2017 Top Stories: Opioid Crisis

The Top Stories of 2017 on Smart Talk concludes Friday with a look back at the opioid crisis.

The federal government said last week that life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the second year in a row in 2016, and the unusual drop was attributed to the growing number of opioid, especially heroin, overdose deaths across the country.

It’s been called a crisis and an epidemic but however what’s happening now is referred to, people are dying at unprecedented rates from drug overdoses.

Smart Talk focused on the opioid crisis several times throughout the year.  Friday’s program includes excerpts from a few of those shows.

Especially gripping is a program with York County Coroner Pam Gay and a first responder from Lancaster County who talk about the overdoes they see seemingly everyday.  During this program, we also learn about a lawsuit that Dauphin County filed against pharmacuetical companies that manufacture opioid prescription painkillers that most believe started the epidemic.  Dauphin County is one of several that have gone to court against the drug makers.  We also hear about recovery from substance abuse and what works and doesn’t.

This is an on-going issue that many believe it is the number one public health concern in America.  Smart Talk will continue to focus on the opioid crisis in 2018.

2017 Top Stories: Trump Impact

The Thursday edition of the Top Stories of 2017 on Smart Talk focuses on Central Pennsylvania’s take on the major issues President Donald Trump raised during his first year in office.

Trump is probably like no other president this country has ever seen.  Of course, today’s technology and forms of communication didn’t allow past presidents to bypass the media and go directly to the people as President Trump does on Twitter.  That’s just one way Trump is different.  Trump and his loyal supporters take pride in the president not being “politically correct” and saying what’s on his mind even if it is a very personal criticism.

Since Trump was sworn into office in January, it seemed as though a bombshell hit the news every other day — one that had the country talking or that would have a major impact on the lives of Americans.

Often, when Smart Talk addresses national issues, we do it by talking with local people with a knowledge of the issue which also allows listeners to weigh in as well.

We’ll hear discussions of several of those issues on Thursday’s program — how Trump won Pennsylvania in last year’s election, the Republican tax overhaul, tensions with North Korea, what happens with the people who entered the U.S. with their parents illegally as children and Trump expanding which employers could deny free access to contraceptives to their employees.

2017 Top Stories: Pipeline Approval

The Top Stories of 2017 on Smart Talk series continues Wednesday with a look back at one of the most controversial issues in South Central Pennsylvania this year — the construction of pipelines in the region.  Specifically, this program looked at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that approves or rejects plans for pipelines.

Opposition to a major project is nothing new whether the concern is the environment, safety, traffic or simply when neighbors cry “not in my backyard.”  But the number of pipelines is increasing across the country and Pennsylvania is a prime location for new pipelines with the natural gas upsurge in the Marcellus Shale.

The companies that are building those pipelines must go through an extensive process for approval.  Ultimately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC must give their approval to pipelines.

A months-long investigation by WITF’s StateImpact Pennsylvania and the Center for Public Integrity brings into question whether FERC is too close to the industries and companies that transport oil and gas through pipelines.  The report found that FERC has denied just two pipeline projects over the last 30 years.

We’ll learn more about what the FERC investigation found on Wednesday’s Smart Talk.  StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter Marie Cusick appears on the program along with Kristen Lombardi and Jamie Smith Hopkins of the Center for Public Integrity.

2017 Top Stories: Road Trips

All this week, Smart Talk features the Top Stories of 2017 on Smart Talk by looking back at several of the important issues that got the public’s attention throughout the year.  They include the issues that were raised by President Trump and the Trump Administration, the opioid crisis and pipelines being constructed in Central Pennsylvania.

We begin the series Tuesday though with one of the popular features on the program this year — Smart Talk Road Trips.  Throughout the year, Smart Talk has traveled throughout the region and even outside WITF’s listening area to broadcast live and meet listeners face-to-face.

Some of the locations Smart Talk broadcast from in 2017 were the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, the York Garden Show, Lebanon Valley College, Bube’s Brewery, the Extraordinary Give in Lancaster, Allenberry Resort and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

Often the guests who appeared on those programs talked about topics related to the locations but we addressed other timely issues as well.

