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'A little bit of help goes a long way': Groups fight to reduce life expectancy disparities for north Tulsa seniors

Standing inside north Tulsa’s Carver Senior Center, longtime director Birdie Clifton is holding court.

Flanked by guests taking a break from playing card games and dominoes, Clifton explains the necessity for the facility she’s run at 1208 E. Pine St. for the past 28 years.

“They’ve taken everything from north Tulsa and moved it east and south,” Clifton said with sincere conviction.

The they, explained Clifton, are previous city leaders who, according to the woman, left its most vulnerable residents without recourse to consistently acquire basic needs and services.

The most recent data indicates that life expectancy disparities between post-retirement age residents who live in certain north Tulsa ZIP codes compared to other areas of the city have improved, but local stakeholders conclude there is still much work to be done to decrease the gap further.

A 2015 report assembled by the Tulsa Health Department called “Narrowing the Gap” cited efforts made by community leaders and officials to address the socioeconomic issues that lead to the varying life expectancy outcomes.

The report found that residents in north Tulsa live 10.7 fewer years than south Tulsa residents, which was an improvement of 3.1 years compared to the Health Department data compiled in 2002 that found the difference was 13.8 years.

The improvement in the disparity gap was due in large part to more than $46 million in public and private funds invested in health care facilities in north Tulsa: $15 million in Vision 2025 funds for Morton Comprehensive Health Services, $20 million for the OU Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Clinic, $10 million for the Tulsa Health Department’s North Regional Health and Wellness Center, and other investments in Crossover Health Services and the Hutcherson YMCA.

The 2018 Equality Indicators report found that south Tulsans who identified as senior citizens lived 13 years longer than north Tulsa seniors. The 2019 version of the report, released by the city in May, saw little change in the ratio comparison.

Reggie Ivey, the Health Department’s chief operating officer, said contributing factors to shortened senior life spans, like chronic isolation, increased health concerns and medical costs, continue to be challenges for those living in north Tulsa.

“There are many senior adults who are isolated. They’re not closely connected to what is going on within the community,” said Ivey.

That is why senior-oriented centers — like the one Clifton has run for years — are vital to the survival and social development of those who rely on the services provided.

“(Seniors) have to come to places like this to get meals or get information about what’s going on in the community,” Clifton said. “Without the center, a lot of them wouldn’t have something to eat.”

‘A little bit of help goes a long way’

It’s the lack of food security highlighted in the Gallup-Tulsa Citivoice Index that underscored the city’s problem with food deserts. These areas are often endemic to low-income communities where it is difficult to access fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Nearly half of black residents (46%) said finding stores or markets with fresh fruits and vegetables in the area where they live is difficult or very difficult,” according to the survey.

That reality is crystallized just by observing the stretch of Pine Street and Peoria Avenue where McDonald’s and Popeyes restaurants sit. A Taco Bell and Sonic are nearby. Currently, a Burger King is under construction and scheduled to open soon in the same lot with a QuikTrip that opened in March.

While the businesses promise jobs and a small economic surplus to the area, they fail to provide healthy dietary options for older residents with limited alternatives to begin with.

“We don’t have anything reliable,” said Clifton, who acknowledged that seniors regularly are forced to travel with family members or caretakers to south Tulsa to get fresh produce. “It does not make an impact. All it does is make it convenient for people traveling along U.S. 75 to get gas or a sandwich.”

To help fill the void, Eco Alliance Group LLC last month brought hope to the area when it unveiled renderings for a 16,425-square-foot grocery store that would be located in the 1700 block of North Peoria Avenue thanks to a $1.5 million federal grant awarded to the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation. Known as Project Oasis, the store is designed to provide access to fresh, affordable food.

District 1 City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, who described the opportunity as “huge,” said a grocery store project was something she had been working to achieve for several years.

“We were going to continue to work on (it) until we met our goal of having a quality grocery store in District 1,” Hall-Harper said.

Another obstacle that seniors are faced with is inconsistent transportation sources. Many seniors rely on family members, if they have any available, to travel to the places they need. To confront that problem, the Oklahoma Primary Care Association secured a grant that enabled it to provide transportation.

“Transportation is a big one,” said Cassidy Heit, an Oklahoma Primary Care Association spokesperson. “They need transportation to medical appointments, grocery stores, but many of them don’t have a lot of family members to help them. I would say that is one of the biggest barriers.”

