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Hartford Raise Minimum Age for Tobacco Purchase


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford City Council on Monday voted unanimously to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchase from 18 to 21.

In a vote 9-0, council members banned the sale of cigarettes, cigars, vaping products and other forms of tobacco to anyone below 21.

The law is effective immediately. Enforcement will begin in April. Store owners who violate the law will be fined $250 for each violation. Their tobacco licenses may also be suspended.

Hartford officials are hoping other towns will adopt similar laws.

After a rally at city hall earlier this month, the nine-member council heard overwhelming support for the idea of raising the age for tobacco purchase in an effort to prevent nicotine addiction.

Advocates said that about 95 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and become addicted as adults. By delaying the age when people begin using tobacco, it reduces the chance that they become lifelong tobacco users.

In Hartford, 23.5 percent of people 18 and older smoke, compare to 15.3 statewide. Hartford has the highest rate of smokers in the state.

So far, six states and more than 350 cities have raised the age requirement to 21.Hartford has joined California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Massachusetts and Oregon in adopting the new law.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4,900 Connecticut residents will die from smoking-related causes this year. And more than 1,000 children are expected to become new daily smokers under the current law.

Earlier this year, advocates for raising the minimum age testified before a committee in the General Assembly, saying the annual health care costs directly caused by smoking are $2.03 billion and Medicaid costs are $520.8 million.

Raising the age to 21 has been proposed before the General Assembly several times but the measure has always failed.

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Hartford’s ‘Trigger Happy’ Police Officer Fired


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — A police officer who said he was “trigger happy” to a group of residents in the summer was fired on Wednesday.

Hartford Police Chief David Rosado terminated Stephen Barone’s employment after an internal investigation and a formal hearing about the two high-profile incidents in the summer.

“Our success as a police department depends on our relationship with the community we serve,” Rosada said in a statement. “Every day the men and women of the Hartford Police Department are out doing good police work with professionalism and respect, and this officer’s conduct does not reflect the values of our agency.”

Barone, a 10-year veteran, was caught on camera saying: “If anybody wants to fight or run, I’m a little trigger happy guys, I’m not going to lie, and I get paid a ton of money in overtime if I have to shoot somebody, don’t do anything stupid,” Barone said in a video that was posted on Facebook and attracted a lot of viewers.

In another incident in July, Barone failed to call off a July 9 police chase on I-91. The driver went southbound in a northbound lane at almost 60 miles an hour.

Internal Affairs investigators found that Barone violated police policies and discredited the force when he threatened a group of black and Hispanic residents. Barone was first demoted from sergeant to officer in September. And his salary went from $89,200 to $76,800. Barone is white.

“After reviewing the findings related to these two incidents, it’s clear to me that there’s no scenario in which Mr. Barone can return to his duties as a productive member of the Hartford Department. As a department, we are committed to building and rebuilding a strong relationship with residents across our city based on mutual respect, accountability, transparency, and a shared desire to live in a strong Hartford.”

Residents were outraged after hearing about the incident.  In August, residents, community organizers and city officials packed city hall and demanded that Barone be fired.

“Today we stand with Hartford Police Chief David Rosado and the City of Hartford in their decision. Officer Barone conduct and behavior as an officer was unsatisfactory. He lack professionalism, cultural competence and good decision making. This is not who we need on the streets of Hartford to protect and serve our community,” said Rev. Ronald Holmes, president of the Greater Hartford Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. “His statement, being ‘trigger happy’ and other actions are simply disgraceful.”

About 85 percent of the city is comprised of people of color. Only 34 percent of the city’s 379 officers is nonwhite. And close to seven percent live in the city.

Hartford Councilman  T. J. Clarke at a press conference in response to the firing called for “immediate change and training” of police officers. He said it’s a “worthy and realistic goal” to increase and reflect the demographics of the city.

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Glassdoor Ranks Hartford as Top Five for Job Openings


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford was ranked among the top five cities for job openings.

That’s according to Glassdoor, a website that list jobs. Glassdoor released the rankings on Wednesday.

When job openings and job satisfaction were factored, Hartford ranked number five, besting cities such as Boston and Washington, D.C .

In August, Hartford had 40,978 job openings.

The number one city for job openings is Pittsburg, PA with 91,849 jobs.

For more information about the list click here.

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Hartford Council to Vote on Raising Minimum Age to Buy Cigarettes


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford City Council on Monday will vote on whether to raise the minimum age to purchase cigarettes.

Currently the minimum age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco is 18. The American Lung Association is pushing to change that age to 21.

