Health care: Can Children’s, Gracie Kimbrell show the way?

Kimbrell, Children's
Stewart O’Malley tests her balance at Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center’s new Laboratory for Active Kids and Families.

By Steve Brawner

If we’re ever going to fix health care in this country, then places like Arkansas Children’s Hospital and people like Gracie Kimbrell will have to be part of the solution.

At the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, researchers have built only the nation’s second laboratory studying the science of children and exercise. At the Laboratory for Active Kids and Families’ debut Oct. 10, kids ran on a treadmill, tested their strength, and exercised on a stationary bicycle wearing a mask to measure their lung capacity. Stewart O’Malley, 8, shifted her weight on a balancing platform connected to a screen to guide a digital ball through a maze.

By now, we know what makes a healthy human: real food, physical activity, and adequate sleep. Still, there’s always more to learn. Researchers will study children and pregnant mothers. They will be looking for the underlying factors for why some kids are fitter and more active – social, cultural, biological and others. Greg Kearns, Arkansas Children’s chief research officer, said researchers will study the link between exercise and cellular structure, understanding that the cellular doesn’t necessarily follow the lifestyle and that each person is unique. The entire program – not just the lab – is funded through a $7.3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture appropriation.

Meanwhile, in Bryant, kindergarten student Emma Kincaid is able to grasp objects with her left hand for the first time. Born without fingers on that hand, she was fitted with a prosthetic hand built by Gracie Kimbrell and other high school engineering students. As reported by The Saline Courier, Gracie and the other students researched how to make the hand online and then printed it over two days using the school’s 3D printer. It cost about $20, it’s purple, and Emma likes it. A new hand can be printed as she grows, and if a piece breaks, a replacement is easy to produce. Gracie is already working on a better model.  Continue reading Health care: Can Children’s, Gracie Kimbrell show the way?

Paying for this storm, and the storms to come

Hill, Maria, hurricanes
Rep. French Hill represents Arkansas’ 2nd District.

By Steve Brawner

American citizens in Puerto Rico are suffering, but unlike when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the victims can’t drive across the border to a welcoming state like Arkansas. Texans, Floridians and others are hurting from hurricanes, too, and Californians have lost their homes due to wildfires.

In such situations, should members of Congress vote for any aid package, even if they think it’s a bad one?

Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas, said no last week. The congressman who represents central Arkansas was one of only 69 members of the U.S. House who voted against a bill providing $36.5 billion for relief and recovery efforts after Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma and the California wildfires. The package drew a yes vote from 353 members.

Continue reading Paying for this storm, and the storms to come

Only Bruce can prevent forest fires

WestermanBy Steve Brawner

Democracies require a balance between skepticism and trust. Voters must be skeptical of those they place in power, lest it be abused. But without trust, institutions can’t function democratically.

All that said, I’m erring on the side of trust this time – this time being Rep. Bruce Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act.

Forestry policy is probably not an issue you’re following closely, but here’s why you should care. This year, 8.5 million acres of forestland have burned – an area four times the size of Puerto Rico. Thirty-one Californians so far have died in fires that are burning right now. The fires have destroyed homes, killed livestock, and released millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere.  Continue reading Only Bruce can prevent forest fires

The end of GIF spending in Arkansas? Probably not

GIFBy Steve Brawner

Spending other people’s money can be pretty easy, especially if you tell yourself you have the authority and it’s for a good cause. In other words, we probably haven’t seen the last of the Legislature’s spending on local projects.

Here’s the back story. On Oct. 6, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that legislators can’t direct state surplus dollars to so-called General Improvement Fund (GIF) projects such as rural fire departments and libraries.

The ruling was the latest curve in a long legal road that began with a 2005 lawsuit by former legislator Mike Wilson. After the Supreme Court twice ruled in 2006 and 2007 against GIF funding, legislators instead sent the money to eight nonprofit regional planning districts that would decide how it was spent.

Only that’s not really what happened. As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has detailed, the planning districts often rubber-stamped the wishes of individual legislators. The Democrat-Gazette reported that taxpayers have spent more than $50 million on these projects just since 2013.

So Wilson sued again. This time, the Supreme Court ruled the process ran afoul of the state Constitution’s requirement that appropriations must be “distinctly stated.”  Continue reading The end of GIF spending in Arkansas? Probably not