A1 A1
Show of support helps save Blue Hill Care Center

BLUE HILL — Azria Health announced Friday that it is lifting the request for closure of the nursing home in Blue Hill that was filed at the end of September.

The initial announcement of closure only weeks after the purchase caused an emphatic plea from the staff and community to allow the Blue Hill Care Center to remain open and allow the local citizens to house family members in a facility that was close enough to allow regular visits and involvement in their daily lives.

Azria purchased 15 facilities from Five Star, the previous owner of the nursing home and felt the need to cut the four least profitable facilities, which included the Blue Hill location.

The community formed a committee to look for alternatives within days of the closure announcement in an effort to save the facility.

Several companies began negotiations with Azria to lease or purchase the facility. But when negotiations from other companies started to fall short, Azria decided to move forward on its own, according to Blue Hill Mayor Keri Schunk.

“Azria felt that the support shown by both community and staff helped show that the facility has potential,” said Schunk after the formal announcement to remain open was made.

Staff members of the facility are excited to be able to put this behind them and get on to the business of caring for the residents.

“The staff and residents are very excited about the announcement that we will remain open. We are ready to take more admissions, hire more staff and move forward.” said Mandy Meyer, the business office manager for the facility.

The mayor and the community is also happy with Azria’s choice to stay open.

“I am positive that they will be able to turn this facility around,” Schunk said.

She took the opportunity to remind everyone that while this is a win at this moment for the community, the residents and the staff, there is a bigger picture that must be considered: “The fact is that this incident has brought rural healthcare to the attention of people who didn’t pay attention to the shortfalls in rural healthcare before.”

Cuts in rural healthcare are threatening the existence of healthcare in rural communities, and limiting the options for rural healthcare.

“We can’t stop here. We need to work to make changes at the state level and beyond to assure the availability of rural healthcare now and in the future,” Schunk said.

Some farmers get reprieve at end of challenging year

FARGO, N.D. — Many farmers in the Midwest and South whose planting this year was interrupted by wet weather are getting a reprieve, though a few Northern states have seen harvest prospects go from bad to worse.

Minnesota and the Dakotas have seen snow and rain in recent weeks that have hampered an already difficult harvest. But much of the Corn Belt has somewhat recovered from heavy rains and flooding in the spring and summer, with experts predicting good yields from what did get planted, though it’s still a far from stellar year for most farmers.

In its Oct. 10 crop production report, U.S. Department of Agriculture bumped up corn yields for Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota, and left the forecast for Kansas and Nebraska unchanged. North Dakota’s predicted corn yield was increased by 1 bushel per acre, but that estimate was made before the state was hammered by as much as 30 inches (76 centimeters) of snow. Many crops in North Dakota remain under snow and are now being trampled by snowmobilers and hunters.

“Barring any changes, corn farmers are generally saying it’s a pretty decent crop, although nowhere near the records in the last couple of years,” said Chris Hawthorn of the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service. “The acreage is down, but what’s planted is looking good.”

But some farmers aren’t so hopeful.

“Farmers are all in the same boat and I want to get off of it,” said Randy Richards, who farms near Hope, in eastern North Dakota. “It looks like the Titanic.”

Steve Nicholson, a grains and oilseeds analyst with Rabobank in St. Louis, believes the reality is probably somewhere between the doom-and-gloom predictions of struggling farmers and the USDA’s estimates. He said everyone who planted row crops — corn, potatoes, soybeans, wheat, cotton and peanuts, to name a few — has had problems this year and “not one of those commodities has been a stellar performer.” But he also thinks the markets would be a lot more unsettled if a total disaster was looming. Corn futures, for instance, would have been down, he said.

“I think it’s probably a little bit overblown,” Nicholson said. “If this is such a big deal than the markets would have reacted a lot more than they have.”

Either way, the average consumer probably won’t see what’s happening in the fields reflected in prices at the grocery store.

“In terms of the cost of your box of cereal and other stuff you find on the grocery store shelves” it’s unlikely to see much change, said Andy Jung, economist for The Mosaic Company in the Twin Cities.

He noted that harvest fortunes depend on “location, location, location” and called the Dakotas and Minnesota “the poster child” for poor progress. The USDA report lists the corn harvest in North Dakota at 1% complete, compared with 12% on average at this time of year.

Nati Harnik/AP  

Two combines harvest soybeans Thursday near Blair.

Overall numbers in the USDA report showed the soybean harvest about 25% finished, when it would normally be half done. The corn harvest is 22% done, with normal being close to 33%. Most of the wheat is out of the field, except for some areas in North Dakota.

Longtime farmer Bob Metz, in South Dakota, has a hard time remembering when conditions have been this challenging.

“When you get 1.2 inches of rain and snow and you feel lucky, that tells you where you’re at,” Metz said.

Richards said that for farmers in North Dakota to get back into the field to harvest their crops, they would need a warmup that melted the snow, followed by a hard freeze that would allow them to use combines without getting stuck. He said he has two neighbors who still have wheat in their fields — unheard of at this time of year.

“I’ve been doing this for 47 years and I’m at a loss for words at what Mother Nature has done to us,” Richards said.