The broadcasts were full of energy that a live audience brings and included questions from audience members as well.

Re-districting Trial / Libraries in 2018

The case before the State Supreme Court regarding the re-districting of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts has been adjourned and Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson is expected to issue an opinion in January.  Another Pennsylvania re-districting case is being heard before a federal court.

At stake is the integrity of the district lines as drawn by Republican lawmakers in 2011; critics argue that the state has 807,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans and the fact that 13 of 18 congressional delegates are Republican points to malfeasence in the last district drawing process; that Republicans drew district lines to their favor.

Keystone Crossroads reporters Emily Previti and Lindsay Lazarski have been covering the re-districting cases at both the state and federal levels; they join Thursday’s Smart Talk to parse out the progress of these cases.

Also, the anachronism of musty, dusty old libraries with creaky wooden floors and mildewed books has given way to high-tech facilities with services more on par with a Silicon Valley tech firm.  For years we’ve seen the modernization of public libraries, from recorded music and DVDs to basic computer usage and then net access.

Today, area libraries are offering amenities such as virtual-reality headsets, lending of WiFi hotspots and reference and text e-books.  Other services include GED programs and classes in financial literacy.  The focus of the libraries will always be to provide print material for readers, and the libraries in the region keep that tradition alive with author presentations and inter-active experiences, like a starship simulator for kids.

On Thursday’s Smart Talk, we discuss library sciences in the 21st century and the services available for mid-state Pennsylvanians with Laura O’Grady, Director of Library Services for Derry Township’s Hershey Public Library and Christi Bruker, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Library Association.

Campus Greeks / PSH-Highmark Partnership

The first Greek fraternity began on the campus of the College of William and Mary in 1775.  Since then, social fraternities and sororities offered support and camaraderie for college students across the country.  The 1978 comedy Animal House portrayed Greek organizations as out-of-control party houses that create chaos for campuses and communities.

While this depiction was greatly exaggerated, incidents of hazing, underage and binge drinking and sexual assault have caused many to question the value of having these organizations on campus.  “All social fraternities — alongside the sycophantic sorority life that they exploit — must go,” writes Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus.

Advocates of the Greek system point to the family-like atmosphere that is cultivated, helping young adults acclimate to life away from home, community and philanthropic efforts and academic support as benefits of Greek life.  The bonds can be important for both business and social networking after college.

The death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza in February exposed the worst behavior of campus Greeks: unrestrained hazing, excessive alcohol abuse, neglect and complicity by the members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.  A grand jury report issued on Friday referred to PSU’s “shocking apathy” regarding allegations of hazing and drinking.  The report says university officials “were aware of the excessive and dangerous alcohol abuse indulged by fraternities, such that it was only a matter of time before a death would occur during a hazing event.”

On Wednesday’s Smart Talk, we’ll talk with Lisa Wade about her concerns with the Greek systems and we’ll speak with Millersville University‘s Brian Hazlett, Vice-President of Student Affairs and Kyle Miller, Coordinator of the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership about the benefits of Greek organizations and campus efforts to mitigate risk.

Also, the Penn State Health / Highmark partnership was made official on Monday as the two healthcare giants expand their services into Central Pennsylvania.  The partnership will create a vertically integrated healthcare delivery system to the region that will include a $1 billion investment in a comprehensive network.  The alliance also elevates the rivalry between Highmark and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Pinnacle for Central PA market share.

Highmark president Deborah Rice-Johnson feels this will be beneficial for consumers in the form of more affordable and accessible healthcare, saying “This is about creating value in a unique way.  We’re going to take advantage of information to build better care models.”

However some studies show that mergers and alliances can drive up costs.  WITF’s Transforming Health reporter, Brett Sholtis, joins Smart Talk to discuss the nuances of the PSH/Highmark partnership.

CHIP Renewal / Heating assistance renewal

Two programs that benefit low-income adults and childen are awaiting funding renewal from Congress.

On Thursday, Governor Wolf signed a bill re-affirming the state’s commitment to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  The program provides matching funds for health insurance to families with children who earn too much for Medicaid, but not enough to cover insurance costs.

