The Baltimore Sun

City ERs find ways to curb crowding

The Sun's article on hospital emergency room crowding as a national concern reported that "the problem ... grows by the day" ("Our ailing ERs," June 1).

But that's not true in Baltimore. Indeed, in Baltimore, key measures of crowding fell in 2007, after stabilizing in 2006. These measures include the number of minutes ambulances wait outside emergency departments and the number of hours ambulances were diverted from hospitals because of lack of capacity.

Many Baltimore hospitals have implemented key steps that help reduce crowding - including finding ways to bypass triage, centralizing bed management and developing short-stay units.

In addition, the emergency medical system has become more active in directing ambulance traffic.

The result is that patients who call 911 can receive needed care for life-threatening conditions more quickly.

There is still much more to be done. Pressures on the system continue to build.

But we should recognize that our local health care partners have tackled this important public health challenge.

Jim Clack Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, Baltimore's fire chief and health commissioner.

Ban texting while driving

It was with horror that I read about the latest study on text messaging while driving ("Texting drivers: R U 4 real?" May 26).

The study shows that Maryland is one of the worst states when it comes to this extremely dangerous practice and that 36 percent of Marylanders admit to texting while driving.

I am very aware of the kind of damage that texting while driving can do.

My daughter was killed on Jan. 3 by a tractor-trailer driver who was allegedly texting when the accident occurred.

When is enough enough?

It's time that we demand that the Maryland legislature pass a comprehensive bill that bans talking on hand-held cell phone and texting while driving in the 2009 General Assembly session.

Russell Hurd, Abingdon

Bill adds to threat group homes pose

The Sun's continued focus on issues regarding unlicensed group homes is commendable; however, the cause for concern here is much wider than the issue of unlicensed homes ("Care facility gets warning from the state," May 28).

The many issues involving licensed group homes and the state's inadequate capacity to monitor them have been well-documented. Those issues are matters of great concern.

A bill being considered by the City Council would further compound these problems by removing zoning restrictions and neighborhood input before a group home containing up to 15 residents can be opened in a city neighborhood ("Council weighs bill on homes," May 8).

It is clear that state regulators are admirably trying to do much more with fewer resources to protect the vulnerable.

However, expanding this cottage industry of group homes by creating a fast-track process by which they can get through city zoning rules would make a bad situation much worse.

Those backing the bill are acting in a reckless manner and ignoring the facts about the overcrowding and profiteering in such homes and the neighborhood destabilization that is too often a consequence of their presence in an area, whether they are licensed by the state or not.

Kenneth Lockie, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Lauraville Improvement Association.

Cigar smoke is a threat to others

The writer of the letter "Don't try to protect us from ourselves" (June 2) states that it is wrong for the city to ban cheap cigars. He reasons, "If I am not harming anyone but myself with my actions ... our government has no business involving itself in my day-to-day life by creating laws designed to protect me from myself."

This is a faulty argument because cigars create secondhand smoke.

Thus cigar smokers do harm others. In fact, secondhand cigar smoke has been proved to be more harmful than secondhand cigarette smoke.

Unless a smoker smokes alone in an enclosed space, he or she impinges on the rights of nonsmokers whenever he or she lights up.

Karen W. Gronau, Perry Hall

Protection part of state's role

I agree with the writer of the letter "Don't try to protect us from ourselves" (June 2) that "our government's job is not to protect us from ourselves."

However, when it comes to highly addictive, health-destroying drugs purposefully marketed to us by businesses (whether they be back-alley heroin dealers or big board cigarette manufactures), I feel it definitely is our government's job to step in and protect us from them.

That's part of what we pay taxes for.

Herman M. Heyn, Baltimore

Lead laws unfair to city landlords

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg's call to hold lead-paint manufacturers responsible for the deadly product they marketed and manufactured is urgently needed. He errs, however, in asserting that "the only people paying the costs for lead-paint poisoning in our state are our children and the Maryland taxpayers" ("Paint makers need to pay part of bill," letters, June 1).

Landlords and property owners, especially in Baltimore, have long been burdened with the enormous costs for the removal or containment of lead paint, a legal product that was applied many years before most of these property owners acquired their properties.

In addition, multimillion-dollar lawsuits are routinely filed against them, sometimes as many as 20 years after the poisoning allegedly occurred.

Lawyers, harvesting clients through radio and TV ads and employing sophisticated, computerized legal pleadings templates, typically sue every property owner of every dwelling the minor child ever lived in or visited and often include the owners of adjacent homes in their lawsuits as well.

Paint manufacturers, retailers and painting contractors are rarely, if ever, named as co-defendants, leaving landlords to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden.

William R. Garrison, Baltimore

The writer is a retired property manager.

Kitschy memorial is the real insult

A recent letter writer complained that Garrison Keillor's comment that the World War II monument in Washington "looks like something ordered out of a catalog" is an insult to our veterans ("A disturbing insult to our war heroes," letters, May 30).

However, Mr. Keillor's comment was an insult directed to the monument's architecture, not at our veterans. It is the monument's sappy architecture that insults our veterans.

This astounding piece of kitsch plunked down on the grand axis between the noble Washington Monument and the inspiring Lincoln Memorial is something that could well have been concocted by Albert Speer.

Our heroic World War II veterans deserve far better.

Dick Boulton, Ellicott City

Confusing symbol with nation itself

This post office flag flap reminds me of that old Star Trek episode in which the crew lands in a place that worships what turns out to be our Declaration of Independence, ritualistically mouthing its words with no clue as to their meaning ("Old Glory flies anew at post office," May 30).

My dad served proudly in World War II, in Korea and in Lebanon in his 30 years in the U.S. Army. He would get really disgusted with neighbors who left the flag hanging out overnight. He saw that as a sign of ignorance and disrespect.

But I believe that you can love America and still not feel compelled to wave the flag, just as you can be a good Christian without flaunting a crucifix in public.

I believe America stands for the freedom not to kowtow to any symbols.

Ingrid Krause, Baltimore

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