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April 29, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Artbeat: Planter Art

  |   Video
  • People driving along Grand Avenue in Phoenix may have noticed artists working on planters, putting their own personal touch on the pots. The Adopt-a-Planter project is working to attract visitors to the art galleries on 12th Avenue and Grand. We’ll take a look at one artist’s vision for decorating her planter.
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: the arts, phoenix, art, artbeat, arizona, planters, pots, project, adopt,

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Ted Simons: If you've driven along Grand Avenue in Phoenix lately you may have seen artists decorating streetside planters. The adopt-a-planter project is working to attract visitors to art galleries on 12th Avenue and Grand. Producer Darcy Machado and videographer Juan Magana took a look at one artist's vision and inspiration.

Tammi Lynch-Forrest: I just love mosaic, I really do. I love painting with glass. That is a planter project that the city did for this grand avenue. They have installed 55 planters along the bike lane, and then invited artists to come and do each planter in their own style. This is an Arizona themed planter. You'll find different Arizona images in here. You're going to see a Phoenix, a Thunderbird, the state bird, the state flower, the state snake. So as you look throughout you're going find little images that represent Arizona. This one is very unusual because it's done almost entirely in stained glass. Most mosaic is done in broken pottery, broken dishes and broken tiles if it's on this scale. I've taken stained glass and used it as more of a fine art mosaic for this. Each sheet is $10 to $25. So there's literally a few hundred dollars in glass in here. Lots to learn in the sense of movement in mosaic. You're taking something that's cold and stiff and hard and trying to give it some kind of fluidity. There's a reason that will look this way, this comes around and should be visually pleasing to your eye. You take an image I have drawn on with chalk in my instance. Then I cut the glass to fit. And because of curved surfaces we do a lot of scoring which we normally wouldn't do on a flat surface. It prevents a whole different set of problems the way it's shaped, as opposed to doing the side of a building. They are going see almost like an outdoor gallery. If you don't have the time to go indoors, and a lot of times people don't, you can come through here and see the art on display. I love it when people get inspired by the mosaics especially. I really like bringing that to people. I've had people come by here every day or so just to watch the progress. It feels really great. A lot of the community feels like it's their planter and it really feels good to me.

Ted Simons: And many of the planters decorated along 12th Avenue and Grand have been finished and can be seen from the street. Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon" award winning scholars are looking to use their honors to continue careers in science and engineering. And also we'll learn about a new product dealing with artificial pollination. That's tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

River Flows

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  • Flows down the Salt and Verde Rivers are at 22 percent of normal. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Phoenix attributes the low flow to a lack of winter rain. Dino DeSimone of the conservation service will talk about the low river flows.
  • Dino DeSimone - USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: environment, river, flows, phoenix, natural, resources, conservation,

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Ted Simons: Water flows down the Salt and Verde Rivers are well below normal due to a lack of winter rain and snowpack. Here to talk about the latest report on state river flows is Dino DeSimone, water supply specialist at the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Phoenix. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Dino DeSimone: Hi, Ted, good to be here.

Ted Simons: That is a report on water flow and snowpack. Give me a better indication of what the report's looking at and what the report found.

Dino DeSimone: The April report is the final report of the winter. Basically it summarized what we already know. This was a very hot and dry winter. The snowpack was well below our normal expectations, so the effect on the watershed is that we don't have a lot of moisture up there that was going to go down into the rivers and the reservoirs.

Ted Simons: It was interesting, because it seems like early in the winter we had a couple of big storms kind of move through, and you thought well, maybe the La Nina thing is full of baloney. There was hardly anything after that.

Dino DeSimone: That was a big boost at the very beginning in November, December, then it just tapered off from there. Basically the last three months have been extremely dry in the mountains.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about snowpack. We'll start there, levels below normal, how much below normal?

Right. Well, the last time we did an official check at the beginning of this month, we were at single digits. We were less than 10 percent of normal throughout Morse of the areas of the mountains of the state. So this is extremely low. The last time we had this kind of a low winter was about 2006, some residents will remember. Every few years we definitely have a low snowpack and this is one of them.

Ted Simons: It looked like from the charts of the rim and other parts of the state may have been hit the worst.

Dino DeSimone: Most parts of the state have been extremely low. The Governor's task force that I serve on is saying the whole state is in some level of severe to moderate drought.

Ted Simons: There are areas where the precipitation over the winter may have been enough -- not normal or near normal, but not as bad as other parts of the state?

