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Making Dallas Even Better

Leading Off (6/23/16)

Valley view center will officially be torn down. Dallas City Council members voted yesterday to tear down the 43-year-old Valley View Center at LBJ and Preston around the end of the year. Only the Sears store will survive. The Dallas Midtown development will be built in place of the mall, which has been struggling to survive for quite some time. Dallas Midtown will include features like a new-and-improved AMC mulitplex, a park, office buildings, a 250-room hotel, and a grocery store.

there might be a deck park above I-35E by the dallas zoo. The City Council approved a resolution that would endorse a Klyde Warren-esque deck park near the zoo as part of the Southern Gateway project. Some council members liked the idea. Carolyn King Arnold called it “lipstick on a pig.”

North texas areas to be sprayed for west nile. Mosquito traps in Cedar Hill, Duncanville, Richardson, and Lancaster tested positive for the virus. Crews plan to spray overnight Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday in Lancaster; overnight Thursday, Friday, and Sunday in Cedar Hill and Duncanville; and overnight Thursday and Friday in Richardson. Use that insect repellent, people.

Thanksgiving tower bomb threat determined to be hoax. Yesterday around 6 p.m. police and fire crews responded to a bomb threat at Thanksgiving Tower downtown. A disgruntled client on the phone with someone who worked in the building threatened to set off a bomb. The entire building was evacuated. The threat was determined to be a bluff, but it’s still being investigated.

Southbound I-35E to close Friday night. From 10 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, the southbound lanes of the highway by downtown will all be closed for construction. Heavy traffic will also affect Woodall Rodgers and I-30, but drivers on I-35E will still be able to get on westbound I-30. So if you’re planning to drive through this area during that time, you’ve been warned.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Seeks to Hike Insurance Rates 60%

The largest health insurer in Texas has filed with federal regulators for a big increase to its customers’ premiums in 2017:

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas has about 603,000 individual policyholders and, unlike other insurers in the state, offers coverage in every county. In a recent filing with federal regulators, a summary of which is available on, the company said it is seeking increases averaging from 57.3 percent to 59.4 percent across its individual market plans.

In a statement, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas said its request is based on strong financial principles, science and data. “It’s also important to understand the magnitude of the losses … experienced in the individual retail market over the past two years,” the statement said. The company says it lost $416 million in 2014 and $592 million last year.

Texas is the health care law’s third-largest market, after Florida and California. Texas state regulators said the insurer’s request is confidential and they can’t comment on it. However, Insurance Department spokesman Ben Gonzalez said the state can withdraw approval if the request doesn’t meet requirements and standards in Texas law.

The federal Health and Human Services Department says this rate request by Blue Cross is just the beginning of a process, that those seeking insurance individually will have lower-rate options for next year.

And if get your insurance through an employer (most of us), don’t expect to see increases quite this eye-popping.

Health Innovation Pitch Winner Makes Monitoring Blood Sugar Painless

A Dallas startup that created a noninvasive blood glucose monitor landed the top prize at the Health Innovation Pitch Competition as part of the 2016 Healthcare Dealmakers Conference.

Socrates Health Solutions, founded in 2013, developed a sensor that clips on to the user’s ear and sends blood glucose readings to the user’s mobile device.

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Susan Hawk May Have Suffered Relapse

FOX 4 reports that Dallas County district attorney Susan Hawk has missed several public speaking events this week. Her office released a statement saying relapse is common for those who suffer the sort of depression that led to her seeking treatment last year:

“She is taking the necessary steps so that she can continue to serve the community. She is being proactive with her mental health plan and is determined to stay whole and healthy to insure that Dallas County is safe and thriving,” the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office said.

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Leading Off (5/10/16)

Southern Dallas woman who was mauled by dogs has died. 52-year-old Antoinette Brown was mauled on Rutledge Street by a pack of dogs on May 2 and was bitten more than 100 times. She died last night after being removed from life support. This truly horrific attack is yet another indicator that Dallas needs to get its loose-dog problem under control.

