- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Billings Gazette, Oct. 24, on the Montana VA’s performance:

The VA has failed to deliver timely, closest-to-home dental care for Billings-area veterans for years. The public just learned the extent of the failure last week with a Gazette news report from Matt Hudson.

The most outrageous part of this failure is that VA supervisors knew of a problem that they failed to correct - for at least 1½ years, according to investigative documents. Now the VA is trying to fire the whistleblower whose complaint led to fixing long-running problems. Even worse: The VA dental clinic in Billings hasn’t served any patients since January while the dentist, Dr. Kelly Hale, fights his termination and VA leadership in Helena keeps him in an “administrative” job.

According to documents made public by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, VA Montana had been using an unauthorized form and process to refer veterans to community dentists. This process took days or weeks longer than necessary as VA dentists faxed paper forms to their supervisor in Helena, who rejected some requests, and approved forms were input into the computer system by clerks. In one case, a veteran with a mouth lesion waited 11 weeks for a referral to community care.

The VA has been praised for its national electronic patient record, but VA Montana staff dentists weren’t given access to enter recommended community referrals into that system until after complaints in December 2015 failed to correct the process, an internal investigation concluded in Feb. 2016 that corrections were needed and in May the Office of Special Counsel substantiated the complaints leading to care delay because the problems still hadn’t been fixed.

What did Hale get? In October 2016, two weeks after his Helena superiors learned that he blew the whistle, they requested an investigation into Hale’s conduct. In January, the Billings VA clinic was closed, so veterans who want to use their hard-earned VA benefits have been told to drive to Helena or Sheridan, Wyoming. Billings community dental referrals have been limited and delayed.

Dr. Robert Bourne, who as chief of dental services ordered Hale to “engage in practices that violate VA policies and directives and risk patient health,” has “stepped down” from that supervisory post and works as a VA staff dentist, according to a letter from Acting Special Counsel Adam Miles dated Aug. 1 2017. So the dentist who failed to fix the problem as directed repeatedly was still seeing patients, but the one who complained on patients’ behalf is targeted for firing.

The Office of Special Counsel is defending Hale from this apparent retaliation. The OSC obtained a stay that will delay his firing at least until Nov. 19.

On Oct. 10 VA Montana spokesman Mike Garcia in Helena said that Billings is scheduled to have a VA dentist seeing patients starting in January. That’s about all VA Montana has said publicly about this deplorable lapse in essential health care for veterans.

So we are left to wonder: Is VA Montana expecting to fire Kelly next month, and replace him in January?

How many dentists will be willing to work for an agency that fires a whistle blower whose complaint directly resulted in improving patient care?

Top leadership at VA Montana changed last year, but the top decision makers, including Director Kathy Berger, have been on board during the OSC investigation, the substantiation of Kelly’s complaints and the belated correction of dental directives.

Most Montana veterans report that they get good care at the VA and that they like their VA health care providers. But problems of access, delay and mismanagement persist. These failings force veterans to endure pain, to wait for diagnosis and care.

We call on Montana’s congressional delegation, especially Sen. Jon Tester, who serves on the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, to hold the VA accountable for failing Montana veterans. Billings veterans shouldn’t have to travel out of town for essential dental care.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2h6G7Xl

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Montana Standard, Oct. 22, on Montana Tech’s Butte Initiative:

Twenty-four.

It’s a number of particular concern here in Butte.

A look at U.S. Census statistics show that median income here is about $24,000.

And the percentage of residents over the age of 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher is just a tick over 24 percent.

In order to change the first number, we must change the second. Montana Tech is determined to work with the community to do exactly that.

The university’s Butte Initiative seeks to help “first-generation” Butte students - those who would be the first in their families to attend college - find their way to Montana Tech, and the life-changing opportunities it provides.

“The great thing about the Butte Initiative is we have this great institution - a world-class university - right in our backyard,” says Mike McGivern, vice president for human resources at Montana Resources. “We have the ability to change generations and impact Butte, all in one fell swoop.”

We know that one of the best things about a Montana Tech education is that it provides a greater return on investment than that of any other institution of higher learning in the state.

Joe McClafferty, President of the Montana Tech Foundation, knows precisely the value of a first-generation college student - to a family and to a community.

His mother was born in Butte right after the Depression. She got the opportunity to be that first-generation student when the Anaconda Copper Mining scholarship gave her the chance to attend nursing school.

“She was the first on either side of her family to even think about going to college. So Bev McClafferty was the first, and that allowed Joe McClafferty to be the second,” he says. “My kids can be the third generation, and my grandkids the fourth. That’s what this can do for the community.”

Pat Kissell, principal at West Elementary, sees the need for a cultural change in Butte that will get kids thinking early in their school careers that college is a possibility, not an impossibility. “A very important part of what we do in this community is show that we’re all in this together,” he says. He’s right.

The initiative is off to a great start, with more than $300,000 raised, and it is already helping Butte students realize college dreams. But the University has bigger aspirations. It seeks to set up a $2 million endowment to assure that funds for first-generation college students from Butte will always be there.

We applaud Montana Tech’s vision and commitment to this initiative. The community must match that vision and commitment, and as that happens the cruelty of the number 24 will no longer define outcomes in Butte.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2zO3yfL

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Oct. 19, on a STEM initiative for kids:

Bozeman public schools and local business and community leaders have teamed up in an effort to bring science technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum to elementary school students. And students and their parents alike should be grateful for that. The importance of proficiency in the STEM fields in a world of rapidly changing technology has been widely demonstrated. But too many school curriculums fail to reflect that.

Facing the reality of tight education dollars, the Bozeman Schools Foundation has reached out to local benefactors to raise $350,000 to train 200 teachers in methods for teaching STEM skills to children. And they have already gotten more than 80 percent of the way toward that goal. Now, many classrooms include activities that engage children in scientific principles in fun and interesting ways. The goal is to eventually expose all 3,000 of the district’s elementary students to this curriculum.

And that’s important.

Bozeman High School has been offering elective STEM classes - such as biomedical, engineering and computer coding classes - for some years. But too many students opt out of those classes. Certainly some of this is due to a lack of exposure to this type of curriculum in their early years.

In particular it is the girls - who often outscore boys in science and math in their elementary and middle school years - who shy away from STEM classes and college majors as they get older. Clearly this is because of innate cultural biases that continue to stereotype students according to gender and subtly drive girls away from STEM fields. These biases are costing us the potential of so many young women, and that is troubling and economically costly.

To be sure, not all students are destined for careers in the STEM fields. And a diverse and rich culture must include those who are versed in the liberal arts - music, literature, history, philosophy, etc.

But children are denied the opportunity to reach their full potential - in whatever field they choose - if they aren’t exposed to the widest menu possible as young children.

This STEM initiative in the Bozeman schools is a big step toward making sure that happens.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2yPqxt0

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