Deanna Garcia

Assistant News Director and Chief Assignment Editor

Deanna fell in love with public radio in 2001, when she landed her first job at an NPR station: KRWG-FM in Las Cruces, NM, where she also attended college. After graduating with a degree in journalism and mass communications, she spent a summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern at NPR's Morning Edition. Following that, she was a reporter/All Things Considered Host at WXXI in Rochester, NY. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Deanna was the local All Things Considered host for KUNC in northern Colorado. In her spare time, Deanna enjoys watching movies and TV shows on DVD (the Golden Girls and Little House on the Prairie are among her favorites), bicycling, yard work, and reading.


Ways To Connect

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

With Pittsburgh being plunged into arctic temperatures for much of February, the rivers have seen more ice than usual. Pittsburgh’s ports and waterways are among the largest inland ports in the country – so the slowdowns caused by the ice are causing some ripple effects. Locks on the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers are still operating – though the ice is slowing traffic.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As you drive from Oakland to Downtown via Fifth Avenue, you still see many older buildings, but adding to the landscape now are two newly-constructed apartment buildings offering low-cost housing. One of the Uptown buildings is solely for people who have aged out of the foster care system.

“We have 24 young adults who will be moving into those units, and on the other side of the street we have 23 units that will available for working people with modest incomes,” said Larry Swanson, executive director of Action Housing.

Chuck Balcik / Allegheny Health Network

Forbes Regional Hospital will open an expanded intensive care unit next week that will look more like a 21st century ICU than the current unit that was opened more than 40 years ago. The facility in Monroeville is an accredited Level II Trauma Center, and will be adding a 20-bed ICU.

“This is a mixed medical and surgical trauma intensive care unit,” said Michael Hansen, MD, medical director of the ICU, “we’ll be able to provide the highest level of critical care treatment to the patients that come not only locally, but also from the whole eastern corridor.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The Guns for Opportunity program officially launched in Braddock Tuesday night with 26 guns turned over to Allegheny County Sheriff’s deputies. Before the official 4 p.m. start time, nearly a dozen guns had already been  surrendered.

The largest purchaser of supplies and services in Pennsylvania is the state itself. But, for small businesses, particularly those owned by minorities and women, getting contracts to fulfill those needs can be difficult. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill to help address that.

“House Bill 85, which enables minority and women-owned and disadvantaged businesses to compete with larger businesses for state contracts,” said Wheatley.

Among other things, the bill would provide the state authority to waive employee limits; give alternative certification when needed; establish a surety bond guarantee program and the Surety Bond Guarantee Fund; and, in contracts for public works, further provide for contractors' and subcontractors' payment obligations.

Tim Lambert / WITF

As Governor Tom Wolf prepares to introduce his first budget as Pennsylvania’s governor, two state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would limit state spending – with the ultimate goal of leaving the issue up to the voters. The bill, introduced by Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-Greene) would tie the spending limit to the growth of the population and inflation.

“That percentage is all that the budget can grow,” said Bartolotta, “when there’s an excess in that, 25 percent of that will go back to the taxpayers, 25 percent will go to Rainy Day Fund and 50 percent of that excess will go to pay down the pension problem.”

The change is needed, according to Bartolotta, because general fund spending has more than tripled over the past 30 years.

“The population’s only grown by 7.7 percent and unfortunately the budget has grown to over 1,010 percent in that amount of time,” she said.

National Institutes of Health / Flickr

Vaccines have garnered lots of national attention lately, due largely to a measles outbreak tied to Disneyland and an Illinois day care center.

In particular, more attention is being paid to anti-vaccination groups, those opposed to vaccines for reasons that are not religious or medical in nature.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As Pittsburgh deals with single-digit temperatures and subzero wind chills, some organizations are looking out for the city’s most vulnerable — the homeless.

There are several warming centers open throughout the city, including the Greenfield Senior Center and the South Side Market house Senior Center. There are also numerous churches and shelters offering a respite from the cold.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A task force charged with examining and recommending changes for Pittsburgh Public Schools has released its report after a year of work. It focuses on five areas: public safety, out-of-school-time programming, community schools, school funding and marking the city’s schools.

The continuing effort of Duquesne University adjunct professors to form a union got another boost this week.

The National Labor Relations Board denied Duquesne’s appeal opposing the effort; the university had asked for a religious exemption. But a similar case at Pacific Lutheran University set new criteria for qualifying as a religious institution.

United Steelworkers Organizer and Adjunct Professor at Duquesne, Robin Sowards, said the school doesn’t qualify, in part, because many professors don’t teach religious content.

Pennsylvania’s public schools are seeing declining test scores and increasing achievement gaps, according to a recent report from PennCAN, a statewide education advocacy group. Executive Director Jonathan Cetel said test scores declined for all grades according to state education data. More concerning, he said, is the widening achievement gap.

Following a report last week that affordable housing is getting harder to come by for low and very-low income families, a bill being introduced in Harrisburg would expand a program that improves rental housing in communities.

The Pennsylvania Housing Trust Fund was established in 2010 and first funded in 2012 with Marcellus Shale impact fees. It’s only available in Marcellus areas, but the expansion bill would extend the program statewide, without raising taxes or fees.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

After a violent few weeks in the Pittsburgh region, a local labor union is trying something a little bit different to get guns off the streets.

Many cities hold periodic gun buyback programs in which residents can drop off a gun without fear of arrest and get money or gift cards in exchange. With that same theory in mind, Boilermakers Local 154 is launching the “Guns for Opportunity” program. Through it, a firearm can be turned in, and in exchange, an individual will receive free training in the union’s welding program.