Jimmy Avery, 68, has lived at the Jordan Plaza Apartments, 630 E. Oklahoma St., which primarily houses the elderly and disabled, for the past decade. He often relies on relatives to take him where he needs to go. When they’re not available, Avery says, he waits around for someone to give him a ride. As a last resort, the retired steel mill worker will walk, despite having limited mobility.

“It’s hard,” said Avery. “It’s really hard.”

The Indian Nations Council of Governments has also stepped in by developing the Creating Access to Nutrition plan though a $20,000 grant from the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center to provide service for elderly people to visit doctor’s offices and area stores. Its purpose was to implement alternate methods of transportation to help elderly residents become more food secure.

Clark Miller, INCOG Agency on Aging director, said the organization also arranged a partnership with ride-share companies that allow seniors to obtain transportation to and from their residences.

“For a lot of older people, a little bit of help goes a long way in making a difference for them,” Miller said.

‘We’re right on board’

Advocates and city leaders say they will continue to tackle social determinants that lead to varying degrees of disparity throughout Tulsa even though progress has been gradual over the years.

Krystal Reyes, the city’s new chief resilience officer, said the city — through its civic partners and its own efforts — will work to address equity numbers that are considered “still unacceptable” as they relate to economic development, social support, health care, and health care access.

One of those initiatives is the Community Health Improvement Plan developed by the Health Department. The planned undertaking attempts to address public health problems with a focus on education and access among other needs for all Tulsans, particularly for vulnerable citizens.

Another is a Community Development Block Grant used by Vintage Housing/Life Senior Services that provides housing for the elderly. Additionally, two new housing projects are in the works for Lewis Avenue and Admiral Boulevard that is expected to provide 46 units. The projects are expected to be completed within the next two years, city officials said.

“Our approach to addressing life expectancy is a multisector, multidimensional and multiyear approach to address social determinants of health,” said Reyes. “We are amplifying and supporting the work of our partners. Wherever we can highlight some sort of policy or changes, we’re right on board.”

Oklahoma woman explains how she got to know the Manson girls: 'They were programmed' for murder

In the weeks leading up to the summer of 1970, Americans could hardly turn on the news or pick up their papers without that infamous pair of eyes — intense and piercing — seeming to stare right back at them.

But as frightening as images of Charles Manson were, it was the identity of three of his fellow “Manson family” killers that unnerved Theresa Borden the most.

“They were young girls like me — like us,” she said.

Once that summer, on the off-chance of seeing the so-called Manson girls in the flesh, Borden and some friends braved the madness outside Los Angeles’ Hall of Justice, where their murder trial was being held.

“We just wanted to catch a glimpse,” she said.

“It was a carnival atmosphere,” she added. “It was just a frenzy with the media and all the looky-loos like me.”

They wouldn’t see the Manson girls — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — that day. But as fate would have it, Borden, a California transplant from Adair, Oklahoma, would eventually get much more than a glimpse.

She would get to know them in person.

‘They just never looked the type’

A former corrections officer at the prison where the trio served out their life sentences, Borden revisited the experience recently in an interview with the Tulsa World.

This Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9 and 10, marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous 1969 Manson murders.

“It was definitely an interesting time in my life,” said Borden, who moved back to her native Adair about 14 years ago.

Of the eight slain in the blood-soaked killing spree, best known was Sharon Tate, the Hollywood starlet and wife of director Roman Polanski. She was eight months pregnant when she was stabbed multiple times, along with three of her houseguests, at her Los Angeles home.

If the killings weren’t shocking enough on their own, the identity of the killers — young hippies acting on the orders of the enigmatic cult leader Manson — assured that the story would go down as possibly the most bizarre in the annals of American crime.

Five “Manson family” members were convicted. They included Atkins, Krenwinkel, Van Houten, all in their early 20s, along with Tex Watson and — for his role in grooming and inciting his followers to murder — Manson himself.

By the time Borden met them, the women were a few years into their sentences at the California Institute for Women in Corona, the only women’s prison in the state at that time.

Her first impression, she said, was the same as when she had seen their images in the media:

“They just never looked the type” to do such horrific things, she said.

However, if Borden had any doubts, they were resolved when she read their files, something she liked to do to better understand the inmates she was dealing with.

As she pored over the details of the Manson girls’ crimes, she could hardly keep going.

“It was just brutal,” she said.

