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Germany Is Struggling To Fill Its Farm Labor Shortage After Closing Its Borders : NPR

Fresh asparagus is pictured in a basket at a field in Bottrop, Germany, in mid-April. Farms across Europe are facing a labor shortage as a result of closed borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Fresh asparagus is pictured in a basket at a field in Bottrop, Germany, in mid-April. Farms across Europe are facing a labor shortage as a result of closed borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin Meissner/AP

Arne Garlipp has farmed his 150 acres of asparagus in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt for 24 years. For much of that time, he has relied on seasonal workers to help harvest it each spring.

“Our Romanian workers live with us on the farm,” says Garlipp. “In the fields they’re surrounded by fresh air, birds and very few people.”

But when Germany closed its borders to slow the coronavirus outbreak, Garlipp and hundreds of thousands of other German farmers were suddenly in panic mode. Each year, 300,000 seasonal workers — mostly from Romania and Poland — come to Germany to harvest asparagus, lettuce, apples and other crops that Germans rely on.

Germany’s federal government has given special permission and offered air travel for 80,000 seasonal workers from Romania and Poland to enter Germany to harvest crops, but farmers say it won’t be enough.

“There will be an impact in the market, and we will see this later in the year, in the summer,” says Udo Hemmerling, the deputy general secretary of the German Farmers’ Association.

It is a problem playing out in farms across Europe, as counter-virus restrictions disrupt work and supply chains, and risk leaving unpicked produce to rot.

The situation is so dire that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has urged member states to allow workers to come to their countries, treating fruit and vegetable pickers as essential.

In Germany, developers have created a mobile app called Clever Ackern — German for “clever plowing” — to help fill the worker shortage on farms while also addressing unemployment in cities.

“It’s a platform where people, students, young people and people who just lost their jobs register and tell us their availability on the upcoming weeks and months to help farmers on their fields,” app developer Fabian Höhne says.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Höhne ran a travel booking app that offered last-minute discounted airline tickets to students. With hardly anyone flying, he and his staff shifted gears and came up with the program connecting farmers and potential workers. The service is free of charge. Within days of launching in March, 40,000 people registered to become farm workers, the developer says.

“I think the great weather, of course, is bringing people outside, and they’re saying, ‘OK, yeah, let’s do something. Let’s help,’ ” says Höhne.

But farmer Garlipp is skeptical about the idea of city folks working in the fields, and he isn’t convinced it is a good idea health-wise, either.

“If I take on [Germans] to help with the harvest — assuming they’re fit enough for the job — the problem I face is that they’ll come from all over the region,” Garlipp says. “I have no idea where these people have been or who they’re mixing with at the end of the day, and the risk of [coronavirus] infection is much higher.”

Garlipp says he’s received more than a hundred offers from Germans willing to help him on the farm, but it turns out he won’t need their help. Thanks to the German government, his regular team of 80 Romanians is among those who will be allowed to bring in the harvest this year.

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Community Health Centers Struggling As Fewer People Seek Care During Pandemic : NPR

Public health officials worry that the mostly low-income and immigrant populations served by community health centers aren’t getting proper health care and testing.

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Public health officials worry that the mostly low-income and immigrant populations served by community health centers aren’t getting proper health care and testing.

Maskot/Getty Images/Maskot

Community health centers had been at the front lines of health care in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods even before the spread of the coronavirus. But in the midst of the pandemic, patients who fear deportation or infection are forcing many centers to close.

Public health officials worry that the populations that these centers serve — mostly people with low incomes and immigrants — aren’t getting proper health care and testing, may be unable to quarantine themselves and could contribute to spreading the coronavirus to the wider population.

“People are worried about COVID-19,” says Joslyn Pettway, acting CEO of Covenant Community Care in Detroit, a nonprofit health center. “If patients don’t come in for a visit, we lose money.”

Covenant serves more than 20,000 patients each year through five locations with a staff of about 200. Pettway was forced to furlough about 50 staff members and shut down two full-service dental centers, because dental care is not essential, even though 1,400 patients are on a waiting list.

The lack of patients seeking health care is a direct result of Michigan’s tough battle against the coronavirus. As of May 18, the state had more than 51,000 confirmed cases, with Detroit registering more than 10,000 confirmed cases and 1,255 deaths, according to Michigan state health data.

“Our patient population has been hard hit, no doubt about it,” Pettway says. “Those health disparities that we’ve seen due to COVID, they existed long before COVID. COVID just brought it to light.”

Joslyn Pettway is acting CEO of Covenant Community Care in Detroit. So far Covenant has tested at least 244 patients for the coronavirus, and it is planning to open a drive-in testing site.

Courtesy of Covenant Community Care


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Courtesy of Covenant Community Care

Joslyn Pettway is acting CEO of Covenant Community Care in Detroit. So far Covenant has tested at least 244 patients for the coronavirus, and it is planning to open a drive-in testing site.