Each year VisitPITTSBURGH, the city’s official tourism and promotion agency, releases an Official Visitors Guide to Pittsburgh. This year there’s a change.

“What makes this a little bit different this year is that our visitors guide, we’re changing the orientation from a portrait type of orientation to a landscape, which makes it very different than all of our competitive cities,” said Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH.

The effort to reduce the carbon footprint of older Pittsburgh buildings is expanding beyond downtown to the area called “the Bluff” which houses Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District: Downtown has a goal of a 50 percent energy, water and transportation emissions reduction by 2030. This better connects downtown to Oakland – though there are no plans to expand into the area between.

Under the current law, parents of children who are chronically absent from school are subject to fines. If they can’t pay those fines, then they face jail time. State Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks, Lancaster) said he is trying to change the current statute from a “shall” provision because parents don’t belong in prison.

“We think that it needs to be changed to a 'may' provision,” said Gillen. “We’ve got 50,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system. Currently we’re exceeding our capacity by 3,800 inmates.”

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a federal law seeking to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of sexual harassment in prisons. The State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh is the first in Pennsylvania to meet the 43 requirements for compliance.

“They range from training and education of staff and inmates to how we handle investigations to how we handle data collection,” said Jennifer Feicht, PREA coordinator with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Some of the measures in place include:

Doug Kerr / flickr

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to continue with several projects in the Pittsburgh region, thanks to the inclusion of $225.5 million dollars in President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

“It’s about a 30-35 percent increase over 2015,” said Lenna Hawkins, deputy district engineer for the Corps’ Pittsburgh district. “It’ll do quite a bit for us as far as getting some major construction projects moving along.” 

If approved, it will go to two such projects.

Flickr user Martin

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ State Intermediate Punishment, or SIP, program aims to help non-violent offenders get needed treatment with the ultimate goal of ensuring they don’t become repeat offenders.

The latest report on SIP found the program does seem to be working.

“The recidivism rate for the SIP offenders is 10 percentage points lower than a comparable rate of a group of inmates who do not go through SIP, who go through traditional sentencing,” said DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

Allegheny County has responded to a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and a woman who is caring for four children without receiving financial help. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Tracy Schaeffer who has taken care of her grand nieces and nephews since 2012. The suit alleges Schaeffer was not notified of her options to become a certified foster parent.

The American Red Cross Blood Services provides about 40 percent of the blood used in transfusions across the country. In honor of Black History Month, the organization is urging people of all ethnic groups to donate blood.

“Blood from a donor with a similar ethnic background as that of the patient is less likely to cause complications, particularly for patients whose chronic conditions require repeated transfusions,” said Marianne Spampinato, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region.

Allegheny County has launched an online information portal that will put in one place information from various departments.

“You can go into the Health Department, look at their air quality index, you can look at the courts as far as their records, of course we have the property assessment records, there’s treasury data,” said William McKain, Allegheny County manager.

Such portals have been used in other cities, according to McKain.

Following last year’s passage of a bill allowing licensed volunteer fire companies and social organizations to sponsor small betting pools, one state lawmaker spoke on the Senate Floor this week and said groups are still being punished for that with Superbowl or March Madness pools.

One of the challenges many veterans face when they re-integrate into civilian life is finding a job. Though many veterans operate heavy machinery, drive specialty vehicles or perform other specialized duties, additional training and testing is required before they can get a job outside the military. A bill introduced in the state House would change that.

Rachellynn Schoen / Heinz History Center

One of Pittsburgh, and America’s, most iconic figures, Mister Rogers, had one of the longest-running children’s programs on television. Now, for the first time, the sets and props from the show will be on display to the public.

On the fourth floor of the John Heinz History Center is the special collections gallery, which is organized by neighborhood: there is an Irish neighborhood, an African American neighborhood and a "Neighborhood of Make-Believe."

Hoping to increase the number of successful liver transplants, a new organ preservation system is being tested which uses what’s called a “machine perfusion” technique.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine say the new system pumps cooled, oxygen-rich fluid into donor livers. This keeps the organs in excellent condition for up to nine hours before transplantation.

Before he took the oath of office, Gov. Tom Wolf said that as governor he would push for legislation that would implement paid sick leave for employees of businesses with 50 of more employees. That has some business groups in the state concerned.

“We’ve gone through this issue before,” said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “The problem isn’t in having people get sick time, it’s in government mandating or dictating exactly what that structure needs to look like.”

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, second only to drug trafficking, according the FBI.

Sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking, and in an effort to try and find and identify those involved in the crime, researchers at CMU are developing online tools that go after a major vulnerability for sex traffickers — the need to advertise.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly will go back into session Jan. 20 with new leadership at the helm. But much of the committee leadership is from outside of the Pittsburgh area. Of the 23 House committees, only two Republicans from the southwestern corner of the state are committee chairs.

“Committee chairs are very important positions,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). “It is driven by seniority. The chairs in both parties are the most senior folks.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Citywide, there were 71 homicides in Pittsburgh in 2014, well above the 10-year average of 55. The last time the number was in the 70s was 2008, when there were 74 homicides.

“This is a public health emergency,” said Chief of Pittsburgh Police Cameron McLay. “It’s having a disparate impact on our underprivileged and our communities of color.”

Twenty-six of the 2014 homicide cases have been cleared by arrest. There are 28 active investigations, eight cases with strong suspects and six pending grand jury or district attorney review.