Continental avenue bridge might actually be renamed for ron kirk. The proposal to name the Continental Avenue bridge for former mayor Ron Kirk is getting closer to fruition. Yesterday, the City Council’s Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee voted (unanimously, no less) to bring the proposal to the entire council May 25.

Frisco woman has zika virus. She traveled outside the United States and has tested positive for the virus, which is spread by infected mosquitoes. This is the first confirmed case for Collin County, while Dallas County has had six confirmed cases this year. Zika’s most common symptoms include fever, joint pain, rash, and conjunctivitis.

Stars win to force game 7. They pulled out a 3-2 win against the Blues, which means Game 7 will actually happen. It will be the first Game 7 here at home since 2000 and the first overall Game 7 since 2007.

Queen Bey is flawless at Arlington show. I didn’t even attend, but that’s just a given. Seems like the Formation Tour is her best one yet.

Leading Off (4/15/16)

Dallas Has First Confirmed Male-to-Male Zika Transmission. The Centers For Disease Control determined that a man who had contracted the virus during a recent trip to Venezuela passed it on to his partner through sexual contact.

CPS Workers Lied About Visiting Endangered Children. Some of those kids subsequently died from abuse or neglect. Awful, just awful.

Morning News Seeks National Buzz For Cartel Story. The article, which went up online yesterday afternoon, does a fine job of revealing how the Mexican lawyer executed by a gunman in Southlake Town Square in 2013 was a U.S. government informant allowed to carry on with his involvement in trafficking drugs into the country even as he was being watched over by U.S. handlers. Even more importantly, the DMN draws a connection between Juan Jesús Guerrero Chapa’s cooperation with American authorities and the explosion of cartel-related violence that has plagued Mexico during much of the last decade. Still, it’s amusing to visit the website of my local daily newspaper and read a phrase like “the quiet Dallas suburb of Southlake” that’s clearly written for an audience outside North Texas. Not to mention the story’s inclusion of a map that displays Southlake’s location relative to Fort Worth and Dallas.

Stars Win Playoff Opener. They dominated Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild, 4-0. Yes, I watched.

2 Men Indicted For Ripping Off TxDOT. Kevin Bollman and Wade Blackburn are accused of having purchased parcels of land along Interstate 35E between Lewisville and Denton, and pretending the land was under development, expressly in order to sell it to the Texas Department of Transportation at an inflated price.

Do We Have to Talk About Football Already? The Dallas Cowboys 2016 schedule has been released. It’s the fourth-easiest in the league, according to their opponents’ winning percentages from last year. Vegas has the over/under for the team at nine wins.

Enjoy the Outdoors Friday. Because it’s about to rain through much of next week.

It’s April 15. But your taxes aren’t due yet. You have until Monday because of a holiday, Emancipation Day, that’s observed in Washington, D.C.

Attention, Collin County: the Federal Government Is Coming To Get You

First there was Jade Helm 15, the government conspiracy to use black helicopters to take all our guns away. Or something. Now there’s the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — AND IT’S COMING TO COLLIN COUNTY! Operatives from the Centers for Disease Control will be knocking on doors and trying to inoculate your babies with a serum that will cause them to grow tails. Also, they want all your guns.

Okay, relax. The CDC is town. Starting Friday they are conducting a survey in Collin County. You can learn more about it from the press release below. Bottom line: if they knock on your door, and if you have the time, you should participate. Thank you.

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Why Dallas Is North Texas’ Unhealthiest County

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin have today issued their annual County Health Rankings, and by their measures of health outcomes based upon various physical, social, and economic factors, Collin County is the healthiest of all of the 241 Texas counties ranked (our state has 254 counties total).

It’s not surprising that one of the Texas’ wealthiest counties, with abundant access to medical care, has a healthier population overall. Likewise Denton’s (No. 4) and Rockwall’s (No. 7) places on the list make sense.