Dino DeSimone: North of Flagstaff, the San Francisco Peaks area, that received somewhere near half of normal. As far as anything approaching what we normally expect in an average winter, in Arizona we know the average or normal is pretty rare.

Ted Simons: Yeah, no kidding. Let's go to stream flow, I know that was another rubric here. Sounds like a below normal spring.

Dino DeSimone: Salt and Verde and other systems are flowing below a quarter of normal. The salt is below 10 percent right now. We are not contributing much runoff into the reservoirs right now.

Ted Simons: Sounds as though perhaps the Verde is in better shape than the Gila and the Salt and the Colorado, do we know why?

Dino DeSimone: It did receive a little more than the other watersheds as far as snow and rain. As of this month we're saying it's about half of normal, but again, that's still not very good. The Gila system was down to zero percent of normal during this month. So there's really no snowpack left. We had this little storm this past weekend that dumped very little here and there.

Ted Simons: For those of us who aren't familiar with where some of these mountains are and how they get to the Gila, the Verde, the Salt, when you say the Gila is in such bad shape, where are the mountains not helping out?

Dino DeSimone: Southeastern Arizona, going into New Mexico, those mountains contribute to the main Gila River, which eventually flows down to Yuma and down into Mexico. That system itself covers a big chunk of southeastern Arizona and into New Mexico, and it received very little snowpack this year.

Ted Simons: Wow, isn't that something.

Ted Simons: Stream flow obviously bad as you mentioned, you gave us an idea. How much worse than in previous years?

Dino DeSimone: Well, this is one of, again, the 10 worst records, worst winters on record that we have. As far as the overall snowpack and rainfall. And that translates into the stream flow. So again, that's -- I guess you could say the 10 worst records, as well.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned stream flow into reservoir storage, how much below normal are those reservoirs?

Dino DeSimone: Right now, I talked to my partners at Salt River Project today, and we're a little above half of storage capacity right now in the Salt and Verde reservoirs. They tell me we're okay. We get worried when we had three or four very dry winters in a row. We are approaching that. We did have an excellent winter a few years ago, some of us may recall. If we go two or three more winters like this it's not going look good. For right now the reservoirs are okay.

Ted Simons: Especially the Salt and Verde reservoir system, you said a little over half capacity. Compared to the 30-year average?

Dino DeSimone: The 30-year average we are at again a little over 50 percent, half of capacity. You can see that when you're out at the lakes. I was out there not too long ago at Roosevelt Lake, and you can see the bathtub ring. It's not where it was when it filled to capacity in 2010 when we had that excellent winter.

Ted Simons: Is it unusual to have it at capacity and then, what, three, four years later half or even less? That seems kind of unusual.

Dino DeSimone: That's just our first dependable splice in that surface water we like to use before we start to pump it out of the ground, which is much more expensive to do.

Ted Simons: I noticed the San Carlos reservoir was 11 percent of capacity, where is the water coming from for the San Carlos reservoir?

Dino DeSimone: That’s part of the Gila system. That serves a large farming area in central, southeast Arizona. So that is a very particular hot spot because they depend almost entirely on that surface flow for much of that farmland.

Ted Simons: It's interesting, southeastern Arizona really didn't get much at all, did it?

Dino DeSimone: It's hurting this year.

Ted Simons: How do you go about taking these measurements?

Dino DeSimone: We do have automated sites that we've had for many years that measure the snowpack, how heavy it is and how much water it contains. But we still have a lot of manual sites. We go out every winter several times and take these snow tubes and measure the depth and weight of the snow and convert that into how much water is up in the mountains.

Ted Simons: From that you make the forecasts?

Dino DeSimone: Right. Step 2 is we take that information. And along with the soil conditions and the temperature conditions and the predictions for the next few weeks and months, that's where we come up with the stream flow forecast.

Ted Simons: So we've got the report, last report of the winter here. You've got the forecast and we certainly see what's happened here in the past. What is all of this telling us?

Dino DeSimone: Well, again, basically we are definitely in what our state committee is calling a drought at this time in the state. You have to keep in mind, when we say drought we're talking about both the land and the water supply we've been talking about. So the land is probably more critical right now. We have areas that are so dry right now, the soil is without moisture, and any plants that have been growing have started dying already. That is the main concern right now is what I call the ecological drought that is going on. The hydrological drought is more the water supplies get into the reservoirs. They are okay for now. But the land itself -- this is why you're hearing stories about the fire danger.

