News Day: Michelle Bachmann, Norm Coleman / Health care in jeopardy / Swine flu updates / more

Mad Michelle Minute Minnesota Independent chronicles the latest Bachmania, reporting that Bachmann offered an amendment to the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act to ban groups facing federal indictment for voter fraud from receiving federal foreclosure relief funds. She proudly explained that “I want to ensure that organizations, such as ACORN, are prohibited from receiving funds while simultaneously facing charges of voter fraud and tax violations.” Only problem with that: ACORN says “The truth is, no criminal charges related to voter registration have ever been brought against ACORN, its leadership, or partner organizations.”

Norm Coleman files Yesterday, Norm Coleman filed his brief before the MN Supreme Court, with “few, if any” surprises, reports Eric Black in MinnPost. Read the brief, which goes on for 62 pages ad nauseam (a legal term, of course), or the Eric Black summary — or just skip the whole lthing because there’s nothing there that you haven’t already heard over the past six months.

Park Nicollet, other health care organizations, on shaky ground Park Nicollet has appointed “has been forced by bondholders to bring in an independent consultant to review finances and ‘outline action steps to improve,'” reports MinnPost. The action is triggered by a decline in the number of days of cash on hand, “a measure creditors use to determine credit-worthiness and interest rates.” Park Nicollet had 130 days cash on hand a year ago, 112 days at the beginning of the year, and 70 days now, despite cost-cutting measures that include laying off nearly 500 employees since December. Staff worry about new cuts rumored to be scheduled for May 12:

“These are hard times — I can deal with that,” said one employee of Park Nicollet who requested anonymity for fear of being fired. “I just don’t want them to hurt patients and I don’t want them to make decisions based on conversations between management and a bank.

Park Nicollet’s financial problems are typical of most U.S. hospitals. The American Hospital Association reported this week that 59% of all hospitals are reporting a moderate to significant decrease in the number of days of cash on hand. That’s part of a bigger picture of economic hard times for health care, according to the report:

The economy is taking its toll on the patients and communities hospitals serve. For the majority of hospitals:
– The proportion of emergency department patients without insurance is increasing.
– A higher proportion of patients are unable to pay for care and many hospitals are seeing more patients covered by Medicaid and other public programs for low income populations.
– Fewer patients are seeking inpatient and elective services raising concerns that individuals are putting off needed care.
– Community need for subsidized services such as clinics, screenings and outreach is increasing even as charitable contributions are down for many hospitals.

Nine in 10 hospitals have made cutbacks to address economic concerns.
– Nearly half have reduced staff.
– Eight in 10 have cut administrative expenses.
– One in five have reduced services communities depend on including behavioral health, post acute care, clinic, patient education and other services that require subsidies.

Despite these actions, seven of 10 hospitals report a decline in overall financial health which will impact their ability to care for their communities.

In Minnesota, hospitals face the bleak prospect of cuts mandated by T-Paw’s budget. The Minnesota Hospital Association in a March press release said “His approach continues to be shortsighted and will have a devastating impact on Minnesota’s hospitals and the patients they serve.” House and Senate budgets that cut reimbursement to hospitals will also have a severe impact.

Swine flu updates As the drumbeat of media coverage continues, a few observations:

• You are NOT going to get swine flu from eating pork.

• You are unlikely to catch swine flu from working with pigs — Dr. Michael Osterholm, interviewed by MPR, said there is “almost no risk” of getting influenza from pigs, though each year there are one or two instances of human getting some kind of influenza from hogs.

• The U.S. is confirming more cases of swine flu and Mexico is confirming fewer. Why? The U.S. has the health care facllities in place to test and confirm cases more easily than Mexico. Even though there may be thousands of cases in Mexico (as first reported), the numbers of confirmed cases are low, because cases are only confirmed by testing, and Mexico relies on the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for testing.

• All the news coverage in the world can’t get us answers very soon — we won’t know the full trajectory of the disease until at least autumn. And no – “swine” is not a good name for this flu. H1N1 novel influenza virus doesn’t come trippingly off the tongue, so what will we call it?

Trader Joe: Solo in St. Paul The Trader Joe grocery set to open in June or July on Lexington and Randolph will be alone in the development, with three smaller retail spaces going begging for tenants, reports the PiPress. Hardly surprising, as a drive down Grand Avenue in St. Paul or Lake Street in Minneapolis, or a look at vacant storefronts in local malls will confirm. Businesses are cautious about expanding, and starting up a new business in tough times takes money as well as guts.

The PiPress notes, however, that groceries may be the bright spot in development, with a new Aldi’s opening on the East Side, Mississippi Market breaking ground for a store on West Seventh (though that’s a trade-off, as the new store will replace the current location on Randolph), a new Lunds going in downtown, and a Cub that opened in October in Phalen. (Like the new Seward Co-op, across the river in Minneapolis, the Phalen Cub was built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold standards.)

No new nukes The MN House voted down an attempt to lift the state’s long-standing moratorium on new nuclear plants, despite an earlier Senate vote to lift the ban. Storage for spent nuclear wastes remains a major sticking point.

In other energy-related news, the Public Utilities Commission approved a new oil pipeline across northern MN to a refinery in Superior, WI. MPR notes that the Alberta Clipper is planned to carry oil from North Dakota and from oil sands in Canada, which are criticized as environmentally destructive.

Police on the hot seat again Nine months ago, says Dagoberto Rodriguez Cardona, the Metro Gang Strike Force took $4,500 from him and now he’s suing to get the money back, reports the Strib. Now he’s suing to get his money back. He says the money was from a painting job, and that he was supposed to split it with the other workers on the job, and his attorney has produced documentation for this claim. He has not been charged with any crime related to the money. Police acknowledge that they took the money and haven’t given it back. They also called immigration authorities and now Rodriguez Cardona is in deportation proceedings.

National/World Headlines

Justice David Souter is leaving the Supreme Court. The George Bush (I) appointee surprised everyone by becoming one of the “liberal” court members. First, and so far best, report on NPR.

Chrysler bankruptcy filing It’s Chapter 11 reorganization, not Chapter 7 liquidation – NYT has a basic Q&A

Lysistrata in Kenya Kenyan women announced a seven-day sex strike, reports BBC. The strike was joined by Ida Odinga, wife of the country’s prime minister, who said “There are many women who are suffering rape, there are many women who are suffering hunger. And yet the leadership is not thinking about the common person. They are thinking about who should be the leader of what and what.”

Foreclosure relief in bankruptcy was defeated in the Senate. Baseline Scenario reports:

[President Obama’s proposal was] to allow bankruptcy judges to reduce the principal amounts of mortgages on primary residences (they can already modify almost all other loans in bankruptcy). The goal was to pressure mortgage lenders, or the investors who now own those mortgages, to modify the mortgages themselves to give homeowners a better option than foreclosure. Because, you know, we have a housing foreclosure crisis going on.

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