NNY hospitals continuously review Ebola guidelines, prepare for potential cases

All north country hospitals are educating staff on how to protect themselves from potential Ebola infections and prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

But it takes practice, skill and patience to properly don and remove personal protective equipment for that or other hospital-acquired infections.

“We’re really looking out for our safety,” said Wendy D. Henry, nurse manager at , who led a recent training session.

At Samaritan, hair should be pulled up, all jewelry taken off, then surgical leg covers and a waterproof gown put on, followed by a mask that covers the mouth and nose and a face shield.

“We don’t want anything to splash up in our mucus membranes,” Mrs. Henry said, because an exchange of bodily fluids is how the Ebola virus spreads.

Once the shield is on, other personal protective equipment includes a surgical hood and two pairs of surgical gloves that go over the cuffs of the gown to avoid potential skin-to-skin contact. The only visible skin on intensive care unit registered nurse Debra A. Sheridan and employee health registered nurse Kristin E. Worden was the neckline.

A special gel was put on their hands to show the possibility of potential contamination.

Mrs. Henry said the first step to removing equipment is to sanitize hands after coming out of the room. Fifteen seconds of “vigorous scrubbing,” is encouraged for all Samaritan employees for that step. Then, the first set of gloves is taken off, hands are sanitized again, then booties are untied, slid down and put in trash receptacle. Sanitize. The second set of gloves is removed from the inside out. Sanitize. Staffers then are expected to untie their hood, bring it around from the back to take it off where it isn’t potentially contaminated, sanitize again, remove the face shield from the back, sanitize again and then remove the gown by untying the waist first and then the neck and rolling the gown forward away from oneself. Sanitize. The last step is to remove the mask from the strap in back. Hands then should be washed with soap and water.

CDC RECOMMENDATIONS COMING

This isn’t how all hospitals don and remove personal protective equipment, but Karen A. Abare, registered nurse and Samaritan’s infection preventionist, said she suspects sanitizing after each step may become a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’ll do immediate training upon any change in recommendation,” she said.

According to the CDC’s website, as of Saturday, specific “PPE recommendations are forthcoming,” but there are related guidelines for infection control, visitors, hand hygiene and patient placement, among other suggestions.

Little tweaks in those categories, whether by the CDC, the state Department of Health or the World Health Organization, happen frequently, sometimes daily. Hospital staff throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties constantly review that information. Samaritan and other Northern New York hospitals are staying on top of guidelines and recommendations for Ebola preparation from the CDC, the Health Department and the WHO.

Samaritan’s drill was spot on, as both Mrs. Worden and Mrs. Sheridan were 100 percent contamination-free, as a black light showed not even one drop on the two nurses. They removed their equipment perfectly.

“I’d rather be prepared,” Mrs. Sheridan said. “It makes you nervous because you don’t want to have to (treat Ebola). We don’t mind (practicing) multiple times.”

It’s not just about Ebola, Mrs. Abare said. The equipment donning and removal session is given for all new Samaritan hires. This round just may be more specific, or tailored to Ebola.

As protocols change, the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association will share updates. All three associations issued a joint statement last week on how a “collaborative approach to Ebola preparedness is essential to effectively manage care of Ebola patients in the U.S.”

“We are committed to ensuring that nurses, physicians and all frontline health care providers have the proper training, equipment and protocols to remain safe and provide the highest quality care for the patient,” the joint statement read.

When a Times reporter reached out to Service Employees International Union Local 1199 for comment on Ebola preparations and regulations, Vice President Kathleen M. Tucker referred comment to Chelsea-Lyn Rudder, New York City, press secretary for SEIU. The union represents dietary and housekeeping staff, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians and unit coordinators. Ms. Rudder was unavailable via cellphone Sunday.

Evolving preparedness plans

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo designated eight hospitals last week to treat Ebola patients, the closest one being Upstate Medical University, Syracuse. The state Department of Health, meanwhile, issued an order that requires all hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers and ambulance services throughout the state to follow all protocols for people who present with Ebola. North country hospitals stand ready to accept potential Ebola patients, and anyone else who walks through their doors.

Meanwhile, at River Hospital, Alexandria Bay, Dr. Alfredo Torres, director of inpatient care, said some staff members there think the CDC and other governmental health organizations should be doing more to help protect health care workers to avoid potential Ebola contamination and its spread.

Some people, he said, have been running scared. Should they be?

“Yes,” he said. “This is bad stuff. It would not be out of the question we get someone with Ebola or an Ebola scare.”

That is because River Hospital could accept patients brought in by the Border Patrol, any shipping crews coming through the St. Lawrence River or international visitors.

