirty-year-old son, Chris, unresponsive after an apparent drug overdose. Over the next 24 hours, medical personnel from one of Boston’s largest medical centers revived Chris’s heart but struggled to stabilize his blood pressure and temperature. After two rounds of tests displayed no sign of brain activity, LePage listened to his son’s beating heart one last time before Chris was wheeled away. Although Chris died that day, his liver continues to function in a new body, that of a 62-year-old pastor.

The liver represents just part of the dramatic increase in New England organ donations since 2010, according to the New England Organ Bank, the organization responsible for gathering the organs in the six New England states. The expansion is due to the growing number of organ donors who fell victims to the growing epidemic of opioid abuse. Since the beginning of the year, more than one in four organ transplants in the New England area originated from people suffering a drug overdose. Nationwide, organs from deceased drug users accounted for 12 percent of all donations this year. Traffic accidents used to be the fourth-largest source of organ donation, behind deaths from strokes, blunt injuries, and cardiovascular disease, but drug overdoses, now the fastest growing category of organ donor, eclipsed them in 2014.

Before the epidemic took hold, organs from drug users were considered too risky for transplant. Drug users have long been associated with HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases. Although contraction from transplants is rare, tests have sometimes failed to detect infectious diseases, leading to donors contracting the diseases. (For example, in 2007, one donor transmitted both HIV and hepatitis C to four organ recipients.)

But as the shortage of organs continues to grow, the number of opioid overdose victims rises, and testing procedures improve, more people are receiving these donated organs. “We know now that the mortality rate of being on the waiting list for several years is higher than that of getting an organ with an infection that is treatable,” said Dr. Robert Veatch, a professor emeritus of medical ethics at Georgetown University, who has authored numerous articles on organ transplants. At the same time, recipients with HIV can receive organs from donors with HIV without additional risk. Earlier this year, surgeons from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center performed the first transplant of this kind.

“It’s an unexpected silver lining to what is otherwise a pretty horrendous situation,” said Alexandra K. Glazier, chief executive of the New England Organ Bank.—Gayle Nelson

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When Public Parks Become a Civil Rights Issue


September 29, 2016; The Atlantic

Public parks and recreational areas in urban regions often support activity and healthy living for low-income communities. In the past, these amenities were mostly suburban enhancements, but today’s city leaders realize their importance in encouraging more vital lifestyles for all residents. They can also lead to gentrification driving out the people they were designed to serve.

For three years in a row, Minneapolis has boasted the best parks system in the U.S. as judged by The Trust for Public Land, a forty-four-year-old nonprofit dedicated to protecting and creating public parks throughout the country. The city’s numerous parks are also the center of a bitter dispute with many residents of color, who allege the parks are primarily maintained and presented for the benefit of the metro area’s affluent white residents. As noted in The Atlantic article:

In America, bike trails and baseball fields are luxurious perks of many affluent neighborhoods, boosting property values and creating a sense of community. Meanwhile, in many inner cities, public parks are magnets for crime and casualties of disinvestment.

The battle is most evident at the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s regular meetings. The semi-autonomous agency, overseen by a nine-member elected commission and superintendent, is responsible for managing the City’s parks. Often, the meetings are disrupted by groups of young African American men carrying signs demanding the agency increase minority hiring and equalize park funding throughout the region. The protest is organized by Voices for Racial Justice and Community and other nonprofits. The park board is all white, while the city is only 66 percent white, compared to 87 percent in 1980. It has a history of funneling substantially more funding to parks in wealthier areas in southwest Minneapolis at the expense of northern areas where most of the city’s low-income minority residents live.

The protests led to Minneapolis being the first city-park system to prioritize capital spending to parks in low-income/large-minority communities and those in the worst condition. State leaders are also advocating for expanded funding to increase minority communities’ knowledge of regional parks. Millions of residents visit regional parks annually, but only three percent are minorities.

The disproportionate access of minority communities to parks and recreational areas is a national concern. Earlier this year, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, recognized the country’s history of funding parks in areas where older, white Americans reside and the need to expand access to younger, more diverse residents.

In Chicago, city residents are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the 606 Trail. Eighty thousand residents live within ten minutes of the 2.7-mile trail, which was converted from an abandoned railroad track. Residents use it year-round for recreation as well as traveling to and from work. It has also sped up gentrification in surrounding communities. The real estate industry has marketed homes near the trail nationwide.

Compare the $95 million project to the Major Taylor, a similar project in Chicago’s low-income South Side communities. The Major Taylor trail is over twice as long, but without the lighting, snow removal, and other amenities of the 606 Trail, it has fewer users and property values surrounding the trail have not increased.—Gayle Nelson

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Why Highways Are the Center of America’s Protests


July 13, 2016; Washington Post

“If you can find a way to jam up a highway—literally have the city have a heart attack, blocking an artery—it causes people to stand up and pay attention. Highways still perform their historic role from a half-century ago. They help people move very easily across these elaborately segregated landscapes.”