The goal is the change the law first in Hartford and hope it spreads to other towns in the state.

After a rally at city hall on Monday, the nine-member council heard overwhelming support for the idea of raising the age for tobacco purchase in an effort to prevent nicotine addiction.

Advocates said that about 95 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and become addicted as adults. By delaying the age when people begin using tobacco, it reduces the chance that they become lifelong tobacco users.

So far, six states and more than 350 cities have raised the age requirement to 21.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4,900 Connecticut residents will die from smoking-related causes this year. And more than 1,000 children are expected to become new daily smokers under the current law.

Earlier this year, advocates for raising the minimum age testified before a committee in the General Assembly, saying the annual health care costs directly caused by smoking are $2.03 billion and Medicaid costs are $520.8 million.

Raising the age to 21 has been proposed before the General Assembly several times but the measure has always failed.

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U.S. News Report: Hartford Among Top 100 Places to Retire


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

Hartford is among the nation’s top 100 best places to retire, according to a U.S. News and World Report released Wednesday.

Hartford ranked 73 on the list with an overall score of 6.35. Among New England cities, Boston and Springfield scored higher. The place ranked number one is Lancaster, Pennsylvania with an overall score of 7.5.

U.S. News evaluated the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas based on how well they meet Americans’ retirement needs and expectations, which includes six factors: housing affordability, desirability, retiree taxes, the happiness index, job market and health care quality. The happiness index quantifies how content residents were based on Gallup Healthways State of American Well-Being: 2017 Community Well-Being Rankings report published in March.

The U.S. News report noted that the historic architecture of Hartford and said: “Don’t let the historic architecture fool you—even as one of the oldest metro areas in America, Hartford, Connecticut, has a lot to offer, both old and new.” Located in the Connecticut River Valley, Hartford has many cultural gems hidden amidst rolling hills and wooded neighborhoods. It’s home to a number of historic attractions and entertainment venues, nearby vineyards, state parks and ski slopes provide plenty of recreational opportunities throughout the year.

Hartford scored 5.3 in Housing Affordability and 8.5 in Healthcare, the two components of the overall score.

The top ranked New England city was Boston ranked at 25, Springfield, MA ranked 69, Worcester ranked at 77 and Providence ranked at 85. The top 10 places to retire according to the report are Lancaster; Fort Myers; Sarasota; Austin, Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids; Nashville; San Antonio; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Lakeland, Florida.

The rankings offer a comprehensive evaluation of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas based on how well they meet Americans’ expectations for retirement, with measures including housing affordability, desirability, health care and overall happiness,” according to U.S. News.

Data sources include the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as U.S. News rankings of the Best Hospitals.

“Deciding where to retire is a big decision,” Senior Editor for Retirement at U.S. News Emily Brandon said in a statement accompanying the results. “The Best Places to Retire offers a way for future retirees to make a more informed decision based on what matters the most to them. Whether that be housing affordability, access to quality hospitals or the desirability of a place in general, the rankings offer a comprehensive list that can point people in the best direction for their needs.”

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Colleges Promised to Hire More Black Professors, but So Far It’s Been Nothing But Talk


By Matt Krupnick

Robert Palmer knows how uncomfortable it can feel to be a black professor at a predominantly white college.

He recalls speaking with a white student he was advising at the public Binghamton University in upstate New York, where just 4 percent of tenure-track instructors in 2016 were black, according to federal figures.

“He comes out of nowhere and says he used to be a bouncer and would keep his friends from saying … he actually said the word,” said Palmer, still taken aback by the memory. “He didn’t say ‘the n-word.’ He actually said the word.”

The awkwardness of that encounter and others like it helped push Palmer to Howard University, a historically black institution in Washington, D.C., where he’s now an associate professor of education and on a faculty that is 58 percent black.

There he joined the disproportionate number of black, tenure-track college and university instructors—one out of every five—who are clustered at 72 historically black four-year institutions that report the race of their employees. This despite the fact that those schools account for just 1.7 percent of all faculty nationwide.

Meanwhile, many predominantly white four-year public and nonprofit colleges and universities that have been promising for years to improve the diversity of their teaching ranks have made almost no progress in doing so.

In fact, the proportion of annual faculty hires who are black did not increase in the 10 years ending in 2016, the most recent period for which the figures are available; it fell slightly, from 7 percent to 6.6 percent, according to additional federal data analyzed by The Hechinger Report. (A small number of these hires were non-faculty employees, which were not broken out.)

While black students comprise about 12 percent of college and university enrollment, fewer than half that proportion of faculty is black. And fewer than 5 percent of faculty are Hispanic, compared to 16 percent of students.

