Category Archives: Consumer issues

Good series on road maintenance by the Star-Advertiser

Star-Advertiser reporter Marcel Honore deserves credit for his excellent package of stories on the sad state of island roads, which was also well illustrated and presented to readers.

The stories went beyond a catalog of issues and feel like they got a lot closer to the underlying issues

After years of neglect, crews race to fix roads

Oahu behind the times, road repair experts say

‘Roads in limbo’ compound upkeep problems on island

There are familiar patterns here, and you can almost feel the common factors emerging.

And I especially liked the way Honore undercut the way road repair issues are usually spun.

Here are the takeaways that I found very useful.

1. Hearing elected officials bragging about how many potholes they’ve filled is not good news.

Filling thousands of potholes is “not anything to be proud of,” said Larry Galehouse, director of the Michigan State University-based National Center for Pavement Preservation.

The repairs are temporary, stopgap measures to keep failed roads afloat, and in large numbers they indicate that an agency isn’t keeping up with maintenance, Galehouse and other experts say.

And:

the city’s 37-member pothole-repair team is scrambling to complete tens of thousands of annual repairs across Oahu.

To keep up, the team uses the fastest but least-durable methods to patch potholes on aging streets still waiting to be repaved. That often means it has to return to potholes it fixed because the problem has resurfaced.

“We’re not repairing them in a fashion that you would normally repair defects. We don’t want to fall too far behind,” Department of Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura said.

2. Chronic budget shortfalls have hampered both state and city road repair efforts.

(DOT spokesman) Sakahara said in an email that DOT’s Highways Division “does its best balancing its limited budget and time to ensure that it can meet its highway related duties.” Its needs have “historically exceeded its resources, which is a trend that is expected to continue,” he wrote. DOT officials did not respond to requests for further information.

3. The State Department of Transportation continues to lack transparency and accountability, despite Gov. Ige’s rhetorical support for increased transparency.

The state DOT did not respond to Honolulu Star-Advertiser requests to interview Edwin Sniffen, who heads the highways division, or to emailed questions over the past several weeks.

Refusing to respond for “the past several weeks”?

Hey, the legislature is in session, maybe legislative committees can get more answers? In the past, the problem has been that much of the funding for highways and airports is dedicated funding, and doesn’t rely on routine legislative largess. So DOT has learned that it can essentially ignore pressure from legislators.

4. Poor management is a big part of the problem with road maintenance. A proper maintenance program needs careful planning.

Simply put, local maintenance officials need to do a better job (or in some cases, any job) extending the life of roads by treating them regularly with rubberlike sealants — materials that other places have used for more than 40 years, the experts say.

Moreover, maintenance crews need a detailed program to manage all the work, as well as the leadership and budget to ensure it’s done right, industry experts add.

Remember the UH maintenance backlog? Until relatively recently, maintenance requests were tracked manually using index cards. That’s a management issue.

Anyway, thanks to the S-A for a job well done on this. I definitely recommend wading through the stories.

Legislature again considering bill to make consumer complaints secret

Rep. Isaac Choy is at it again, this time with a bill that would amend the state’s public records law to totally remove complaints about those holding state professional and vocational licenses from the public record.

Choy’s bill, HB 1565, is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce on Monday afternoon, February 1, at 2 p.m.

State law currently provides that “record of complaints” about “an individual’s fitness to be granted or to retain a license” is a public record, “including all dispositions.”

Choy’s bill would simply delete this provision from the law, making all information about consumer complaints, including their existence, state secrets.

So what complaints are we talking about?

The state’s Professional and Vocational Licensing office lists the following categories of licensed professionals and activities.

Accountancy
Acupuncture
Barbering and Cosmetology
Boxing
Chiropractor
Contractor
Dentist and Dental Hygienist
Electrician and Plumber
Elevator Mechanic
Engineer, Architect, Surveyor and Landscape Architect
Massage Therapy
Medical and Osteopathy (MD, DO, EMT-Basic, EMT-Paramedic, Physician Assistant, and Podiatrist)
Motor Vehicle Industry
Motor Vehicle Repair
Naturopathic Medicine
Nursing
Optometry
Pest Control
Pharmacy and Pharmacist
Physical Therapy
Private Detective and Guard
Psychology
Real Estate
Speech Pathology and Audiology
Veterinary

Activity Desk
Athletic Trainers
Behavior Analysts
Cemetery and Pre-Need Funeral Authority
Collection Agency
Condominium Property Regimes
Dispensing Optician
Electrologist
Employment Agency
Hearing Aid Dealer and Fitter
Marriage and Family Therapist
Mental Health Counselor
Mixed Martial Arts Contests
Nurse Aide
Nursing Home Administrator
Occupational Therapist
Port Pilot
Real Estate Appraiser
Respiratory Therapist
Social Worker
Subdivision
Time Share
Travel Agency
Uniform Athlete Agents

You get the idea. Complaints filed against licensees provide an early warning to consumers of possible problems, and are one of the most important types of information used to protect consumers.

These are people who affect many different parts of our lives. Avoiding the occasional “bad apple” is often very important to individual consumers. And tracking how complaints are handled gives us a chance to evaluate how well the government agencies are going their jobs of protecting the public.

Losing access to such information would mark a return to the dark ages, back when consumers had no rights.

Choy has been on this secrecy kick for years, and has repeatedly sought to block the public from information about complaints filed against the service providers we rely on.

