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Aging Pa. woefully unprepared for dementia crisis

Plus, a big but limited win for Pa. taxpayers and transparency.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

September 2, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Dire warning, journalism results, abortion bans, Hershey spat, COVID questions, behind the beat, school masks, voting rules, and college safety.
Cases of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias are set to soar in rapidly aging Pennsylvania, and advocates warn the state is woefully unprepared.

Reporting by Spotlight PA and PublicSource found a lack of beds and staff at care centers, sky-high costs, straining safety nets, and no shortage of personal anguish

Meanwhile, advocates and experts warn a "public health crisis with a financial crisis on top" is coming, and that the state isn't moving quickly enough. The lack of progress on a seven-year-old state readiness plan only confirms it.

Also this week, the Pennsylvania Senate for the first time is giving the public online access to the way the chamber and its elected members spend millions in taxpayer money on themselves.

The information will be updated monthly going forward. And while the move, which follows a year-long investigation by The Caucus and Spotlight PA, is a win for taxpayers and transparency, the full spending picture remains elusive.

And finally, Danielle Ohl reports a seismic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that cleared the way for a Texas law banning most abortions is raising the stakes for next year's gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has previously vetoed similar efforts to curtail abortion rights. But he's term-limited and a Republican successor could see a strict state abortion ban made into law.

Keep reading to learn more about Danielle, who will be covering the Capitol and important issues like this one for Spotlight PA. 

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that you, our loyal readers, will step up and contribute to journalism that holds the powerful to account and gets results. Put another way, without your support, we cease to exist.

If you value our vital investigative journalism, make a contribution of any amount and become a member now. 

"Have they locked the doors? Have they shuffled the documents from place to place so he couldn’t access them?" 

—Judge John McNally presiding over a case involving an appeal for financial records from the Milton Hershey School, Pa.'s wealthiest charity

COVID-19 UPDATES: The CDC says unvaccinated people should not travel this Labor Day weekend; Pitt modeling warns of a "twindemic" should flu cases surge in Pennsylvania; and the pandemic is highlighting a suicide crisis in communities of color.
» FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 9 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on addiction treatment oversight issues in Pennsylvania and how the state can keep people safe as they pursue recovery. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine

» Judge presses for details on Hershey charity spat with board member

» Your questions about climbing COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, answered

» Gov. Tom Wolf mandates masks in Pa. schools, daycares

Meet Spotlight PA’s new Capitol reporter

I’m Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA’s new Capitol reporter. I’m delighted to be working in my home state after eight years away, as I’m a product of Pennsylvania through and through.

I grew up in the Lehigh Valley and graduated from Allentown Central Catholic (go Vikings!). Holidays for my family meant shooting skeet and taking hayrides at my paternal grandmother’s farm in Hosensack, and giant bowls of meatballs squeezed between seven (or usually more) different kinds of seafood in the South Philadelphia rowhome where my mother grew up.

My career has brought me back to my homeland by way of Maryland, where I screamed myself hoarse cheering for the Terps and received a journalism degree from the University of Maryland. After college, an internship at The Baltimore Sun became a full-time job at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, a paper that will forever occupy a place in my heart.

With my newsroom, I received a Pulitzer Prize citation for our work covering the murder of our colleagues in the days after a man with a grudge against the paper killed five of my dear friends at their desks. Time magazine later named us and other journalists dubbed the “guardians” of truth as the 2018 People of the Year.

In my four years with The Capital, I covered Annapolis City Hall, the U.S. Naval Academy, and starting late last year, the coronavirus pandemic. In between, I worked for more than a year with ProPublica to investigate thousands of lawsuits the Annapolis housing authority filed against public housing tenants.

The resulting story unearthed a pattern of predatory behavior from the housing authority itself and identified systems both in the Maryland Judiciary and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that work to disadvantage, and sometimes harm, the very people they are supposed to protect. You can read it here.

I am deeply dedicated to journalism that seeks to expose harm, hold the powerful accountable, and ally with no one but the vulnerable. It’s my mission to treat you, the reader and the citizen, as the expert in whatever systems you come in contact with because no one knows how broken a system is — nor how best to fix it — more than the people who must navigate it to survive.

The people of Pennsylvania, from the uncles who taught me to navigate the wooded hunting trails of Potter County to the Italian elders who doled out water ice in my grandmother’s neighborhood, raised me. I’m eager to give back to the state that has given me so much.

I hope you’ll help me. What do I need to know?
COURT CASE: Fourteen state Republican lawmakers are challenging Pennsylvania’s expanded mail voting law in court, calling it unconstitutional and asking for it to be tossed, the AP reports. The law passed in 2019 with support from many of those same Republicans but fell out of favor amid criticism from former President Donald Trump.

'RED ZONE': At least six sexual assaults and attempted assaults were reported last month on Penn State’s University Park campus, the most in a single month since October 2016, Centre Daily Times reports. The spike comes during what experts call the "red zone," the six-week start of the fall semester when such assaults typically reach their peak.

POWER UP: There are so many large-scale solar-power projects planned for Pennsylvania they would generate more energy than coal or nuclear power if all came to fruition, the Post-Gazette reports. And that rush means "an urgent need to educate landowners before a wave of land agents with solar leases in hand come knocking," the paper reports.

PAY GRADE: The average police officer in Dauphin County made $4,000 in overtime last year, while the average officer in Middletown Borough made almost six times that. PennLive wondered why the tiny town with a crime rate to match was spending so much on police overtime and reports the answer largely depends on who you ask

STUNTED GRIEF: After profiling a Pennsylvania family racked by COVID-19 misinformation even as the disease tore through its ranks, WITF's Brett Sholtis revisited the story for NPR with a focus on "disenfranchised grief." The phrase refers to grief that follows controversial or stigmatized deaths, and which often mixes with anger and shame.

» AP: Election denier Rick Saccone to run for Pa. lieutenant governor

» BILLY PENN: Staff shortage leaves Philly 911 calls ringing off the hook

» CITY & STATE: Contested centerpiece of Wolf's climate plan gets OK

» PENNLIVE: Last soldier to leave Afghanistan is a Pennsylvania native

» YORK DISPATCH: School's book ban targeted Black, Latino authors
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.

SCRAMBLED EGGS (Case No. 108)If a hen and a half lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, how many eggs will half a dozen hens lay in half a dozen days?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: The word "incorrectly" is always spelled incorrectly. (Find last week's clue here.)
Congrats to Debra S., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Michael H., Beth T., Michele M., Philip C., Diana S., Doris T., Wendy S., Edward F., James D., Judy A., George S., Jeffrey F., Mark C., Heather B., Hagan H., Jim S., Jonathan T., Beverly M., Linda V., Nancy M., Joe S., Karen K., Bruce G., Irene T., Elizabeth W., Pat S., Burnetta S., Lynda G., Kevin H., Bruce B., Kevin M., James B., Ira B., John H., George S., Annette I., Fred O., Michelle T., Mary B., William D., Michael S., Norman S., Johnny C., Donna D., Anthony E., William H., Wendy W., Eileen D., and Kathy M.
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