“We go through this every year with the flu season,” Dr. Torres said. “We’ve all gone through H1N1, SARS, and we’re prepared for TB. Our hospital is ready. We’re refreshing people so we’re super-ready.”

Ebola has a 50 to 90 percent death rate. There is no treatment. Confirmed Ebola patients are given IV fluids and supportive care. There have been a few cases nationally, but none in the north country or elsewhere in New York. An Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed the lives of about 4,000 people this year.

Dr. Torres said since Ebola tests may be negative for up to three days, patients often are kept in isolation and then retested as a precaution.

“I’ve got goose bumps,” one River Hospital employee said during an in-service Ebola-related training last week. “It freaks me out.”

The best thing everyone can do, health care workers and the public alike, Dr. Torres said, is to read credible information from the CDC and World Health Organization. Staying informed is the best way to learn, he said.

By Rebecca Madden, Times Staff Writer

Professionals enjoy business chat at networking expo in Watertown

It didn’t take long for Russell K. Berger to strike up a business conversation Wednesday during the Business Networking Expo at the Bruce M. Wright Memorial Conference Center.

Mr. Berger, who stood at a booth representing the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, was approached by a gentleman who asked about the possibility of starting a cake decorating class at the Charles H. Bohlen Technical Center in Watertown. Mr. Berger said he plans to explore the possibility of starting the class at the center. He called the conversation an example of the essence of networking.

“If we have enough students with a single interest and can get an instructor for a program, we would do it,” said Mr. Berger, principal of the center.

Mr. Berger was among 65 exhibitors at the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce annual expo, sponsored this year by Samaritan Medical Center and cosponsored by Renzi Foodservice.

Situated at his booth were pamphlets advertising night classes offered for working adults at the center — manufacturing technology, adult cosmetology and carpeting installation. The manufacturing course was started last year in response to demand for skilled workers at New York Air Brake in Watertown, he said. Some of the students who attended the course last year were production workers at Air Brake who wanted to advance their careers.

“Air Brake came to us and said they had a need for skilled machinists,” Mr. Berger said. “For us it’s all about networking. If you’re in the business of providing students with experience for the real world of work, you have to connect with people in the real world of work to find out what they need.”

Kristin J. Boule, director of marketing for Westelcom, said she meets existing clients and potential new ones at the expo. She has conversations with people, for example, about how the company can launch cloud-based telephone networks for businesses with advanced features. For instance, professionals can check their voicemail messages using a smartphone app by using a system that operates “on the cloud,” she said.

Mrs. Boule said the expo offers an ideal venue to have those conversations about products offered by Westelcom, which has locations in Watertown and Plattsburgh.

“There aren’t that many places that have a forum to do business-to-business networking,” she said.

Linda A. Morrison, a real estate broker for Exit More Real Estate of Watertown, did some recruiting at the expo. Mrs. Morrison said she was inspired to become a broker for Exit More after talking with agents from the firm two years ago at the networking expo. On Wednesday, she did some inspiring of her own.

“I used to be an office secretary, but after I attended the expo and talked with agents I decided to do this full-time,” she said. “You can do real estate part-time and still do your regular jobs. Some agents are nurses and teachers who do real estate on the side.”

Peter J. Whitmore, a franchisee of multiple Jreck Subs restaurants in the area, said he attended the expo to “get a pulse” on the hiring climate in the north country.

“I want to get a feel for the employment trend and gauge the business climate,” he said, adding that he’d probably talk to most of the exhibitors. “I’m asking people how potential cuts at Fort Drum could impact their hiring strategies and finding out when they’re hiring. Some of them are competing for people in my labor market” at Jreck Subs.

A first-year exhibitor at the expo was Bradley’s Trophy & Promotion shop of Evans Mills. Grant S. Palmer, a graphic design artist for the business, said he makes customized plaques for customers. At the booth were plaques designed for employee awards and gifts for executives, including a wine case with a company logo.

Along with serving businesses, the company often designs plaques for members of the military, Mr. Palmer said. The trophy shop is part of Bradley’s Military Surplus store.

“I recently made a plaque to mount a hatchet, and we’ve also done spent artillery shells and had the pieces mounted,” he said.

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

 

North country hospitals prepare to handle Ebola if it strikes here

The threat of Ebola in Northern New York is real, but local hospital staff members say they are prepared to respond.

People have become worried after the recent outbreak in West Africa, a few confirmed cases in the nation, and a potential case across the border in Canada. However, Ebola, a “rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola (five) virus strains,” has been around since the mid-1970s, and was first discovered near the Ebola River, in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Local hospitals regard Ebola as other infectious diseases — they can occur at any time, anywhere — and health-care professionals know they must be prepared to handle any such cases that show up.