Courtesy of Covenant Community Care

There’s no better time to argue for affordable access to care for everyone, she adds. The coronavirus pandemic shows why we need to keep pushing to expand access to medical care for everybody, regardless of the person’s status, Pettway says.

“Nobody is excluded from the impact of COVID. And so people who are unable to access care for a variety of reasons, they increase the spread of the virus,” ultimately impacting all of us, she says.

Community health centers, like Covenant Community Care, were launched in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity, propelled by the civil rights movement and the War on Poverty. Their aim then, as it is now, is to provide comprehensive and affordable primary care to medically underserved populations, regardless of their insurance or immigration status and their ability to pay for services.

Pettway says it’s not atypical for Covenant patients to delay care, especially preventive care. To many low-income residents, preventive health care is a luxury. They either can’t take the time away from work or lack transportation or child care.

“They were already struggling before the pandemic,” she says.

Covenant has been hit hard by the pandemic. Only one site is open for in-person urgent visits, such as testing for the coronavirus, newborn checkups or an abscess that needs to be drained. The other four locations are currently serving patients virtually.

Using $997,490 from the federal CARES Act, Pettway invested in telehealth software in March to keep the Covenant centers running.

“We are working very hard not to shut down locations,” she says. “The need is massive in Detroit.”

Family nurse practitioner Sage Davis set up the telehealth program for Covenant Community Care.

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Sage Davis

Family nurse practitioner Sage Davis set up the telehealth program for Covenant Community Care.

Sage Davis

Before the coronavirus, Sage Davis, a family nurse practitioner at Covenant, relied heavily on the full panel of a patient’s vital signs, lab work and physical exam. Now she doesn’t have that information to make decisions about a patient’s treatment.

Davis is making different calculations, along with her patients.

“What’s the risk of possible exposure going to medical facilities? And then, what’s the risk if we don’t get those lab work right now or we don’t get this imaging right now?” she asks. “It takes a lot of clinical judgment to determine if this is something that we really do need to get right now or if it’s something that can wait. We really are looking at the patient in front of us and just treating our patient.”

Davis, who is managing the center’s transition to telehealth, says she constantly reminds her patients to call back if things get worse or change. A decision made today gets reviewed and assessed, she says.

“I do have options for sending people to an in-person visit if they need it,” and that gives Davis peace of mind.

One of the silver linings of telehealth, Davis says, is that before COVID-19, patients stepped out of their environment to come into the center for care.

“Now we’re in their environment in a way,” which Davis says is helpful.

For example, let’s say a patient with diabetes and joint problems walks up the stairs slowly and unsteadily to get a thermometer.

“I can see in the video the amount of time and effort it takes her to climb that set of stairs,” she says. “Whereas in my office, I’m cognizant of her joint problem, but I don’t see her climbing stairs.”

Around the U.S., 1,400 health center organizations across 14,000 locations in rural and urban areas serve more than 29 million people, most of whom are low income, are uninsured or on Medicaid and Medicare, or are immigrants, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers. Almost 2,000 sites have shut down since the pandemic hit.

“Financially, these centers are getting a blow in this pandemic,” says Dr. Ron Yee, chief medical officer for the National Association of Community Health Centers.

“When you cut your visits by half, that’s going to change your revenue, even though you may make up for it a little bit with virtual visits,” Yee says.

Dr. Edgar Chavez of Universal Community Health Center in Los Angeles says that it’s scary to see people relax social distancing rules. “Just because the government says you can open, you can go back to work, doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared,” he says. “The virus is still around and can infect people.”

Juan Gallegos


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Juan Gallegos

Dr. Edgar Chavez of Universal Community Health Center in Los Angeles says that it’s scary to see people relax social distancing rules. “Just because the government says you can open, you can go back to work, doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared,” he says. “The virus is still around and can infect people.”

Juan Gallegos

Virtual visits don’t get reimbursed at the same rate as regular in-person visits. For example, he says, an online visit is currently being reimbursed at between $13 and $93, while community health centers receive between $100 and $150 in reimbursement for an in-person appointment.

But it’s not only the coronavirus crisis that concerns Yee. Community health centers operate on short-term funding, and it expires on Nov. 30, unless Congress acts.

“I’m very worried about the future of our centers,” Yee says.

And doctors and nurses are struggling in this crisis.

“Right now health centers are projected to lose about $7.6 billion between April and September to get through this, to stay whole so that we can be up and running when we get through this pandemic,” he says, adding that this projection is based on a 60% decline in visits systemwide.

Community health centers are playing a vital role in this pandemic. As of May 1, more than 300,000 patients had been tested for the coronavirus.

In California, a large number of patients at community health centers are recent immigrants, says Dr. Edgar Chavez, who serves as medical director at Universal Community Health Center, a cluster of three centers in South Los Angeles.

Chavez says patients fear that being tested for the coronavirus will land them on a list to be deported. This mistrust of the government and reluctance to seek medical care stem from the Trump administration’s public charge rule, Chavez says.