Ted Simons: And bark beetles and these sorts of things. You could have a boffo winter and get those reservoirs back up to a normal level but the land needs a lot more than just one big system.

Dino DeSimone: And we need that rainfall and snow spread out over time to keep the plants going. So what I'm telling folks is now is the time to be waterwise and firewise. Waterwise, we need to always conserve water living here in the desert. Firewise because those plants, if they are drying out you need to get them cleared from your property and save your properties.

Ted Simons: Very good information, good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Dino DeSimone: Thanks, Ted, good to be here.

VA Hospital

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  • More members of Arizona’s congressional delegation are calling for the resignation of top administrators at the Phoenix Veterans Hospital. The hospital allegedly had a secret list of extremely long wait times for veterans seeking medical care, some so long that patients died waiting for treatment. Dennis Wagner of the Arizona Republic, who has been tracking the story, will discuss the issue.
  • Dennis Wagner - Journalist, Arizona Republic
Category: Medical/Health   |   Keywords: medical, health, veterans, hospital, patients, treatment, care,

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Calls for the resignation of top administrators of the Phoenix Veterans Hospital are increasing. This after reports of up to 40 deaths due to delays in appointments and treatment. Joining us now is Dennis Wagner of "The Arizona Republic." You have been on this story from the get-go and you're still covering the story. This thing is still going on here. What is exactly happening at that V.A. facility?

Dennis Wagner: I think it's going to depend on who you talk to. If you talk to the V.A. they will say we've been trying to improve this situation. If you talk to some of the vets, the whistle blowers, they will say it's a mess and they will claim that wait times were covered up. It's the time between when somebody wants an appointment and when they actually get an appointment. I think they have improved in the past few years, but even a couple years ago the wait time was sometimes over a year for a first-time appointment for a veteran with a primary care physician. While they are trying to meet the goals they allegedly also falsified data and covered up, had a double booking system so to speak.

Ted Simons: I want to get to that in a second here. The allegations that up to 40 veterans died while awaiting care, does this mean they died because of the delayed care? During the delayed care?

Dennis Wagner: No. That's a really important distinction. Nobody I know of is saying that 40 people died because they couldn't get care. What they’re saying is that 40 people had appointments that were pending and they died while they were pending. We're talking about a longer period of time waiting to get care. But whether they would have died anyway is unknown. Whether some of them may have died for other reasons than that medical problem is unknown, because we haven't seen the list of names yet. We don't know how you tie that list to what they died of.

Ted Simons: As far as the delays are concerned, I think you reported the average of about 55 days, obviously that means some can be a lot longer.

Dennis Wagner: The average is 55 days. They talk about 47 percent are within 14 days. But then there's a question as to whether those numbers are accurate. That's one of the big contentions right now among whistle blowers is that those numbers are not accurate.

Ted Simons: How do we know how accurate these numbers are?

Dennis Wagner: I don't know. Back all the way in early March I filed public records requests with the V.A. and have repeatedly asked them to provide me documentation on the inspector general reports on wait-time data, all of these issues. To date we have not received a single document from the Veterans Administration.

Ted Simons: You have, however, received reports and allegations that there seems to be a secret waiting list in order to hide some of the delays that are out there. Again, explain what's going on here.

Dennis Wagner: There's multiple allegations -- not just one claim -- as to how wait times may be manipulated or falsified. One example is that they had been taking appointments on paper documents for years. They switched over to an electronic waiting list. This is just one example. When they made that switch, allegedly they started transcribing from the paper documents onto the electronic lists, and listing the date they put it on the electronic document list as the start time when the appointment was made. So maybe somebody had been waiting four months for an appointment, and all of a sudden you've erased the four months. The V.A. denies that's happening. Who knows what the truth is there. Another example is calling up and canceling appointments, claiming that the doctor is not available or whatever, and then starting people over and thereby erasing that wait time because the appointment got canceled. It was another allegation. There's a multitude of different ways it was claimed to be happening.

Ted Simons: And basically, again, you're reporting that some of these falsified records, the allegations are that some of these falsified records may have led to bonuses for reduced wait times.

Dennis Wagner: The director of the Phoenix V.A., Sharon Hallman, says yes, I received bonuses. Those bonuses were for achieving performance standards, and wait times was among the performance standards. She makes a distinction between, it was all for achieving those wait times. She also flat-out says the single most important goal of her administration -- she's been there two years basically -- they called it the wildly important goal, the WIG program, was to improve wait times for vets, it's of tremendous concern.

