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It might be time to stock up on bug spray.

North Carolina is poised to do away with what remains of its state-run mosquito control program, if proposals to eliminate $185,992 in funding are adopted in the final budget.

The likely elimination of the vector control program in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t gotten much – or really,  any – attention as lawmakers contend with major policy shifts in the $21.1 billion budget like kicking off thousands of elderly and disabled off of Medicaid rolls and eliminating thousands of teachers aides.

But this year’s proposed cuts to the mosquito program could be the final step in dismantling what was once a top-notch state program to combat diseases spread by insects like mosquitoes and ticks, said Dennis Salmen, a retired Mecklenburg County environmental health director who now monitors legislation for the N.C. Mosquito and Vector Control Association.

“We were considered a model state for this,” Salmen said. “Not anymore.”

The $186,000 cut was included in all three budget proposals for the 2014-2015  fiscal year from Gov. Pat McCrory, the House and the Senate. The money has been  distributed in past years to various towns and counties to help support existing efforts to spray and prevent mosquito outbreaks.

Counties and cities have long supported their own spraying and prevention programs, but the state funding, even if minimal, made a big difference to towns in the coastal plains with small budgets and lots of mosquitoes,  he said.

The more significant blow to North Carolina’s mosquito and pest control programs came in 2011, when the newly-empowered Republican legislature passed a budget that eliminated $500,000 in funding for the Pest Management Control Program . The program in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources was made up of two entomologists and three environmental scientists that tracked and monitored diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes in the state.

Those state-funded positions that are now gone, though a position to monitor bed bug infestations was absorbed by the state agricultural department.

This year’s proposed cuts, on top of the 2011 cuts, is leaving North Carolina unprepared to handle any outbreaks of diseases that mosquitoes can carry, a risk to public health, Salmen said.

“We’re going to use humans as diseases sentinels,” he said. “If my son or daughter dies, I’m not going to be too happy with that.”

.Source: CDC, 2010 data

RMSF reports (from tick bites). Source: CDC, 2010 data

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Here’s a disturbing story today from WNCN  in Eastern North Carolina about a non-profit housing authority based in Laurinburg where administrators are accused of demanding sexual favors from women seeking housing help.

Lawyers from Legal Aid of North Carolina’s fair housing division, who are representing the victims in the case, are asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent any retaliation against the women who lodged accusations against Four-County Community Services. The non-profit housing group provides rental help for low-income residents in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, Pender, Robeson and Scotland counties.

From the story:

The women first brought charges against the Laurinburg-based Four-County Community Services in state superior court in September 2012. They said that from 2011 to 2013, Wesley and Pender demanded sexual favors in exchange for granting the vouchers and conducting favorable home inspections so the women could qualify for the Section 8 housing program.

“A client will go in, apply for benefits, and either John Wesley or Eric Pender — the two individual defendants in the case — will approach them and solicit sexual favors from them with a promise that their benefits will be helped,” [Legal Aid attorney Craig] Hensel explained.

Read the story here, and watch below:

WNCN: News, Weather

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The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released a cheerful video this afternoon touting the supposed successes of the state’s new Medicaid billing system that delayed payments for thousands of medical providers for months over the last year.

The nearly 4-minute video produced by state employees includes interviews set to upbeat instrumental music with several providers and DHHS officials talking about how well the complicated Medicaid billing system is working one year after its bungled July 1, 2013 launch.

Much of the system is working now, and providers are getting paid faster than before, DHHS officials say in the video.

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 N.C Tracks replaced the state’s previous 25-year-old Medicaid system and came online despite warnings in a May 2013 performance audit from the state auditor’s office that DHHS hadn’t fully tested the system, left too much up to vendors’ discretion and had no way of knowing ahead of time if the system was ready.

The billing problems have left legislative fiscal research staff without firm budget numbers on the $13 billion program, a major point of contention in the current budget negotiations for Republican state Senate leaders.

Missing from DHHS’ birthday video were some of the choicer statements doctors, lawmakers and others have had about new system and its rollout last year under N.C. DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos.

Here’s a few of the less-than-glowing comments:

  • “NCTracks has made billing go from complex to borderline impossible,” said Sandra Williams, chief financial officer of Cape Fear Valley Health System, at an October legislative hearing.
  • “NCTracks was a disaster, and the State was beyond the point of no return,” lawyers wrote in a lawsuit filed by medical providers in January against the state agency.
  • “We are pretty much in the dark with trying to figure out where we are in the current year,” said Susan Jacobs, a fiscal analyst for the legislature in January about getting budget data from N.C. Tracks.
  • “It’s June 19 and we still don’t have the numbers,” Sen. Tom Apodoca, a Hendersonville Republican, said in a hearing earlier this month about Medicaid budget information, according to the News & Observer. “If push comes to shove, we can always issue subpoenas.”
  • “We are having to manually key claims and do things that before would pay automatically,” Laura Williard of High Point’s Advanced Home Care told WNCN in early June. “At one point, I had 11 temps working for our company to do something that was paid automatically before.”
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A hundred children, including three in North Carolina, were shot and killed in accidental shootings last year, largely in situations where loaded guns had been left unattended and reachable by small children.

The 2013 deaths of children under 14 were tallied through press reports by the gun control groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action and compiled in a report “Innocents Lost” to call attention to preventable child gun deaths.

The report (click here to read) also concluded that two-thirds of the deaths could have been prevented if the guns had been locked and stored away from where children could reach the weapons.

Shooting locations. Source: "Innocents Lost" report from Everytown for Gun Safety

Shooting locations. Source: “Innocents Lost” report from Everytown for Gun Safety

The North Carolina deaths included that of 10-year-old Christopher Stanlane Jr. , who was killed in Fairmont in March 2013 when his father was cleaning a shotgun and it accidentally discharged, instantly killing the boy.

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State Rep. Paul Stam

State Rep. Paul Stam

State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican, rankled his fellow lawmakers and others with comments Tuesday he made on the House floor likening pedophilia and sadism to sexual orientations, as opposed to sexual perversions.

Stam is one of the most socially conservative lawmaker in the legislature, and was a leading proponent of 2012’s Amendment One that further codified a ban in North Carolina on same-sex marriage. He made his comments Tuesday during a debate over whether public charter schools should be banned from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring or admissions.

“Sexual orientation is not defined anywhere. I have here 30 different types of sexual orientation,” Stam said, according to Raleigh television station WRAL. “I thought we should exclude pedophilia, masochism, and sadism, which are sexual orientations.”

He also handed out information(click here and here to read) from an outdated 2000 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) on sexual paraphilias that listed a number of sexual perversions and disorders as well as homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association in 2013 said it erroneously listed disorders like pedophilia under the sexual orientation classification in the updated DSM-V manual.

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