After hepatitis A outbreak, Health District creates job to focus on homelessness in Spokane
Spokane — When an outbreak of hepatitis A spread among residents who are homeless last year, public health workers in Spokane leaped into action.
They went to shelters, the county jail and clinics to offer vaccinations to more than 1,000 people. The virus wreaks havoc on the liver and can be fatal. So far this year, new cases of hepatitis A are on the decline.
The experience has prompted the Spokane Regional Health District to respond to the region’s ongoing struggles with homelessness as a matter of public health by hiring a homeless outreach coordinator.
The new position will serve as a contact for the health district’s work with service providers to the homeless. The district’s efforts already intersect with homelessness through services such as the Nurse-Family Partnership and the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program.
“People look to us for addressing these types of issues,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, the county’s health officer.
The health district “is but one component” of the region’s response to homelessness, Lutz said, and can bring “certain resources to bear.”
Although the health district is not a direct service provider to the homeless, Lutz said there are many issues that can be viewed through the lens of public health.
He compared it to the way the National Physicians Alliance has waded into the debate over gun violence.
“We’ve heard the (National Rifle Association) say, ‘Physicians, get back in your lane.’ … But it’s also a public health issue,” Lutz said.
People who are homeless have higher rates of chronic disease than the general population. According to the 2016 Point in Time Count – an annual survey of the nation’s homeless population – people living in shelters nationwide were more than twice as likely to have a disability than the general population.
Of the 1,309 people who are identified as homeless in Spokane’s own Point in Time Count in 2019, there were 485 who reported having HIV or AIDS, a serious mental illness or a drug addiction.
There is a regular “huddle” at SNAP’s offices of providers who conduct outreach to people who are homeless, meetings in which workers with various agencies help keep each other current on what’s going on in the community, said Bob Peeler, a homeless coordinator with SNAP.
With a homeless outreach coordinator, the health district would be able to have a representative consistently at meetings like SNAP’s huddles.
“It’s a great opening. Spokane always has partnerships, people from other communities, we’re all willing to coordinate,” Peeler said.
Peeler noted that the health district already has been participating in homeless outreach for years.
“They’ve just been coming to the table and been great,” Peeler said, pointing to the health district’s needle exchange program as an example.
At the city’s warming center on Cannon Street, operated by Jewels Helping Hands, the health district provides immunizations and sponsors its over-the-counter medication distribution. It allows people who are homeless to access basic medicine like ibuprofen.
At the health district, everybody has different specialties, but homeless services are specific, said Jewels Helping Hands founder Julie Garcia.
“It would be amazing to have somebody we could just call as a one-stop for the health district. It’s absolutely needed,” Garcia said.
Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, which operates the Hope House shelter downtown, routinely collaborates with the health district. In a statement, Catholic Charities spokeswoman Sarah Yerden said that based on its job description, the outreach coordinator could “help ensure that health-related data stays a part of the community dialogue around homelessness.”
As of last week, there were 85 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Spokane County since the outbreak began last year. Of those, 80% were people who have experienced homelessness or have a substance use disorder. More than 70% of those patients required hospitalization, and three people died.
But the number of new cases since has fallen.
The number of new cases peaked at 20 in October. In December, five people were diagnosed with the infection, followed by nine in January and two thus far in February.
As part of an ongoing commitment to restructure the health district, it plans to hire for the position internally. The position was posted last week, and Lutz expects the new hire to begin in March.
Three Oregon transportation employees investigated for theft
PORTLAND — The Oregon State Police is investigating three Oregon Department of Transportation employees on theft allegations, the department announced Wednesday.
Three employees from the Lawnfield Maintenance Station in Clackamas are being investigated, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Two of them, John Tipton and Autumn Arndt, have submitted letters of resignation. A third, Frank Smead, has been placed on unpaid administrative leave.
Agency spokesman Tom Fuller said he couldn’t go into specific details about the allegations, but characterized them as “very serious,” and said the gravity of the accusations referred to the amount the three allegedly stole.
He said investigators believe the three acted together.
In a news release, ODOT Director Kris Strickler said the agency condemned the behavior.
