Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


May 21

The Crossville Chronicle on a hospital that had been closed for more than a year receiving pandemic relief funds:

The headlines were shocking.

A hospital that had been closed more than a year received more than $120,000 in federal funds as part of the COVID-19 relief measures for medical providers.

The money, administered by the U.S. Health and Human Services agency, was intended to offset health care expenses or lost revenue resulting from the pandemic. The agency distributed $50 billion to Medicare facilities and providers based on their net patient revenue. Another $50 billion was earmarked for providers in areas hit hard by the virus, rural providers, or providers serving low-income or uninsured patients.

The goal was to get the money out to providers quickly. That was important to making sure vital services continued even as efforts to slow the spread of the virus required closing some health care offices, like dentists, and halted elective procedures at hospitals and surgical centers. So the federal agency used 2019 Medicare reimbursement information to distribute about $30 million to bank accounts of providers using information on file.

Jamestown Regional Medical Center in neighboring Fentress County closed in June 2019, leaving residents of that community with no option but to travel more than 30 miles to the nearest hospital.

The operation was plagued by missed payments to suppliers, missed paychecks to workers, and missed utility bills that resulted in their power being turned off at one point.

Rennova, the parent company, also owns hospitals in Oneida and Jellico, TN, serving patients in rural areas that depend on their services. The company owes a hefty sum in back taxes, more than $4 million, according to media reports. Yet they reaped more than $7 million in total relief payments from COVID-19 programs.

The payment to Jamestown Regional Medical Center points to a serious problem in oversight of the money appropriated to help providers who are actually providing services.

HHS said the payment occurred because they only had the reimbursement information. There was nothing flagged in their systems that said, “This hospital is closed. It is not eligible for any Medicare reimbursements.”

If it happened once, you can bet it happened more than that. It could take years to track down all the payments. And then, if the provider is closed and no longer getting reimbursements from Medicare, how do they intend to force repayment? Will there be prosecution of individuals who confirmed receipt of the payment and agreed to the terms and conditions?

As Congress considers new programs in the wake of the economic and health crisis, we hope they also look at transparency and accountability measures so we can be sure these tax dollars are going for their intended purpose.



May 21

The Johnson City Press on a plea deal given to Washington County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Eddie Graybeal who slapped a handcuffed man:

The court sent a chilling message to the citizens of Washington County on Monday when it approved a plea deal dropping the official misconduct charge against Sheriff’s Office Lt. Eddie Graybeal.

The decision undermines the public’s faith in law enforcement and the judiciary.

Judge Lisa Rice allowed Graybeal to plead to a misdemeanor assault charge for the hard slap he delivered to a handcuffed man in custody at the county’s Detention Center on Nov. 10, 2018. He received 11 months, 29 days of probation.

Graybeal, son of Sheriff Ed Graybeal, had faced the more serious charges of official misconduct and official suppression. His experienced criminal defense attorney, Jim Bowman, worked out the sweetheart deal with 7th District Attorney General Dave Clark’s Office in Oak Ridge. Clark was brought in to handle the case after local District Attorney General Ken Baldwin rightly recused himself from the case, given prosecutors’ long association with the sheriff and his deputies.

A Washington County grand jury had done the right thing by indicting Lt. Graybeal on the felony charges for the slap. That slap was not just an assault on the man in custody, but on the badge Lt. Graybeal is trusted to wear and what it represents to society.

The plea represents the second slap on the wrist Lt. Graybeal has received for the offense. Soon after it occurred, he reported the assault to his supervisors. He was given a written reprimand and was instructed to review the department’s use of force policy. It went no further up the ladder, and no charges were filed at the time.

The whole matter likely would never have come to public light had a copy of a video from another deputy’s body cam not been anonymously delivered to a local television station nearly a year later. That’s unacceptable, and so is the plea deal.

Regardless of Lt. Graybeal’s prior record of service, which his supervisors had described as “stellar,” many in the public always will believe he received preferential treatment. That’s not only because he is in law enforcement but also because he is the sheriff’s son. Only the prosecutors and the judge know whether that to be true.

Because the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor, Lt. Graybeal still has the ability to serve in law enforcement. His status with the Sheriff’s Office was unclear after Monday’s hearing.

The message this deal sends is that despite clear evidence and admission, law enforcement officials sometimes will not be held properly accountable for their conduct. In our view, they should be held to the highest possible standards as they are entrusted to uphold our laws and serve each of us.

When society places a badge and a gun in someone’s hands with a position of authority, we must be able to trust that person will exercise that power responsibly. Assaulting a handcuffed man in a defenseless position was an abuse of that power. This plea deal could be seen as endorsing that behavior.

Many in the public already have a growing distrust of law enforcement and the justice system, and that’s a shame. We know the majority of sworn officers are trustworthy servants who deserve our gratitude for the protections they provide and the risks they take.



May 19

The Kingsport Times-News on saving the isopod:

The “butterfly effect” is the notion that such an insignificant thing as a single insect flapping its wings can set in motion a series of events leading to massive environmental change. In our region we might call this the Lee County isopod effect.

This freshwater crustacean, lacking eyes and pigmentation, was discovered in 1961 in two cave systems near Jonesville. It is not known to exist anywhere else in the world. In 1987, leachate from a nearby sawmill heavily polluted one system, killing all life. That left only one source for this tiny creature.

By the end of 2001 it was making a recovery in the second system, but in addition to water quality degradation, threats to this unique creature included use of sinkholes as disposal sites for wastes, as well as failing septic systems. In 1992, the Lee County isopod was listed as endangered and a plan was developed to save it. The Cedars, an area of more than 30 square miles, was designated a Natural Area Preserve. It’s also a haven for many rare plant species.

Now, at long last, the former sawmill site is to be cleaned up, removing the last immediate threat to the crustacean. The Nature Conservancy, which owns the site, will then turn it over to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The cleanup project also involves removing old buildings, abandoned materials and equipment, said Steve Lindeman, land protection program manager with The Nature Conservancy. The Daniel Boone Trail Association and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality also helped with developing the grant application for the sawmill project, he added.

This isn’t the first such rescue effort in Southwest Virginia, a special place in our natural world. For instance, the Clinch River is home to some 50 species of mussels, more than in any other river on the planet. In 1998, a tanker truck carrying a chemical used to make foam rubber overturned on U.S. 460, spilling its contents into the Clinch. It killed more than 7,000 mussels, including the golden riffleshell mussel, which is found nowhere else.

Four years ago, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologists could find only three female golden riffleshell mussels in the wild that were carrying larval young. They placed them in a holding tub and drove to a McDonald’s parking lot in Pikeville, Kentucky, where Monte McGregor, director of Kentucky’s Center for Mollusk Conservation, extracted the larvae, with the adults quickly returned to the river.

Over months, McGregor’s lab successfully raised 1,600 young mussels. Most were transported to Virginia’s Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center in Marion, where they were grown to adult size and then released, bringing the species back from the brink of extinction.

Forever losing a tiny creature found only in a single cave in a remote area of the Appalachians might never be noticed as the world continues to evolve. Or, its loss might have profound affects. We don’t know, which is why society works hard to prevent extinctions.

Each species lost threatens the ecosystem upon which all life depends. Saving the Lee County isopod is “a win for the environment and the people,” Lindeman said. We couldn’t agree more.