Maryland Food Recovery: No Meal Left Behind

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Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Mill Valley General Store’s back refrigerators are filled with stuffed Ikea blue bags.

For $6, a customer takes home a blue bag containing 25 to 45 pounds of fruit and vegetables, and sometimes the occasional bag of chips or crackers — enough to feed a family of four for a week, said Cheryl Wade, owner of the small, family-owned natural foods grocery store.

“We’ve had folks from every ZIP code in Baltimore City, and some from outside the city even, coming here every weekend for these blue bags,” Wade said.

Wade’s store hosts the blue bag initiative for Gather Baltimore, a volunteer-based local food recovery program that sells organic food overflow from local farms, farmers’ markets and stores at an affordable price in low-income neighborhoods at farm stands across the city.

Friday through Sunday, customers come to Mill Valley General Store and pickup a 25-to-45-pound IKEA blue bag full of donated produce and snacks for $6. Gather Baltimore owner Arthur Morgan started selling the blue bags at this store about three months ago, said owner Cheryl Wade.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.54.01 PM

“Literally billions and billions and billions of pounds of just produce are thrown out in this country every year,” Wade said. “Americans don’t understand, we pay the cost of the produce we throw away in the prices we pay at the supermarket — we ought to put it to good use.”

Fifteen percent of Maryland’s municipal waste consists of food, according to Maryland’s Department of Environment. At the same time, 757,430 people are food-insecure in Maryland, with the highest level of food-insecure homes in Baltimore City at about 23 percent, according to Feeding America, a domestic hunger relief organization.

To address the national food distribution and waste problem, organizations across Maryland are taking the initiative and going straight to the source of extra, edible food: supermarkets, farms and colleges.

Arthur Morgan, founder of Gather Baltimore, said that he takes unsold vegetables, fruit and bread from Baltimore City’s farmers’ market and local grocery stores like Wade’s and redistributes the surplus to meal programs, faith communities and others in need. The blue bag initiative, just over 3 months old, is the newest installment.

“There’s so much extra food, and people are hungry and don’t have food,” Morgan said. “I’m just trying to eliminate a lot of the food waste and feed some of these people that are hungry.”

Morgan’s organization’s outreach mainly spreads by word-of-mouth, Wade said, allowing Morgan to keep up with the demand. Even so, the number of bags sold at her store has increased from 50 to 200 since it began early this year — and that number grows every weekend. Anyone may purchase the produce, and the store offers a sign-up sheet for recipes and updates on what will be in the bags on a given week.

“We have not found anyone else in the Baltimore area that does what Arthur does, which is actually get fresh fruit and vegetables into people’s hands,” said Wade, whose store is in the Jones Falls area of Baltimore.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.54.26 PMKnown among friends and customers as “Ms. Cheryl,” Mill Valley General Store owner Cheryl Wade, 61, said she opens her store to Gather Baltimore volunteers Thursday through Sunday to prepare the blue bags for the weekend, storing gathered food in her extra refrigerators during the week.

In its 2014 Zero Waste Plan, the state set an interim goal of 15 percent food waste reduction by the end of 2015, but it’s not yet known whether the state will reach this goal, said Jay Apperson, communications director for Maryland’s Department of Environment.

As of 2013, the state had recycled 10.7 percent of its food scraps primarily through composting and animal feed according to the state’s environment department. Apperson said the state does not take into account source reduction programs like Gather Baltimore or Food Recovery Network when calculating its food scrap reduction, but completely supports their efforts.

“The Zero Waste Plan included some strategies for (Maryland’s Department of Environment) to support and enhance these existing food donation activities,” Apperson said, such as surveying large food generators to determine quantities and locations of available food and connecting them to food banks, kitchens, pantries, shelters and organizations.

“Surplus edible food that cannot be prevented should be donated for human consumption,” Apperson said.

For Ben Simon, co-founder and executive director of the startup Food Recovery Network at the University of Maryland, College Park, the idea to transfer excess meals from college campuses came from seeing how much was left over at the university’s dining halls and after big sports games.

“It really came out of that need of seeing hungry people in Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C., and also seeing the surplus at the same time and connecting the dots,” Simon said.

The nonprofit organization, which started in September 2011, now extends nationwide to 129 college campuses and is completely student-led, delivering meals that were going to be thrown away to local homeless shelters, transitional homes and women’s shelters, said Mika Weinstein, a Food Recovery Network staff member.

“In the United States, almost 40 percent of the food that’s produced ends up in a landfill,” Weinstein said. “Some of that is actually food scraps, like banana peels, but a lot of it is perfectly good food.”

Friday through Sunday, customers come to Mill Valley General Store and pickup a 25-to-45-pound IKEA blue bag full of donated produce and snacks for $6. Gather Baltimore owner Arthur Morgan started selling the blue bags at this store about three months ago, said owner Cheryl Wade.

Weinstein said that the whole organization has collected 731,145 pounds of food since it began, with about 117,708 of that amount collected in 2015 alone. The University of Maryland chapter has recovered 116,115 pounds of food since its launch.

Pastor Ben Slye from the Christian Life Center in Riverdale said his center receives 25 to 30 trays of meals three times a week from the Food Recovery Network–enough to feed between 50 and 75 people per meal–as well as 10,000 pounds of fresh produce each week from national food processor Taylor Farms, and Coastal Sunbelt, a mid-Atlantic food distributor.

Slye said his organization also receives college sports games’ leftovers that could feed up to 500 people at a time. His center redistributes the free food to local soup kitchens, recovery programs and other ministries, only paying for transportation costs.

