Ohio Valley ReSource

WKU Public Radio is part of a new regional journalism collaborative known as the Ohio Valley ReSource.  It's made up of public media stations across Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.  The collaborative will focus on the changing economy in the region and its effect on jobs, healthcare and infrastructure. 

Each station taking part in the Ohio Valley ReSource is hiring a reporter to contribute to the effort.  WKU Public Radio's reporter is Becca Schimmel, who will be based in the Bowling Green newsroom. 

The Ohio Valley ReSource is made possible by member stations and through a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. 

Ways to Connect

CDC

Health officials are tracking record-breaking rates of sexually transmitted disease, including a resurgence of some infections which had been considered rare, such as gonorrhea and syphilis. These STDs are on the rise amid cuts to public health budgets dedicated to testing, prevention, and public outreach.

In the Ohio Valley, for example, a review of state and federal government data shows some communities in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia have seen chlamydia infections rise by more than 200 percent between 2011 and 2017. And in four counties in Kentucky and West Virginia, reported cases of gonorrhea jumped by an astonishing 1,000 percent or more in that period.

J. Tyler Franklin

Grant Oakley’s second day of work was the last day of his life.

Seventeen, sandy-haired and tall, Grant liked to fish, tinker with motorcycles with his father, Mike, and play tuba in the school marching band. He was excited in the fall of 2015 when he landed his first part-time job at a farm supply business. The location was convenient; Bluegrass Agricultural Distributors was just across the highway from the Oakley family’s farmhouse near Lancaster, Kentucky, in rural Garrard County. 


Michelle Hanks

While most of the Meade County public works crew finished their lunches, Pius “Gene” Hobbs was raking along the edge of the road, oblivious to the dump truck backing quickly towards him. 

Unbeknownst to the driver, Hobbs was knocked to the ground and crushed under the truck’s weight. When the truck accelerated forward, Hobbs’ coworker ran him over a second time. He was killed on impact. 

The only eyewitness to the December 2016 incident, a bystander named Greg Turner, said that he didn’t hear a backup beeper on the truck as it reversed. Maybe Hobbs hadn’t either. 


Sydney Boles

The rain started around 10:30 p.m. By midnight, the creek in front of Elvis and Laura Thackers’ house had swelled to a mighty flood, uprooting trees, moving boulders and surging right up to the couple’s front steps. The Thackers decided to abandon their home. But when they got into their Jeep, they found the flood had washed the road away, leaving them trapped.

“Water was everywhere,” Laura Thacker remembered. “I said, ‘You don’t know how big it’s going to get.’”


Mary Meehan

The political ads in the Ohio Valley are playing on what seems like a constant loop. That’s not unusual for election season. But what is unusual this year is how many ads focus on health care. Consider this one from Kentucky Republican Andy Barr, who’s facing a tough challenge in the 6th Congressional District from Democrat Amy McGrath.

McGrath supports maintaining the Affordable Care Act and its essential benefits with some tweaks. Barr’s campaign ads proclaim her a radical socialist whose plan “doubles your federal taxes and ends Medicare as we know it.” It is complete, of course, with dramatic background music.


Aaron Payne

Thousands of union coal miners and their families gathered this summer in Columbus, Ohio, wielding signs and wearing camouflage United Mine Workers of America shirts.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts led the crowd in a call-and-response chant.

“I want you to send a loud, clear signal that we are one! We are one!”

But the miners weren’t there for a strike or to picket a company over a contract dispute. They were demonstrating to draw attention to an often overlooked issue: Pensions.


Ashton Marra, WVPB

When Dr. Rahul Gupta started work as West Virginia’s chief health officer his state was already ground zero for the opioid epidemic, with some of the nation’s highest rates of addiction and overdose fatalities.

That was 2015, and 735 state residents died from overdoses that year. 

Preliminary data for 2017 show there were 1,011 overdose deaths last year, a record high for the state.

“Not a day goes by that I’m not constantly thinking about it,” Gupta said. “We’re losing three, three-and-a-half West Virginians per day. So, the clock’s always ticking in my head.”


Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

Westmoreland Coal Company, one of the oldest mining companies in the country, became the second major coal bankruptcy of the Trump presidency Tuesday when the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Texas court.

The company, which has a substantial presence in the Ohio Valley, has for years faced mounting difficulties as it continued to take on debt while many of the power plants that used its coal announced they intend to close or switch to cleaner fuels.


Appalachian Regional Commission Facebook

The Appalachian Regional Commission announced Thursday the latest recipients of grants designed to help struggling coal communities. The ARC will spend an additional $26 million for 35 new grants in its POWER initiative, the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization. Sixteen of those awards will go to projects in the Ohio Valley region.  

 

The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Kentucky was awarded one million dollars for their Community Oriented Access to Learning program. The initiative is focused on the health and information technology sectors. The program expects to add 50 health worker students in a field related to their training, 110 in information technology and 26 in broadband technology. Wendy Wasserman is the spokesperson for the Appalachian Regional Commission.


JESSE WRIGHT / WEST VIRGINIA PUBLIC BROADCASTING

The Justice family companies’ difficulties paying taxes over the years are well documented. But tax collectors haven’t been the only ones trying to recover debts from companies once operated by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and now in control of his family.

A review of court documents by the Ohio Valley ReSource found at least five cases in which judges ruled that Justice family companies failed to pay suppliers for goods or services. When compelled by courts to pay, the companies either refused or failed to meet agreed upon payments.


JAGA / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A multi-state commission charged with protecting the Ohio River decided Thursday to postpone a decision to dramatically alter pollution controls.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, or ORSANCO, has been considering a proposal that would reduce its oversight of water pollution control standards along the Ohio River. The proposal, called "option 2" would eliminate the body's water pollution control standards for industrial and municipal wastewater discharges into the river.

U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Trevor Rhynes

New research this month shows that West Virginia and Kentucky have some of the nation’s worst rates of student loan defaults.

West Virginia had the highest and Kentucky the fourth-highest rate of student loan defaults, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education.

In West Virginia, 17.7 percent of students who entered loan repayment in 2015 had defaulted three years later. New Mexico and Nevada were second and third, and Kentucky came in fourth, with 14.3 percent of students unable to pay back their loans. At 12.2 percent, Ohio ranked near the middle, tying Michigan for 14th place.


Rebecca Kiger

After decades of addiction to heroin and prescription opioids, Wendy Crites finally made a clean break.

“For the first time in my life I just wanted to be off of it,” she said from her home in Ranson, West Virginia. “I hit rock bottom.”

Last year the ReSource profiled Crites, a single mother getting by on low-wage jobs during her first year of sobriety. Crites has had success with a combination of counseling and a medication called Suboxone.


JESSE WRIGHT / WEST VIRGINIA PUBLIC BROADCASTING

As President Trump attempts to revive the struggling coal industry, the administration’s top regulator for mine safety used a recent lecture at West Virginia University to lay out his priorities for the agency charged with keeping miners safe.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David Zatezalo outlined the Trump administration's priorities for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA.

The West Virginia native and former coal mine executive addressed students, faculty and industry representatives at the annual William Poundstone lecture series at West Virginia University.


office of the Surgeon General

In a comprehensive new report on the opioid crisis, the U.S. surgeon general writes that stigma remains a major barrier to treatment and urges a more supportive approach to those in need.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams wrote in his Spotlight on Opioids report that stigma has prevented people with opioid use disorders from seeking treatment.

“The way we as a society view and address opioid use disorder must change,” Adams wrote. “Individual lives and the health of our nation depend on it.”

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