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While leading the investigative team at the Arizona Republic in 1988, we published the special report "Drugging Our Elderly." It was a nine-month effort that disclosed how nursing homes nationwide routinely misused powerful antipsychotic medications to subdue and control perfectly sane elderly residents.

It was much cheaper to inappropriately administer a pill than to pay the salaries of enough staff necessary to adequately meet residents' needs.

Fast-forward 31 years and I'm reading reporter Kat Stromquist's recent story listing six Arkansas nursing homes having "persistent" records of poor care. These facilities were included in a list of more than 400 such homes nationally compiled by two U.S. senators based on inspection records and data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Those cited: Crestpark Wynne in Wynne, Legacy Health and Rehabilitation Center in Fort Smith, Davis East in Pine Bluff. Community Compassion Centers in Batesville and Yellville and Diamond Cove Nursing Home at Horseshoe Bend were listed as candidates for expanded oversight.

I zeroed in on candid comments from Brittney DeVazier, administrator at the Community Compassion Center in Batesville. She said her home likely was highlighted for (wait for it) ... administering high rates of antipsychotics to residents with mental health conditions.

She assumed control of that facility a little over a year ago, and said that rate had dropped from a whopping 40 percent to 13.9 percent, thus improving dramatically in that area on the last two inspection surveys.

Good for DeVazier. My advice to anyone with loved ones in any care home always will be to check whether antipsychotics have been prescribed, especially when a resident isn't diagnosed with mental illness.

Mountainous waste

Duane Woltjen, an active member of (and leader in) virtually all environmental efforts across our state, and an advocate for our Buffalo National River, wrote to comment on my column in response to Warren Carter's May 16 guest essay explaining why the Farm Bureau supports the controversial C&H Hog Farms at Mount Judea.

Educated as a mechanical engineer, Woltjen stays current with the latest developments with C&H and its 6,500 swine, whose enormous amounts of waste are regularly spread across the Buffalo watershed.

Accordingly, he shared some calculations about how much leaking waste is actually approved for release into the karst subsurface on and around the spray fields.

First, he explained that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) allows 5,000 gallons a day for each acre of sewage containment ponds. That's cited in the factory's application to the agency. Such a distinction matters because the factory's two ponds contain about 1.232 acres, which equals over 6,100 gallons leaked daily.

"So how much is that if spread across a college football field, which is 360 by 160 feet including the end zones, 160 times 360 feet equals 57,600 square feet," he reasoned. "And 6,158 leaked gallons a day per acre times 365 days a year amounts to 2,247,670 allowable gallons annually.

"If we spread those millions of gallons times 0.1337 cubic feet-per-gallon, that equals 300,470 cubic feet annually. That amount spread over 57,600 square feet totals 5.2 feet deep across a football field. And that's just what's allowable. This means ADEQ would not consider it a violation if the ponds have leaked enough waste to cover a football field to an accumulated depth of 36 feet," since its now-defunct Regulation 6 permit was issued in 2012.

He also wondered whether the department or the C&H operators (who are obligated to "self-report" leakage) even know if their ponds leaked that much or even more. Would it be obvious? If so, how? Records show the last recorded agency inspection of this factory was in 2016.

"Calculations reveal those 6,158 allowable leaking gallons daily will lower the level of the ponds 0.184 inches. With waste constantly flowing in, then withdrawn to spray across fields along and around tributary Big Creek, I'm betting nobody will notice 3/16 of an inch change in a pond level," Woltjen continued. "So pond leakage would be basically concealed from scrutiny."

Reader Patricia Heck wrote a while back to summarize this once-avoidable mess: "Thanks for your efforts to save the Buffalo River from the grasping greed and politics in our society. I love farmers (even those supported by my tax money) but hog farms do not belong above a major tributary of the Buffalo.

"I grew up on a farm and recognize a pig pen when I see one, and I question the motivation of the Farm Bureau and the University of Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service. Has greed surpassed conservation at our Buffalo National River as it has in other national parks?"

Meanwhile, the National Park Service in a new release estimates 1.2 million visitors pumped $54.9 million into the region during 2018.

I'm hoping Asa Hutchinson's legacy will be as the governor who closed this grossly mislocated factory (still operating without a permit) if it's not too late.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 06/09/2019

Print Headline: MIKE MASTERSON: In care homes

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