“We always say that it’s not a food shortage problem in our nation, there’s a food distribution problem in our nation — so we’re trying to solve that problem,” Slye, 53, said. “We’re grateful to be a part of something that’s going to become huge.”
How does Maryland Measure Recycled Food Waste?

Because it keeps waste from being generated in the first place, food recovery does not count toward reducing the state’s food waste footprint.

Instead, to achieve its statewide goal of 15 percent reduction in food waste by Dec. 31, Maryland’s Department of Environment is focusing primarily on composting.

The Department of Environment calculates food waste reduction, measured as a percent, accordingly:

Food scraps recycled (tons)
—————————————
Food scraps generated in Maryland (tons/percent)

Each jurisdiction annually submits a report outlining its tons of recycled food waste, Apperson said. The department adds these counties’ totals together to determine the tons of recycled food scraps.

Meanwhile, the state’s food waste generation is calculated by the amount of total waste generated in Maryland multiplied by the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of the quantity of food as a portion of the overall waste stream, Apperson said. The current estimate is 14.5 percent, according to the federal department’s website. (Tons of food scraps generated in Maryland = Maryland’s total generated waste in tons x 14.5 percent.)

As of 2013, Maryland was recycling 10.3 percent of its food waste, Apperson said, but it is still unclear whether they will reach the 15 percent goal by the end of the year.

Apperson said that the next step to reducing the state’s food waste footprint is to connect generators of food scraps with established composting facilities.

In Maryland, local governments are responsible for establishing solid waste and recycling programs, he said. Howard and Prince George’s counties are the current leaders in food scraps composting pilot programs, with Howard County attempting to recover food scraps from residential curbsides in certain areas.

By Katelyn Newman

Limited Access to Primary Care Could Be Crowding Maryland’s Emergency Rooms

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Donna Wiltrout, 42, had to be at work by 5 a.m. on a recent Tuesday. But at a few minutes to 11 p.m. Monday, she was sitting on a bed in the hallway of Frederick Memorial Hospital waiting to be seen by a doctor.

“There’s no way I’m going to make it,” she said.

Wiltrout, a school bus driver, said she had driven 20 minutes from her home in Thurmont to Frederick Memorial Tuesday evening with shortness of breath and increasingly severe chest pains.

A few months ago, she sat in the same hallway spot with the same symptoms, she said, but had to leave because the wait had gotten too long — more than five hours.

Wiltrout said she visits her family doctor every three to six months, but she didn’t have a scheduled appointment in the time from her last hospital visit and wasn’t able to add one.

But that Monday, she said, her symptoms were worse.

With a mostly empty waiting room and few ambulance arrivals, she had been waiting for about three hours.

“You have to be dying to be seen here,” she said. “I’m a single mom of two. I can’t be sitting here waiting forever.”

Hospitals are required by federal statute to offer care to anyone who enters their emergency rooms — even if that means beds have to be out in the hallway, in the corner, by the bathroom.

And they’re feeling the pinch. Emergency departments in Maryland are increasingly requesting that EMTs divert their patients in ambulances to other hospitals.

From 2013 to 2014, the number of yellow and red alerts — issued by Maryland hospitals when their emergency departments were overcrowded or when there were no monitored beds available, respectively — increased by 34 percent, according to data maintained by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, or MIEMSS, County Hospital Alert Tracking System, a real-time, computerized system that monitors the status of hospitals and EMS systems throughout the state.

John Donohue, chief of field operations for MIEMSS, an independent state agency, said the first thing he does every morning is review diversions or alerts that were recently issued.

“The guidelines given to hospitals on when to issue these alerts are very soft. You can’t tell a hospital when they’re busy and not busy,” he said. “These alerts are a method for us to help hospitals ensure that each patient is cared for better or at least receives care more quickly.”

According to data from the MIEMSS alert tracking system, hospitals in more densely populated areas send yellow or red alerts more often than those in rural areas.

Sinai Hospital of Baltimore sent an average of 251 yellow and red alerts each year from 2010 to 2014, while the average for all hospitals in the state was 66 alerts annually. Queenstown Emergency Center, on the Eastern Shore near Kent Island, however, averaged just over one alert per year.

But the overcrowding is beginning to spill beyond city lines.

Northwest Hospital in Randallstown falls within 20 miles of Baltimore’s city center, which, according to MIEMSS guidelines, is an acceptable distance for EMS diversions.

With 339 alerts, Northwest Hospital had the most in 2014 — almost 50 more than second-place Sinai. Northwest is on a similar track for 2015, with 87 alerts in the first three months of the year.

Sarah Liebovitz, an EMT with Branchville Volunteer Fire Company in College Park, said she knows to check the board that shows all of the hospitals that are on alert before she responds to a call.

But she has had to wait with her ambulance and EMT team at emergency department doors for up to two hours before leaving to respond to another call due to a back-up in the hospital’s emergency department, she said. Depending on their condition, the patient could be taken inside to be treated or remain in the ambulance with them while they wait, she said.

Alert rates are consistently higher in the winter months, something that Donohue said is most likely due to the flu, or winter cold season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccination offered reduced protection this season. The number of alerts from the first three months of 2015 is already greater than the number of alerts for the first half of 2014 in 11 hospitals in the state.

But no one that shows up at the emergency room’s door is turned away, Donohue said, and “priority one patients” — those facing a life-threatening condition — are never diverted.

“Sometimes there’s literally no space to see patients. What do we do? We take care of the patient. We move people around, we prioritize and we just take care of the patient,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, an emergency room physician in Baltimore. “You do the best that you can, but you can imagine how it affects the quality of care. It’s not safe for the patients.”

