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Three Big Things

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  • Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie dies

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    Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie was a “living servant of the people” who was “taken from us too soon,” his family said in a statement released Monday.

    Manzie died at the age of 38. Confirmation of the two-term councilman’s death came on Monday.

    “The Manzie family is truly devastated by the loss of our beloved son and brother,” the family statement reads. “Our hearts are heavy and deeply saddened. We feel Levon was taken from us too soon, but his work and accomplishments will continue to make a tremendous mark on the city of Mobile.”

    Manzie, 38, had been dealing with health issues in recent months following what he said was a fall that led to a broken hip in the spring. He told AL.com in June that his recovered had been hindered from a chronic kidney disease he has had since he was 13.

    The family confirmed the passing with the Mobile City Council on Monday morning. The family statement did not release a cause of death.

    Manzie had been in a wheelchair for several months, sparking questions about his overall physical health. Manzie said he suffered a hip injury from a fall in March while he was walking down a hill after delivering a funeral service for one of his parishioners in Choctaw County. He was a fourth-generation minister and been a pastor at St. Joseph’s Missionary Baptist Church in Whistler since 2018.

    “The family, his St. Joseph’s Baptist Church family, along with the city of Mobile were truly blessed by his wealth and knowledge and concern for the citizens of Mobile,” the family statement reads.

    The Mobile City Council, in a statement, called the councilman a “shining example of how to persevere and fight even during the toughest of times.”

    Mobile City Council Vice President C.J. Small said the council is still scheduled to meet on Tuesday at Government Plaza for its weekly meeting. The council’s pre-conference meeting will begin at 9 a.m. with the regularly-scheduled council meeting starting at 10:30 a.m.

    The council’s administrative services committee is postponing its meeting on Tuesday.

    Manzie was set to face former councilman William Carroll during the October 5 runoff. Manzie ended up with 48% of the vote during the August 24 municipal election to Carroll’s 23%.

    A spokesperson with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that the Mobile City Council District 2 runoff will “continue as initially planned because the ballots have already been printed.”

    Mobile City Clerk Lisa Lambert confirmed that the runoff election in District 2ill be held as planned and that Manzie’s name will remain on the ballot.

    If Manzie were to win the upcoming election, then there would be a vacancy for that position, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. A special election would then have to take place.

    If Carroll wins the runoff, then the matter will be resolved, though “regulations for filling a vacancy can vary from municipality to municipality because municipalities may have their own local laws,” according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

    Jon Gray, a political consultant based in Mobile, said that state law allows Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson the authority to appoint a temporary replacement to Manzie’s seat, but that the appointment would need City Council approval. The appointment would serve out the remainder of Manzie’s term, which expires on November 1.

    Manzie represented the Mobile City Council’s District 2, which included downtown Mobile and its surrounding neighborhoods. Some of district’s areas are poised to become major focal points for policy decisions for the years to come: Africatown, the waterfront and the Port of Mobile, and midtown Mobile. Major attractions within the district are expected to be undergoing changes in the coming years such as the Mobile Civic Center, GulfQuest Maritime Museum and Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

    He was officially elected as the council president in 2019, but had served as the council’s vice-president and oversaw council meetings dating back to 2017, as the group’s de facto president during a dispute over who should serve in that role.

    According to the city, Manzie -- as a councilman -- launched key initiatives to revitalize parks and recreation centers, rebuild and replace dangerous sidewalks in both neighborhoods and the Downtown Entertainment District, and directed city funds towards road resurfacing and drainage projects. He also worked to combat blight.

    While focused on the future of District 2, Manzie was also dedicated to preserving its historic past – “from honoring local community leaders to ensuring historic communities are properly recognized for generations to come.”

    Council members, in individual statements to the media, praised the councilman as a “servant leader.”

    “President Manzie, a man after God’s own heart, was the epitome of servant leadership,” said Small. “My brother will be greatly missed.”

    Others weighed in:

    Councilman Fred Richardson: “Levon was an ardent advocate for his District and our city and he will be sorely missed. I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all the citizens of District 2 as well as the St. Joseph’s Missionary Baptist Church family.”

    Councilman John Williams: “Levon Charles Manzie was a kind and gentle statesman. I will forever recall his never failing greeting of ‘Hello John Charles’ to which I would respond, ‘Hello Levon Charles’ - leaving both of us smiling. No doubt, our council president left the citizens of our city a great example of how to live as a true civil servant.”