I wrote about Choy’s role in passage of a similar (but less sweeping) bill back in 2010 (“Bill to limit consumer’s rights makes last-minute stealth move“).

Here’s what I wrote at that time. The 2010 bill would only have allowed the public to know about a complaint if the complaint were finally upheld by state regulators. Choy’s current bill would block disclosure of any and all information about consumer complaints, even if multiple complaints were found to be valid.

Under current law, information concerning “an individual’s fitness to be granted or to retain a license” is considered private and confidential, except for records of complaints resulting in disciplinary action, and the “record of complaints including all dispositions.”

This bill, in its current form, would strip the “record of complaints” from the public record.

The problem here is that complaints take months, sometimes years to be investigated, so someone can rack up a long list of complaints before the first disciplinary action is finally taken. And a short list of complaints that result in actual disciplinary action may mask a much longer list of outstanding consumer complaints. Under the terms of this bill, the public would be left to fend for themselves without access to this key bit of consumer background.

Testimony on HB1565 can be submitted online. The system requires you to register and create an account in order to submit online testimony. Click here for the instructions for this simple process.

PBS interview misses the politics of motherhood

“If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail”

I thought of that old phrase while watching a segment of the PBS Newshour on the risk of postpartum depression among women. The featured guest on this segment was Dr. Hal Lawrence, CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

…we know that 20 percent of all women will have some depression during their lifetime, and so some women actually enter pregnancy with some signs of depression.

Some may have already had a diagnosis of depression or psychological illness, and those people are at increased risk. So, picking that up early, or if you don’t know about it, helps you be careful about those parents when they become postpartum.

So, screening during pregnancy is very important. Screening postpartum is very important, and screening, you know, earlier than even six weeks.

The frequent depression among mothers (and I think that they’re talking here about U.S. mothers) is reduced to a mental health issue that should be dealt with by beefing up mental health services to individual patients based on widespread psychological screening.

There are lots of mentions of the stress of pregnancy and motherhood.

Here’s Dr. Lawrence:

Well, it’s such a stressful time. And everybody looks at pregnancy as this joyous moment.

And it is joyous, and you have a healthy mother, and you have a healthy baby. But there’s also a lot of stress. That woman’s life has changed. She feels — she’s so dedicated to her baby. And then anything that makes her feel uncomfortable, she questions herself: Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing it good enough?

The issue of “stress” is again reduced to a psychological problem of the patient.

But what isn’t mentioned at all are the social and political dimensions of pregnancy and childbirth.

After all, as one study after another have quickly found, the United States is one of the only countries without paid maternity leave and other support services for mothers and families.

Here’s one summary:

Recently released reports show that the U.S. and Papua New Guinea are the only two nations to not guarantee paid maternity leave for working mothers, while Hungary and Slovakia give 160 or more paid weeks of leave, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

There are lots of good articles to be found. Here are a few.

The US is still the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave,” The Guardian.

Paid Parental Leave: U.S. vs. The World (INFOGRAPHIC), HuffPost Parents

Among 38 nations, U.S. is the outlier when it comes to paid parental leave,” Pew Research Center.

Lots Of Other Countries Mandate Paid Leave. Why Not The U.S.?” NPR.org

Without the public services and support for mothers and families are routine in other developed countries, it’s no wonder that motherhood is an unusually stressful period in the United States.

It is a wonder, though, that the political aspects of motherhood were not even mentioned by the interviewer or his guest.

Ask a doctor, and he’ll tell you it’s a medical/psychiatric issue. Remember the hammer and all those nails….

Bakersfield, Boise, or this?

After days of watching winter do its thing along the east coast, I can’t resist posting this morning’s photo taken just after the sun made its appearance.

It was a typical Hawaii winter day.

But if you would rather retire in Bakersfield or Boise, be my guest (a reference to yesterday’s post).


Early Wednesday Morning...

Is Hawaii really that bad for retirees?

Sometimes reading the news makes me crazy.

Take yesterday’s report that a “personal finance website” ranked Hawaii as “the third worst state for retirees, just above the District of Columbia and Rhode Island.”

First, of course, there’s the question of the source. What is WalletHub and why are we listening to them? That’s never explained.

Second, there are the criteria. I have to scratch my head. If Hawaii is so bad for retirees, why is it that those retirees can look forward to living longer in Hawaii than any place else in the country? Isn’t staying alive the most important thing, not something to be mentioned in an aside?

And what about weather? Somehow Hawaii wasn’t ranked among the cities with the best “mild weather” rankings. Instead, the top spots went to Glendale, Riverside, and Bakersfield, all in California; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Henderson, Nevada. Summer temperature in Scottsdale are over 100 degrees. I don’t think Honolulu has ever reached 100. And exactly who would rather live in Bakersfield than Honolulu?

And my cousin, who is a professor at Boise State, must be rolling her eyes at the idea that Boise is a more attractive spot than Honolulu. I guess if you don’t mind a really crazy state legislature, low pay, poor health insurance, guns at every turn (including in classrooms), miserable summer and winter weather….then maybe Boise is your place!

Okay. I can see Hawaii, and many other favorite destinations, getting high marks with an asterisk (* “if you can afford it”). But a flat out low rank? That raises a long list of immediate questions and red flags.

It looks like Wallethub put out a news release which was pick up and uncritically reported by local media, including KHON and the Star-Advertiser, as well as media across the country.

Okay, report this as “entertainment,” like comic strips. But if you’re reporting it as news, shouldn’t there be at least some semblance of critical thinking?