Skip to main content
A1 A1
Lifestyle
"A scary time for parents"

The baby formula shortage in the United States has created a crisis for new parents, who are now forced to scavenge among a short supply.

No places in the United States are immune to the issue that first arose after a major producer on the formula scene, Abbott, had to close doors at its Sturgis, Michigan, facility following a reported contamination. Abbott was one of the few formula producers authorized to manufacture and market infant formula in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration.

Parents in Wilson County have been hit hard by the shortage, according the the county’s public health director, Adalberto Valdez.

“We know the infant formula shortage is a scary time for parents and caregivers, but our staff are here to help, and there are several helpful resources available to help,” Valdez said.

On Monday, the health director attempted to clear up some discrepancies about where to get formula, as well as share some tips about how to navigate the shortage using various resources provided from the state and federal level. The available resources for parents include the Tennessee Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). It provides vouchers that parents are able to use to purchase infant formula among other needed infant items. WIC has expanded its stores to include Target and Walgreens.

WIC also has a shopper application that Valdez recommended.

“The WICShopper app has a list of substitutions for when the normal formula is out of stock that is constantly being updated,” Valdez said. “The larger sizes of baby formula have also been approved. So, if you can’t find a smaller package, WIC has authorized you to get the bigger size.”

Valdez mentioned that following social media pages and accounts that track formula availability can be helpful but that those supplies don’t last long.

“Once it gets posted online, it runs out really quickly, because everyone flocks to it,” Valdez said. “As a parent, I would be tempted to buy a lot, but it tends to expire though, so only buy what you need.”

Valdez indicated that bulk purchases by concerned parents had in part, led to the current supply issues, likening it to buying trends seen in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The health director recommended researching milk banks, like the Mothers Milk Bank of Tennessee in Murfreesboro. Donations are screened and checked to ensure they are safe for consumption. If mothers can breastfeed their own children, Valdez said that would be ideal, but he acknowledged that is not a possibility for everyone.

“We have got a lot of calls for the CHANT (Community Health Access Navigation in Tennessee),” Valdez said. “They are a team that is here, and they help parents that are low-income and lacking resources. They have been getting a lot of calls, but since we don’t have the formula here, all they can do is refer them to outside resources. Most of those resources are run by donations, and right now, most are not getting those donations.”

As officials seek to address the shortage, a lot of countries are sending baby formula to the United States. Some of those formulas are approved by WIC, but a lot of formulas coming from other countries have to wait for approval. The health director warned that simply accessing another formula may not be sufficient for one’s infant either.

“The difference (between your previous formula and a new brand) is that the child might not take to it kindly,” Valdez said. “It might take a while for a child’s stomach to get used to it. There is not one substitute that is better than the other. It is just about what the child’s body is able to digest.”

However, a substitute may be better than the alternative. Valdez indicated that a lot of parents have tried to dilute the formula to stretch their limited supply over a greater length of time. That method can have health implications by leading to chemical imbalances, which can be dangerous for an infant. He also mentioned that the FDA discourages using any homemade formula, citing additional health concerns like chemical imbalances as well as gastrointestinal distress and possible allergic reactions.

One option that can serve as a temporary stop-gap measure is the introduction of cow’s milk for an infant that is closing in their first birthday.

“You don’t want to do it for too long, because you are depriving your infant of needed nutrients and vitamins,” Valdez said. “As a parent, I would not want to keep my children (on cow’s milk) too long if they are used to getting all the nutrients from formula.”

Valdez added that before making any kind of move like that, a parent should consult their child’s pediatrician.

For complete information, individuals can visit the Tennessee Department of Health website or can download the WICShopper app. Even if an individual doesn’t qualify for WIC benefits, it can be a helpful resource for locating formula.


News
Benson waves goodbye

A lot has changed for the Lebanon Special School District since its current director of schools, Scott Benson, took over more than 10 years ago.

However, one thing has remained constant. The students haven’t changed.

“Kids are still kids,” Benson said. “I have been doing this for over 30 years now. I started as a teacher and basketball coach. Kids were kids then, and kids are still kids now.”

During his 10-plus years, Benson has overseen many changes, from building new schools to navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benson will officially step down at the end of the month.

When Benson steps down, his successor is Brian Hutto, who was actually the first principal that Benson ever hired.

Asked if he felt confident that he was leaving the school district in good shape, Benson replied “absolutely.”

“With any leader that is the goal,” Benson said. “You want to leave the place better than you found it.”

Benson acknowledged that he felt like he was just the latest in a long line of LSSD directors to do that.

Benson has not always been the director of schools. His career has run the gamut of educational positions.

“The most rewarding thing for 30 years has been the relationship with the kids,” Benson said. “When I was a teacher, coach or principal, I experienced that relationship with children. It was very rewarding. I have now students that I had in school, who are now parents in the district. If they call me coach or mister, it tells me when I had them. I may not remember what I had for breakfast yesterday morning, but I can remember those names.”

Becoming the director of schools was a big change for Benson.

“Coming to the district office and being assistant director and then director, I really changed professions,” Benson said. “I no longer had that relationship with the children. I still see children almost daily though, and I still get enjoyment out of that.”

