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INVESTIGATION: Drug treatment providers face little state scrutiny

The Investigator

April 29, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Addiction treatment, pipeline perils, 'fishing expeditions,' redistricting rush, lost power, everyone votes, data delivery, Fetterman foes, and orphaned wells.
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Pennsylvania has allowed addiction treatment providers to continue operating despite repeated violations of state regulations and harm to clients, a Spotlight PA/KHN investigation has found. 

Reporters Aneri Pattani and Ed Mahon conducted more than 80 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of government and court records showing the under-resourced state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs uses a flawed oversight system that does little to ensure high-quality or effective care, and rarely takes strong disciplinary action against facilities when so many Pennsylvanians need services.

The department has no standard criteria for when it should force facilities to serve fewer patients and, as of early April, had revoked just one treatment provider’s license in nearly a decade. It doesn’t, as a regular practice, compare facilities to see if any stand out for an unusual number of violations or the most client deaths. And since state inspections focus heavily on records, they can be tricked with fraudulent paperwork, former employees in the treatment field said.

This leaves Pennsylvanians in the dark about which treatment facilities have troubling track records.

Also this week, Rebecca Moss reports a Pennsylvania judge ruled Sunoco failed to properly disclose risks associated with its contested Mariner East pipeline system and must update public information campaigns to highlight the potential for property damage, personal injury, asphyxiation, burns, and even death.

The judge's findings confirm those of a year-long Spotlight PA investigation on emergency preparedness along the Mariner East route and the secrecy and jumble of plans that left communities in the dark about what to do if an accident occurs.

But while the legal ruling was arguably a win for transparency, Mariner East critics say officials and courts are still side-stepping their responsibility to keep residents safe.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

» If you learned something from today's edition, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA now so someone else can tomorrow.


"Are the roads safer because you stopped someone because of an expired tag or an air freshener?"

—David Harris, a Pitt law professor specializing in police training, on the minor infractions police use to initiate traffic stops and vehicle searches
» A LIVE GUIDE TO THE MAY PRIMARY: On Tuesday, May 4 at 5 p.m., join Spotlight PA as we break down the judicial candidates and four questions you’ll see on the primary ballot. RSVP FOR FREE

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and sign up for alerts for your county

» PRIMARY GUIDES: Everyone — regardless of political affiliation — can vote May 18 on four ballot questions. Here's a breakdown of each one. Plus, WHYY has a great primer on the appellate court judge candidates.

» How Pa. troopers use sweating during traffic stops to launch searches

» Democrats ask court to prepare to draw Pa. congressional map

» Pennsylvania will lose a U.S. House seat after redistricting

Attention independents: You can vote this May

If you’re an independent or minor-party voter in Pennsylvania, you may be used to sitting out the primary.

That’s because Pennsylvania has what’s known as a closed-primary system, meaning only Democrats and Republicans get to pick their preferred candidates for office during these spring elections.

But people who don’t belong to the two major parties can vote on ballot questions during these contests.

Just for good measure, here’s that information again, from Pennsylvania’s top election official.

"Pennsylvania's primaries are usually limited to Democratic and Republican voters, who are choosing their parties' nominees," Acting Secretary of State Veronica W. Degraffenreid said in a statement. "But this year's primary ballot will include four important ballot questions. That means every registered voter can vote on those ballot questions in this primary, even if they are registered with a third party or no party at all." 

There will be four such questions on the May 18 primary ballot: three proposed constitutional amendments and one statewide referendum.

Non-affiliated and minor-party voters can also cast a ballot in special elections that are held at the same time as the primary. That’s the case in two state Senate and two state House districts this May. (Unsure which districts you live in? There’s a tool for that.)

The last day to register to vote or to change your party is May 3, and the deadline to request a mail ballot is at 5 p.m. on May 11 (remember to check both sides when the ballot arrives).

And join Spotlight PA on May 4 for a live event where we’ll break down the details of what you’ll be asked to vote on. You can submit questions here.

Sarah Anne Hughes, Spotlight PA

POLICE PUSH: The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted a surge of police reform proposals in Pennsylvania's Capitol. One week after former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in Floyd's death, WHYY examines the status of the bills and measures the case inspired here. Of 19 related proposals, just two passed.

ON THE BALLOT: A husband-and-wife duo running for school board in Lancaster County attended the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol insurrection and subscribe to the false belief the 2020 election was stolen, LancasterOnline reports. The couple has also objected to teachings about "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Black Lives Matter in public schools.

PUSH THE PLUG: Pennsylvania has an estimated 200,000 orphaned oil and gas wells in need of plugging, one of the worst accumulations in the nation. President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan would set aside $16 billion to help tackle the problem nationwide. In an interview with the Post-Gazette, one Pennsylvania expert called it "the opportunity of a lifetime." 

KEY PLAYER: The Capital-Star has an illuminating interview with state Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), a leading and influential voice in the state GOP's effort to reform Pennsylvania's voting laws after the 2020 election. The Q&A covers Grove's November objections, Republican voter fraud, and his surprise to find people believe what politicians say online.

MOVE REMAINS: The Penn Museum says it will return bone fragments of a MOVE bombing victim to living members of the group days after apologizing for not having done so sooner, The Inquirer reports. Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania faced a backlash for their handling of human remains from a 1985 city-led bombing at MOVE’s Philadelphia home.

» AP: Pa. student's Snapchat at center of SCOTUS free-speech case

» CAPITAL-STAR: Mastriano, Pa. judge to headline QAnon-branded event

» PUBLICSOURCE: Pittsburgh police probe facial recognition contacts

» TIMES-LEADER: Pa. Bar Association prez resigns over sex work case

» WHYY: Chambersburg rent-to-own tenants 'set up to fail'

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

LETTERBOX (Case No. 90): Draw four rectangles on a piece of paper. Put nine Xs in the four rectangles so there is an uneven number of Xs in each rectangle. How did you do it?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Eat and ate.
Congrats to William D., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Gabriel D., George S., Annette I., Judy A., Lynda G., George S., Hagan H., Bernie R., Adrienne R., Mary B., Dennis P., Jim T., Roseanne D., Michelle T., Mercedes Y., Beth T., Fred O., Kathy M., Norman S., Joseph M., Eileen D., James D., Michael H., Philip C., and Joe G.
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