Khaldun said that most of the patients she sees in the emergency room are there for legitimate reasons. Even stomach pain could be a symptom of appendicitis and merits an emergency room visit, she said.

But Gene Ransom, chief executive officer of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, said that patients considering a trip to the emergency room should think about going to an urgent care facility instead.

“It is important for folks to remember that there are options,” he said. “But there has been an increasing number of folks having trouble finding a primary care physician or forming a relationship with their primary care physician.”

This lack of access to primary care is worrying to Maryland Delegate Dr. Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore Counties, a physician in preventative medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Chronic illnesses — like diabetes and heart disease — oftentimes go undiagnosed and undertreated because patients have a difficult time getting to primary care physicians,” said Lam. “(Chronic illnesses) are probably the best kind to be treated in a primary care setting, but they end up squeezing out people in the emergency room who really have emergencies.”

The emergency room is often the first point of entry for new patients, he said, like those with chronic illnesses who forget to take their medications or couldn’t get an appointment with a primary care physician to get a refill.

Also, because of how the medical school system is structured, there are more doctors applying than there are resources to train them, leading to a long-standing shortage of physicians and other healthcare providers, Lam said.

Khaldun, who served as an emergency room physician in New York before coming to Maryland, said the emergency departments in Brooklyn faced the same challenges with overcrowding as those in Baltimore.

But the Maryland health care system is unique.

In other states, doctors and hospitals are reimbursed at the lowest rate for Medicaid patients. Hospitals in Maryland, however, are reimbursed at the same rate for all patients, thanks to the state’s Medicaid waiver.

The waiver is set to expire this year.

State legislators have ensured that funding to maintain the waiver and continue reimbursing doctors serving Medicaid patients at the same rate as doctors serving privately insured individuals is available in the fiscal year 2016 budget, but it is up to Gov. Larry Hogan to determine whether to spend the funds for that purpose.

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine published in January found that increases in Medicaid reimbursements offered to doctors in 2013 and 2014 increased the availability of primary care appointments to Medicaid patients in the 10 states studied. The same increase did not occur for privately insured individuals.

Hospitals in Maryland have been working to develop programs that integrate health care into the community, an important element of the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Carroll Hospital Center, in rural Westminster, alerted EMTs that they were reaching capacity 25 times in 2014. While far below the state average, that number increased dramatically from the four alerts it issued during all of 2013.

Carroll Hospital Center does not have other hospitals nearby to help when their emergency department gets crowded, said Stephanie Reid, chief nursing officer and vice president of quality. Instead, she said, they have developed a team dedicated to population health clinical integration, programs that are focused on promoting wellness in the communities surrounding the hospital.

“Healthcare now isn’t just in the walls of the hospital, it’s much more out in the community,” said Reid. “All clinical integration efforts aim to keep patients well and help them from being readmitted. I’m sure the patients want that as well.”

Integration programs are about partnership: nurse navigators working with patients after discharge to make lifestyle changes at home; primary care physicians leaving a few appointment times open each day to allow for last-minute appointments; or schools promoting general health and wellness, she said.

The Maryland Community Health Resources Commission was founded in 2005 to expand access to health care services for uninsured and low-income individuals through partnerships among community health resources and hospitals.

This mission has become increasingly relevant in recent years and grants are awarded to programs that are expected to help achieve this goal, including those that expand access to primary care for underserved populations and those that successfully divert individuals from emergency departments to more appropriate care.

Since its inception, the state’s Community Health Resources Commission — an independent state agency with members appointed by the governor — has awarded 143 grants totaling $49.6 million. In 2012, the Maryland General Assembly voted to ensure a budget of no less than $8 million for the commission each fiscal year, and with Hogan’s approval, the commission will be fully funded in fiscal year 2016.

In 2013, $200,000 was awarded to Anne Arundel Health Systems to establish a new medical care center in the Morris H. Blum Senior Apartment Complex in Annapolis, housing for low-income senior citizens.

“The emergency department analyzed their data and isolated emergency department admissions and 911 calls from (the senior apartment complex). They found it was a hotspot,” said Mark Luckner, executive director of the Community Health Resources Commission. “These patients are dual eligible — Medicaid and Medicare — and it made sense to literally bring the medical care to their doorstep.”

The health center has been open in the senior apartment complex for about a year and a half and relationships between the doctors and residents have been formed, helping to reduce emergency department admissions, he said.

Khaldun said that many hospitals have one individual dedicated to assessing bed turnover. While this may improve efficiency, the emergency room will always be an unpredictable place, she said.

“If we get more primary care doctors, it’s not that we won’t need emergency rooms any more,” said Khaldun. “We just need to change the paradigm.”

Back at Frederick Memorial, Wiltrout was checked into a room after about four hours of waiting in the hallway. She said she plans to continue seeing her family doctor on a regular basis and hopes this is the last time she’ll have to see the inside of a hospital’s emergency room.

By Deidre McPhillips

Limited Access to Primary Care Could Be Crowding Maryland’s Emergency Rooms

Share

Donna Wiltrout, 42, had to be at work by 5 a.m. on a recent Tuesday. But at a few minutes to 11 p.m.Monday, she was sitting on a bed in the hallway of Frederick Memorial Hospital waiting to be seen by a doctor.

“There’s no way I’m going to make it,” she said.

Wiltrout, a school bus driver, said she had driven 20 minutes from her home in Thurmont to Frederick MemorialTuesday evening with shortness of breath and increasingly severe chest pains.

A few months ago, she sat in the same hallway spot with the same symptoms, she said, but had to leave because the wait had gotten too long — more than five hours.

