Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

Stalling by PIAA and Wolf on fall sports leaves schools, students in limbo

The Citizen's Voice

Aug. 7

Facing a decision of monumental importance to students, schools and parents, Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association traded punts this week.

In a press conference Thursday, Wolf announced the state would recommend, but not require, that schools postpone sports until January. That came as a shock to the PIAA board, which had already slated Monday as the beginning of the practice season for football, with other sports to start a week later. On Friday the board pushed that date back two weeks, hoping for more clarification from the governor.

It appears that each side, hoping to avoid being the Grinch that stole football, wants the other to make the logical decision — that sports can wait as school administrators wrestle with the more weighty matter of how to best and most safely educate our children in or out of the classroom.

Some districts across the state have already reached the conclusion that immediately resuming in-school classes would be too risky, so how can Wolf or the PIAA justify resuming sports, particularly contact ones such as football and field hockey?

Meanwhile, coaches, athletes, cheerleaders, band members and their families are left with one more uncertainty in very uncertain times.

Instead of putting off what is coming to seem inevitable, Wolf and the PIAA should cancel the fall schedule and devise a revised sports schedule that would allow for shortened, staggered fall, winter and spring seasons beginning in January with no overlap so multi-sport athletes would have no conflicts.

That would put Pennsylvania schools on a course to preserve athletic opportunities for students while avoiding outbreaks over the next few months, which will be critical to overcoming the COVID crisis and hopefully returning to a somewhat normal routine in 2021.

Wolf and the PIAA are not doing anyone any favors by prolonging this process.

It’s time to make a decision.



A glimmer of hope at Exeter demonstration

Reading Eagle

Aug. 12

Many Americans are despairing at the state of our political discourse these days. Social media and the news are filled with ugliness. It can seem as if there’s no escape from the dissension.

We’re happy to report that something just happened in our area that should inspire at least a little bit of hope.

On Sunday young people in Exeter Township organized a demonstration. It was intended as a celebration of culture and identity and a show of unity against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin and gender.

About 150 students and supporters marched from Exeter High School to the township municipal building.

At first the situation didn’t look so good. A group of counterprotesters attended the event, and there was angry shouting during the early parts of the rally.

Things began to quiet down as some of the protest participants spoke about their experiences dealing with discrimination.

And as the event concluded, some of the protesters and counterprotesters engaged in a civil exchange of views. The tone was such that some of the conversations concluded with friendly fist bumps.

Taken as a whole, the Exeter event offered examples of some of the problems we’re facing and showed people a potential path forward.

The tension at the onset of the event was brought on at least in part by rumors that the students were planning an action against local police. Apparently protest critics were envisioning a violent protest along the lines of what’s been reported in other parts of the country, particularly in some big cities. That idea spread widely enough that protest organizers felt compelled to issue a statement on social media explaining that it would be nonviolent and that it was intended to address a variety of issues related to discrimination. Not only wasn’t it directed specifically at police, but Exeter officers assisted in ensuring the event went smoothly.

Such stereotyping is a problem, and not just in Exeter. Even though there have been many similar peaceful demonstrations in communities large and small in our region in recent months, there are those who assume that any protest tied to the Black Lives Matter movement must be a riot in the making.

The way out of this problem is for each of us to start thinking of individuals with whom we disagree as people rather than monsters. What happened in Exeter offered a glimpse of what that looks like.

We doubt that the conversations at the conclusion of the protests changed anyone’s mind. But if it at least produced a bit of mutual respect and understanding of where each person is coming from, it was certainly worthwhile.

As comfortable as many of us are only engaging with people on our side of various arguments, or treating our political opponents dismissively and derisively. The fact is that eventually we all have to find a way to live with one another.

All too many people cling to the idea that the way to achieve the government and society they want is to attack and insult others rather than persuade. The result is that people dig in their heels even more rather than surrender.