Chaves is working virtually, and his staff is calling patients and checking in on them for depression and anxiety as well as to see if they need to be tested for anything.

“Telehealth can only go so far with chronic care. You still need that lab data point,” he says with a sigh. “We are going to have a lot of people that go without Pap smears, go without mammograms, go without all these different things that we use to improve and maintain their health.”

Chavez says he worries about the health of his patients.

“People aren’t eating well. They are not exercising, and they are anxious,” he says. “I fear that we are going to be hit with a huge wave of uncontrolled patients with chronic care-related conditions, especially diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.”

Chavez’s voice trails off.

“It is very tough,” he says. “We’re doing the best that we can, but we’re going to be facing a pretty, pretty tough situation.”

The need was already massive before this public health crisis hit and it will get worse after the pandemic is over, health care providers say.

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Struggling to Stay Afloat: 21 of 24 Ships at Navy Shipyard Failed to Meet Repair Schedule

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) watchdog has recommended the US Navy conduct its own analysis of its contracting approach after it was recently determined that ship maintenance schedule outcomes were less than positive and led to unexpected delays.

Despite the Navy shaving down initial price estimates for ship repairs through the implementation of its Multiple Award Contract-Multi Order (MAC-MO) contracting strategy in 2015, the US Navy has observed a number of setbacks from the pilot program, according to a 61-page report released by the GAO on May 11.

“We found that the Navy has lowered costs from initial estimates for ship repair. But that work continues to run over schedule – due, in part, to the extra time it often takes to coordinate funding for additional repairs that may have been expected but could not be quantified when the contract began,” the audit institution noted.

The GAO highlighted that while the Navy was planning to test a solution to these issues via a pilot program, it does not appear that it has the intention to assess that program’s impact on the service.

The report was centered on the performance of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (RMC) in Norfolk, Virginia; the Southeast RMC in Mayport, Florida; and the Southwest RMC in San Diego, California.

GAO schedule performance results across three Navy Regional Maintenance Centers

Auditors found that, for the Norfolk-based RMC, only three of the 24 ships that went in for repairs between 2015 and 2019 saw those repairs completed on schedule, averaging a total schedule growth increase of 38%.

Within this same period, Mayport’s RMC completed six out of 10 scheduled repairs on time, and the RMC in San Diego was able to finish three ship repairs out of seven on time.

The audit institution recommended acting Secretary of the Navy James E. McPherson “establish an analysis plan for the evaluation of the pilot program” and stated that the service “concurred with GAO’s recommendation.”

The report did note that the MAC-MO approach implemented by the Navy had resulted in increased competition opportunities, added flexibility to ensure quality of work and limited cost growth since 2015.

“During this period, 21 of 41 ship maintenance periods, called availabilities, for major repair work cost less than initially estimated, and average cost growth across the 41 availabilities was 5 percent,” the GAO explained.

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Elon Musk says human language will be OBSOLETE in 10 years, after struggling to pronounce his baby’s name on Joe Rogan — RT USA News

Elon Musk may have chosen a bizarre, cyborg-like name for his newborn child – just try pronouncing “X Æ A-12” – but the billionaire entrepreneur says spoken language itself may soon become obsolete with the rise of new brain tech.

Appearing for another episode of the Joe Rogan Experience on Thursday, the UFC-commentator-slash-podcast-host congratulated Musk on the birth of his sixth son this week, but couldn’t help but ask about the infant’s unique, headline-grabbing name.

“How do you say the name? Is it a placeholder?” Rogan asked, drawing an awkward laugh from Musk.

“Well, first of all, my partner is the one that mostly came up with the name… She’s great at names,” Musk said, adding “It’s just X, the letter X, and then the Æ is pronounced ‘Ash,’ and A-12 is my contribution” – which he says stands for “Archangel-12,” the CIA recon aircraft later developed into the SR-71 Blackbird, the “coolest plane ever.”




Also on rt.com
‘Monkey controlled computer with his brain’: Musk reveals brain-reading Neuralink implant



As the conversation drifted into neural nets and artificial intelligence, Musk said “Neuralink” technology – a battery-powered device implanted directly into the skull – could be rolled out within the next year, and potentially “fix almost anything that is wrong with the brain.” Eventually, in addition to curing disorders like epilepsy, he said language itself could be made obsolete thanks to the new tech – and perhaps unpronounceable baby names along with it.

“You would be able to communicate very quickly and with far more precision … I’m not sure what would happen to language,” he said, explaining that human beings are “already partly a cyborg, or an AI symbiote” whose ‘hardware’ is merely in need of an upgrade.

You wouldn’t need to talk.

Asked about how long it might take before mankind goes mute, Musk said it could happen in five to 10 years in a “best case scenario” if the technology continues to develop at its currently rapid pace. Of course, even in the entrepreneur’s brave new world, he said some might still choose to speak for “sentimental reasons,” even when “mouth noises” are but a primitive vestige of the past.

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