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'It's like we're building a new home'

MANKATO, Kan. — Torrential rainfall has set progress on the Jewell County Hospital’s $8 million renovation back a bit, but CEO Doyle McKimmy is confident the 12-month project will be completed on schedule.

The three-phase project launched in late June will include a new clinic, physical therapy building, and remodeled and expanded emergency room.

“We’re tearing everything in the north unit out,” McKimmy said. “If you went down the hallway now, you’d see all the way through everything. We’re totally rebuilding it.

“Once we get some of the framework up, we can always have different trades doing different projects. If they can’t do work outside, they can do work inside. It’s not going to be pushed out from July to early August completion up to October or November. That won’t happen.”

As the project moves forward, patients, staff and visitors have had to make temporary adjustments to navigate the interrupted floor plan, including use of an alternate entrance to the building while the former entrance, lobby, and business office are removed and relocated.

While the cramped quarters have challenged those who occupy the building on a daily basis, including the hospital’s long-term care patient population, the finished product promises to be well worth any temporary inconveniences imposed, McKimmy said.

“It’s a positive situation,” he said. “You have residents doubling up in rooms and staff working in tighter quarters, but I can tell you confidently that even on the really warm days here the residents or family members have not complained at all. They know about the proverbial light in the tunnel. They understand the finished product.”

Established in 1968, the hospital has had few upgrades during its half-century of service to the community. As neighboring health care facilities have spent millions upgrading their facilities the past two decades, McKimmy said, investing in the hospital’s future was the only way board members could see it remaining viable and competitive going forward.

Given the planned upgrades to be implemented throughout the facility, McKimmy said he hopes patients who had previously turned to other area healthcare providers for treatment will give the newly upgraded hospital a second look.

“Candidly, you reach a point where we have to do these improvements to remain in business,” he said. “We’re the largest employer in the county, let alone providing the health care in Jewell County.

“If you’re the doctor, you want up-to-date equipment. You certainly don’t want people to talk with their feet. If we can’t provide the technology and have a patient environment that’s modern, people will go elsewhere. It’s all comes back to meeting the health needs of our population.”

Additional upgrades that will enable the hospital to do just that include a new 16-slice General Electric CT machine, zone heating and cooling throughout the facility, an overhang canopy to cover the hospital entrance, and helipad on the northwest part of the property to give emergency helicopter crews an alternative to landing in the street when transporting patients.

BD Construction of Kearney is handling construction on the project, with GLMV Architecture in Wichita, Kansas, charged with architectural duties.

McKimmy said that — given the hospital’s reputable staff — he is confident the newly renovated facility will be embraced by the local community as its first choice to address its basic health care needs.

“Simply put, it’s like we’re building a new home,” he said. “We’ll have a very positive environment to offer. There’s a phrase, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ I would say, ‘If you improve it, some will return.’

“If you were seen at our current clinic three of four blocks away, now we’ll have a continuity of care where you can have blood drawn and X-rays by walking down the hall. It will clearly be an improvement for the patient, whether inpatient our outpatient experience. This has been long overdue for our community and the board is most pleased for our patients, residents, and employees that we’re able to do this.”

‘Robocalls are a scourge.’

WASHINGTON — The average American has received more than 100 robocalls already this year: annoying and unwanted calls, scammers looking to exploit vulnerable populations, and all manner of alerts — some important and others simply fake.

Twelve of the nation’s largest phone companies, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Charter and Comcast, will implement initiatives to prevent robocalls and encourage more enforcement as part of an agreement with the nation’s 51 attorneys general.

North Carolina AG Josh Stein led the group along with attorneys general in New Hampshire and Indiana. New Hampshire AG Gordon MacDonald and Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge announced the deal Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C.

“Robocalls are a scourge. At best, annoying. At worse, scamming people out of their hard-earned money,” Stein said in a statement. “By signing on to these principles, industry leaders are taking new steps to keep your phone from ringing with unwanted calls.”

All three attorneys general said robocalls are the top issue they hear about from residents, including ones who tell stories of being scammed out of their life savings.

Stein said his office put a petition about the issue on its website and tens of thousands of people signed it.

“It is visceral,” he told McClatchy in an interview.

“I hope one day we will be able to push a button every time they call and charge them a fee to be paid toward our phone bill,” said Jim Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general, in a statement.

The other phone companies involved in the agreement are Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Consolidated, Frontier, US Cellular and Winstream.

Other providers are encouraged to join the agreement, which is non-binding.

In July, North Carolinians received 166.4 million robocalls, an average of 19.6 per person, according to the call-blocking company YouMail. In 2018, Americans dealt with nearly 48 billion robocalls, according to the company.

“Beyond the scams and the spam, robocalls are having other damaging impacts,” MacDonald said, recounting the story of a New Hampshire mother on a liver donor waiting list who didn’t answer a call because she didn’t recognize the number. “It’s changing the way we engage with our telephones. We don’t answer the phone. There can be consequences for legitimate calls that are missed.”

To prevent illegal robocalls, the phone companies will implement call-blocking technology at no cost to customers, allow customers to access free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools, implement technology to authenticate calls are coming from a valid source and monitor networks for robocall traffic.

To help with enforcement, the companies agreed to investigate and take action against suspicious callers and trace the origins of illegal robocalls.

“The principles offer a comprehensive set of best practices that recognizes that no single action or technology is sufficient to curb the scourge of illegal and unwanted robocalls,” Henning Schulzrinne, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Columbia University, said in a statement.

Patrick Halley of USTelecom, which represents telecommunications companies, said the providers see a benefit in working with the government to weed out these calls, saying provider networks are being abused and customers are not picking up legitimate calls.