“We have to screen everyone now,” said Kimberly S. Couch, intake patient care assistant in Samaritan Medical Center’s emergency department.

As part of the intake process, all Samaritan patients are asked if they have been to Africa in the past 21 days. If they say yes, and experience symptoms of Ebola — including fever of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, muscle pain and vomiting — a nurse is called and precautionary measures follow.

“We know what to do if and when it happens,” Mrs. Couch said.

Michelle K. Michael-Korn, director of nursing for emergency services at Samaritan, said she thinks “anyone would be nervous” handling those suspected of having Ebola, but they are to be treated like any other patient.

“The patient still needs to be treated,” she said. “Patients are coming in, and, not making fun of it, but saying ‘I don’t have Ebola.’”

She compared current Ebola concerns in the nation to the 1980s, when people feared coming into contact with people who had AIDS because they were not educated about it. As with AIDS, people cannot get Ebola from being in the same room as someone who has the disease. Bodily fluids must be exchanged.

Local hospitals have practiced Ebola drills, following measures already in place for other infectious diseases. Full protective gear, from head to toe, is worn to ideally eliminate exposure from an infected, or potentially infected, patient.

Dr. Alfredo Torres, director of inpatient care at River Hospital, Alexandria Bay, said increased education about Ebola, including infection, transmission and contamination, is reviewed frequently as the threat looms.

“I’ve talked with a lot of staff who want to know” more, he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation; the number one thing is that it’ll never come here and we’ll never deal with it. We do — we’re a stone’s throw away from the border, where people travel from all over.”

Belleville General Hospital, Ontario, Canada, awaits test results from a patient who had traveled through West Africa and fell ill, to determine if he or she has Ebola, according to CBC News. The Canadian media outlet also reported that the case was low-risk, but the patient is being kept in isolation until blood test results come back. A patient in Ottawa thought to have Ebola does not, CBC News reported, as test results were negative.

From Alexandria Bay, just across the St. Lawrence River, both Belleville and Ottawa are about 1.5 hours away. Many Canadians travel to the U.S. during holidays, and frequent north country malls, stores and restaurants.

Because of the Ebola threat, Dr. Torres said all staff members are being trained on how to handle potential cases.

“We’re teaching our registration staff to be on high alert,” he said. “Even if you’re following exactly” what the CDC instructs for proper removal of protective wear, “it really doesn’t take too much deviation to expose someone.”

That is what is suspected to have happened in Dallas, where a nurse caring for an Ebola patient contracted the virus. The patient she was treating has since died of the disease.

“To be exposed means to come in contact with someone’s secretions or bodily fluids: for example, if someone were to vomit on you,” Dr. Torres said. Transmission “is strictly by contact. You have to touch a person’s secretions. If someone with Ebola were to sneeze and it got in my mouth, I’d be concerned.” Protective gear includes face shields, but hospital workers put them on only when a case is suspected. Mrs. Couch has no glass window separating her from patients when she takes them through the intake process.

Both River and Samaritan hospitals have conducted drills, reviewed drill reports and have kept updated on the latest information from the CDC and World Health Organization. The goal, hospital representatives said, is to always be prepared.

“It’s so out there in the news because it has a high mortality rate,” said Karen A. Abare, registered nurse and Samaritan’s infection preventionist. “As we progress through this and get the public educated, it’ll probably quiet down.”

How the situation unfolds in Dallas could either escalate or deflate people’s Ebola fears, she said.

There are no Ebola cases in Jefferson Lewis or St. Lawrence counties, or elsewhere in the state.

According to the World Health Organization, the following are key facts people should know about Ebola: the virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and then spread through the human population; the fatality rate is around 50 percent; community engagement can help control outbreaks; early supportive care improves the chances of survival; and there are no licensed Ebola vaccines.

 

By Rebecca Madden, Times Staff Writer

Work on deck at Maggie’s nearly complete after city’s hand was forced

Workers should wrap up the repairs on the flood-damaged deck at Maggie’s on the River later this week.

Work began last week, despite City Council members’ previous threat not to spend another dime on the controversial deck overlooking the Black River. They suggested in September that the owners of the Newell Street bar and restaurant pay for the repairs.

But council members apparently were forced to change their minds.

Last week, city officials confirmed that the city’s Code Enforcement office notified City Council that the unsafe deck must either be torn down or repaired. It would have cost more to demolish it, they said.

The city hired a Gouverneur company, Acts II, for $34,175 to fix the deck without letting the public know.