“The public has placed in us a trust to spend state transportation dollars with integrity,” Strickler said. “If proven true, these three employees violated that trust. We as an organization own this and we are making changes right now to put better monitoring tools in place.”
ODOT said the investigation will likely take several months to complete. The agency may also pursue civil cases against them, the agency said.
All three worked at the Lawnfield ODOT Maintenance Station in Clackamas, which has about 60 employees that maintain plants and trees on ODOT property.
Oregon denies permit for pipeline before federal decision
PORTLAND — Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development says a proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay would have significant adverse effects on the state’s coastal scenic and aesthetic resources, endangered species and critical habitat.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that in a letter Wednesday to backers of the Jordan Cove Energy Project, agency director Jim Rue said that neither the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nor the Army Corps of Engineers “can grant a license or permit for this project unless the U.S. Secretary of Commerce overrides this objection on appeal.
The decision on one of the key state permits for the project is a rebuke that comes just before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to issue a final environmental analysis on the project, approving or denying its primary federal license. The Trump Administration is a supporter of energy export projects in general, and Jordan Cove in particular.
The proposed natural gas terminal and a 230-mile (370-kilometer) feeder pipeline would permit shipment of natural gas from the United States and Canada to Asia and would be the West Coast’s first liquefied natural gas export terminal.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has already denied a water quality certification for the Jordan Cove natural gas export project proposed by Pembina, the Canadian energy company. Pembina withdrew its application for a different state permit and said that it awaits a final determination by the federal commission. Its three current members were all appointed by Trump.
Bills to limit size of firearm magazines fail in Legislature
OLYMPIA — Bills that would have limited how many rounds can be stored in gun magazines and what guns can be sold did not pass in Olympia.
KING-TV reports neither bill was approved before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Lawmakers knew earlier this month the proposed ban on firearms defined as assault weapons did not have the votes to proceed.
The high-capacity limit bill passed out of House and Senate committees but never came up on the floor for debate.
Republicans opposed to the bill filed an unusually high number of amendments on the bill, meaning debate could last a day or more, according to Democratic staffers.
Aberdeen Republican Rep. Jim Walsh, who submitted six amendments, was asked if the long list of amendments was a political ploy to prevent debate.
“That’s part of it,” said Walsh. “But it’s also a very bad policy and we believe our amendments are essential to highlighting the problems.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Republican legislators effectively filibustered the bill.
“That’s disappointing, given that statewide polling shows that nearly two-thirds of Washingtonians support limiting high-capacity magazines,” he said. “If there’s a mass shooting using a high-capacity magazine in one of our schools or communities, these legislators will be accountable to the victims and their families.”
Washington’s Legislative session is scheduled to end in mid-March.
Trump ally Roger Stone sentenced to 40 months in prison
WASHINGTON — Trump loyalist and ally Roger Stone was sentenced Thursday to 40 months in federal prison, following an extraordinary move by Attorney General William Barr to back off his Justice Department’s original sentencing recommendation.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Stone’s crimes demanded a significant time behind bars, but she said the seven to nine years originally recommended by the Justice Department were excessive.
Stone’s lawyers had asked for a sentence of probation, citing his age of 67 years, his health and his lack of criminal history.
Stone was convicted in November on all seven counts of an indictment that accused him of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.
The sentence came amid Trump’s unrelenting defense of his longtime confidant that has led to a mini-revolt inside the Justice Department and allegations the president has interfered in the case.
Trump took to Twitter to denounce as a “miscarriage of justice” the initial recommendation by Justice Department prosecutors that Stone receive at least seven years in prison. Attorney General William Barr then backed off that recommendation, prompting four prosecutors to quit Stone’s case.
Jackson angrily denied that Stone was being punished for his politics or his allies. “He was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” she said.
She said during the hearing that Stone’s use of social media to stoke public sentiment against the prosecution and the court was intended to reach a wide audience, including using a photo of Jackson with crosshairs superimposed.
“This is intolerable to the administration of justice,” Jackson said.
“Why are you the one who is standing here today?” Jackson asked federal prosecutor John Crabb, who took over the case after the original trial team quit.