    Councilman Joel Daves, who was elected the same year as Manzie in 2013: “Levon Manzie and I were elected to the City Council at the same time and over the years we worked together, I developed a tremendous respect for him. Although he experienced significant health challenges, he never let those challenges impair his attitude or willingness to work hard for his constituents. His loss is a great loss not only for the residents of District 2, but for all the citizens of Mobile.”

    Councilwoman Bess Rich: “I’ve known Levon since he served on the Youth Council for the City of Mobile. His interest, knowledge and understanding of the needs of his constituents were paramount in his representation as a council person. Levon made a huge difference and touched numerous people in his lifetime. He will be long remembered and greatly missed by everyone who had the pleasure of working with him and knowing him. May his memory be for a blessing.”

    Councilwoman Gina Gregory: “I’m heart broken by the news of my friend and colleague Levon Manzie’s death. Levon and I have shared a close working relationship over the years. Levon has been a true servant leader for his district and our City. His passion, vision and get the job done attitude will be greatly missed. Levon was always smiling and had an infectious laugh and positive attitude that made everyone feel good.”

    Stimpson, in a statement, said Manzie leaves behind a legacy “as a man of faith” and as a “compassionate unifier who made a positive impact” on Mobile.

    “I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and colleague, City Council President Levon Manzie,” Stimpson said. “Being grounded in his faith, Reverend Manzie was driven to be a peacemaker. While his focus was serving his constituents, his heart was for moving the entire City of Mobile forward. It was Levon’s childhood dream to be a city councilman in his hometown – a dream he fulfilled as a truly dedicated public servant for the city he dearly loved.

    Jean and I join the entire city in mourning the loss of a great servant leader.”

    Manzie, a Mobile native, was a graduate of Murphy High School and Troy University. He was the youngest person elected to serve on both the Mobile County School Board and the Mobile City Council. His tenure on the School Board lasted from 2008-2013.

    Former Superintendent Martha Peek, in a Tweet, called Manzie an “outstanding person” who will “long be remembered.

    The Mobile County School System said Manzie was “wise beyond his years” when he first ran and was elected to the Mobile County School Board when he was in his 20s.

    The school system’s statement reads, “We at Mobile County Public Schools are saddened by the death of Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie. Reverend Manzie was a proud graduate of Murphy High School. He ran for his seat on the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners as a young man in his mid-20s who was wise beyond his years. He was instrumental in securing a $100 million construction bond to build and renovate schools. He loved representing the people and the students of his district, and he was always looking for ways to help. Our thoughts are with Reverend Manzie’s family and friends, as well as with the entire City of Mobile as we mourn his loss.”


    Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie dies - al.com

  • Alabama Hospital Association: Federal COVID aid needed to help struggling hospitals

    Some Alabama lawmakers hope to use $400 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to help build new prisons, but the state’s health care system needs millions to get through the current COVID-19 crisis and prepare for another, says the president of Alabama Hospital Association. 

    Dr. Don Williamson, president of the association and a former state health officer, told APR on Friday that the association would like to see at least $200 million of Alabama’s $2.2 billion in federal COVID aid used to address state hospitals’ immediate and future needs.  

    Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday sent a letter to lawmakers to inform them that this week she’ll officially set a special legislative session to debate construction of new prisons, to begin Sept. 27. 

    Along with the $400 million in COVID aid, if the federal government approves the funds to be used for prisons, an additional $150 million in general fund dollars and a bond issuance of up to $785 million would pay for the planned construction and renovations, according to a draft bill.  

    “This is not about taking any money from prisons,” Williamson said. “The problem is, there are healthcare issues that cannot wait until we get back into regular session.” 

    Williamson said the association would like to see the state’s health care be added as a priority in the upcoming special session, and that they estimate needing $200 million of those federal funds to shore up hospitals hard-hit by COVID-19. 

    “Every hospital has lost revenue because they ended their elective inpatient procedures. Many of them have also eliminated their elective outpatient procedures,” Williamson said of hospitals that ended those procedures due to the recent surge in COVID patients that filled ICUs with coronavirus patients and stressed hospital staffing and resources. 