Wiltrout said she visits her family doctor every three to six months, but she didn’t have a scheduled appointment in the time from her last hospital visit and wasn’t able to add one.

But that Monday, she said, her symptoms were worse.

With a mostly empty waiting room and few ambulance arrivals, she had been waiting for about three hours.

“You have to be dying to be seen here,” she said. “I’m a single mom of two. I can’t be sitting here waiting forever.”

Hospitals are required by federal statute to offer care to anyone who enters their emergency rooms — even if that means beds have to be out in the hallway, in the corner, by the bathroom.

And they’re feeling the pinch. Emergency departments in Maryland are increasingly requesting that EMTs divert their patients in ambulances to other hospitals.

From 2013 to 2014, the number of yellow and red alerts — issued by Maryland hospitals when their emergency departments were overcrowded or when there were no monitored beds available, respectively — increased by 34 percent, according to data maintained by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, or MIEMSS, County Hospital Alert Tracking System, a real-time, computerized system that monitors the status of hospitals and EMS systems throughout the state.

John Donohue, chief of field operations for MIEMSS, an independent state agency, said the first thing he does every morning is review diversions or alerts that were recently issued.

“The guidelines given to hospitals on when to issue these alerts are very soft. You can’t tell a hospital when they’re busy and not busy,” he said. “These alerts are a method for us to help hospitals ensure that each patient is cared for better or at least receives care more quickly.”

According to data from the MIEMSS alert tracking system, hospitals in more densely populated areas send yellow or red alerts more often than those in rural areas.

Sinai Hospital of Baltimore sent an average of 251 yellow and red alerts each year from 2010 to 2014, while the average for all hospitals in the state was 66 alerts annually. Queenstown Emergency Center, on the Eastern Shore near Kent Island, however, averaged just over one alert per year.

But the overcrowding is beginning to spill beyond city lines.

Northwest Hospital in Randallstown falls within 20 miles of Baltimore’s city center, which, according to MIEMSS guidelines, is an acceptable distance for EMS diversions.

With 339 alerts, Northwest Hospital had the most in 2014 — almost 50 more than second-place Sinai. Northwest is on a similar track for 2015, with 87 alerts in the first three months of the year.

Sarah Liebovitz, an EMT with Branchville Volunteer Fire Company in College Park, said she knows to check the board that shows all of the hospitals that are on alert before she responds to a call.

But she has had to wait with her ambulance and EMT team at emergency department doors for up to two hours before leaving to respond to another call due to a back-up in the hospital’s emergency department, she said. Depending on their condition, the patient could be taken inside to be treated or remain in the ambulance with them while they wait, she said.

Alert rates are consistently higher in the winter months, something that Donohue said is most likely due to the flu, or winter cold season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccination offered reduced protection this season. The number of alerts from the first three months of 2015 is already greater than the number of alerts for the first half of 2014 in 11 hospitals in the state.

But no one that shows up at the emergency room’s door is turned away, Donohue said, and “priority one patients” — those facing a life-threatening condition — are never diverted.

“Sometimes there’s literally no space to see patients. What do we do? We take care of the patient. We move people around, we prioritize and we just take care of the patient,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, an emergency room physician in Baltimore. “You do the best that you can, but you can imagine how it affects the quality of care. It’s not safe for the patients.”

Khaldun said that most of the patients she sees in the emergency room are there for legitimate reasons. Even stomach pain could be a symptom of appendicitis and merits an emergency room visit, she said.

But Gene Ransom, chief executive officer of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, said that patients considering a trip to the emergency room should think about going to an urgent care facility instead.

“It is important for folks to remember that there are options,” he said. “But there has been an increasing number of folks having trouble finding a primary care physician or forming a relationship with their primary care physician.”

This lack of access to primary care is worrying to Maryland Delegate Dr. Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore Counties, a physician in preventative medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Chronic illnesses — like diabetes and heart disease — oftentimes go undiagnosed and undertreated because patients have a difficult time getting to primary care physicians,” said Lam. “(Chronic illnesses) are probably the best kind to be treated in a primary care setting, but they end up squeezing out people in the emergency room who really have emergencies.”

The emergency room is often the first point of entry for new patients, he said, like those with chronic illnesses who forget to take their medications or couldn’t get an appointment with a primary care physician to get a refill.

Also, because of how the medical school system is structured, there are more doctors applying than there are resources to train them, leading to a long-standing shortage of physicians and other healthcare providers, Lam said.

Khaldun, who served as an emergency room physician in New York before coming to Maryland, said the emergency departments in Brooklyn faced the same challenges with overcrowding as those in Baltimore.

But the Maryland health care system is unique.

In other states, doctors and hospitals are reimbursed at the lowest rate for Medicaid patients. Hospitals in Maryland, however, are reimbursed at the same rate for all patients, thanks to the state’s Medicaid waiver.

The waiver is set to expire this year.

State legislators have ensured that funding to maintain the waiver and continue reimbursing doctors serving Medicaid patients at the same rate as doctors serving privately insured individuals is available in the fiscal year 2016 budget, but it is up to Gov. Larry Hogan to determine whether to spend the funds for that purpose.

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine published in January found that increases in Medicaid reimbursements offered to doctors in 2013 and 2014 increased the availability of primary care appointments to Medicaid patients in the 10 states studied. The same increase did not occur for privately insured individuals.

Hospitals in Maryland have been working to develop programs that integrate health care into the community, an important element of the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Carroll Hospital Center, in rural Westminster, alerted EMTs that they were reaching capacity 25 times in 2014. While far below the state average, that number increased dramatically from the four alerts it issued during all of 2013.