The city and Maggie’s have a tentative deal for the restaurant owners to pay the city $250 a month, year round, to use about 360 square feet of deck under a license agreement. City Attorney Robert J. Slye said technically the city is not legally leasing it because it involves using municipally owned park facilities.

The state Department of State still needs to give its final OK to the agreement, although the agency has agreed in principle to the deal, Mr. Slye said.

“All we have to do is get state approval,” Mr. Slye said, adding that could still take a while.

The work includes repairing the columns, adding mesh filled with stone and other fill material under the deck as protection and using pins to fasten the columns to river rocks. All of that work is slated to be finished by the end of the week, interim City Engineer Justin Wood said. It is unclear whether a set of stairs leading into the gorge also will be fixed.

The city did not have to go out to bid because the job is less than $35,000, he said.

The city’s engineering office received four contractor quotes on how much it would cost to fix, ranging from $33,300 to $58,700.

The deck was closed in April when water damage to its front columns was discovered.

The publicly owned facility became a source of some controversy after the city paid about $50,000 to construct it as part of Whitewater Park, and Maggie’s asked to use it for its business. State funding also was used.

It then took several years for the state to give permission for Maggie’s to use the deck to serve food and alcohol.

Council members indicated this summer that they had had enough of the matter. They contended that fixing the deck would create further controversy — even as the state Department of State finally gave its preliminary approval this summer for Maggie’s to use the deck.

Critics have said the city should have avoided the issue years ago and has now been put in the position of having to defend itself from accusations that it used state funding to construct a deck for a private business.

Maggie’s co-owner Reginald J. Schweitzer Jr. could not be reached for comment.

 

By Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer

 

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins on north country issues

Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for governor, has a long list of goals, not the least of which is becoming governor of New York state.

Realizing that goal may be a few years off, even in the most optimistic of projections, Mr. Hawkins is concentrating on building support for his political party, which has received its fair share of attention in the 21st Congressional District, where Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello has polled at 10 percent of the vote.

“Hopefully with a good vote that’ll be our calling card to go organize people who will see us not just as a protest vote every four years but as an ongoing third major party in the state, which will really open up the political debate,” Mr. Hawkins said.

Mr. Hawkins visited Times offices recently, making the drive from Syracuse in the Hyundai Accent that doubles as his campaign office, and spoke about his “Green New Deal” for New York, which would raise the minimum wage in the state to $15 an hour, establish a publicly funded single-payer health care program and provide public works jobs for the unemployed.

Mr. Hawkins, who faces major party candidates Rob Astorino, a Republican, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, in the gubernatorial race, also gave his thoughts on issues unique to the north country, including Fort Drum, the SAFE Act and the International Joint Commission’s “Plan 2014.”

On Common Core: “They started testing before they studied the curriculum. The curriculum came out after the test. That is part of it. But all they’ve done is paused it for two years. They’re going to go back to it and the basic policy is flawed. It’s just a way of avoiding some criticism now; it doesn’t change the problem. I’d want to see the teachers and local school districts more in charge of developing the curriculum for their students.”

On interceptor missiles being stationed at Fort Drum: “I’m skeptical of the technology, if it can really intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles. I don’t see it as a big job creator. It’s high-tech. You have a small crew maintaining the site like you do with the nuclear missiles.”

On Plan 2014, which has been opposed by homeowners on the southern shore of Lake Ontario: “I would lean toward improving the ecosystems because we all depend on them, and it’s a bigger issue than just that smaller group of people that have lakefront property. … Maybe you could mitigate it by having some discussion.”

On the SAFE Act: “I think it needs to be revised. I don’t like the simplistic slogans. … I think the amendments to family law, a lot of them are good. Somebody’s found to be a stalker or under an order of protection, it’s a good idea to disarm them. But a lot of the gun law changes are going too far. A lot of people’s rifles are suddenly assault weapons and they’ve been using them for hunting and sport-shooting and self-defense and those are legitimate purposes.”

Mr. Hawkins attended Dartmouth College, an Ivy League School in Hanover, N.H., but did not graduate because he failed to complete a foreign language requirement. A love of the outdoors and a commitment to working with his hands steered him to a career in construction, he said.

“I remember this class and this one professor said, ‘Unless you’re rich, you guys are being trained to write five-page memos, do all-nighters for the corporate or government bureaucracy that you’re going to be in,’” Mr. Hawkins said.

He lives on the south side of Syracuse, works unloading boxes for United Parcel Service and is a member of the Teamsters union.

 

By Daniel Flatley, Times Staff Writer

As winter approaches, schools ponder e-learning to make use of snow days

Last winter, it was a coin toss nearly every day as to whether north country schools would be open, be closed, close early or be delayed. With winter just around the corner, north country superintendents were asked about e-learning instead of snow days.

