This week's column (sorry again for the late posting here) is about the state's backsliding on health issues and a little recap of the Merritt story.
World over, if there is any consistent symptom of a sick society, it’s the infant mortality rate.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what state health director Dr. Leah Devlin said when she announced a rise in the numbers a couple years back:
“But this is about much more than babies. It is an important warning sign that our population as a whole is not healthy.”
In 1988, this state had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and the shame of that helped propel an effort to do something about it.
At one point, we’d improved to 40th. Now we’re 45th.
And although there is some pride in the fact that after a long-term comprehensive effort rates have dropped 30 percent since 1998, the numbers are turning around.
While rates have fallen for close to three decades running, they haven’t changed much since 2000. In places, the downward slope has simply flattened out, and in others we’re losing.
“Losing” might not be the right word to use, since in a lot of parts of the state we never really started “winning.”
In a country where the national average of infant deaths per 1,000 births is 6.8 and in a state with an average of 8.8, there are several eastern counties with rates in the mid-to-high 20s, rivaling countries like Syria, Brazil and Peru. Drill those numbers down even further and you have infant mortality rates for minorities that rival Pakistan, Iran and South Africa.
Rates are going up throughout the South, and here in North Carolina big jumps are being seen in far western counties.
Last weekend, the Asheville Citizen-Times took a look at western NC’s downward spiral. The paper noted that in the 16-county WNC region, infant mortality jumped from a rate of 6.0 in 2004 to 9.8 in 2005. In Buncombe County, the rate has almost doubled in the same period.
That should be setting off alarm bells in Raleigh, but raising funds for health initiatives just doesn’t seem to be all the rage this year. Shame, it seems, doesn’t seem to carry the same weight as it once did.
If that’s not a sign of a sick society, then I don’t know what is.
Another sign of our declining health — rampant addiction among the elected classes to PAC money. It’s sad, I tell ya.
Case in point: the continued log jam over a high-risk health care pool. Shot down last year, a vote was promised this year. Insiders said that objections from insurers had been worked through. The measure, which, just like last year around this time, sits in a Senate committee waiting on action, was again introduced and shepherded through the House by Rep. Verla Insko, who still has hopes it’ll pass.
But even with a major push from patient advocates and backroom promises from the leadership that would allow it through, there’s still concern that the Senate won’t budge.
Name ring a bell?
Does the name Chris Mears sound familiar? He’s the public affairs officer for the State Auditor’s office who probably wishes now he hadn’t claimed credit for the temporary derailment of a same-day registration bill.
The temporary halt to the bill, at the request of Mears’ boss, State Auditor Les Merritt, came to a quick end after Merritt’s “never mind” testimony before a Senate panel last week.
But the hearing did underscore Mears’ involvement and his apparent bragging about it via an email obtained by Democracy NC.
It also brought attention to the fact that he is the very same Chris Mears who used to be the political affairs director for the NC GOP and the very same Chris Mears who wrote another famous email — this one titled “the pew and the ballot box.” That’s the memo emailed to Republicans ahead of the 2006 election asking for help in a statewide effort to collect church directories.