Carroll Hospital Center does not have other hospitals nearby to help when their emergency department gets crowded, said Stephanie Reid, chief nursing officer and vice president of quality. Instead, she said, they have developed a team dedicated to population health clinical integration, programs that are focused on promoting wellness in the communities surrounding the hospital.

“Healthcare now isn’t just in the walls of the hospital, it’s much more out in the community,” said Reid. “All clinical integration efforts aim to keep patients well and help them from being readmitted. I’m sure the patients want that as well.”

Integration programs are about partnership: nurse navigators working with patients after discharge to make lifestyle changes at home; primary care physicians leaving a few appointment times open each day to allow for last-minute appointments; or schools promoting general health and wellness, she said.

The Maryland Community Health Resources Commission was founded in 2005 to expand access to health care services for uninsured and low-income individuals through partnerships among community health resources and hospitals.

This mission has become increasingly relevant in recent years and grants are awarded to programs that are expected to help achieve this goal, including those that expand access to primary care for underserved populations and those that successfully divert individuals from emergency departments to more appropriate care.

Since its inception, the state’s Community Health Resources Commission — an independent state agency with members appointed by the governor — has awarded 143 grants totaling $49.6 million. In 2012, the Maryland General Assembly voted to ensure a budget of no less than $8 million for the commission each fiscal year, and with Hogan’s approval, the commission will be fully funded in fiscal year 2016.

In 2013, $200,000 was awarded to Anne Arundel Health Systems to establish a new medical care center in the Morris H. Blum Senior Apartment Complex in Annapolis, housing for low-income senior citizens.

“The emergency department analyzed their data and isolated emergency department admissions and 911 calls from (the senior apartment complex). They found it was a hotspot,” said Mark Luckner, executive director of the Community Health Resources Commission. “These patients are dual eligible — Medicaid and Medicare — and it made sense to literally bring the medical care to their doorstep.”

The health center has been open in the senior apartment complex for about a year and a half and relationships between the doctors and residents have been formed, helping to reduce emergency department admissions, he said.

Khaldun said that many hospitals have one individual dedicated to assessing bed turnover. While this may improve efficiency, the emergency room will always be an unpredictable place, she said.

“If we get more primary care doctors, it’s not that we won’t need emergency rooms any more,” said Khaldun. “We just need to change the paradigm.”

Back at Frederick Memorial, Wiltrout was checked into a room after about four hours of waiting in the hallway. She said she plans to continue seeing her family doctor on a regular basis and hopes this is the last time she’ll have to see the inside of a hospital’s emergency room

Graphic link of Maryland Emergency Room Alerts.

By Deidre McPhillips

 

Chicken Poop Energy on Horizon?

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On an overcast Friday morning, Jason Lambertson goes through one door, then another, and peers across a long, warm, dusky room at the 80,000 teenagers whose poop the state expects him to clean up.

Granted, the teenagers are young chickens, owned and cared for on Millennium Farms for the Tyson Food Co.  And as the sulfuric aroma of their waste rises out of the chicken house, Lambertson said he is determined to make the birds’ manure usable on his fields despite new state regulations that limit the practice.

Jason Lambertson, 42, owner of Millennium Farms in Pocomoke City, Maryland, stands in front of one of his four chicken houses on Friday, April 17. Capital News Service Photo by James Levin.

Jason Lambertson, 42, owner of Millennium Farms in Pocomoke City, Maryland, stands in front of one of his four chicken houses on Friday, April 17. Capital News Service Photo by James Levin.

“There’s no cost in the manure itself to us, but it’s a huge liability if we can’t use it on the fields,” Lambertson said. “There’s some transportation programs, but the problem is they transport it up to Pennsylvania, they use it up there — where’s it end up? Right back down here in the Bay.”

In Pocomoke City, Lambertson’s farm is expected to show how anaerobic digesters can provide a renewable alternative energy source on the Eastern Shore and solve the Chesapeake Bay’s agricultural nutrient pollution problem from its very source — chicken waste.

“For me, and my son (who) is going to farm — I already know that’s what he wants to do — and for the long term for our families, we want to make sure that the agricultural community stays viable, and that’s why this even makes more sense for us,” he said.

Located in Worcester County — ranked second in the state and 13th in the country in 2012 for its poultry livestock production — Millennium Farms’ 2014 waste-to-energy pilot program will begin breaking down nutrient-rich poultry manure this fall through three anaerobic digesters.

As the tall, thick-concrete towers heat up to 95 degrees, bacteria inside the chicken poop will decompose the waste, in the process releasing methane gas. The collected biogas will provide enough energy to power the digesters and generate electricity for the 50-acre farm, Lambertson explained.

Meanwhile, the digesters’ liquid byproduct makes it easier to remove dissolved nutrients from the manure before it is then applied on fields as a natural fertilizer for his soybeans, corn and wheat, said Lambertson, a third-generation chicken and grain farmer.

“This plant would be able to extract the phosphorus out in a large quantity and then continue to let people use the manure as a good, healthy fertilizer for the Bay,” Lambertson said. “We want — farmers and grain farmers alike — to still use this resource in some fashion. We do not want to see us have the burden to do something else with that manure.”

Agriculture remains the largest industry and largest single land-use in Maryland, but it is also the largest contributor of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.

On April 3, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan published updated Phosphorus Management Tool regulations in the Maryland Register that would require farmers to declare strict phosphorus application controls on the fertilizer they apply to their fields by 2017.

The previous administration would have required farmers to establish permanent controls by 2021, but Hogan’s new regulations would allow them an extra year to meet the standards.

