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Wheels of the Bus

Child-care providers weigh options as subsidy deadline looms.

By Mary Cashiola

October 1st is more than a month away, but for many child-care providers in Shelby County, the clock is ticking. The date marks the end of reimbursements from the Department of Human Services (DHS) paid to providers to transport children to and from child-care centers.

After a meeting called Thursday by state Representative Kathryn Bowers, with department administrators addressing the concerns, some of the providers are considering a moratorium on transporting children if the subsidies are not continued.

"Half of our budget is taken up by transportation costs," said James Yancey of Our Future Learning Center. "We spent $250,000 for transportation last year and got reimbursed $95,000. Now we won't even get that. ... [DHS] is going to put us out of business indirectly."

DHS currently reimburses child-care providers $2 to transport its subsidized children.

While DHS deputy commissioner Ed Lake said the complaints were not falling on deaf ears, he questioned the impact of discontinuing the subsidies. "These subsidies were only implemented in 1999. What were those families doing before then?" he asked.

DHS officials blame an increase in its Families First rolls for the reimbursement stoppage. The Families First caseload has reached more than 71,000 and caused a $46 million shortfall in the department's budgets. In addition to transportation costs, child-care subsidies have risen 34 percent, with $215 million of the department's budget spent on child-care enrollment fees. Participating Families First families receive partial or full child-care subsidies paid directly to providers.

Lake said the results of a transportation strike by child-care providers could not be adequately measured, but there would be adverse effects to welfare-to-work participants. As part of welfare reform of the 1990s, Families First participants must have adequate child care and transportation while parents meet employment requirements.

Also bandied about was the idea of filing a class-action lawsuit against DHS. While that idea has not been pursued, some providers have formed a committee to lobby the department before the deadline. Representative Henri Brooks is also drafting a transportation alternative to present to DHS.

Most providers agreed that their transportation services would continue despite losing the reimbursement.

Sound Off

First Alert donates carbon monoxide alarms.

By Bianca Phillips

In separate incidents last month, a 73-year-old Whitehaven man and a 17-month-old East Memphis infant died after breathing carbon monoxide fumes from generators running in attached garages after the storm-related power outage. As a result, BRK Brands, Inc. has donated 300 carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to the Memphis Fire Department to be distributed to individual homes.

"We just came in on a whim because we'd heard it was a tragic situation, especially after a second death occurred from carbon monoxide poisoning related to the power outage," said Debbie Hanson, director of external affairs for BRK, makers of First Alert fire-prevention and CO-detection products.

The alarms will be distributed to low-income families and/or citizens over 65 years of age. Those who meet those criteria should go to the nearest fire station and fill out an application. If they are selected, someone from the fire department will install the alarm.

"We've only given out a few so far, and I've got requests for about 10 to 15 waiting right now," said Bobby Decker, assistant fire marshal for the Memphis Fire Department.

BRK donates about 50,000 CO and fire alarms across the country each year. Both New York and New Jersey have passed legislation requiring CO alarms to be installed in homes.

Hanson says any appliance that runs with fuel or has a flame can emit CO fumes. It's a product of incomplete combustion that can escape even when appliances are in working order. She says the key is making sure your home is "breathing properly," ensuring no vents are clogged.

CO poisoning can mimic the flu, causing headaches, dizziness, and nausea, and according to Decker, can make victims feel drunk.

"You start getting a carefree attitude, and that's what makes it so bad," he said. "You get to where you don't care about finding your way out, and it gets harder the longer you're in there."

He says if you do suspect CO is present in the home, open as many windows as you can. Memphis Light, Gas and Water can pinpoint where the gas is escaping, but a contractor will have to fix the problem.

Drawing a Line on Drugs

TennCare names pharmacy board.

By Janel Davis

With mounting costs plaguing TennCare, Tennessee's version of Medicaid, a pharmacy advisory board has been appointed to monitor those expenses and perhaps save the state millions of dollars.

Governor Phil Bredesen and speakers of the House and Senate appointed the 15-member board of health-care professionals and advocates to make the system more manageable for providers and clients. Three Memphis-area physicians -- pediatrician Dr. William Terrell, advanced practice nurse Diane Todd Pace, and internal medicine physician Dr. Stanley Dowell -- are on the board.

The board was put in place by the General Assembly this spring. Its chief responsibility will be to oversee the development of a Preferred Drug List which is expected to double TennCare's savings. Former TennCare spokesperson Lola Potter said $1.6 billion was spent on TennCare prescription costs last year. The board is expected to begin its work August 28th, with recommendations on the therapeutic drug class which most TennCare clients received.

In addition to the advisory board, all of TennCare's drug benefits were shifted to the management of one pharmacy benefit manager. Potter said this single action saved the program $90 million through federal drug rebates. TennCare had previously been ineligible for these rebates because its managed-care organizations were administering drug benefits.

A New Beginning

U of M creates traditions for incoming students.

By Mary Cashiola

The University of Memphis doesn't have much in the way of traditions for incoming students, but if the school has anything to say about it, that's all going to change.

"We'd like the freshmen as they come on the campus to walk under the new bell tower," says Dr. Ric Hovda, dean of the U of M College of Education. "There's an engraved seal at the base of it. We see it as representing new beginnings."

The college is trying a new beginning itself. All incoming students will be required to attend the first annual Freshman Convocation August 25th, where they will hear President Dr. Shirley Raines and Provost Dr. Ralph Faudree speak, as well as learn the school's fight song and the alma mater.

Hovda is chairman of the convocation's planning committee. "As an urban university, we have many students who only go here part-time and we have some who go full-time but do not live on campus. What we wanted to do as a beginning of their collegiate career was a more formal welcome," he says.

A delegation from the university visited the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University to learn how they performed their convocations. Not many state institutions hold convocations, says Hovda, but the university felt it was important.

"Urban universities no longer have 'traditional' college students: Our students aren't all 18-year-olds who live on campus and have the traditional college experience," says Hovda.

The university's official seal includes "dreamers, thinkers, doers" in Latin, and Hovda says, "We wanted to initiate them into that thinking. We're giving them the opportunity to dream, think, and do."

And although the initiation will include a secret ceremony -- the details of which we're not allowed to reveal -- Hovda assures us that it doesn't include eating live goldfish, streaking, or any drinking game.

They Shoot, They Score!

U of M athlete graduation rate is rising.

By Bianca Phillips

Isaac Bruce, wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams, may have scored the game-winning touchdown pass for the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, but this past weekend, he and 18 other University of Memphis students scored another kind of victory as they received degrees in Sunday's summer commencement ceremony.

The number of U of M athlete grads has risen in recent years. This year, the athletic department boasted 19, while last year, 13 graduated in the summer commencement ceremony. No numbers are available for past years, but recent numbers are significantly higher, according to Joe Luckey, director of athletic academic services.

Luckey says the athletic department had implemented two new tactics this year in hopes of raising graduation numbers. The office set up spreadsheets tracking numbers of athlete grads and put together timeframes for every junior and senior that included a projected graduation date.

"The athletes have really responded to what we're trying to do," said Luckey. "You hear everybody's graduating and it becomes the thing to do."

At least three of the students graduated with honors, meaning their grade point average was above 3.5.

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