“It would be nice to not have to bus kids some days when the weather report keeps changing,” Carthage Superintendent Peter J. Turner said. “I think it’s an interesting concept, but nothing we have explored.”

Pennsylvania schools now have the option in the event of inclement weather and other unusual circumstances to use “nontraditional educational delivery methods,” such as cyber school. No discussions are underway about offering e-learning on snow days in the state Education Department.

“When a student is out of school because they are sick, a lot of them can look online and see what work they would be working on that day,” Indian River Central School Superintendent James Kettrick said.

Mr. Kettrick said most teachers make class assignments available online so students can access them from home. He said if a student is sick for more than a few days, a tutor will be assigned to make sure the student keeps up to speed in class. “On snow days we don’t advance school work,” he said.

According to an article in Education Weekly, “E-Learning on Snow Days Now an Option for Pennsylvania Schools,” Pennsylvania schools will be able to use up to five such days beginning this school year, as long as they receive prior approval from the state education department. That approval will be contingent upon districts showing satisfactory plans for reaching students with disabilities, those without Internet access or home computers and those with other special circumstances.

Michigan and Ohio public schools have a similar policy.

The state Education Department requires public schools to be open a minimum of 180 days. Six days are allotted for snow days or other unexpected school closures.

Mr. Kettrick said with the exception of this past winter, the only time he can remember the school being closed for a long period was after the ice storm of 1998.

Mr. Turner said that during the ice storm, the Black River community was out of power much longer than other areas in his district. He said if the students who were out of school had no power or Internet service, it would still be impossible for them to complete their work from home.

Mr. Turner also said he doesn’t know if every student in the district would have access to the Internet or a computer at home.

Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Stephen J. Todd said that as members of the school community use the Internet with increasing frequency in the classroom, it is a “natural succession” for online lessons when students cannot make it to school.

“Right now I don’t think we’re in a place for kids to continue their education from home on a snow day,” Mr. Todd said. “But I think it’s just natural for kids and teachers to be able to continue their work outside the classroom.”

Sackets Harbor Central School Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. said for the north country, the need is a little greater than in other parts of the state, including the Capital Region.

“The state could look at either doing something like this by region or statewide,” Mr. Hall said. “We tend to be looking in our own backyard more than the state as a whole.”

Watertown City School District Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said as the temperatures dropped this past weekend, people started to remember that winter is not far behind.

“I think it was on everyone’s minds,” Mr. Fralick said. “We’re in a unique place — between the lake-effect snow and the nor’easter, we get a wicked pounding of snow.”

Mr. Fralick said it can be an awful mess getting students home on the bus or making the decision not to open school because of weather conditions.

“We’re interested in learning about anything we can do to address a real problem,” Mr. Fralick said.

Mr. Hall said though the school did close, delay or have early dismissals several days over the 2013-14 school year, the school was open for 180 days, as required by the state, and students were able to do all required classwork. He said missing school was more of a “nuisance” than a barrier preventing students from learning.

“I think we were able to accomplish everything we needed to last year,” Mr. Hall said. “If we have another winter like that this year, though, we might want to discuss other options.”

Mr. Hall said e-learning is an interesting idea but not one he has heard discussed by any other school administrators.

“Our calendars are always subject to change,” Mr. Hall said, “because you never know when we will need to take off.”

He said the people who live in the north country are typically understanding of the often quick changes because of the weather.

 

By Katherine Clark Ross, Times Staff Writer

Pickens Hall to host first of many historical concert series beginning Friday

To celebrate its rich musical history, Pickens Hall will host the first of many free historical musical concerts Friday, featuring the stories and songs of some of the great musicians who have lived and performed in the area since the concert hall first opened in the 1800s.

Musicians who perform regularly at Pickens, including Don Woodcock, Dan Pearson, Earl Belilie and Carter Houk, will be telling stories of those people and times past and playing music to honor those memories.

Pickens Hall has a rich musical history, according to Historical Association members. Bessie Abbot, renowned American opera singer, was born in Heuvelton with her twin sister, Jessie, to Frances Josephine Button and John Pickens Jr., descendants of Gen. Andrew Pickens. She started a vaudeville act with her sister at Pickens Hall, which was built by their grandfather, John Pickens Sr. Their act was known as the Abbott Sisters.

“When the hall was originally built, one of the focuses was on Mr. Pickens’s granddaughters, Jessie and Bessie,” association member John Danis said. “Bessie, a nationally renowned opera singer, hit the pinnacle of her career singing with the likes of Enrico Caruso in Europe. She went on to perform at Pickens. So it is right in the original DNA of the building that it serves as a music venue. That is why the music project has become kind of the focus we have in a region that has a rich musical heritage.”