Among the state’s other big-city counties, Dallas County (No. 77) doesn’t perform as well in outcomes as Harris (No. 41) or Travis (No. 9!), but we are better off than Bexar (San Antonio) at No. 81.

Here’s a sampling of how Dallas stacks up against adjacent counties, as well as the U.S. and state medians, on several (but far from all) of the factors involved in calculating these rankings. Income ratio takes the income at the 80th-percentile and divides that by the income level of the county’s 20th-percentile to determine income inequality:

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Forest Park Medical Founder Guilty of Fraud

If you read Matt Goodman’s excellent reporting on the debacle that was the bankrupt Forest Park Medical Center luxury hospital chain (see the video above, from happier times for the company), then you may remember that one of the company’s co-founders was under federal indictment for fraud. (Full disclosure: My niece appeared in a TV spot for Forest Park.) From Matt’s piece:

The 11-page indictment argued that Toussaint bilked Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, United Healthcare, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for more than $5 million over 18 months in 2009 and 2010.

The feds accused Toussaint of charging for services rendered while he was actually under anesthesia undergoing surgery himself. At other times, they alleged, he was on a private jet, in another state, or in another hospital a few miles away. If convicted, the feds want eight of his cars, which include two McLarens and two Rolls Royce Ghosts.

Toussaint was found guilty yesterday. A sentencing date hasn’t been set yet, but he could get up to 10 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for each of the seven counts of which he was convicted.

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Leading Off (3/4/16)

State May Shut Down Dallas Psychiatric Hospital. The Department of State Health Services has asked Timberlawn Mental Health System to pay a $1 million fine and surrender its license as a result of safety problems, including a suicide and violent fights among patients. Universal Health Services, the company that owns the hospital, plans to fight the penalties at a meeting in April and hopes to reach a deal to keep it open. Timberlawn, in East Dallas, is the largest mental-health center in the city and one of only a few that accepts the poor and uninsured.

UNT Student Files Civil Rights Suit Over Alleged Rape. The woman said she reported being sexually assaulted by a UNT library employee in January but that the school conducted only a minimal investigation of the incident. The suit claims UNT’s response is in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1972, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. A lawyer for the man accused of the rape says a grand jury reviewed the allegations and declined to indict him.

Shooter Escapes on Hoverboard. A man was shot at a Northwest Highway gas station. When police arrived to investigate, they searched the area for the suspect who had managed to “glide away” from being caught. The victim was taken to Parkland Hospital for for treatment.

Podcast: Dr. Seema Yasmin Talks Zika Virus, Tornadoes, and Porn Conventions

This week on EarBurner, Dallas Morning News reporter and UT-Dallas professor Dr. Seema Yasmin returns to the Old Monk to explain just how worried we should (or should not) be about the emergence of the Zika virus in Dallas. Plus, Tim and Zac talk about the city’s recent decision to ban the Exxxotica porn convention and the announcement of the cast of Real Housewives of Dallas.

It’s Yasmin’s second time at Table No. 1. You may remember the show from last May when there was an overabundance of talk about rejuvenating vaginas.

Before you get to listening to the new episode, a few notes:

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Leading Off (2/11/16)

Third Zika virus case confirmed in Dallas. This was announced yesterday. The sample in this case was tested and confirmed positive by a local laboratory. The hope is that local testing for the Zika virus will help contain the disease. The Dallas woman who was confirmed to have Zika had shown symptoms after coming home from Honduras, where the outbreak is far worse. Four other Dallas County residents have had potential symptoms of Zika, and the CDC is currently testing samples. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Health experts say the major Zika outbreak in South America is not likely to happen in the U.S. but that Texas is one of the states more susceptible to minor Zika outbreaks because we’re, uh, well-acquainted with mosquitoes. Time to stock up on insect repellent.