So as we enter the final months of what promises to be an exceptionally bitter election campaign, let’s resolve to speak to one another rather than shout; to make our arguments forcefully without engaging in personal attacks; and to remember that people across the political spectrum love their country and are expressing sincere beliefs on the best path for America going forward.

We don’t have to agree on everything. Americans never have, even going back to the earliest days of our history. But if we are to have a functioning country, we need to understand and respect one another. Doing so could go a long way toward cooling the temperature of our debate, restoring productivity to government and calming at least one aspect of the great anxiety gripping our nation today.



Please get your kids immunized — a pandemic is no time to take chances with vaccine-preventable disease


Aug. 11

In a news release issued Monday, the Pennsylvania departments of Education, Health, Human Services and Insurance remind parents “to ensure their children’s immunizations are up to date as part of back-to-school preparations. Vaccine requirements also extend to students of cyber and charter schools,” the release states. “Vaccines are a necessary precaution needed to protect infants, children and teens from serious childhood diseases such as measles, mumps and chickenpox. Staying up to date with immunizations provides the best protection against disease and is essential to individual and population health.” A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that routine childhood vaccinations declined significantly during the spring because of COVID-19.

Parents: We know you’ve got a lot on your plates right now. We know the spring shutdown made visits to the pediatrician’s office difficult, even scary.

But pediatricians know how to keep your children safe, and their offices have implemented stringent health measures. And keeping your children safe means ensuring that their immunizations are up to date.

Even if your kids are attending virtual classes beginning this month, please make sure they’re fully immunized against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases.

Now is not the time to risk having your kids contract measles or chickenpox or whooping cough or meningitis. They need to be as healthy as possible as summer turns to fall and flu season arrives, when health care providers are going to be handling both COVID-19 patients and people sick with influenza.

Some of those COVID-19 patients likely will be children.

Nearly 180,000 new child cases of COVID-19 were reported in the U.S. from July 9 to Aug. 6, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. And “over 380,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic,” that report states.

Younger children don’t often experience serious COVID-19 symptoms, but a rare inflammatory condition in children linked to the coronavirus can be serious, requiring intensive hospital care.

So taking vaccine-preventable diseases off the list of potential health dangers for kids ought to be a priority.

We were disappointed when, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the state Department of Health “quietly announced late last month that it was temporarily suspending requirements for children’s immunizations.” Doctors, the Inquirer reported, feared the move “could send mixed signals to parents about the importance of preventing disease, and could mark a return for vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.”

We share that fear.

The message on childhood vaccinations should be crystal-clear: They’re essential. And they should not be delayed.

According to the news release from the state, the temporary regulatory suspension of children’s immunization requirements “allows children to enter and attend school or an early childhood program for two months without the required immunizations.”



Pension plan’s long game of hide, seek

The Scranton Times-Tribune

Aug. 11

Pennsylvania taxpayers saddled with state school employees’ pension costs reasonably might wonder why a pension system employee stayed at the ritzy Beverly Hills Hotel while on at least one business trip to Los Angeles. Even more so, they might wonder why they can’t find out what they paid for it.

Each of the state’s 500 school districts must make an annual pension contribution equivalent to 34% of its payroll — a preposterous burden that would crash any private business. Taxpayers also cover the costs of state contributions to the school and state employees’ pensions, for which the state government pays more than $4 billion a year.

Pennsylvania Capital Star, an online journalism organization that covers state government, reported in December that a staffer for the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System had made seven annual trips to Los Angeles to meet with representatives of Platinum Equity, with which the system had invested more than $1 billion over a decade.

As a public agency, PSERS must disclose travel costs. Yet it reported less than $1,400 in total expenses for all seven trips, which is less than the airfare alone and equivalent to about two days’ lodging at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Reporters discovered that the staffer had stayed at the movie stars’ hangout only because an expense report showed an $8.60 Uber ride from the hotel to a meeting elsewhere.

The reporters discovered that the agency allows its vendors — financial industry firms — to book travel for agency staff. Then, the travel costs are “baked” into the contracts with those firms. Public money covers the travel, but the actual costs are buried in the contracts.