At the University of Washington, federal data show 1.8 percent of tenure-track instructors in 2016 were black, while 2.7 percent were black at Arizona State University.

At Brigham Young University? One-tenth of 1 percent.

After racially charged demonstrations at the University of Missouri in 2015, students and professors there as well as at Yale, Claremont McKenna and other colleges demanded administrators improve diversity.

But diversity has remained elusive, despite self-congratulatory comments from some college leaders. Shaun Harper, head of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, told a group of education journalists that one president of a large university—Harper wouldn’t say which one—bragged to him that the school had nearly doubled its number of black professors but the actual figure had merely gone from one extremely small number to a slightly larger one.

At the University of Missouri, 3.5 percent of tenure-track faculty were black, according to the figures for 2016; at Claremont McKenna, 1.5 percent. At Yale, which promised in 2015 to invest $50 million to propel the diversification of its faculty, 3.5 percent were black. Last fall at Dartmouth, which also promised to boost minority hiring, 2.2 percent of the faculty was black, the university reported.

Arizona State leaders declined to answer questions about faculty diversity, and Brigham Young officials did not respond to interview requests.

At the University of Washington, students and professors occupied the president’s office a half-century ago to protest the lack of diversity. The university now is trying to improve its hiring and retention of black professors, said Chadwick Allen, associate vice provost for faculty advancement. Like many institutions intent on boosting those numbers, it has tried to hire groups of black instructors to build a community.

It can be difficult for a public university to vie for those candidates against better-funded private schools, Allen said. “If we are in a bidding war with Stanford or Johns Hopkins, that can be a challenge,” he said.

But diversity scholars said schools with small percentages of black professors should be embarrassed and small improvements shouldn’t be celebrated as if they symbolize systemic change.

“Getting black faculty in the door is such a minor first step,” said Ebony McGee, a Vanderbilt University associate professor of education who studies diversity in education.

They also questioned the oft-cited argument by higher-education leaders that too few nonwhite potential future faculty are in the pipeline to get doctorates. Most community colleges require instructors to have only master’s degrees, said Estela Bensimon, director of USC’s Center for Urban Education, yet she said only 15 percent of faculty at California’s community colleges are Hispanic, while 44 percent of students are.

Researchers have shown nonwhite students are more likely to succeed in college when they are taught by nonwhite professors.

Yet black academics repeatedly encounter the same stumbling blocks when competing for teaching jobs.

White professors tend to look for people like them, and lean on “proxies for excellence,” such as which school a candidate attended, rather than judging them on their accomplishments, said Abigail Stewart, a University of Michigan professor of psychology and women’s studies who co-wrote the book, An Inclusive Academy: Achieving Diversity and Excellence.

If a black candidate attended a southern university other than Duke or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, he or she is going to have trouble getting through the door at a predominantly white school elsewhere, Stewart said.

“It’s actually not that easy for faculty to get past hiring people from prestige universities,” she said. “They are very accustomed to being able to size up people who went to those institutions. It creates an artificially small labor market.”

At Oregon State University, where the 2016 federal figures analyzed by Hechinger recorded 1 percent of tenure-track instructors as being black, school leaders are working with the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board to find black professors from southern universities, said Charlene Alexander, the university’s vice president and chief diversity officer.

But then there’s the challenge of getting a nonwhite candidate to accept a job offer. The interview process can tell a candidate a lot about a school: Was the candidate the only nonwhite person in the room? Were the walls full of photographs of white people?

“It does take proactive steps,” Stewart said, noting that a black candidate may want to speak to other black professors about issues as minor as where to get a haircut or as serious about what it’s like raising a black son in the community.

Hiring is just part of the problem. Black instructors often feel uncomfortable at predominantly white schools when they manage to get hired by them. Black professors say they can feel invisible or hypervisible at predominantly white schools. Often hired as “eye candy,” they’re then either overlooked or scrutinized intensely, both of which push them to look for jobs elsewhere, Vanderbilt’s McGee said.

“They don’t want to stay in that toxic environment, so they leave,” said McGee, who moved to Nashville herself about seven years ago, in part because she was worried about her black son’s safety in Chicago, where she lived while working as a researcher at Northwestern University.

Black professors often get called by the wrong names even after they’ve been working on a campus for a few years, said Marybeth Gasman, a University of Pennsylvania education professor who directs the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. They’re asked constantly to serve on committees and to mentor black students.

Then there are the “microaggressions,” as Gasman and others describe them, such as frequent comments about their appearance or their work hours.