As part of the project, the Heuvelton Historical Association is asking people who might have historical artifacts such as concert bills, posters, photographs, recordings, instruments, etc., to lend some of their treasures to Pickens Hall to be used in a display about the history of music and musicians within a 15- to 20-mile radius of Pickens Hall. To drop off items, call 344-7950.

Heuvelton Historical Society President David H. Kingsley said he hopes Friday’s performance will serve as a steppingstone for future concerts.

“We would like to have one every three or four months,” he said. “We’ll pick one genre, say gospel or old country dance or square dance, and feature a historical narrative of the time period. We also want to get active in the real active church music in the area.”

The program, sponsored by the Heuvelton Historical Association, will be held in support of the fourth and final phase of restoration of the former concert hall. The association is in the final stretch of the $2.25 million restoration of Pickens Hall.

“We hope to be done by the end of spring,” Mr. Kingsley said.

The 2,000-square-foot concert hall will serve as a multipurpose venue, complete with movable seating, a catering kitchenette, sound system, stage and custom lighting.

Much of the project was paid for by state grant funding, Mr. Kingsley said. However, the historical association is still looking for donations to complete the final round of refurbishments.

With $120,000 needed to complete the final phase of the restoration, David McCadam, of the McCadam Cheese family, has issued a challenge to donors. Mr. McCadam said he will match, dollar-for-dollar, every contribution to the historical association made from now until Nov. 15.

The restoration of Pickens Hall is more than 12 years in the making. With the end of the project in sight, Mr. Kingsley said he is “ecstatic.”

“If anyone had told me that we would have raised $2.25 million in 12 years when we first started this project, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Mr. Kingsley said. “That’s a pretty amazing thing to do in such a short timeline and in this economy.”

Comptroller: Jefferson County spends too much on health care for jail inmates

Jefferson County has spent too much on health care for jail inmates by not taking advantage of federal benefits, according to results of an audit released last month by the state comptroller’s office.

The audit — which examined health-care costs at eight county jails for fiscal year 2012 — found Jefferson County to be the only one that failed to negotiate lower rates for outpatient inmate services with hospitals and other care providers. As a result, the county lost the chance to save up to 78 percent, or $149,947, from its total outpatient bill of $192,240. The audit said that figure was based on Medicaid rates that could have been applied by providers for seven of the county’s 280 outpatient referrals.

To solve that problem, the county Board of Legislators decided Tuesday to hire the POMCO Group, a third-party health-care insurance administrator, to negotiate lower rates for outpatient inmate services. POMCO already offers health insurance for the county’s employees.

The administrator will be paid $26.50 for each outpatient referral it makes under the contract, with its annual contract capped at $15,000, County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said.

As a result of lower outpatient rates negotiated for inmates, “we estimate we should receive more than $15,000 in savings,” Mr. Hagemann said. “A year from now we’ll evaluate what took place, and the end result is expected to be positive.”

Compared with the other counties audited by the state comptroller, “Jefferson County did not negotiate any rates for outpatient hospital services with hospitals or providers,” states the audit, which also evaluated health care provided at jails in the counties of Chautauqua, Clinton, Erie, Orleans, Oswego, Rensselaer and Westchester.

“Out of the 280 (outpatient) referrals we had in 2012, 273 were not an issue,” said Lt. Kristopher M. Spencer, the Jefferson County jail administrator, of the audit.

Lt. Spencer, who has served as jail administrator since July 2011, said officials held a meeting in October 2013 to discuss the comptroller’s audit findings, focusing on how the jail’s procedure for billing outpatient services might be improved. He said other county officers present at the meeting were Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau, Department of Social Services Deputy Commissioner James G. Schell and members of the jail’s nursing staff.

“We focused on the outpatient care during that meeting and the Medicaid reimbursement rate,” Lt. Spencer said. “But with Fort Drum in our backyard, the community is so large and there are only a certain number of providers. We’re all competing for slots and appointments, and our medical staff has a hard time finding a provider.”

Lt. Spencer said that “shopping” for outpatient health-care services would have been a challenge to do independently, because such agreements would have to be approved by the county legislature. The county has negotiated lower outpatient rates with Guilfoyle Ambulance Services, he said, but it hasn’t done so with any other providers.

Notable providers of outpatient care for jail inmates include Samaritan Medical Center, the Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Empire Vision Center and Bregman & Dines dentist office.