CHIP has not been re-authorized at the federal level; the re-authorization has stalled in congress amid budget negotiations and political posturing.  The twenty-five year old program has previously seen bipartisan support.

CHIP provides healthcare aid to 9 million Americans; state officials fear that a lapse of CHIP would be detrimental to recipients.  “Congress needs to do its part and reauthorize CHIP at the federal level,” said Wolf. “Without federal funding, more than 180,000 children in Pennsylvania could be without health care in early 2018.”

On Tuesday’s Smart Talk, we discuss the role of CHIP in aiding low-income Pennsylvanians and the impact of defunding the program on the state’s youth with Jim Willshier, Director of Policy & Partnership with the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers and Jennifer Englerth, CEO of Family First Health.

Another federal program aimed at helping low-income Americans keep their homes warm this winter could be in danger.   The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP is part of ongoing federal budget negotiations with a budget deadline of this Friday.  To discuss what’s at stake on Tuesday’s Smart Talk is Patrick Cicero, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Utilities Law Project and chairman of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program Advisory Committee to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest / Mid-State Christmas

Peyton Walker was a 19-year-old studying to be a physician’s assistant at King’s College in 2013.  She enjoyed the outdoors; snowboarding, rock climbing and four-wheeling.  The Camp Hill native passed away unexpectedly early in her sophomore year.

Peyton died of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) related to a congenital heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  SCA causes more than 600,000 deaths annually and is the second leading cause of death in people under 25.

In an effort to understand SCA, the Mechanicsburg-based Peyton Walker Foundation facilitates heart screenings, CPR and defibrillator training and scholarship opportunities for students studying healthcare.  On Monday’s Smart Talk, we’ll talk with Julie Walker, Peyton’s mother and the director of the foundation and Dr. Mike Bosak from UPMC Pinnacle – Pinnacle Health Cardiovascular Institute.

Also, Christmas is a week away and the region’s communities are putting together a number of events for the family.  Smart Talk will talk about the parades, shows, tree-lightings and caroling events with Joe Cliff of Discover Lancaster, Andrew Staub of the York County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Rick Dunlap from Visit Hershey & Harrisburg.

The Fracking Debate

Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ is a method of accessing oil and natural gas; the process involves shooting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into underground formations to break open the rock and gain better access to the resources.

While this has created an economic boon for Pennsylvania and helped increase natural gas usage as a cleaner-burning energy source, fracking has also created myriad environmental concerns–from water contamination to earthquakes.

Senior research associate Daniel Raimi of Resources for the Future has captured the history and impact of the fracking industry in The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution

WITF’s StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter Marie Cusick will speak with Raimi about fracking in Pennsylvania, and what the shale drilling boom means for human health and the U.S. economy.

Harrisburg University Expansion / Animal Tethering Law

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has announced plans for a $140 million Health Science Education Center to help accommodate its 5,400 undergraduate students.  The downtown Harrisburg proposal would create housing for 300 more students and expand programming to include degrees in nursing, pharmaceutical studies and other healthcare courses of study.

The expansion will also facilitate mixed-use development that would include a hotel, restaurant and conference space.  University President Dr. Eric Darr predicts the 200,000 square foot project will be good for both the city and university, saying “we will bring more jobs to the city and help transform downtown.”

In addition to the Harrisburg project, the university purchased 38,000 square feet of space in Center City Philadelphia to accommodate students attending the satellite campus.  On Thursday’s Smart Talk, we discuss the expansion project with Dr. Darr and future plans for Harrisburg University.

Also,  a recent law in Pennsylvania prohibits owners from tethering their pets outdoors for prolonged periods during cold days.  Owners can be fined $300 and/or jailed for up to 90 days for keeping their pets tied up for more than thirty minutes when the weather drops below 32 degrees, the freezing point.

Smart Talk will discuss the law and other ways to keep your pets safe during the cold winter months with Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania State Director at The Humane Society of the United States and Amy Kaunas, Humane Society of Greater Harrisburg executive director.