Rise in vaping among teens a concern among school, health officials

The rise of vaping-related health issues has the South Heartland District Health Department and others sounding the alarm on its dangers to help combat the growing use of vaping products among teenagers.

According to the latest numbers released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have 1,479 vape-related, lung-injury cases and 33 deaths related to usage of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarette products, nationwide.

Nebraska’s first death related to severe lung disease associated with vaping was reported by state health officials earlier this month.

The deceased, who died in May, resided within the Douglas County Health Department service area and was over the age of 65, health department officials said.

Marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarette smoking, the latest statistics suggest there is nothing healthy about these addictive products.

Marketing campaigns targeting youth have resulted in an alarming rise in e-cigarette sales across the nation by students.

Large percentages of students surveyed in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties indicated they have tried vaping devices or are using vaping devices, according to local survey information released by the South Heartland District Health Department.

Asked if they have ever used an e-vapor product, the survey found that 45% of students in grades nine to 12 said yes. Among seniors, that number increased to 53%.

Nearly one-third of secondary school students said they had used an e-vapor product one or more times during the past 30 days.

Tobacco companies have added a myriad of new flavors to tobacco and e-cigarettes in recent years to increase their appeal among adolescent users.

E-cigarette flavors such as cotton candy, gummy bear and peanut butter cup, and cigars with flavors like watermelon, lemonade and cherry have made them especially attractive to younger users, increasing the urgency to educate students on the dangers associated with using the addictive products.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials identifies the flavoring of tobacco and vaping products as the primary reason why so many youth are using e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

Between 2008 and 2015, the number of unique cigar flavor names more than doubled, from 108 to 250, while researchers have identified more than 15,500 unique e-cigarette flavors currently available online.

NACCHO said the flavoring of tobacco and vaping products “alter the taste and reduce the harshness of tobacco products, making them more appealing to young people and easier for them to use. Youth often start using tobacco products with a flavored product and report that they use tobacco products ‘because they come in flavors I like.’ ”

Jeff Schneider, Hastings Public Schools superintendent, said vaping is a topic that officials from all schools should be concerned about.

At HPS, it has become part of the health curriculum to educate students at both the middle school and high school grade levels about the addictive nature and dangers associated with vaping.

“I think it’s a dangerous thing for kids to get involved with,” Schneider said. “It’s a topic we’re very concerned about. We’ve had situations that we’ve had to deal with that have involved vaping. I would be shocked if there’s a school that hasn’t dealt with it.

“It’s advertised as this great way to quit smoking, but clearly, it’s very addictive. We’re absolutely trying to educate students on it. We’re also trying to communicate with parents on it by providing them with resources, as well.”

Legislation has been introduced to target the targeting of youth with flavored e-cigarette and cigar products.

Bills introduced by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (“Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids Act” (SAFE Kids Act, S. 655) and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado (H.R. 1498) are currently up for debate in the two chambers.

Hastings Public Schools has an anti-vaping policy in place prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes on school grounds.

Schneider said the district will continue its grass-roots campaign to educate adults and children on the dangers of vaping and encouraged all residents to take an active role in the movement.

“This is a topic that it takes a community to really help with and we certainly as a school need to play a large role in that,” he said.

Nebraska court rejects lethal injection protocol challenge

LINCOLN — The lethal injection protocol that was used in 2018 to execute a Nebraska prisoner survived a legal challenge Friday from death penalty opponents who had hoped to overturn it to prevent the state from carrying out capital punishment.

The Nebraska Supreme Court sided with state officials who adopted the new protocol in 2017 to allow the state to resume executions.

Death penalty opponents, including state Sen. Ernie Chambers, alleged in their lawsuit that officials created the protocol without following the necessary state laws and procedures.

The new protocol gives the state corrections director broad authority to decide which drugs to use in executions and how to obtain them.

Nebraska’s previous protocol called for three specific drugs, including some that state officials weren’t able to get.

The lawsuit asked a district court judge to halt all planned executions on grounds that the new protocol was invalid. But Lancaster County District Court Judge Lori Maret ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to bring the lawsuit because they aren’t on death row and the protocol change didn’t infringe on their legal rights. Chambers and the other plaintiff, the Rev. Stephen Griffith, appealed the case to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Nebraska and other states have found it increasingly difficult to carry out executions because many drug companies don’t want their products used to kill inmates and are refusing to sell them to correctional departments.

Nebraska officials responded by refusing to identify their supplier, despite releasing such information in the past under the state’s open-record laws. The new protocol allowed them to obtain other drugs that were more readily available, and those drugs were used to execute inmate Carey Dean Moore in August 2018, the first time the state had carried out capital punishment in 21 years.

It’s unlikely the state will carry out another execution anytime soon.

Last year, Corrections Director Scott Frakes acknowledged in a court filing that his agency won’t be able to buy any more of the drugs that were used to execute Moore because the state’s supplier is no longer willing to sell them.

Frakes said he contacted at least 40 potential suppliers in six states, and no one else agreed to provide the drug. Some of the drugs used in Moore’s execution have since expired.


Follow Grant Schulte: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte