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Nation in brief

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 19, 2002


Ala. governor concedes

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Saying he didn't want to hurt Alabama, Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman gave up his bid for a second term Monday and conceded the nation's last undecided governor's race to Republican Rep. Bob Riley.

Riley, 58, will become just the third Republican governor in Alabama since Reconstruction when he is inaugurated in January. The GOP, which had ousted incumbent governors in Georgia and South Carolina, holds a 26-24 advantage over Democrats.

Siegelman, who announced his decision at the state Capitol, said he felt he could have won a recount, but it would have taken months of legal wrangling.

"So for the good of the state of Alabama, for the good of our people, I am dropping my request for a recount," Siegelman said.

Riley won by 3,117 votes out of 1.3-million cast, or by 0.23 of a percentage point.

Report shows hospice not being used to full benefit

WASHINGTON -- Terminally ill patients are spending fewer of their last days in hospice care, advocates of better care for the dying said in a report Monday.

Last Acts, a coalition of health and aging groups, looked at the availability of good end-of-life care. One central measure is hospice care, which provides dying patients with such services as pain relief and assistance in putting their affairs in order. It usually is offered in patients' homes and Medicare pays for it.

More people are turning to hospice care, the report said. Enrollment jumped from about 1,000 a year in 1975, when hospice care began, to 700,000 in 2000.

But they are entering hospice care closer to the time of death. Patients spent an average of 70 days in hospice care in 1983, but that dropped to 36 days by the late 1990s, the report said. In 1998, 28 percent of hospice patients were enrolled for one week or less before they died.

Medicare pays for hospice for patients considered likely to die within six months, and Last Acts cited studies suggesting patients must participate for at least 60 days to get the maximum benefit.

Government offers stern warning on listeria testing

WASHINGTON -- The Agriculture Department warned meat companies Monday that it will increase testing of plants for listeria unless they do it themselves and share the results with the government.

The department told its food safety inspectors to start conducting the tests Dec. 9 at plants that have not done such inspections.

Inspectors will target plants that process meats considered at high or medium risk of becoming poisoned with listeria, such as deli meat and hot dogs, said Elsa Murano, the department's undersecretary for food safety.

Processors are required to test their products for the bacterium, but not their plants and equipment. Some plants do their own environmental tests, but they haven't had to show the results to the government.

Babysitter accused of drunken driving with kids

COVINGTON, La. -- A babysitter with five children in her car was accused of drunken driving after she passed out at a rest stop and one of her charges, a 7-year-old girl, used a cell phone to call 911.

Linda Hebert, 40, of Picayune, Miss., was found slumped over the steering wheel Sunday and the car was running, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office said. The children were unhurt.

Hebert's blood-alcohol level registered 0.27 on a breath test, over the 0.10 limit, the report said. Deputies said they had to use pepper spray when Hebert became "combative," and she remained jailed Monday.

Two of the children, ages 5 and 9, were Hebert's. The others, 4, 6 and 7, were left in her care by a woman who expected Hebert to keep them in Picayune, more than 20 miles from rest stop.

Elsewhere . . .

WINDS HAMPER NOR'EASTER CLEANUP: Gusting winds sent ice-weakened trees crashing down across New England on Monday, frustrating crews as they worked to restore power to thousands of darkened homes in the wake of a weekend nor'easter. In Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, thousands of residents were still without electrical power Monday evening.

ELEPHANT CRUSHES ZOO HANDLER: A three-ton elephant crushed its handler to death Monday while being taken for its morning walk at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The elephant hit Mike Gatti, 46, and knocked him to the ground, Barbara Baker, zoo president and chief executive, said. The animal then pinned Gatti with her head, crushing him, she said.

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