Crabb said there had been a “miscommunication” between Barr and Timothy Shea, the former Barr aide who now serves as the acting U.S. Attorney in the nation’s capital.
Crabb asked the judge to impose “a substantial period of incarceration.”
After Stone’s attorney, Seth Ginsberg, repeated the defense team’s plea that Stone get no prison time, Stone declined to address the court.
Outside the courthouse, a small crowd gathered. Two people held a large banner featuring a sketch of Stone and #PardonRogerStone emblazoned underneath. Next to it was a large multimedia figure of a rat constructed to look like Trump, with his distinctive red tie and hair.
Stone was the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Any jail sentence seems likely to draw a public rebuke from Trump, who maintains that Stone’s entire case is just an aspect of the ongoing “witch hunt” against him and his allies by bitter Democrats and the “deep state” inside the FBI and the Justice Department.
Given Trump’s recent clemency spree that saw him commute the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as well as nearly a dozen others, there has been speculation that Trump could eventually pardon Stone.
“I haven’t given it any thought … but I think he’s been treated very unfairly,” Trump said this week. Overnight Thursday, Trump retweeted a conservative cable host’s comment that what happened to Stone “should never happen again.”
In Stone’s initial sentencing memorandum filed Feb. 10, prosecutors said Stone deserved a prison term lasting seven to nine years, in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. Such a sentence would send a message to deter others who might consider lying or obstructing a congressional probe or tampering with witnesses, the prosecutors said.
Stone has denied wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated. He did not take the stand during his trial and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defense.
Stone’s defense team requested a new trial and had asked the judge to delay sentencing until she rules on that motion. Earlier this week she refused.
Prosecutors had charged in the filing that Stone “decided to double- and triple-down on his criminal conduct by tampering with a witness for months in order to make sure his obstruction would be successful.”
“Stone’s actions were not a one-off mistake in judgment. Nor were his false statements made in the heat of the moment. They were nowhere close to that,” prosecutors wrote in the court papers.
But Justice Department officials said they were caught off guard by the recommendation, even though Shea, the acting U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., is a former top aide to Barr. The attorney general ordered a new memorandum with a less harsh punishment, though it left provided no specifics and left the details to the judge.
Barr’s decision became public just hours after Trump, in an overnight tweet, called the situation “horrible and very unfair.” He added: “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Barr later said in an ABC News interview that he had not been asked by Trump to look into the case. In a stunning public rebuke, he said the president’s tweets were making it “impossible” for him to do his job. Meanwhile, Barr’s actions on the sentencing for Stone prompted the entire trial team to quit.
The public debacle also prompted a rare statement from the Chief Judge of the D.C. District Court, Beryl A. Howell, who said “public criticism or pressure is not a factor” in judges’ sentencing decisions.
The evidence presented in the trial didn’t directly address Mueller’s conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to tip the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. But it provided new insight into the scramble inside the Trump campaign when it was revealed in July 2016 that the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks was in possession of more than 19,000 emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee.
Witnesses testified that Trump’s campaign viewed Stone as an “access point” to WikiLeaks and tried to use him to get advance word about hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton.
Prosecutors argued that Stone had lied to Congress about his conversations about WikiLeaks with New York radio host and comedian Randy Credico.
During the 2016 campaign, Stone had mentioned in interviews and public appearances that he was in contact with founder Julian Assange through a trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans.
Testimony revealed that Stone, while appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, named Credico as his intermediary to Assange and pressured Credico not to contradict him.
After Credico was contacted by Congress, he reached out to Stone, who told him he should “stonewall it” and “plead the fifth,” he testified. Credico also testified during Stone’s trial that Stone repeatedly told him to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli,'” a reference to a character in “The Godfather: Part II” who lies before Congress.
Prosecutors also charged that Stone had threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, saying he was “going to take that dog away from you.”
As Advisers Grapple with Rough Debate, Bloomberg Faces Voters in Utah
After a poor performance on the Democratic debate stage Wednesday night, Michael R. Bloomberg attempted to move on quickly by intensifying his attacks on Bernie Sanders.