Maureen V. Kelly, senior account clerk, said the county hasn’t actively negotiated with health-care providers to lower the cost of outpatient inmate services.

“One of the problems is, who does the negotiating?” Ms. Kelly said. “If your negotiating can get you a better rate in Syracuse, that’s too many man hours to drive to Syracuse and back. And if you’re only saving $60 to begin with, it’s costing them more man hours and transportation.”

The audit found the jail had 5,393 inpatient inmate visits with its medical staff in 2012. Staffers include part-time jail physician Dr. David F. Rosner, two part-time physician assistants and two full-time nurses and one part-time nurse.

The audit also found Jefferson to be among three counties that failed to take full advantage of submitting Medicaid-eligible inpatient reimbursement claims to the federal government in 2012, which can result in a savings of up to 50 percent for inpatient inmate care. The county failed to save up to $9,777, or 50 percent, from its total inpatient bill of $19,554.

Moreover, the audit found Jefferson was also among seven counties that failed to have an adequate procedure for reviewing claims for inpatient services. State law requires counties to pay Medicaid rates that are specific to jail inmates. Due to undetected billing errors, the county’s inpatient bill of $19,554 was $1,169 less than it should have been.

Lt. Spencer said errors in inpatient billing were made during his transition in 2012 as the new jail administrator. He replaced retired Lt. Donald F. Pierce Jr., who had been a corrections officer at the jail since 1994.

“It was during the transition time when the comptroller talked to me about” inpatient reimbursements. “I wasn’t even aware they existed at the time,” he said, adding that inpatient services are now being billed properly.

View the audit report online at http://wdt.me/yUWWxf.

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

DEC cleans up property in Evans Mills mired in huge unpaid tax debt

A messy situation involving a school chief who has pocketed rent from tenants without paying property taxes is starting to get cleaned up.

The state took action Monday to solve a decades-long problem by starting to clean up soil contamination at a three-acre property on North Main Street in the village. The property’s presumed legal owner, Mark T. Brand, owes the county $220,551 in property taxes and water and sewer bills dating back to 1992.

On Monday morning, workers from a contractor hired by the state Department of Environmental Conservation excavated a pair of 6,000-gallon underground tanks at the former gas station site, digging a hole about 12 feet deep and 25 feet wide to do so.

The DEC said the contractor, Eggan Environmental Services of Rome, is expected to finish clearing out underground piping and contaminated soil by the end of the week at the lot with buildings at 8728 and 8740 N. Main St. Tenants who reside there pay rent to Mr. Brand, a former Indian River school board member who has been superintendent of Indian Lake Central School District in Hamilton County since 2003.

Officials said Monday that the DEC has done Jefferson County a major favor by taking on the cleanup project, which is expected to cost less than $100,000. DEC officials recently decided to clean up the property after the county had already mulled doing it on its own. The county conducted an environmental assessment of the lot in the spring to explore whether it could be affordable to clean up the property and foreclose on it to recoup the costs.

Using results from that investigation, DEC secured funding from the New York Environmental Protection Spill Compensation Fund to clean up the site, said DEC spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler on Monday. Now, the state attorney general’s office will be responsible for deciding who will pay for the cost of the project led by the DEC, he said. In such a case where the ownership of a property is unclear, the attorney general decides who is responsible for paying for cleanup costs.

“The attorney general’s office will replenish those funds by going after all potentially responsible parties, and that would be the owner of record and any previous owners known to be involved in the cause of contamination,” Mr. Litwhiler said. “And in this case, one of the responsible parties is the owner of record. It could be the county if it decides to take ownership.”

The North Main Street property was bought in 1985 by Romark Construction Co., Inc., whose principals were Mark and Robin L. Brand. The Evans Mills couple bought the property from John E. Bevens, who operated a gas station there. Romark went bankrupt in 1996 and dissolved in 2001. The county, meanwhile, continues to send tax bills to Romark, which has an Indian Lake post office address in care of Mr. Brand. Mr. Brand previously told the Times he scraps the bills when they come in the mail.

According to Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen, the Brands presumably became the owners of the property in 2001 when they voluntarily decided to dissolve the bankrupt corporation. When shareholders dissolve a corporation “by proclamation” under state Corporate Business Law, as the Brands did, they usually assume ownership of the corporation’s assets.

Paul J. Warneck, director of Jefferson County Real Property Tax Services, said Monday that the county will probably wait to see whether the attorney general’s office rules the Brands are responsible for the cleanup costs before taking foreclosure action and selling the property to get it back on the tax roll. But if that process will take a long time to decide, the county could decide to settle the matter independently by paying for the cleanup. In some cases, the attorney general is willing to negotiate with counties to lower the price they pay for cleanup expenses. In such a scenario, the decision to pay for the cleanup expense would need approval form the county Legislature.