Challenges

Benson does not shy away from talking about the difficulties that his office has faced, particularly over the last few years.

“When faced with uncertain issues, you do what you have to do,” Benson said. “You just roll with the punches. You have to be flexible. Being an educator, your schedule can change on a whim. You have a classroom with 25 kids, and something happens with one of them, you have to be flexible.”

COVID-19 really disrupted things at the school district.

“There were a lot of changes to rules and regulations that came as a result of the pandemic,” Benson said. “I think as a result of accountability, mandates and guidelines, there was a point where we stopped allowing kids to be kids, but I think we are getting back to that a little bit.”

According to Benson, in an educational role, there is always going to be outside noise, from critics and skeptics. However, he mentioned that always made a point not to be dismissive of the noise.

“Lots of good comes from the noise,” Benson said. “The processes of teaching and what we have learned in the field of education have evolved over the years. How we have improved, and the resources that we have available have evolved too.”

The outgoing director worries that education in general has leaned into testing too.

“The whole purpose behind testing was a good thing in the beginning, but it’s become the end-all-be-all,” Benson said.

Growth

Benson has seen significant growth, not just in terms of total students but also in the construction of new schools. He was the district’s assistant director when Winfree Bryant Middle School was built, and just last year, Jones Brummett Elementary School was opened on the corner of Hartmann Drive and Coles Ferry Pike.

When Benson took over, the school district only had approximately 3,000 students.

“We’re hitting 4,200 now, and we’re still growing,” Benson said.

Benson indicated that when the land that Jones Brummett was built on was acquired, the school district had plans to build a middle school on the property as well.

“We thought that the middle school would be our next build, but the way the growth has happened, we are thinking an elementary school could be the district’s next build,” Benson said.

Benson added that the alleviation that came from opening Jones Brummett did not last long as capacities in district schools are already being pushed again.

“People are flocking to Middle Tennessee,” Benson said. “There is not a week that goes by that we don’t have people enroll from out of state.”

What’s next

As for what he plans to do now, Benson isn’t so sure, but he did indicate that he is looking forward to the change of pace.

“I think that as rewarding as this has been, and I have enjoyed it, and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but the excitement is starting to build about doing something different, stepping away from the day-to-day grind,” Benson said.

Benson shared that sentiment with his predecessor (former district director Sharon Roberts), who told him on her last day that a heavy burden was being lifted.

“Don’t get me wrong ... making this decision is bittersweet,” Benson said. “I thoroughly enjoy what I do and have enjoyed doing it. We have a very strong office and support team here that I feel very confident in carrying on our good work. We have good, strong, school-based administrators. Our teachers are wonderful, top-notch, really second to none. I could not feel better about the team that we have here, how hard they work and how much they care about the kids.”

Benson said that he will still be around and doesn’t mind taking calls from former colleagues.

“As long as they don’t ask me to drive the bus, I’ll hear them out,” Benson said jokingly.


News
Addressing issues across the board

The Wilson County Budget Committee formally approved the upcoming budget on Thursday night, which will now go before the full county commission for consideration.

As a final wrap-up on the year, the committee had to approve a few, last-minute department expenditures.

Wilson County Finance Director Aaron Maynard explained that the county’s agriculture center had to move some money into a line item designated for fuel costs to cover the remainder of the year.

The agriculture center was not the only county department requesting transfers for fuel. Wilson County Schools Deputy Finance Director Michael Smith similarly asked the budget committee for approval to move funding around to cover the school system’s increased cost of fuel.

According to AAA, on Monday, the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in Tennessee was $4.64 after increasing 14 cents over the course of last week. That total represents a 47-cent increase over one month ago and a $1.76-increase since last year.

“For the second week in a row, Tennesseans saw record-breaking prices at the pump, “ said Megan Cooper, a AAA spokesperson. “Price fluctuation is likely again this week as the price of crude oil still remains high and increases in demand are expected. One bit of good news for Tennesseans, though, is that Tennessee moved up one spot this week to the eighth-least expensive market in the nation.”

The average cost for a gallon of diesel fuel was $5.62.

Jail staffing issues

Another request, made by the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, was to cover overtime caused by workers covering open shifts. The office’s assistant chief, Lance Howell, provided an update on the staffing situation at the jail that has prompted the need for extra overtime.

“As of last week, we had approximately 22 openings at the jail,” Howell said. “We made a lot of headway this week. I think we got three that were hired this week and six more in the pipeline trying to go through the process. We are trying to gain all the ground that we can.”

Since those positions are open, it does mean that money, which would normally be set aside for payroll, reverts back to general funds.

The full county commission will still have to formally approve the budget through a vote. That vote will be held during the next regularly-scheduled county commission meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. at the Wilson County Courthouse, on June 20. The meeting will not start until the conclusion of a public hearing, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

Expecting less-than-normal input from residents, the budget committee agreed to move the public hearing, which is required before any final vote on the budget can be made, 30 minutes closer to the official start time of the Wilson County Commission’s regularly-scheduled meeting. In year’s past, the public hearing would commence at 6 p.m.


Back