Rather than transporting the phosphorus-rich soils away from the Eastern Shore, though, the pilot program offers a way to extract just the nutrients from the shore’s chicken manure and send them to farms that need the extra nutrients for better crop growth, said Stephanie Lansing, a University of Maryland professor and anaerobic digestion expert. Plus, burning the waste has the added benefit of eliminating the acrid poultry poop smell, she said.

“We’re creating an alternative to help manage the phosphorus saturation that affects the Eastern Shore,” Lansing said. “You’re producing energy plus creating a phosphorus product that can be exported.”

This poultry waste anaerobic digester is one of five in the United States. If successful, it could lead to community digesters built along the Eastern Shore that would generate energy from animal manure, reduce on-farm waste streams and repurpose manure as marketable fertilizer, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Lansing and her group of graduate and undergraduate students work with Lambertson’s farm through the university’s Maryland Industrial Partnerships program, which links professors with industries and provides research funds to help a business move forward, she said.

Anna Kulow, an environmental science and technology graduate student at the University of Maryland and member of Lansing’s research team, said if successful, the pilot program will significantly reduce nutrient pollution from Eastern Shore farms.

Poultry farming’s longstanding history on Maryland’s Eastern Shore means that its soil is highly saturated in nutrients from years of farmers using their manure to fertilize their fields, Kulow said, and applying more phosphorus and nitrogen to the nutrient-rich fields now inevitably causes excess nutrients to flow into the Bay.

“You have a lot of chemical compounds that are pollutants, but the main cause of decline in ecosystem health is nutrient pollution, particularly from agriculture,” Kulow said. “The pilot system is projected to remove more than 18 tons of phosphorus a year from poultry litter, so that would prevent that much phosphorus from being applied to land each year.”

While he doesn’t know the total costs yet, Lambertson said the anaerobic digesters are funded privately by Planet Found Energy Development LLC investors.

The nutrient-capture portion of the project received a $676,144.47 service contract from the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Technology Fund in August 2014. Lambertson said that the contract is based on performance, so he will not receive the money for the nutrient-capture program until the project reaches determined milestones.

The fund awarded about $2 million to projects like Lambertson’s in the 2014 fiscal year, and $3 million is available in the 2015 fiscal year — which ends June 30 — for innovative manure management technologies, said Julianne A. Oberg, communications director for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Hogan’s administration also established the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative, a program aimed to evaluate the economic impact of the phosphorus regulations on farmers. The initiative includes funding for the Animal Waste Technology Fund to offset costs of environmental improvement plans.

The Animal Waste Technology Fund will have $2.5 million available for new projects in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

For Lambertson, the pilot project will significantly reduce the excess nutrient problem, decrease his electricity bill and keep his family farming on the Eastern Shore.

“The more that we do to be progressive, to make sure that we do what’s right, that we provide solutions to the environmental problems — the agriculture side — I think that is a really big plus, that we’re not always looked at as the one that’s causing it,” Lambertson said. “The main goal here is to show a solution, and that it can be done agriculturally.

By Katelyn Newman

Cardin and Mikulski Say No to Offshore Drilling

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Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski joined other East Coast senators Wednesday to reintroduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Anti-Drilling Act on Earth Day in an effort to block offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

This week also marked the fifth year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which serves as a reminder of the possible consequences of offshore drilling. The spill is recognized as the worst in U.S. history, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 where he and other East Coast senators joined together to reintroduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism Anti-Drilling Act. Capital News Service photo by James Levin
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 where he and other East Coast senators joined together to reintroduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism Anti-Drilling Act. Capital News Service photo by James Levin

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said, “We’re introducing the COAST Act to help protect our local economies, marine life, the health of our shore residents and to tell Big Oil that America’s coastline is not for sale.”

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, “Not only no, but hell no to offshore drilling.”

The legislation is being sponsored by the group of East Coast Democratic senators in opposition of the Obama administration’s plans for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, announced in January.

The administration’s proposal would allow oil companies to lease areas off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia for oil and gas drilling. These states have been designated as part of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022.

Proponents of the COAST Anti-Drilling Act argue that offshore drilling would introduce threats that could irreversibly damage the state of the Atlantic Ocean and cause a ripple effect that would destroy the environment and local economies.

“Oil spills do not respect state boundaries, making the risks of drilling off the Atlantic Coast far greater than the rewards,” Cardin said. “The Chesapeake Bay, which generates more than $1 trillion in economic activity for the mid-Atlantic region, does not need yet another threat to its future health and vitality.”

“I am absolutely opposed to offshore drilling and always will be,” Mikulski said. “Offshore drilling can devastate the environment, harming our unique and fragile coastline and wreaking havoc on the coastal communities whose economies rely heavily on tourism.”

Environmentally sensitive areas such as Chesapeake Bay, the Jersey Shore, and Long Island Sound would suffer from an oil spill, according to proponents of the legislation.

In response to a question at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday, Menendez said there has been no recent interaction with the Obama Administration on this subject.

The House of Representatives led by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., planned to introduce companion legislation to the COAST Anti-Drilling Act Wednesday.

Cardin and Mikulski were joined by Menendez, Whitehouse and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, in sponsoring the Senate version.

By Lily Hua

Annapolis Score Card: What Passed and What Didn’t

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The Maryland General Assembly proposed 2,248 pieces of legislation during the 2015 legislative session. More than 650 bills made it to the governor’s desk, of which Hogan signed 121 into law Tuesday morning.

WHAT PASSED:

Fracking moratorium: Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, more commonly known as fracking, will be restricted under a two-year moratorium so state officials can continue to study the effects of fracking on Maryland’s environment.