Borden is thankful she never saw any of that side from the women, who were now removed from Manson’s control.

Krenwinkel and Van Houten were “model” prisoners, she said.

The former “was quiet, kept to herself. Never in any trouble.”

Van Houten, who had a job as a clerk in the prison’s administration building, “worked hard. She was very helpful to new inmates and new staff.”

Borden felt like she had a good feel for the pair. When you spend “eight hours a day, five days a week together, you get to know the inmates,” she said.

Which is one reason she was always wary of Atkins.

“Maybe the drugs had a permanent effect, I don’t know, but Susan was just crazy. Like she was in ‘la la land.’ And she was a master game-player.”

Atkins died in prison in 2008. Krenwinkel and Van Houten, who have repeatedly been denied parole, remain confined at Corona.

‘They were still human beings’

Borden, who had been in the sixth grade when her family left Oklahoma for the Los Angeles area, took the job seriously.

“I tried to be a good cop ... firm, fair and consistent,” she said.

She remembers how “scared to death” many of the younger inmates were when they first arrived. She’d coach them in what to expect.

Borden was proud of those who went on to do well, especially any who were paroled and turned their lives around.

“It was like a momma being proud of your child,” she said.

As for the Manson girls, Borden’s opinion hasn’t changed much over the 40 years since she first met them.

She doesn’t excuse their actions and believes they deserved to pay. At the same time, she can’t help feeling some sympathy.

“They were still human beings. That’s how I looked at it,” Borden said. “They were young and impressionable. They had taken a lot of drugs.”

It made them vulnerable, she added, and they had the misfortune of running into a monster like Manson who knew how to take advantage of it.

“They were programmed” to commit murder, she said.

Borden even recalls a gentler side of Atkins.

The convicted killer once adopted a feral cat living around the prison yard. It had a litter of kittens, and Atkins tried to give one to Borden. She declined at first but eventually gave in and took it home to her two daughters.

“Susan wanted it to go to a good home,” she said. “She wrote me a little thank-you note.”

No one gets more of Borden’s sympathy than Van Houten.

Borden has kept up with her efforts for parole and once wrote a letter online to the governor of California in support.

“I think back to that young, vibrant face and now she’s old,” Borden said. “She’s lived her whole life there. You do the crime, you do the time — but I would love to see her live out her last days outside. I know not everyone agrees with that.”

One thing it’s hard to disagree with: the late Manson’s responsibility for much of what happened.

The power he wielded, the “ability to manipulate people into doing these things,” was frightening, she said.

Borden’s former husband once worked for the Orange County, California, Sheriff’s Department transporting prisoners. He saw Manson once and described the experience to his wife.

“He said he was this little wimp of a man,” she said. “But those eyes — pure evil. Pure evil.”

Senate leader McConnell wants to consider gun background checks in fall

WASHINGTON — Shifting the gun violence debate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he now wants to consider background checks and other bills, setting up a potentially pivotal moment when lawmakers return in the fall.

The Republican leader won’t be calling senators back to work early, as some are demanding. But he told a Kentucky radio station that President Donald Trump called him Thursday morning and they talked about several ideas. The president, he said, is “anxious to get an outcome, and so am I.”

Stakes are high for all sides, but particularly for Trump and his party. Republicans have long opposed expanding background checks — a bill passed by the Democratic-led House is stalled in the Senate — but they face enormous pressure to do something after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that killed 31 people. McConnell, who is facing protests outside his Louisville home, can shift attention back to Democrats by showing a willingness to engage ahead of the 2020 election.

“What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell said. “What I want to see here is an outcome.”

McConnell said he and Trump discussed various ideas on the call, including background checks and the so-called “red flag” laws that allow authorities to seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.

“Background checks and red flags will probably lead the discussion,” McConnell told WHAS-AM in Louisville. He noted “there’s a lot of support” publicly for background checks. “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

Trump has been interested in federal background checks before — and tweeted Monday about them — only to drop the issue later, a turnaround similar to his reversal on gun proposals after the 2018 high school shooting at Parkland, Fla.

The powerful National Rifle Association and its allies on Capitol Hill have long wielded influence, but the gun lobby’s grip on Democrats started slipping some time ago, and it’s unclear how much sway the NRA and other gun groups still hold over Republicans in the Trump era.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump assured them in phone calls Thursday he will review the House-passed bill that expands federal background checks for firearm sales.

