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Padded Resumes, Politics and Pain

June 7, 2010

This week our newsroom is busy on a variety of stories, including a powerful report by our healthcare reporter, Megan Hall.  Megan reports that stricter enforcement of federal regulations is making it more difficult for the elderly to get hold of pain medication in nursing homes.  In her story, we hear from a hospice nurse at the Summit Nursing Home in Providence, who tells a chilling tale of an elderly resident writhing in pain for three hours while a doctor and nurse wait helplessly for a phone call from a pharmacist before they can finally administer the pain medicine.  Advocates for the elderly say this is an all too frequent occurrence, and the result of regulations that require nursing homes to seek not only a doctor’s prescription, but also approval from the pharmacist before certain narcotics can be administered.  Because of this, some states are considering new laws to make it possible for nursing homes to administer narcotics in the same way that hospitals do, but in Rhode Island that would require legislative action, which is an unlikely prospect.  Rhode island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is considering national legislation to change the DEA regulations, but the prospects for that are uncertain. So for now, local nursing homes will remain stuck in a web of bureaucracy, and the elderly will continue to pay a painful price. 

Our education reporter, Elisabeth Harrison, is reporting on the rising number of Brown University students opting for careers in teaching.  This is surprising given the increasing focus on teacher performance, and the strong criticism of teachers in places like Central Falls, which has raised concerns among some education experts that all this negative publicity would push promising young graduates away from the teaching professions.  But it turns out that Brown students are choosing teaching and other education-related jobs in larger numbers than jobs in the financial industry.    

Speaking of the teaching profession and Central Falls, Elisabeth also turned up an interesting story about a case of a padded resume amidst the school reform effort.  One of two new principals chosen to lead Central Falls high school through a controversial school overhaul may have exaggerated his record on raising student achievement. The appointment of Sonn Sam, who is currently a principal at the Met School in Providence, was confirmed this week by the school board – despite an apparently padded resume.  Sam claims that as principal at the Met he increased standardized test scores in Math by 79%.  But Elisabeth discovered that math scores at the Met have remained flat in recent years, with just 4% of students reaching proficiency last Fall. The rate is slightly lower than that of Central Falls High School. When Elisabeth questioned Sam about the discrepancy, he said his claim referred to the 2005-2006 school year, when he was an assistant principal. But while the number of students proficient in math and English did rise that year, it didn’t rise by as much as he claimed. Sam also claimed that students at the Met performed much better than their counterparts at Providence’s three largest high schools – but he admitted to Elisabeth that he had no evidence for that.  Sam said he regrets the errors and will revise his resume. Oops.  Ironically, the Met saw significant increases in reading and writing test scores during Sam’s tenure  – facts that were not mentioned on his resume. Oops, again!

WRNI general assignment reporter, Flo Jonic, is investigating the rising problem of teen unemployment in the Ocean State. With the recession now in its third year, the unemployment rate for 16 to 19-year olds is the third highest on record.  More than 26 percent are out of work, with close to half these teens searching for a job for the first time.  In many cases these young job seekers are being pushed out of the job market by under-employed adults and college graduates.

In the week’s political news, reporter Ian Donnis will be following the final week of business on Smith Hill.  Among the stories he’s covering is an expected vote by the House to put a question before voters in November to expand casino gambling in Rhode Island.  Ian will also be covering the first televised gubernatorial debate on Thursday.  And while we’re talking about politics, WRNI’s Scott Mackay will be and working on a story about how Rhode Island’s state budget has become a moving target that is no longer strictly balanced every year. One trick favored by lawmakers to present the illusion of fiscal probity: count federal Medicare dollars that haven’t actually been approved by lawmakers in Washington.  Neat trick.  Too bad normal working families can’t balance their books that way. 

That’s a bit of what we have going on this week.

Thanks for listening, and stay tuned.

Anthony Brooks

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