“Rain tax” repeal: The stormwater remediation fee, dubbed the “rain tax,” charged homeowners to help fund mandated federal programs to address urban runoff. The bill repeals the counties’ requirement to collect such a fee and instead allows them to find another method of gathering the money.

Charter schools: Low-income students and students with disabilities or limited English proficiency are to be given a greater chance to enroll in a charter school through a lottery process. The bill also provides for a sibling of a currently enrolled charter school student to join the school.

Travel tax: The state would be able to charge third-party travel websites the state’s 6 percent sales tax on the service charge collected when people book through their service. Proponents of the bill say it fills a “loophole” that excluded these websites, but opponents say it is a new tax.

Marijuana paraphernalia: Marijuana was decriminalized in 2014, but paraphernalia, like pipes, were not at the time. This bill follows up on the previous year’s law by decriminalizing the paraphernalia.

Public Information Act: Two bills would allow citizens to file complaints with a compliance board if they feel state agencies are not being fair to their public information requests, and would require state agencies to post a list of public information officers on their websites.

State election public financing: People would be able to voluntarily check off on their income tax returns to give money to a public campaign financing fund for governor.

Second Chance Act: After a period of no criminal activity and having paid their dues to society, people with nonviolent criminal records can shield certain offenses from potential employers. The law would keep the offense on the record for law enforcement officers to view.

Ex-felon voting rights: After being released from prison, convicted felons would be allowed to vote. The bill does not require them to have completed any probation or parole requirements before reinstating their right to vote.

Transgender birth certificates: Transgender residents of Maryland would be able to get new, unamended birth certificates to reflect the gender they identify with. The bill does not require them to have had sex-reassignment surgery.

Speed limits: The maximum state highway speed would be raised from 65 mph to 70 mph for certain highways.

“Yellow alerts”: State police would be able to issue “yellow alerts” to find a hit-and-run driver who seriously injures someone.

Powdered alcohol: The legislature voted to ban powdered alcohol, which can be mixed with water to produce an alcoholic beverage, amid fears of people abusing it and overdosing.

Uber: Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to continue doing their own background checks and vehicle safety inspections with less government oversight than traditional taxi companies.

“Anayah’s Law”: The Department of Social Services would have the discretion to ask the courts to prevent a child from being returned to their parents if there is evidence the child is being abused at home.

Asset forfeiture: A widely criticized state police practice of confiscating property allegedly connected to a crime is now being regulated, so that it restricts the state’s ability to keep the property and requires them to report what they seize.

Film tax credit: “House of Cards” would receive an enticement to stay in Maryland under a new bill that would allow shows and films to continue receiving a tax credit for filming in the state.

WHAT DIDN’T PASS:

Death with dignity: A bill for terminally ill patients with a prognosis of death within six months who wanted a doctor to help them end their lives did not pass the legislature.

Paid sick leave: Small businesses would be mandated to give their employees one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Tax relief to small businesses: The governor introduced a bill to create a tax exemption on the first $10,000 of personal property for small business owners.

Police accountability: Dozens of bills addressing police accountability were introduced at the beginning of the session. Many of them received unfavorable reports from the legislature.

By Anjali Shastry

Maryland Schools Feel Pull Between GOP Governor, Democratic Majority

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Education was touted as a legislative priority by many during the most recent session of Maryland’s General Assembly, but the definition of that priority differed widely, creating some of the toughest tests of bipartisanship between newly elected Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and a Democrat-led General Assembly.

At the close of session Monday night, a Democrat-friendly budget was passed that sets aside $68 million in additional funding for public education and a bill was passed that advances Hogan’s goal of expanding access to charter schools in the state. But the future of those key initiatives remains uncertain.

From the beginning of his term, Hogan championed record funding for K-12 education. His initial budget proposal included $6.1 billion in funding for schools, largely concentrated in capital expenditures.

But it also cut funding to the Geographic Cost of Education Index — a formula that provides additional aid to local school systems where educational resource costs are above the state average — in half, a blow to 13 districts that have come to expect the additional aid.

Legislators, unable to add or transfer funds within the governor’s budget proposal, cut from other programs, including $75 million from planned contributions into the state employees’ pension fund, in order to fence off the $68 million needed to fully fund the index. But Hogan doesn’t have to spend that earmarked money on public education, or at all.

State Senator Nancy King, D-Montgomery, says that anything less than 100 percent funding this year would be harmful.

In fact, legislators passed a bill in the last hours of session Monday night that would mandate full funding of the index in future years if Hogan does not fully fund it this fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“We see the public outcry. It’s teacher layoffs and larger class sizes we’re talking about,” King said. “We don’t have some of the best schools in the country by accident.”

But House Minority Whip Delegate Kathy Szeliga, R-Harford and Baltimore County, said the concern should not be how much is being spent on public schools, but on how well the schools are educating their students.

“When taxpayers are giving $17,000 a pupil (in Baltimore City) and producing a failing school, that’s a problem. Writing another check isn’t the solution” she said, but advancing charter schools is a good start.

Charter schools are a key priority for Hogan; he appointed former Delegate Keiffer Mitchell, a prominent Baltimore Democrat, as a special adviser on the subject, likely to foster bipartisan cooperation on the topic.

The charter school bill that was passed by the legislature on Monday — which allows for more flexibility in teacher certification and student enrollment — is less transformative than the version that was initially proposed, but Hogan said Tuesday he considers it a “solid foundation to build from, and it gives us an opportunity to come back next year.”

In a supplemental budget the governor released days before the end of session, Hogan also requested funding for a tuition tax credit bill known as BOAST, or Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers, which would give businesses tax credit for donating to private schools.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, was starkly against the measure, which held up fiscal negotiations for a period of time. Ultimately, the provision was rejected, as it has been each time it’s been proposed since 2006.

