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WVIA News Impact

What citizens read and hear shapes how they understand their communities and empowers them to get involved. Our fact-based journalism is essential for civic awareness and community action. WVIA News journalists seek to inspire and educate. Read on below to find out more about how our reporters are making an impact!

Incarceration Impact

Recently, a young woman died by suicide in a county prison in Northeast Pennsylvania. Her family believes the lack of treatment in the facility for people struggling with addiction led to her distress and, ultimately, her death. Our coverage provided the community with information about the healthcare company inside the prison as the county weighed options to renew its contract. Another related story covered state funding available for women's reentry programs.

The journalist covering these stories received several follow-up calls. One was from a second incarcerated individual in the Luzerne County prison who wanted to talk about the healthcare and conditions within the facility. An attorney representing a third incarcerated individual contacted our reporter to share further information on this topic. Additionally, our reporter met a community leader at a protest (spotlighting these health care concerns for incarcerated individuals) whose work will be the focus of a larger WVIA News project about addiction/substance use disorder and harm reduction. The community leader runs a nonprofit that does on-the-ground outreach for people who use drugs by providing clean needles and other resources. These interactions indicate that the WVIA News team shares critical information on vital topics within our region.

Mercedes Alaimo, 25, died by suicide while incarcerated at Luzerne County Correctional Facility on Feb. 13, two days after she entered the prison. Her family believes distress due to withdrawal from opioids and a lack of supervision led to her death.
Prison officials are seeking a one-year contract extension with Wellpath, a Tennessee-based health care company that has been named in prison death lawsuits settled in Luzerne County. Councilmembers signaled they'd like to see new bids for a health provider.

Another story covered state funding for women’s reentry programs:

Hoping to reverse growing reincarceration rates for women, organizations in Monroe and Luzerne counties will use recent state grant awards. More than 70% of women in Pennsylvania prisons are mothers, according to a report.

Health & Medicine Impact

Pennsylvania State Representative Aaron Kaufer responded to WVIA’s investigation of last fall’s closing of the First Hospital in Kingston, PA. While his conversation with WVIA’s reporter spurred his efforts to keep the facility open, it was ultimately closed. First Hospital offered inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services. This closing impacted 36 patients staying at the facility. It also stopped all outpatient programs, including the Crisis Response and Recovery Center of NEPA, a 24/7 program at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital offering immediate assessment, brief intensive treatment, and referral services for anyone experiencing emotional or psychiatric crises. We hope that State Representative Kaufer continues to advocate for resources for these types of health services as we inform him and the broader community with continual coverage of these issues. One follow-up to this critical story was a 30-minute television program on the issue of health staffing shortages that was widely viewed.

The Kingston behavioral health facility will close on October 30 due to staffing shortages.

Environment & Climate Impact

As a follow-up to WVIA’s recent story and call for action on urban heat island mapping, WVIA journalists are in touch with Thomas McGroarty, Public Health Preparedness Coordinator for Northeast Pennsylvania, with the state Department of Health. Citizen scientists will be tracking and recording the highest recorded temperatures in the neighborhoods of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre this summer. WVIA News will keep a record of the volunteers and when the mapping will take place to keep the community informed. This year's study, which includes 18 international communities, including Chile, is in its seventh year. The Department of Health will share the mapping data with local governments so they can consider the need for initiatives such as neighborhood cooling centers, extra shade structures, or water/splash additions to recreational areas.. McGroarty notes that he anticipates the fire departments using it to get cooling gear for the summer months if the data supports the need.

Citizen scientists will spend time this summer tracking just how hot the neighborhoods of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre actually get. It’s part of a national project to address what are known as urban heat islands.

Most Impactful Stories of the Year

Pittston, Pennsylvania is home to WVIA and is meaningful for several reasons concerning climate and the environment. The Susquehanna River is mere miles away. The Pocono Mountains are to our East and the Allegheny National Forest to the West. We have mountains to ski and trails to hike and bike. A state official called our corner of the world "a gem" regarding outdoor recreation and conservation, and many people here agree. That's in part why our work on climate and environmental issues is so critical, as it is an area that is consistently under-reported from other media outlets.

WVIA Journalist Kat Bolus reported on May 16th, 2023, that The Maryland Air National Guard wants its fighter jets to be able to fly 100 feet above ground level in portions of a large area in North-Central Pennsylvania. Included in the proposed region are The PA Wilds, the largest cluster of public lands in the state. The state-designated conservation landscape is home to Pennsylvania's only certified International Dark-Sky Park, Cherry Springs State Park, one of the best places in the Eastern United States for stargazing. The Maryland Air National Guard felt that the air practice would not impact on land use, biological resources, safety, or environmental justice. However, Bolus’ article notes that no deep Environmental Impact Study has been done on the use of this airspace and that within the footprint of the proposed flight plans, there are “10 state parks with five additional state parks just beyond the boundary; over 395,000 acres of state forests, around 36,000 acres of state game lands, the Hammersley Wild Area, which is one of the most remote natural areas in PA; an ever growing population of elk, the historical Austin Dam, and the Pine Creek Gorge.”

The story prompted more attention to the subject. After it was published, U.S. Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman sent a letter to the Maryland National Guard requesting more extensive research before any action is taken.

The letter from Senators Casey and Fetterman to the Maryland Air National Guard and the Air National Guard Readiness Center states that “Low, loud and frequent flights could disrupt livelihoods in a region that has built its identity on outdoor recreation and bucolic tranquility.”

It further notes "that the proposed changes to the use of the airspace … may threaten the rich natural resources of the area, damage quality of life … and threaten the vitality of the growing outdoor and tourism economy."

Bolus contacted other elected officials prompting them to consider the issue further and will continue to follow this story.

Wednesday, May 17, is the last day to provide public comment on the Maryland Air National Guard’s proposal to lower the airspace it uses to train in the PA Wilds region.
Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators are asking a national guard reserve for a more detailed study of the impact of proposed low altitude flights over the PA Wilds Region.