Ted Simons: Who is making the allegations? I know a Dr. Sam Foote seems to be an early whistle-blower.

Dennis Wagner: He is a primary care physician who had been with the V.A. for years. He retired December 31st. He filed complaints with the Inspector General's office, delineating how he thought these things were being done and what he thought was wrong with it. The 40 patients and the other accusations originally came from Dr. Foote. Others have come forward, some confidentially and some on the record to say they agree with him.

Ted Simons: How were they made public? There was a hearing?

Dennis Wagner: Dennis Wagner: There was a House committee on veterans affairs hearing. Dr. Foote had submitted his compliant to the house, as well. Many whistle-blowers had particularly gone to John McCain's office. He had submitted his complaint to that committee. The chairman of the committee, Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, during the hearing stunned everybody by remarking he has evidence of deaths in Phoenix among patients waiting, and possibly falsified data. I was in a position at that point, I was in the midst of working on a project on it, but we didn't have any choice. We had to kind of blow our thunder there and write about it.

Ted Simons: Sure. As far as a reaction from the V.A., I know you've spoken to some folks here in Phoenix. How are they responding to all this, what's the official reaction?

Dennis Wagner: The V.A. -- I spent a couple hours with Director Hallman and the chief of staff over there, Dr. Darren Dearing and a number of other members of the leadership group over there at the V.A. Hospital in Phoenix. Their argument was we have been doing our damnedest to improve this system. We have brought in more doctors, more nurses. We are trying to overcome a problem that evolved over years, which was you had an over -- a huge swarm of veterans coming in to the Valley and increasing the workload, at the very same time they had an exodus in staff. The exodus is attributable to pay issues and some other issues. Others say the exodus has to do with morale. There are all kinds of theories on that.

Ted Simons: Now the congressional delegation -- I know they are increasing calls for resignations there at the Phoenix V.A., Senators McCain and Flake, what are you hearing here?

Dennis Wagner: There's an awful lot -- there's a parade of members of Congress calling for investigations. A few of them, a few Representatives, three have called for the removal or the resignation of the key administrative leaders at the V.A. here in Phoenix. And everybody is saying we need to investigate this. There are two -- there's a House investigation and a Senate investigation planned. Both of those are scheduled to occur at a date unknown after the inspector general's report comes out.

Ted Simons: Basically the veterans inspector general's report comes out and that's when we can follow up with more hearings, I would imagine. Until then, there are millions of allegations of records missing, overcrowded emergency rooms, hostile conditions, cronyism, the whole nine yards here. From what you can understand and what you're hearing from whistle blowers and non-whistle blowers, systemic? Nonsystemic?

Dennis Wagner: Among many whistle blowers and many vets, I've had easily over 150 vets contact me, emails and phone calls, just beleaguered. They as well as the whistle blowers see serious systemic problems here. Several members of Congress have remarked about how many complaints their offices are dealing with from veterans who are upset about delayed care and problematic care. I think you could say there's a groundswell of opinion that there is a systemic problem there. The question is, with each of the specific items that you've mentioned, some of them may have been addressed to some extent in the past couple of years, and some of them may not have been. Then there's an overriding concern, not only among whistle blowers but among veterans who are seeking patient care, if they complain publicly they may face retaliation.

Ted Simons: Interesting. We referred to this a little bit earlier, Phoenix V.A. is not the only facility facing these kinds of problems?

Dennis Wagner: No. There are ongoing investigations by congressional committees and inspector generals around the country. If you go to Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Augusta, Columbia, South Carolina, there's a number in Pittsburgh, quite a few cities that have varying problems. This wait time problem is significant in a number of cities. There are suicide problems at a number of V.A.s. So you've got a system that seems to be just writhing. At the very same time you've got a system that isn't very transparent. There is such a problem of getting documentation to find out what is going on in the V.A. that it makes it all the more problematic.

Ted Simons: Last question, what is next in all of this, and what kind of timetable are we looking at?

Dennis Wagner: Well, I mean, we're doing ongoing stories. There's going to be a series of stories coming out that we're doing, but on the larger picture the single biggest next event I can foresee probably would be the inspector general's report. But we don't have a timetable on that yet. I don't know when that's coming out.

Ted Simons: We still don't even know that, do we?

Dennis Wagner: They have put their "A-team" on it and I know they have got inspectors here right now interviewing loads of people at the V.A.

Ted Simons: All right. You're doing great work on this. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and we'll keep following.

Dennis Wagner: Thanks, Ted, appreciate it.