“In any work environment, if you bring someone in and they’re not treated well, they’re going to leave,” said Gasman.

It wasn’t a toxic environment that led Kimberly Griffin, a black associate education professor at the University of Maryland, to leave Pennsylvania State University six years ago, even though just 4.3 percent of tenure-track instructors there are black, federal data show. It was the school’s relative isolation in a rural part of the state.

“I think it was more the desire to live a more full and complete life,” said Griffin, who studies, among other subjects, retention of black professors.

But she said universities such as Penn State could do more to make black professors feel welcome. As one of the few black teachers on campus, Griffin said she was constantly asked to do extra work on hiring committees, which made her feel like a token rather than a valued member of the faculty.

Those kinds of burdens are why schools have so much trouble keeping African-American professors, she said.

“It always seems like places are hiring scholars of color, but they’re hiring people to replace people who just left,” she said. “It will continue to happen because the environment doesn’t change. They look at candidates and say, ‘What can we do to make this person stay?’ But they don’t look at themselves and what they can do.”

Black professors shouldn’t be treated as window dressing or mentors, said McGee.

“I’m not hired to be anybody’s mentor,” she said. “The mentoring is the icing on the cake, but don’t forget about the cake.”

Data analysis by Peter D’Amato. This story about university faculty diversity was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

Featured Photo: Istock.

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CRT Awarded Grant to Address Opioid Addiction


HARTFORD — Of the five major cities in Connecticut, Hartford has the highest rate of Opioid-related deaths.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services agency awarded a three-year federal grant to Community Renewal Team to help those addicted to Opioid.

The $1.6 million grant will help expand access to CRT’s Behavioral Health Services to provide medication assisted treatment for Opioid Use Disorder.

The grant will serve individuals in Greater Hartford and will prioritize recently released offenders, said CRT’s Vice President of Clinical Support Services Heidi Lubetkin.

The overall goals include increasing the number of individuals receiving integrated care and decreasing the number of Opioid use at a six-month follow-up care.

CRT will be working with the University of Connecticut to evaluate the program and follow-up with clients.

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CAIR: Spike in Hate Crimes Against Muslims


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported that there’s a spike in hate crime against Muslims and is calling for stepped up security measures.

The call comes after an envelope containing white powder and hate mail with derogatory comments about Islam were sent to a mosque in Groton.

A 43-year-old man was exposed to the powder after he opened the envelope at the Islamic Center of New London at 16 Fort St, according to police.

The Groton Police Department and the FBI are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

“We are in contact with mosque officials and law enforcement authorities and will continue to monitor the situation,” said CAIR-Connecticut Executive Director Alicia Strong. “We advise all Connecticut mosques and other Islamic institutions to remain alert for any suspicious letters or packages. If you do receive anything suspicious notify authorities immediately and report the incident to CAIR-Connecticut.”

Strong is also urging Islamic institutions to take extra security precautions using its “Best Practices for Mosque and Community Safety” booklet. The advice in CAIR’s security publication is applicable to religious institutions of all faiths.

The booklet may be viewed here or at: https://tinyurl.com/BestSafetyPractices

The Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization recently released an update on anti-Muslim incidents nationwide between April and June of 2018 indicating that anti-Muslim bias incidents and hate crimes are up 83 and 21 percent respectively, as compared to the first quarter of 2018.

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Connecticut’s Unemployment Rate Dips


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

Connecticut’s unemployment rate dipped slightly in August, according to the state Department of Labor’s report released on Thursday.

Employers added 1,100 jobs in August, helping its unemployment rate drop from 4.4 percent to 4.3 percent, according to the report. This is the fourth straight monthly gain in jobs.

Last year,  the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent.

The U.S. unemployment rate in August was 3.9 percent, down from 4.4 percent in the previous year. Connecticut has the highest unemployment rate in New England, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. New Hampshire has the lowest rate of 2.7 percent.

Connecticut has now recovered 86 percent (105,400 jobs) of the 119,100 seasonally adjusted jobs lost in the “Great Recession.”

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Many Nurses Lack Knowledge of Health Risks for New Mothers, Study Finds


By Nina Martin, ProPublica, and Renee Montagne, NPR News 

In recent months, mothers who nearly died in the hours and days after giving birth have repeatedly told ProPublica and NPR that their doctors and nurses were often slow to recognize the warning signs that their bodies weren’t healing properly. Now, an eye-opening new study substantiates some of these concerns.

