Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Congressional field hearing explores doctor shortage

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ANCHORAGE - Alaska's ongoing shortage of primary care physicians will worsen without drastic measures, doctors and other experts said Tuesday at a congressional field hearing to explore a dilemma spreading in rural areas of an aging nation.

In Alaska, the problem is most acute in rural areas and for Medicare patients increasingly rejected because of severe cuts in reimbursement rates, according to testimony at the half-day hearing. Speakers also noted a trend of young doctors, saddled by exorbitant school debts, being lured by specialty practices that are more lucrative than primary care fields.

Most of the state's 670,000 residents live in areas connected by roads, but scores of residents in outlying communities must travel for some health care services, said Karleen Jackson, commissioner of the state Health and Social Services Department.

"The shortage of physicians in Alaska - particularly in our rural and frontier areas - must be addressed within the contest of our larger health care system challenges," Jackson said.

Alaska, with no medical university and little in-state training opportunities for new doctors, is among the most challenged in access to health care, said Ross Tanner, president-elect of the Alaska State Medical Association.

The state currently faces a 30 percent doctor shortage, and has only one residency program to train no more than a dozen students.

The expected shortage coincides with an aging population. In two decades one out of five Americans will be at least 65 years old, said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who coordinated the hearing.

Murkowski recently reintroduced legislation she said attempts to offer some solutions to the rural divide of health care.

The proposed Rural Physicians Relief Act would give doctors a $1,000 tax credit for each month they provide primary health care in designated rural parts of the country. Doctors with a high percentage of patients from so-called frontier areas also would be eligible for the incentive.

Alaska-based soldier to receive award

FORT WAINWRIGHT - A Fort Wainwright soldier will be presented the Distinguished Service Cross on Thursday for his actions in Iraq.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, will present the award to Private First Class Steven C. Sanford, Army officials said Tuesday.

Sanford distinguished himself in November 2005 during an assault on a house occupied by suspected terrorists in Mosul, officials said.

Sanford was helping evacuate casualties under enemy fire. Sanford had been wounded in the leg, but accompanied his squad on a second assault on the building and put down covering fire while casualties were evacuated, officials said, quoting the citation.

When the last soldier leaving the building was shot, the citation says, Sanford went to him and began CPR on Pvt. Christopher Alcozer of Illinois.

Sanford, whose hometown was not immediately available, was shot twice while attempting to revive Alcozer. He also protected the soldier by killing an insurgent.

The citation says Sanford continued to help his wounded comrade until his own injuries prevented him from doing so any longer. Alcozer died in the assault.

Court overturns award against Weyerhaeuser

SEATTLE - The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a $79 million judgment against Weyerhaeuser Co. on Tuesday, but the forest products giant could face a new trial on antitrust claims from a defunct sawmill.

Ross-Simmons Hardwood Lumber Co. of Vancouver, Wash. - which went out of business in 2001 - persuaded an Oregon jury that Weyerhaeuser paid too much for alder logs it didn't need, with the goal of driving competitors out of business.

Supreme Court justices overturned that 2003 judgment in a 9-0 ruling Tuesday, saying Ross-Simmons must meet a stricter legal standard than the trial court originally allowed.

The failure to satisfy that standard "cannot support the jury's verdict," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.

Mike Haglund, a Portland, Ore.-based lawyer for Ross-Simmons, said he expects to prevail again if the case eventually returns to U.S. District Court for a new trial.

"We're going to have to go back and retry it under that new standard," Haglund said. "I don't think the result will change - we'll still win. But it is a tougher standard."

The Bush administration had asked the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the 9th District Court of Appeals erred by setting a low and confusing standard that threatened to "chill pro-competitive conduct by companies that bid aggressively."

Idaho Senate OKs wolf-hunting bill

BOISE - The state Senate voted 35-0 Tuesday to charge Idaho residents $9.75 to legally hunt a wolf once the predators are removed from federal protection, a development expected this year or early in 2008.

For out-of-state hunters, a wolf tag would run $150, according to the bill that now goes to the House.

Those are the same prices as tags to hunt black bears and cougars, two species Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, says will provide the model for responsible wolf management in Idaho once delisting occurs and legal hunts start.

Schroeder, sponsor of the legislation, told colleagues in the Senate that the state Fish and Game Commission will manage wolves so their numbers don't dwindle to endangered levels. If that happened, federal wildlife managers would again step in and assume control.

"We in Idaho have a very long history of being careful managing" large predators, Schroeder said.

Wolves were reintroduced to the northern Rocky Mountains, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, a decade ago after being hunted to near-extinction.

More than 1,200 now live in the region, including about 650 in Idaho.

Organizers break ground for memorial

PINEDALE, Calif. - Organizers broke ground on a site for a memorial to more than 4,800 Japanese-American internees held in Fresno County during World War II.

Residents of California, Oregon and Washington were taken to Pinedale in 1942 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an order to relocate 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor.

Families were put on trains and taken to the interim camp for a couple of months before being transferred to camps in other states.

"What I remember most is that the concentration camp destroyed our family," James Hirabayashi, 80, of Mill Valley said Monday at the groundbreaking of Remembrance Plaza.

Armed soldiers guarded the wooden barracks, which were surrounded by barbed wire, said Hirabayashi, whose family was uprooted from Tacoma, Wash.

The $150,000 memorial will include a landscaped plaza with a fountain and a "story wall" with information about the camp and the people who lived there.

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