    Hospitals are also having to pay for the additional cost of travel nurses to bolster staff, Williamson said. Many hospitals are seeing large numbers of staff out with COVID themselves or quarantining due to exposure.  There are “hundreds of millions of dollars” in lost revenue in a system where he said approximately 80 percent of the state’s hospitals were already losing revenue. The financial situation is so dire for some hospitals, he fears some may close. 

    “What I’m worried about is when we get through this spike we’ll have hospitals that spent all of their reserves to get through this spike, then we end up losing the hospitals from the system before we get to another spike,” Williamson said. “We need dollars now to help address the crisis we’re in now.” 

    Alabama hospitals have the lowest Medicare reimbursement rates in the country, Williamson said, and because Alabama hasn’t expanded Medicaid, the state has among the highest uninsurance rates for adults, which often places undue financial burden on hospitals. 

    COVID has taught a lesson that every hospital, big and small, has an important role to play in the state’s health care system, Williamson said. Rural hospitals may not be able to provide the same level of care as larger urban hospitals, but they’ve played a critical role during the pandemic.  

    “Because rural hospitals have been able to keep and take care of the patients that they could manage, they kept them out of the urban hospitals, which has allowed us to manage and keep the system operating,” Williamson said. “If we have lost a couple of the rural hospitals then some of our urban hospitals would have collapsed.” 

    Many of the state’s rural hospitals even before COVID were in bad financial shape. Alabama has lost seven rural hospitals in the last decade, and the ones that survived have the highest loss rates and are having to spend down their reserves in greater numbers than larger hospitals. But it’s not just the rural hospitals that have suffered due to COVID. 

    “Before COVID we thought there were a dozen or so rural hospitals that were in jeopardy, and I don’t think COVID has done anything to help,” Williamson said. “I’ve had hospital administrators tell me that for the first time in their career, they are looking at having a budget with deficits in them for their next fiscal year, and that’s not a small rural hospital. These are some larger hospitals.”

    Williamson also asked whether some of the federal COVID aid could be used by the Alabama Department of Education to improve ventilation in schools to help reduce transmission of COVID-19. 

    Long term, Williamson said the state must address the ICU bed criss that saw the state with more than 180 fewer ICU beds than patients needing that care earlier this month, with approximately half of all ICU patients in recent weeks having COVID. While the ICU beds themselves have been in short supply, the lack of staffing to care for the surge of patients required many hospitals to enact emergency plans, increasing the number of patients nurses care for and setting up makeshift ICUs in waiting room areas. 

    It’s not yet clear how much federal aid state hospitals would need to address the ICU bed crisis, Williamson said, but the problem is two-fold. 

    Hospitals need to add actual ICU beds and the life-saving equipment needed to run them, Williamson said. Prior to COVID state hospitals operated approximately 1,500 ICU beds in total. During last winter’s COVID surge, the state was operating approximately 1,600 ICU beds, most filled with COVID patients, but on Sunday that number had dropped to 1,542 ICU beds statewide. 

    “The decline in ICU beds is all because of staff to take care of those patients,” Williamson said. “The question is, what do we have to do to be able to enhance staff? Traveling nurses are a short-term solution for short-term prices. They are not the solution for a long-term problem.” 

    Ivey on Sept. 3  Ivey announced the state would reallocate $12.3 million in federal COVID-19 aid to pay for additional travel nurses. The day of her announcement Alabama hospitals had 120 more patients needing ICU bed care than the state had formal ICU beds. 

    “Until our vaccination rates rise and our COVID-19 hospitalization rates fall, we will need the extra support these nurses provide,” Ivey said. 

    State hospitals need to raise nursing salaries to better recruit and retain nurses, Williamson said. 

    “Some of that’s at the federal level. We have to fix our problem in Medicare reimbursement. We have to address the uninsurance problem, and of course our preference is through Medicaid expansion,” Williamson said. 

    “Then we need to talk about, what are the other infrastructure needs the hospitals have to be able to never find ourselves in this position again, where we have more patients needing ICU beds than we have ICU beds available,” Williamson said. “Because, who knows? We could have a really bad flu season coupled with another COVID Spike and be right back in this mess again.”

    Telemedicine and the broadband infrastructure needed to support it also has a clear role to play in the state’s health care system, Williamson said, calling telemedicine “a major opportunity.” Telemedicine is great for some medical needs, but it can’t do everything, he said. 