State Senator and Majority Leader Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, said that while there was not as much focus on higher education as she would have liked, she thought the session went well for education overall.

“Aside from a short period of contention, there was a good spirit of cooperation,” she said. “The governor is responsible enough and has education as a priority himself. I think, in the end, everything is going to be OK.”

Community colleges were threatened by a formula adjustment posed by Hogan in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2015 that would result in an $800,000 decrease in year-over-year direct state aid. But legislators worked to restore the funding, and each of the state’s 16 community colleges will receive aid that is at least equal to that of last year.

On Tuesday, Hogan signed a bill that would offer special protection from discrimination to interns or internship applicants. Other education-related bills passed by the General Assembly that on Tuesday were awaiting the governor’s signature include:

a bill that would prohibit educational institutions from accessing a student’s or applicant’s personal electronic accounts;

a bill that would waive out-of-county and out-of-region fees for victims of human trafficking to attend community college;

a bill that would create more stringent requirements for unaccompanied homeless youth to receive a higher education tuition waiver; and

a bill that would establish a two-year pilot program that provides nonprofit organizations funding to create outreach programs that would help encourage low-income students to attend college.

A bill that would require institutions of higher education to regularly report instances of sexual assault on campus and prominently mark the transcript of a student suspended for or dismissed for sex offenses received unfavorable committee reports.

by Deidre McPhillips

Maryland Legislature Passes State Budget, Some Spending Uncertainty Remains

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The Maryland General Assembly passed the state’s $40.7 billion budget hours before the close of the session Monday evening, but left unknown is whether Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will spend more than $200 million in unallocated funds for supplemental education funding, state employee raises and subsidies for physicians who accept Medicaid, among other social programs. 
 
Over the 90-day legislative session, the Democratic-majority legislature has been at odds with Hogan over the budget, which the first-term governor wanted to keep trim to follow through on his campaign promises of fiscal responsibility and lowering taxes. 
 
The legislature opted to rearrange about $202 million to pay for supplemental education funding, reinstate state employee raises, and subsidies for physicians who accept Medicaid and other social programs cut in the governor’s original proposed budget. The bicameral committee representing the legislature’s budget interests finalized the spending-plan details on Friday, choosing to disregard the governor’s supplemental budgets, which had reversed some of the legislature’s spending changes. 
 
The budget passed 10 votes shy of unanimous in the House and unanimously in the Senate three weeks before, but many Republicans changed their minds after the massive spending proposal went through the bicameral committee on Friday.
 
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford Counties, said he was proud to vote for the budget three weeks ago, but was not as happy with it now.
 
“I’m very disappointed in what’s coming from the other chamber,” he said.
 
Hogan said at a news conference Monday afternoon that regardless of what happened with the budget, he considered it a “win” because it “broke the streak of 40 consecutive tax hikes.”
 
He also suggested that if the legislature passed the budget without passing more of his legislative agenda — including some tax repeals and cuts, the state’s public campaign-financing fund and charter school legislation — he might not approve some of the rearranged funding.
 
State Senator Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said that after all the negotiations, the “ball is now in (the governor’s) court” to choose to fund education, state employee salaries, and all the other social programs.
 
“We’ve left it in his hands, and hopefully he won’t punish the school children of Maryland because he didn’t get all he wanted,” Madaleno, the vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation committee, said early Monday evening.
 
The House passed the budget 90 to 49, and the Senate voted for it 33 to 13. Once passed by both bodies, the budget is final without the governor’s signature, but Hogan does need to approve and allocate unmandated spending. 
By Anjali Shastry

Maryland Senate Passes Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana Paraphernalia

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After some discussion and two failed amendments, the Maryland Senate on Friday passed a bill decriminalizing the use or possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

The bill reclassifies possession of drug paraphernalia involving less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil charge.

Offenders can be given fines ranging from $100 to $500 depending on the number of violations. The law requires the issuance of citations; and a court appearance if the subject is younger than 21 years old or has committed three or more violations, requiring any further adjudication of those cases to be in district court.

The bill also creates a new criminal misdemeanor for smoking marijuana on public property.

Violators younger than 18 charged with possession of paraphernalia would be subject to juvenile court procedures and would be referred to a substance abuse education or rehabilitation program, under the bill.

A decrease in local revenues and state general funds are expected, according to an analysis accompanying the bill, and civil penalties would be allocated to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to fund drug treatment programs.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, passed through both legislative bodies.

A companion bill, sponsored by Senator Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, on Friday evening was awaiting a vote in the House.

Senator Stephen Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline, was one of three to vote against the bill on Friday.

“I’m just not on board with all the marijuana bills yet,” Hershey, the minority whip, said. “From a federal standpoint, it’s still illegal.”

However, fellow Republican Senator Justin Ready, from Carroll, decided to vote for the bill.

“I feel like this is a great balanced approach,” Ready said. “I think if we legalize stuff, it sends a bad message that it’s OK (to smoke). With decriminalization, we’re bowing to the idea that this is not something we want to send people to jail for.”

The Maryland State Police Department, through a spokeswoman, said Friday they have no position on the legislation.

Much of the Senate discussion Wednesday centered on a floor amendment from Senator Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, proposing to decriminalize smoking marijuana in public places. The bill would still criminalize smoking in a vehicle.

The amendment ultimately died by a vote of 22-24.

Senator Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, also proposed an amendment that would limit police search rights in regards to marijuana. It was quickly shot down with a 3-44 vote.

By Brian Marron