Grass fire near Celina and McKinney destroys 50 Acres. Yesterday a grass fire was responsible for burning 50 acres of land north near the two Dallas suburbs. Several fire departments responded to the incident, which might have threatened a few homes. The fire was put out, and no injuries were sustained. The cause of the fire is not known yet.

Woman with cognitive impairment missing in Plano. 75-year-old Annamarie Doyle has been missing since yesterday afternoon. Because she has a cognitive impairment, her safety could be in jeopardy. Police say she was last seen driving a 2003 gold Jeep Liberty in Plano.

Zika Virus Confirmed in Dallas County

Dallas County Health and Human Services has confirmed a local case of the mosquito-borne Zika virus:

“The patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus is present. For medical confidentiality and personal privacy reasons, DCHHS does not provide additional identifying information,” the county said in a news release Tuesday. “There are currently no reports of Zika virus being locally-transmitted by mosquitoes in Dallas County. However, imported cases make local spread by mosquitoes possible because the mosquitoes that can transmit the virus are found locally. DCHHS advises recent travelers with Zika virus symptoms as well as individuals diagnosed with Zika virus protect themselves from further mosquito bites.”

“Now that we know Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, this increases our awareness campaign in educating the public about protecting themselves and others,” said Zachary Thompson, DCHHS director. “Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually-transmitted infections.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus become ill. Symptoms are usually mild, including fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis. Most people are fine after a week, though there is greater concern for the disease’s effect on pregnant women and their babies. Severe illness and deaths are rare.

I’m sure local TV stations will take a measured, not-at-all-alarmist approach to their reporting of this news.

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Forest Park Medical Center: More Like Krispy Kreme, or a ‘Gold-plated House of Popsicle Sticks’?

After writing about it for our business magazine and online for D Healthcare Daily, which he edits, D CEO Senior Editor Matt Goodman has become the go-to guy for reporting on the head-spinning collapse of the Forest Park Medical Center chain. Now Matt’s insights have been tapped by Lauren Silverman at KERA News, which ran a good synopsis of the luxury-hospital fiasco this week.

Likening once-fast-growing Forest Park to a “gold-plated house of Popsicle sticks,” Silverman quotes a Minnesota healthcare analyst who says the chain’s meltdown reminded him of what happened after Krispy Kreme opened several stores in the Twin Cities: “There was a huge amount of buzz, there were reports about cars lining up blocks long to get Krispy Kreme donuts and after a few months the excitement died out, [and] within about two years, all four stores had closed.”

Leading Off (12/11/15)

Police & Fire Pension Investigated Councilman. Documents surfaced on Thursday that indicate that back in July 2013 the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System asked a consultant — former NBC 5 JaMster Mike Snyder — to run a “forensic trace” on Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs, a member of the pension fund’s board. Gary Lawson, an attorney for the fund, couldn’t explain why the expense appeared on an invoice from Snyder, even though it was Lawson’s firm who had hired and paid Snyder’s consultancy on behalf of the fund. Snyder has also declined to explain the motivation for investigating Griggs. You may have forgotten that at about this same time Snyder took a bunch of heat for having set up fake Facebook profiles to comment anonymously on various blogs in support of the fund’s Museum Tower project in its ongoing dispute with the Nasher Sculpture Center. Based on other items listed on Snyder’s invoices, his “forensic internet research” was intended to determine the identity of other anonymous commenters critical of the pension fund’s leadership, especially famed/infamous-commenter-turned-FrontBurner columnist Wylie H. Dallas. It’s not a stretch to infer that Lawson or Snyder suspected Griggs of being Wylie H. and were hoping to prove it.

Plano Muslim Family’s Home Vandalized. Twice in two days. Come on, people, what were we just saying? We’re better than this.

The Morning News Asks “Are you afraid of going to the dentist? No? How about now? How about now? And now? How are you feeling about somebody rummaging about inside your mouth now? Now? We’re hoping to option this to be adapted into the next season of American Horror Story.”

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