In a joint statement, they said Trump called them individually after Pelosi sent a letter asking the president to order the Senate back to Washington immediately to consider gun violence measures.

Schumer and Pelosi said they told Trump the best way to address gun violence is for the Senate to take up and pass the House bill. Trump, they said, “understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives.”

The politics of gun control are shifting amid the frequency and toll of mass shootings. Spending to support candidates backing tougher gun control measures — mostly Democrats — surged in the 2018 midterms, even as campaign spending by the NRA declined.

NRA chief Wayne LaPierre said in a rare public statement Thursday that some federal gun-control proposals “would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.”

The organization said proposals being discussed in Congress would not have prevented the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that killed 31 people.

McConnell has been under pressure from Democrats, and others, to bring senators back to Washington after the back-to-back weekend shootings.

Earlier, more than 200 mayors, including those in Dayton and El Paso, urged the Senate to return to the Capitol. “Our nation can no longer wait,” they wrote.

McConnell on Thursday rejected the idea of reconvening the Senate, saying calling senators back now would just lead to people “scoring points and nothing would happen.”

Instead, the GOP leader wants to spend the August recess talking with Democratic and Republican senators to see what’s possible. Senators have been talking among themselves, and holding conference calls, to sort out strategy.

“If we do it prematurely it’ll just be another frustrating position for all of us and for the public,” he said.

The politics of gun violence are difficult for Republicans, including McConnell. He could risk losing support as he seeks reelection in Kentucky if he were to back restricting access to firearms and ammunition. Other Republicans, including those in Colorado, Maine and swing states, also would face difficult votes, despite the clamor for gun laws.

GOP senators are also considering changes to the existing federal background check system, modeled on a law signed last year that improved the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, as well as increased penalties for hate crimes.

While many of those proposals have bipartisan support, Democrats are unlikely to agree to them without consideration of the more substantive background checks bill.

“We Democrats are not going to settle for half-measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side,” Schumer said Wednesday.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who, along with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is pushing a bill to expand background checks, said Trump’s support will be the determining factor in whatever gets done.

“At this point in time leadership comes from President Trump,” Manchin said.

Despite missing fiscal year target in June, general revenue hits record $6.86 billion in deposits

OKLAHOMA CITY — The state’s general revenue fund deposits totaled a record $6.86 billion in fiscal year 2019, but a June slowdown tempers the outlook for the new budget year that began July 1, state officials said Thursday.

“This (past) fiscal year has certainly been better than others the state has seen, but next year will most likely present some challenges,” said Office of Management and Enterprise Services John Budd.

Of greatest concern is a decline in oil and gas drilling activity and flagging sales tax collections.

“We are actively monitoring the effects of a drastic decline in rig count and other economic factors that give risk to a slowdown which could impact state revenue in the near future,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

June revenue missed its target by 1.5 percent, or about $10 million, as all major revenue sources underperformed expectations. Collections were still well above June’s a year ago.

Overall, Stitt said, “Oklahoma’s economy continues to grow at a moderate pace, and our Commerce Department is hitting significant milestones in job recruitment.”

An uptick in general revenue was expected after a series of tax increases and adjustments to tax laws over the past few years.

The adjustments have included substantial increases in the gross production taxes paid on some oil and gas wells. It is not clear whether the tax changes are a factor in reduced drilling activity in the state.

Active rigs in Oklahoma stood at 88 on Aug. 2, according to Baker Hughes, the fewest since January 2017. Drilling activity is also down in Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota and for the United States as a whole.

Oil and gas activity is notoriously cyclical, depending on price and other factors.

For FY 2019, Oklahoma’s general revenue deposits were 5.5 percent above projections, which means a $354.6 million deposit to the constitutional reserve fund, commonly called the Rainy Day Fund.

The deposit pushes the Rainy Day Fund balance above $800 million for the first time.

Nevertheless, as Stitt pointed out, $800 million is a relatively small percentage of the state budget. Stitt has called for maintaining at least $2 billion in reserves.

At $2.6 billion, net income tax revenue for the year was 8.2 percent, or $197 million above projections and $240.7 million above the previous year’s receipts.

The state’s other major revenue source, sales tax, totaled $2.1 billion and was 1.4 percent, or $30.8 million, below expectations and slightly below the previous year.

Gross production tax revenue totaled $725.9 million, which was 30.9 percent above expectations and more than double the previous year.

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