The nationwide survey of 372 postpartum nurses, published Tuesday in the MCN/American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, found that many of them were ill-informed about the dangers new mothers face. Needing more education themselves, they were unable to fulfill their critical role of educating moms about symptoms like painful swelling, headaches, heavy bleeding and breathing problems that could indicate potentially life-threatening complications.

By failing to alert new mothers to such risks, the peer-reviewed study found, nurses may be missing an opportunity to help reduce the maternal mortality rate in the U.S., the highest among affluent nations. An estimated 700 to 900 women die in the U.S. every year from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes and 65,000 nearly die, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The rates are highest for black mothers and women in rural areas. In a recent CDC Foundation analysis of data from four states, nearly 60 percent of maternal deaths were preventable.

Forty-six percent of nurses who responded to the survey were unaware that maternal mortality has risen in the U.S. in recent years, and 19 percent thought maternal deaths had actually declined. “If [nurses] aren’t aware that there’s been a rise in maternal mortality, then it makes it less urgent to explain to women what the warning signs are,” said study co-author Debra Bingham, who heads the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement and teaches at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

Only 12 percent of the respondents knew that the majority of maternal deaths occur in the days and weeks after delivery. Only 24 percent correctly identified heart-related problems as the leading cause of maternal death in the U.S. In fact, cardiovascular disease and heart failure — which, according to recent data, account for more than a quarter of maternal deaths in this country — were “the area that the nurses felt the least confident in teaching about,” says Patricia Suplee, an associate professor at the Rutgers University School of Nursing in Camden, New Jersey, and the lead researcher on the study.

Nurses also said they spent very little time instructing new moms about worrisome symptoms — usually 10 minutes or less. Many of the nurses said they were only likely to discuss warning signs of such life-threatening conditions aspreeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure), blood clots in the lungs, or heart problems “if relevant” — even though, as the study noted, “it is impossible to accurately predict which women will suffer from a post-birth complication.”

The post-delivery education provided by nurses is particularly important because, once a mother leaves the hospital, she typically doesn’t see her own doctor for another four to six weeks. Up to 40 percent of new moms — overwhelmed with caring for an infant, and often lacking in maternity leave, child care, transportation and other kinds of support — never go back for their follow-up appointments at all.

Figuring out the best way to instruct new mothers is all the more crucial, the survey noted, because the first days after giving birth are “exhausting, emotionally charged, and physiologically draining” — hardly an ideal learning environment. But like so many other important aspects of maternal health care, postpartum education has been poorly studied, Bingham said.

The respondents, of whom nearly one-third had master’s or doctorate degrees, were members of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the leading professional organization for nurses specializing in maternal and infant care. AWHONN began looking at the education issue in 2014, when Bingham was the association’s vice president of nursing research and education. “We had to start really from the ground up, because we didn’t know exactly what women were being taught,” she said.

In focus groups conducted in New Jersey and Georgia, two states with especially high rates of maternal mortality,researchers discovered that postpartum nurses spent most of their time educating moms about how to care for their new babies, not themselves. The information mothers did receive about their own health risks was wildly inconsistent, and sometimes incorrect, Bingham said. The written materials women took home often weren’t much better.

Some nurses were uncomfortable discussing the possibility that complications could be life-threatening. “We had some nurses come out and say, ‘Well you know what, I don’t want to scare the woman. This is supposed to be a happy time. I don’t want to seem like all I want to talk about is death,’” Bingham said.

But the researchers also found that nurses could be quickly educated with short, targeted information. Using insights from the focus groups, an expert panel developed two standardized tools — a checklist and script that nurses could follow when instructing new mothers and a one-page handout of post-birth warning signs that mothers could refer to after they returned home, with clear-cut instructions for when to see a doctor or call 911. Those tools were tested in four hospitals in 2015. “Very quickly we started hearing from the nurses that women were coming back to the hospital with the handout, saying, ‘I have this symptom,’” Bingham said.

One of them was a Georgia mom named Sarah Duckett, who had just given birth to her second child. A week later, she recognized the warning signs of what turned out to be a blood clot in her lung — an often fatal postpartum complication. “Those were anecdotes, but they were very powerful anecdotes,” Bingham said. “I’ve led multiple projects over the years and rarely do I get such immediate feedback that something is working.”

The shortcomings documented by the national survey could foster wider use of these tools, suggested Mary-Ann Etiebet, executive director of Merck for Mothers, which funded the study as part of a 10-year, $500 million initiative to improve maternal health around the world. “Something as simple as creating educational and training programs for nurses … can have a real impact,” she said.

This story was co-published with NPR. Photo courtesy of Propublica.

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