—Nathan Connolly, historian, Johns Hopkins University

Writing for the Washington Post, Emily Badger reminds us why highways and our transportation systems in general figure so prominently in BLM protests. Across the country, thousands of protesters connected to the Black Lives Matter movement marched on highways and bridges. In the last month, protesters blocked highways in Baltimore, Atlanta, Oakland, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Chicago. These connected images remind us of prior moments in the struggle for racial justice. Badger writes:

Block a highway, and you upend the economic life of a city, as well as the spatial logic that has long allowed people to pass through them without encountering their poverty or problems. Block a highway, and you command a lot more attention than would a rally outside a church or city hall—from traffic helicopters, immobile commuters, alarmed officials.

Protesting on main transportation routes is not new. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s used roads and bridges as well. For example, protesters in the march in Selma used the Edmund Pettus Bridge to travel to Montgomery. These moments are meant to interrupt the status quo—which, let’s face it, has been inadequately protecting the rights of those whom the protestors represent.

“When people disrupt highways and streets, yes, it is about disrupting business as usual,” said Charlene Carruthers, the national director of Black Youth Project 100. “It’s also about giving a visual that folks are willing to put their bodies on the line to create the kind of world we want to live in.”

On July 9th, hundreds protesting the death of Philando Castile started at the Minnesota governor’s mansion and continued onto Interstate 94, blocking the entire highway. Castile, an African American man, was killed on July 6th after his car was pulled over because it had a broken taillight. Through the use of Facebook’s live recording feature, his death captured the attention of millions.

I-94 is an interstate highway built in the 1950s that stretches from Montana to the Great Lakes region. Like all interstate highways, the federal government provides most of the resources used to build and maintain it. Much of the area now covered by the highway was once home to thriving African American communities.

A recent study by the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University identified more than 1,400 Black Lives Matter protests in nearly 300 U.S. and international cities from November 2014 through May 2015. In at least fifty percent, the march shut down highways, bridges, or other transportation infrastructure.

“We systematically show that the political protest today is now almost totally focused on transportation systems, whether it’s a road, a bridge, in some cases a tunnel—rather than buildings,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Center and one of the authors of the study.

Today, marches on I-94 and other American highways are symbolic. First, the disruption of the flow of people and commerce is hard to ignore. Second, they connect the protests to the death, which took place during a traffic stop. Third, it reminds society of thethousands of African Americans who were displaced to build these huge byways at taxpayer expense.

America’s history of devastating African-American communities to build highways wasthe subject of two speeches this March by Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. During the first twenty years of highway development, 475,000 families—over a million people—lost their homes, many of them poor and black. Foxx, an African American,spoke of his home community in Charlotte, which was ripped apart by major highways.

Many cities are coming to terms with this injustice and reintegrating these communities and the city as a whole through the building of new bridges and walking paths. However, the use of highways and other transportation routes by protesters to “stop time” and have us reflect upon unseen but impenetrable barriers is unlikely to stop anytime soon.—Gayle Nelson

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Nonprofits Respond to Connection between PTSD and Intimate Partner Violence


April 27, 2016; NPR, “Shots”

Veterans who have experienced combat are over six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and over four times more likely to abuse their spouse or partner compared with other men. Since the violence stems from a source that differs from other intimate partner violence situations, the warning signs and circumstances surrounding the abuse differ as well.

As the number of veterans returning home from multiple tours of war has grown, nonprofit organizations serving them have developed. But a gap persists when it comes to the development of programs geared to the needs of their partners and spouses who experience domestic violence.

Author Stacy Bannerman called a hotline serving military families after her husband, a former national guardsman who recently returned from his second tour of duty, abused her. Stacy’s husband experienced trauma during his tour in Iraq and developed PTSD. During their eleven-year marriage, Stacy’s husband had never before acted this way. What she also did not expect was the hotline operator’s reaction. The operator began to cry; as she explained, she had experienced so many similar phone calls.

Although many veterans suffering from PTSD are not violent, growing research suggests vets with PTSD are three times more likely to carry out intimate partner violence, according to Dr. Casey Taft, a head researcher with the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are also two to three times more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse and unemployment. Eighty-one percent of vets suffering from depression and PTSD committed at least one violent act against their spouse or partner within the last year.

Violence committed by combat veterans often has its own distinguishing pattern that varies significantly from other intimate partner violence. Instead of the power-and-control cycle of other abusive relationships, veteran interpersonal violence tends to involve only one or two “extremely violent and frightening episodes that quickly precipitate treatment seeking.”

Families seeking treatment face multiple challenges. One of the most prominent is that the services the families depend on are focused on the individual needs of the veterans, not their families. Additionally, many nonprofits serving vets’ families often ignore intimate partner violence, and organizations serving intimate partner violence survivors do not have the expertise to serve veterans’ families.

One organization with a program created by vets for vets is the Domestic Abuse Project’s (DAP) Change Step program. Change Step integrated the military culture and language into the proven mainstream curriculum. It addresses the specific issues combat vets experience, including multiple deployments and PTSD.