“We do this because our customers demand it,” Halley said at the announcement event in D.C. “If we reduce the ability of criminals, it increases the confidence of consumers. People aren’t answering calls anymore. That’s not good for us, that’s not good for consumers.”

It’s not just state attorneys generals that are hearing about robocalls. North Carolina passed a law this year that would fine telemarketers for spoofing phone numbers. Both chambers of Congress passed legislation to deal with the issue in near unanimous votes earlier this summer.

The Senate passed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act 97-1 in May to stop robocalls, while the House passed the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act 429-3 in July, McClatchy reported earlier this month.

The legislation includes some of the same principles outlined in the agreement, notably greater authentication efforts.

“While we, as states, want Congress to take action and want the FCC to be a strong regulator, we cannot wait for them to solve this problem,” Stein said.

Stein said he wrote North Carolina’s “do not call” law while heading the state’s consumer protection division under then-AG Roy Cooper. He said the list worked to stop telemarketing from legitimate companies and corporations. But those spamming phones today are “complete criminals who do not care about following the law,” he said.

“We had a number of years of peace and quiet,” Stein said. “I’ve taken it personally that they’ve flouted what I thought was a really big accomplishment.”

He said he has been working on this agreement since 2017.

“We want to shine a bright light on this sordid industry that exists in the darkness,” he said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in an April 29 letter to a House subcommittee considering the legislation, argued that some types of robocalls or automated text messages should be exempt.

“Fraud alerts, data breach notifications, reminders to renew prescriptions or schedule a visit to the doctor, notifications of power outages, and automobile recall notices are consumer-benefiting calls that must be placed immediately to be of value to the recipient. It is critical that these calls and text messages be completed,” they wrote in the letter signed by associations representing bankers, restaurants, retailers and health-care administrators.

Stein and others said the technology exists to separate the legitimate calls and reminders from those that are illegal and fake.

People who receive illegal robocalls should contact the FCC or their state attorney general, Stein said.

County budget team finds error

Double-checking their work before publishing the budget summary, members of the Adams County budget preparation team realized the county’s property tax levy rate should increase by just 1 percent, not 10 percent as anticipated.

Adams County Highway Superintendent Dawn Miller said she missed adding into calculations the motor vehicle fees owed to the county from the Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office.

Unlike most figures that go into creation of the county’s budget, that one, which amounted to about $1.1 million in revenue, was not an automatic addition to the budget preparation program. It is an input on the preparer’s end.

“We figured something had to be missed, and there was,” Miller said.

Before the correction, the proposed property tax levy rate had been 29.5760 cents per $100 valuation, which would’ve been an increase from 26.9141 cents per $100 last year.

Now, the county’s levy rate will be .272327.

That means for property valued at $100,000, the owner would pay $272.33 in property tax to support Adams County, instead of $295.76, as had been previously anticipated.

The payment for property valued at that same amount was $269.14 last year.

Adams County will publish its budget summary and public hearing notice in Monday’s Hastings Tribune.

The county’s total property tax requirement will be $10,459,145.46.

The county receives other motor vehicle fees from the Nebraska Department of Transportation, which Miller had entered.

She and Ron Kucera, the county’s information technology coordinator, discussed other motor vehicle revenue the county receives and how the county would split that money between the roads fund and general operations. They were going to talk further with the Nebraska State Auditor’s Office about that and never got back to it.

“It was a big miss, and we’re thankful we found it,” Miller said.

Nebraska school pulls yearbook photos of teacher's baby

The Associated Press

WAVERLY — School administrators have halted distribution of a Nebraska high school yearbook in part because of a story that honors a journalism teacher for how she dealt with the death of her son only 96 minutes after his birth.

The district objects to photos of the baby that accompany the story in the 2018-19 Waverly High School yearbook, saying they violate a policy against memorializing students or staff who have died, the Lincoln Journal Star reported Thursday. It’s the latest example of officials blocking actions by students who want to mark such deaths.

The Waverly case centers on teacher and yearbook adviser Erin Konecky, who was named the state’s 2019 Mother of the Year for her work to make sure parents of babies who die during or soon after birth receive cards of condolence, rather than congratulations, from state agencies.

The yearbook story was written by Konecky’s students as a surprise for her, and was accompanied by photos of Konecky and her family, a photo of the condolence card she designed and one of her baby, Spencer, before he died.

Administrators have ordered the books reprinted. The order won’t change the article, but will pull several photos, including those of the baby.

Superintendent Cory Worrell acknowledged the story isn’t about a deceased student or staff member, which is spelled out in the district’s official policy as prohibited, but said the photos “give the impression it was a memorial.” And that, he said, violates the spirit of the policy.

School officials say the policies exist to avoid glorifying death and to avoid distracting from school events or publications. But such policies have drawn criticism at school districts that enforce them across the country, including several in Nebraska. In 2017, Irving Middle School faced backlash after pulling its yearbooks to remove a memorial honoring a student who had been hit by a car and died several years before her expected graduation.

Students who worked on the Waverly yearbook say administrators there have overstepped.

“My stance was I really believed my book was done correctly,” said Valerie Gerlach, who was yearbook editor last year and is now a college student. “And it was done with a lot of heart.”

Gerlach and Shiloh Roth, the current yearbook editor and co-author of the Konecky story, say it’s not fair to arbitrarily expand the policy banning memorials to a story about the achievements of the yearbook adviser. They’ve contacted the Student Press Law Center to discuss possible violations of students’ free speech rights.

Worrell insists the district isn’t violating student’s constitutional rights, saying, “School officials can still make determinations on what the content is in school-based newspapers and yearbooks.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,