After the Pennsylvania Capital Star report, two PSERS board members — Democratic state Treasurer Joe Torsella and Republican Rep. Frank Ryan of Lebanon County — asked for an audit of travel expenses and moved to reform the process. The audit is incomplete but on Friday, the PSERS board approved reforms requiring the agency to book and directly pay for staff travel.

Several board members huffed that the issue created a false impression of corruption at the agency. No, it’s just obfuscation at public offense, something to keep in mind when you receive your school property tax bill.



Here are some solid reasons why Penn State Health should buy Geisinger Holy Spirit

Harrisburg Patriot News

Aug. 7

Penn State Health CEO Steve Massini offers some pretty strong arguments to support his company’s proposal to purchase Holy Spirit Hospital. So, he’s perplexed that Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the Federal Trade Commission haven’t already signed off on the deal.

First, all of the parties involved think it just makes good business sense. Geisinger president and CEO Dr. Jaewon Ryu says he’s is excited about turning over the West Shore hospital to Penn State Health, which is seeking to expand in the region.

Geisinger purchased Holy Spirit in Oct. 2014 and has invested more than $120 million in the facility to improve trauma, stroke and diabetes care. And Ryu thinks Penn State Health is poised to take Holy Spirit to the next level in its service to the region.

Sister Mary Edward, Provincial of the Sisters of Christian Charity that founded the facility, has the same hope. She’s satisfied Penn State has committed to maintaining the hospital’s “Catholic tradition,” and will invest in the hospital’s future. Sisters of Christian Charity started Holy Spirit six decades ago, and the hospital already collaborates with Penn State Health on neurosurgery and cardiac surgery programs.

Sister Mary Edward, Dr. Ryu and Massini told PennLive Editorial Board this week their plans call for everything to be finalized by October 2020. But for that, they need both the Attorney General and the FTC to signal their approval. There are solid reasons for them to do so.

First, the parties involved say Penn State Health’s purchase of Holy Spirit is more than just a good business move for them. They say it would strengthen health care services for everyone in a region that is growing and needs more medical facilities.

Penn State Health is already building another hospital in Hampden Twp., and acquiring Holy Spirit with its 100 doctors and ambulance service would help ensure it opens late next year as expected.

But even the Hampden facility won’t be big enough to meet the long-term needs of the community, Massini said. Another hospital will be needed and purchasing Holy Spirit would save millions of dollars required to build a new facility.

“Those are very expensive investments,” Massini said. “If we are not successful here, we would have to duplicate hundreds of millions of dollars of cost.” And there’s no doubt consumers would have to pay those costs in the form of higher hospital bills.

There’s yet another economic incentive – maintaining jobs.

The parties still are hammering out the final terms, but Penn State Health is hoping to prevent layoffs at Holy Spirit. The sale most certainly would prevent the sort of economic disruption a hospital closure would bring.

Hundreds of jobs are associated with Holy Spirit Hospital. If the Penn State purchase proposal doesn’t meet regulatory muster, those jobs just might be in jeopardy.

As if that’s not enough, we should remember Holy Spirit also is one of the few facilities in our region that provide behavioral and mental health services, including a locked unit for people who are seriously ill.

That bring us to the heart of the issue: would Holy Spirit even survive if Penn State doesn’t take it over?

None of the parties wanted to answer that question during the editorial board meeting, but it’s one Shapiro and the FTC should ponder as they weigh their decision on whether to approve the deal.

Penn State Health’s purchase of Holy Spirit will help ensure another vibrant hospital network remains in the region to strengthen competition and prevent any one organization from becoming too dominant.

A competitive health care marketplace provides consumer choice and helps keep costs down. That’s a powerful argument that should seal the deal for health care consumers as well as for regulators.

With so many strong arguments in favor of the proposed sale, we agree it is indeed perplexing Shapiro and the FTC have not rushed to bless it. It is time they did so.