“If the DEC and AG are trying to get money from a previous owner that would save the taxpayers from coming up with that money, I would think we would want to wait,” Mr. Warneck said. “A property owner paying for the cleanup doesn’t relieve him of the burden of paying for the unpaid taxes, so our ability to foreclose wouldn’t be affected.”

The downside of waiting for the attorney general to recoup cleanup costs, though, would be that the county would continue to be responsible for unpaid tax bills sent to Mr. Brand before the outcome is decided, Mr. Warneck said. It will continue to be responsible for paying property taxes and water and sewer bills assessed by the village, along with property taxes assessed by the town of LeRay and the Indian River Central School District.

“The downside is, the number is going to be larger with another year of unpaid taxes, interest, and unpaid water and sewer bills as we wait for this to play out,” he said. “In my opinion, we’ll have to discuss whether we’ll be better off waiting on if (Mr. Brand) pays the tab for the cleanup.”

On Monday afternoon, village Mayor Michael L. Cocco said he received phone calls from residents who were pleased to see excavation work being started at the North Main Street site. Residents have been disturbed with how Mr. Brand has managed to pocket rent from tenants without paying bills, he said. The two-story building at 8728 N. Main St. has three apartments, two of which are occupied by tenants. The house at the rear of the property at 8740 N. Main St. was occupied by the Brands until they moved to Indian Lake, and it is being leased by tenants.

Mr. Brand served as a member of the Indian River Board of Education for 11 years, from 1988 to 1999, and was board president for the last two years of his term. For seven of the years that he was on the school board, he paid no school taxes on the property, according to county records.

The Indian Lake Board of Education started investigating circumstances of Mr. Brand’s actions involving the Evans Mills property after the Times broke the story last month. The board has not yet taken any action on the matter.

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

New Madrid Bakery seeks to provide local food, community and more

To Anastasia Hull, baking, family and community are inevitabilities. And in her new bakery, which had its grand opening last week, she intends to tie all that and more together.

Anastasia’s Bakery opened last week alongside the Martin Country Store, in a recently redone building at 3740 County Route 14. Owner and pastry chef Ms. Hull, a resident and native of Madrid, decided to open the bakery to be near family, explore a passion for baking and draw people to her hometown.

At her business, Ms. Hull makes a collection of confections including cakes, cookies, doughnuts and other sweets, receiving rave reviews from customers. She said opening a bakery in her hometown has been a dream of hers.

“This place means so much to me. It’s got so much potential and history,” Ms. Hull said of her hometown.

She said she moved back last fall because she didn’t want to be away from home. Now she walks to work every day from her house across the road, and regularly spends 16 hours a day there.

The building her business inhabits is owned by her father, who made it over for the bakery and Martin’s Country Store, owned by Justus P. Martin, which occupies the same space. The country store offers a wide variety of goods, from jams and candies to cheeses, produce and dry goods.

The two business owners are partners, and with their array of wares they hope to draw in customers from all over.

“We kind of wanted people to crowd into Madrid; kind of see the importance of the small town,” Ms. Hull said.

That is likely to happen with the general store’s Waddington customers, who recently were traveling about an hour to get to the Moira location of the business, Ms. Hull said.

She and Mr. Martin also focus on offering local products, such as locally roasted Park Bros. Coffee from The Bagelry, Potsdam, bread and other baked goods from Mr. Rick’s Bakery, Watertown, and of course locally baked confections from Anastasia’s.

Along with her standards, Ms. Hull said, she wants to provide customers and friends with things they can’t find on her menu.

She said she is open to trying out customer suggestions for new products, in order to get a feel for what people need and want in a bakery, which includes scratch-made gluten-free options.

“I have a lot of friends that are gluten intolerant, and it’s so hard for them to find good food,” Ms. Hull said.

She said one of the things she loves about baking is the reliability of a recipe, which can be trusted to deliver if followed faithfully.

“No matter how you’re doing that day, if you do it the right way, if you put in the right amount of things, it comes out perfectly,” she said. At the same time, Ms. Hull said, she likes the experimental side of the baking craft.

“God put a passion in me for it, and I really don’t have much choice. I just love it; I can’t help it,” she said.

Ms. Hull runs her business with one employee. In the next year, she said, she hopes to expand to include a baking lab so customers can see her in action, and incorporate baking classes to teach children breadmaking.

More information can be found at the bakery’s website a thttp://anastasiasbakery.squarespace.com, or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/anastasiasbakeryny.

 

By Alan Rizzo, Times Staff Writer