Roundup: The Coverage Gap

Rural America's coverage gap • U.S. is No. 1 in beef exports to Australia • High-speed Internet in Kentucky? • Farmers snubbed in food conference • Coal miner fired for outing unsafe conditions • A successful doctor recruitment strategy • Cemeteries on shrinking hills • Net Neutrality comment deadline extended 

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Rural hospitals are suffering from state decisions not to expand Medicaid, reports Al Jazeera America. In the "Coverage Gap", an Al Jazeera Fault Lines feature that aired this week, the network exposes the reality of hospital closings and shortages in rural America.

Rural hospitals have historically relied on federal subsidies that allow them to serve large numbers of Medicaid-dependent patients. In states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid, these hospitals no longer have access to the federal money that supported their practices. In many states, the hospitals have been forced to cut budgets, lay off staff, and in some cases, close entirely. 

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The United States has overtaken Japan as Australia's largest beef export market. As US cattle numbers drop to the lowest they have been in 60 years, American businesses have been forced to look overseas. Australia's market has been able to fill the gap left by American suppliers, despite the fact that Australia's herd numbers have also sunk to the lowest they have been in 20 years.

According to Tim McRae, Meat and Livestock Australia's chief economist, seasonal weather conditions are the key to cattle farmers' success. Beef and veal exports are expected to reach 1.1 million tons this year, matching the record set in 2013. However, Australian cattle farmers hope for the price of beef to increase soon, as prices have not significantly changed despite the record-high global demand.

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Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep Hal Rogers have issued two requests for proposals to create a high-speed Internet network within Kentucky. The project will take approximately two years to complete and will include more than 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure. The Kentucky politicians hope that one of these proposals, one seeking private partners to establish, open, and operate the network and the other seeking equity partners for this same purpose, will further advance the statewide project.


This plan is particularly important for Kentucky, the 46th state in the nation for high-speed broadband Internet availability and the state within which almost a quarter of the state's population cannot access broadband.  The statewide broadband network aims to improve these conditions, placing emphasis on increasing service in Eastern Kentucky.

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This week’s story from the annals of urban foodie self-congratulations comes from the James Beard Foundation, which is honoring five people for their “pioneering work in creating a more healthful, sustainable and safe food world….”

The awards will be given during the Fifth Annual Food Conference that will be held, naturally enough, in New York City. If you want to go to the award ceremony, get ready to peel out a thousand clams.

It will not be a surprise to anyone who follows these kinds of events that few of the awardees will be farmers who live in rural communities. We see this all the time. For last week’s installment, read here.

Yes, last week we noted that the New York Times was holding a food conference featuring no farmers, but those famous food writers Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. Those boys are busy. The Beard Foundation is honoring, yes, Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan as two of five food “leaders.” There is an urban farmer on the list (from New York City, naturally) and a “fellow” at the “Movement Strategy Center.”

And there is Ben Burkett, President of the National Family Farm Coalition. Thank goodness for that choice.

Hey, these days one out of five ain’t bad.

— Bill Bishop

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Coal miner Jeromy Coots, whose brother was crushed to death in a mine accident in 2011, has been fired for pointing out the type of safety problems that killed his brother. Coots voiced his concerns about the blatant disregard of safety regulations at Lone Mountain Processing in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Coots works as a roof bolter, which accounts for almost half of the deaths of coalminers each year. He filed a complaint after his manager told him that using the appropriate safety equipment would “take too long” and that he should proceed without deploying the support systems. The Huffington Post reports:

The Labor Department has filed an application to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to have Coots put back on the job temporarily, alleging that Lone Mountain ‘disciplined and discharged [him] for expressing these safety concerns.

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One rural Kansas hospital has developed a successful recruitment strategy by targeting doctors with what they call a “missionary” mentality. One of the greatest attractions to the Kearny County Hospital is their generous annual eight-week reprieve for doctors, which allows them to pursue their over-seas mission work.

“We have more candidates interested in coming here than we have room to hire,” says Benjamin Anderson, chief executive at Kearny County Hospital. “It’s not rocket science, but to do it requires a hospital to be mission-focused and it requires the right kind of mission-focused governance and leadership, and I think not every organization has that.”

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The BBC follows along as two West Virginia residents visit a cemetery that is surrounded by a strip mine. This cemetery, and many like it, is now and island of family property inside a mining zone with controlled access. The coal companies can’t destroy the plots, thanks to a state law protecting the cemeteries, but they often make it difficult to visit the land.

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The deadline to submit your comments to the FCC about net neutrality, which was set to close Tuesday, has been extended to tonight at midnight (EDT). The extension of the comment period is a response to the overwhelming number of comments that flooded the FCC’s comment filing system Tuesday.

While not exclusively a rural issue, the loss of net neutrality could do great damage to those who expect the Internet to be a fair and level playing field. Which is to say all of us.

File your comments here

 

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