    Federal officials who oversee Medicaid are in talks with Alabama’s largest health insurance provider, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, about what care telemedicine can be paid to conduct, Williamson said, noting also that telemedicine does require hospital staffing to care for those long-distance patients. 

    “It is a great way to expand access, both geographically and potentially numerically, but it requires some careful thought about both what you do and how you fund it, and what level you fund it,” Williamson said 

    The federal government has guidelines that spell out what American Rescue Plan funds can and can’t be used for. Williamson said it’s his understanding the funds could be used to help shore up the finances of hospitals’ that have suffered during the pandemic, and to deal with the state’s ICU bed crisis. 

    When state lawmakers begin debating prison construction, in a special session in which there are no planned COVID-19 restrictions, Alabama’s COVID crisis will continue. 

    Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Friday said that for the first time in the state’s history, there were more deaths in 2020 than births. Alabama continues to see daily deaths in the double digits due to COVID-19. 

    Alabama added 354 newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths since Friday, with 658 added in the last 10 days. Some of those deaths occurred days and weeks prior as it takes time for the Alabama Department of Public Health to review medical records and conduct interviews to confirm a COVID death. 

    In Alabama, one in every 390 residents has died of COVID-19, with at least 13,210 COVID deaths as of Sunday.


    Alabama Hospital Association: Federal COVID aid needed to help struggling hospitals (alreporter.com)

  • WH defends not requiring negative COVID test from illegal migrants

    Pressed on the Biden administration’s decision not to require coronavirus vaccines or negative COVID-19 tests for people illegally crossing the southern border, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted Monday the refugees are “not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time.” 

    In recent days, thousands of migrants from Haiti and other countries have flooded the southern border seeking permanent asylum in the US. Many reached a processing bottleneck in Del Rio, Texas, last week, leaving over 12,000 migrants to camp under a bridge, sparking coronavirus and security threat concerns among local and state leaders. 

    During Monday’s daily press briefing, Psaki was pressed on why there are so many steps pertaining to COVID-19 when flying into the country, such as providing vaccination proof or a negative COVID-19 test, but seemingly none for those who walk across the border. 

    “As individuals come across the border, and they are both assessed for whether they have any symptoms, if they have symptoms they are,” Psaki said.

    “The intention is for them to be quarantined. That is our process, they’re not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time, I don’t think it’s the same thing. It’s not the same thing.”

    “We are expelling individuals based on Title 42 specifically because of COVID because we want to prevent a scenario where large numbers of people are gathering posing a threat to the community and also to the migrants themselves,” she added. 

    The lack of vaccine requirements for illegal migrants is not new, as on Sept. 10, Psaki confirmed the government would not require them, despite President Biden’s order requiring roughly two-thirds of US workers to be vaccinated. At the time, she did not elaborate on why migrants wouldn’t be subject to the same rules as US workers. 

    Her claim that the migrants at the border are not seeking to stay in the US for long comes as over 12,000 camped in Del Rio over the weekend waiting for asylum claims to be processed and hundreds more are on the journey.

    Haitians in particular have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many of them having left the Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010.

    The US has seen historic numbers of people illegally crossing the southern border this year, with border officials having stopped over 1,323,500 illegal immigrants so far. 

    Last week, officials confirmed they had encountered 208,887 migrants at the southwestern frontier in August, marking the first time that more than 200,000 illegal immigrant encounters have been recorded in consecutive months since February and March 2000 (211,328 and 220,063, respectively).

    The Biden administration has attempted to mitigate the influx through deportation flights authorized under the CDC’s Title 42 order, successfully deporting nearly 1 million people. However last week, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the US can no longer cite the order to deport migrant families. The order does not apply to single migrants and the Department of Homeland Security claims the majority of migrants are still being expelled under the Title 42 order. 

    On Sunday, Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz revealed that 3,300 migrants were moved from the camp to deportation flights or detention centers. Border Patrol officials aim to process the approximately 12,600 migrants left under the bridge within the week. 

    The first of the three deportation flights, carrying 145 people each, took off Sunday from San Antonio to Port-au-Prince. A US official told the Associated Press there could be as many as eight flights a day.


    WH defends not requiring neg. COVID test from illegal migrants (nypost.com)

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