Spouses and partners seeking to leave abusive vets also face barriers. Often, they are caregivers; the family receives income from the VA for their services, and once they leave, this income stream disappears. Additionally, many vets would be unfavorably discharged and lose their benefits if the abuse were reported.

Stacy has a long history of supporting other military families. She is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind(2006). Her newest book, Homefront 911, describes how war destroys military families. She fought for the Military Family Leave Act of 2009 and received the Patriotic Employer Award and the Above & Beyond Award from the Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve.

Bannerman is currently fighting for introduction of the Kristy Huddleston Act in Congress. The Act is named after Stacy’s friend and fellow military wife. Kristy was a nurse and worked for the VA before she was murdered by her husband, a U.S. Marine combat vet who served three tours of duty in 2012. The proposed legislation, if a sponsor can be found to introduce it and it is subsequently passed by Congress, would provide financial support to military wives and their children when a service-member is found guilty of domestic abuse.—Gayle Nelson

Ohio Manufacturers Put Individuals with Criminal Records to Work


According to the latest report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 637,000 people were released from U.S. prisons in 2012. Sadly, two-thirds will reoffend within three years, and three-quarters within five years from release. Finding employment expands an individual’s connections, thereby increasing his or her chances of successfully reentering society. As the economy continues to rebound and the unemployment rate decreases, more employers are hiring workers with a criminal record, creating true second chances for these individuals and their families.

The country’s unemployment rate dropped in August to 5.1 percent, slightly more than half of the rate at the height of the Great Recession. The labor market in the state of Ohio continues to outpace that of the nation. In Central Ohio, the unemployment rate in August was 4.2 percent, and the Columbus area saw the state’s lowest unemployment rate, 3.8 percent.

One of the issues many employers in the region face is finding skilled workers. The executive director of OH! Manufacturing, John Watson, clearly sees the effects of the tight labor market. “When it comes to [the size of the] workforce, it is an area of concern for the entire country,” Watson said. “This is a conversation I have with plant managers and owners all over central Ohio. It has gone from challenging to where it is now stunting growth.”

OH! Manufacturing supports manufacturers throughout central Ohio by providing technical assistance that “enhance[s] product development and commercialization, and improve[s] manufacturing efficiency and effectiveness.” The organization’s expertise stems from their connections throughout the community and to their own staff. The latest blog post from OH! offers suggestions for expanding employers’ reach, such as reaching out to younger workers via social media and providing incentives for current employees to refer their friends and colleagues. They also suggest that employers explore creating a work environment that is more open to restored or returning citizens, women, and veterans.

Oh! Manufacturing is partnering with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections to develop the Training, Assessment, and Placement Project (TAPP). TAPP provides employment training for individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses as they finish their sentences. Once an individual is released, he or she is connected to employers looking for workers with their skills. The program was introduced in August and has already attracted interested employers.

TAPP is a collaboration between OH! Manufacturing and Vickie Miller, a program director for VM Consulting. She developed the training and other resources to successfully incorporate reentering individuals with their new opportunities. Since Miller has previous experience as a teacher in a corrections system, she understands the challenges individuals with criminal records face.

Before the labor market tightened, many employers immediately disqualified a worker once the employer became aware of the past criminal history. To encourage employers to give returning citizens a second chance, eighteen states and many cities have “banned the box,” requiring employers to remove questions regarding criminal histories from employment applications and other initial employment screening stages. In 2013, Ohio took an additional step, passing a law allowing some returning citizens to seal their records.

Through her work, Miller has identified lawyers, engineers, computer programmers, and others with essential skills in prison. But, many states disqualify individuals with criminal records from holding many licenses or practicing certain occupations, regardless of the circumstances or the type of crimes committed. Additionally, Ohio requires a criminal background check for any resident applying for insurance. These checks and limitations on professional licenses are often justified in the name of protecting public safety. In cases of teachers and others who work in schools, these limitations may be justified, but it is unclear how this justification applies to barber or cosmetology licenses, for example.

OH! Manufacturing also encourages manufacturers to recruit more women and veterans. The organization cites the trend of manufacturing moving away from jobs requiring physical strength to positions using education and intelligence. This new environment creates an opportunity for more women to excel. Women currently account for less than one quarter of the manufacturing labor force compared to half overall. (According to a recent study by the Manufacturing Institute, 65 percent of 600 women in the manufacturing industry state that the company they work for does not actively recruit women, 73 percent believe women are underrepresented in the leadership team, and 77 percent believe women are held to higher performance standards than their male counterparts.) Veterans’ service provides them with skills and a work ethic that are particularly valuable to employers. To succeed in the military, many learn to adapt to difficult situations. These experiences are particularly useful in the private-employer work environment, as well.

As these programs continue to provide resources to employers, more skilled and loyal workers will reenter the workforce, increasing efficiencies and industrial competiveness, leading to continued economic growth.

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