CES Spreads The Joy With 3rd Annual Shop With A Fire Fighter

And now, some holiday leftovers: for each of the past three Christmases, firefighters with Central Emergency Services have raised money so a handful of kids can have a few presents that they otherwise would likely not receive.  A few days before Christmas, the CES crews take the kids for a mini-shopping spree.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


From The Headlines: Questions, Waste Linger At Arness Site In Nikiski

A twenty-acre site in Nikiski has been a thorn in the side of state environmental controllers and its owners for the better part of two decades.  Popularly known as the Arness Site, after the family which owns the property, its history as an under-regulated waste dump has raised fears of groundwater contamination in the area and last week was the subject of a six part series by Peninsula Clarion reporter Brian Smith, tackling the history of the site, who has been held responsible for its pollution and what happens next.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Arbitration Decions Made On Teacher Contracts

After nearly a year of collective bargaining, arbitration decisions have been handed down for a variety of contract issues between the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and its employee’s unions.

A number of issues were left to the arbitrator to decide after the parties could not come to an agreement on things like salary and wages, health care, salary conditions and others.

Regarding salary schedules for the next three years, the arbitrator mostly split the difference between the District and the Education Association and Support Association.  The Associations had proposed an increase on line with what the state Department of Labor is predicting for an increase in the Consumer Price Index for the Anchorage area; 2.8% in FY 2013 and 2.5% for FY 2014. No projection has been made for FY 2015. The District countered with a one percent increase for all three years and the arbitrator recommends a flat two percent increase through FY 2015.

Health care has been a big sticking point throughout the negotiations this year. The previous contract held the District and Associations to a 50/50 split on health care costs that exceeded available health care cost reserves. The Associations had sought to remove that even split and replace it with a ratio of 85/15, with the District taking on the bulk of those costs. The arbitrator’s recommendation gets the Association to that number incrementally over the three years of the contract, beginning with an 80/20 split for FY 2013 and ending in 2015 at 85/15. The District had offered a 60/40 split, with a final split of 70/30 to participants in a wellness program.

Here’s a full rundown of the decision.

Collective bargaining will resume between the Districts and the Associations on January 22nd.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 

 


3rd Annual ‘Shop With A Fire Fighter’ Gives Gift Of Being A Kid

For the third holiday season in a row, firefighters with Central Emergency Services have teamed with a few local businesses and non-profits to bring some needy kids a special Christmas.

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Don’t be alarmed at the site of excited kids rushing around Fred Meyer with a firefighter or two in tow this weekend. On Saturday, ten children will get to go on a mini-shopping spree, thanks to the efforts of the crews at CES.

“(We) got everybody together and said ‘let’s do it’,” said Health and Safety Officer Brad Nelson. They followed the lead of other departments around the state, getting with businesses and local non-profit organizations to raise some extra cash for the kids.

“That first year, we got a hold of some families with some children in need and it worked, it worked very well,” he said.

Several local organizations are involved, like Peak Oil Field, Sterling Custom Homes, B&B Auto and Fred Meyer, but the firefighters are putting in more every year.

“We started putting our own money into it, and in fact this year, I would say that easily over 90 percent of the money we’re going to be using was donated by the firefighters themselves,” Nelson said.

The original intent of the program was to give them a chance to buy whatever they’d like, a game or toy; the choice was theirs.  Nelson said he was surprised the first year at what those choices were.

“They went for clothing, they went for practical stuff…’Mom really needs this’ or ‘Dad really needs this’. And we’d try to tell them, ‘Look, this is free money, spend it on fun stuff’. But nope, they’ve got a plan in their head, they know what’s needed for their family and off they go. It kind of gets the heartstrings when you see this,” Nelson said.

Shop with a Firefighter is this Saturday at 11am at Fred Meyer in Soldotna.


Volunteers Bringing The Past Back To Life With Cabin Restoration

For the past three years, a small group of dedicated volunteers has been putting in countless hours restoring a Watchmen’s cabin for the Kasilof Regional Historical Association.  Each Friday they get together and make a few small steps toward bringing the once-ailing cabin back to life.

 

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


“Incomprehensible” Atwater Reacts To School Shooting

School districts across the nation are taking up some challenging questions following the events at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school that left 26 people dead Friday.  Kenai Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater offered his thoughts over the weekend on the school’s blog.

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“It’s obviously very troubling what took place and that really causes us to reflect on what we’re doing as a society,” Dr. Atwater said Monday about the mass killing that happened in Connecticut Friday.

Writing a day after learning that a 20 year old man had entered an elementary school and killed more than two dozen people, Atwater entered in his blog “As I learned the specifics of the horror, I found my emotions shifting from despair to anger. While each of us processes grief in different ways, I am struggling to find a way to reach an emotional equilibrium with what took place.”

“It’s just very frustrating that this took place.  And the fact that I’m responsible for 9,000 students…it made me angry that that school district back in Newtown was faced with that sort of adversity,” Atwater said.

Most students in the Kenai Borough School District began the day Monday with a few moments set aside to reflect on the shootings, the first response to an event that Atwater said has again left educators wondering how to ensure the safety of students and teachers at school.

“We’ve had a lot of people express concern that we need to have a more rigorous expectation for who comes and goes inside of our buildings and so there are just a lot of people who are reacting and thinking we need to have a much…tighter and secure situation,” he said.

“We’re reviewing everything this week.  On Wednesday, we’re going to start reviewing safety procedures that we have.”

Atwater said what was different about this particular act of violence at a school compared to others of recent memory was the age of the victims, many of whom were 1st graders around six years old.  But he said the shootings also stand out as an example of the difficulty some schools have connecting with students.

“Unfortunately not all of us fit neatly into a box and there are children in our school system who do require extra help and care.  For people to generalize and say we should eliminate some of our alternative schools or just narrow things because that’s the way it was when they were kids 30 years ago I think is a mistake,” Atwater said.  ”I hope we can continue to think in terms of doing the best we can for every student who comes through our doors”.

Mass public shootings such as this the past few years have elevated the topic of mental health and mental health care in the national discourse, and Dr. Atwater said it’s no different here on the Kenai.

“There’s so much that’s understood now with regard to emotional and neurological development and where kids are, I think we need to do everything we can to stay current and continue to learn from each other and not just rely on older, past practices…because some of our kids don’t fit into those boxes neatly and we need to do everything we can to make sure the feel secure and safe,” Atwater said.

 

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Fisheries Disaster Relief Bill To Be Heard In Senate Next Week

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up a $60 billion federal disaster relief bill next week that, if passed, would provide economic relief to commercial fishermen on the Kenai Peninsula.

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The fate of the disaster relief request made by Governor Sean Parnell back in August rests in the decision to pass a $60 billion disaster aid bill that will cover everything from Hurricane Sandy relief efforts on the east coast to mapping and charting marine debris in the Arctic.  Of that amount, $150 million is dedicated to fisheries disasters in Alaska, states along the Gulf Coast and New England.  Just how much of that goes to Alaska fishermen will be decided after bill is passed,which US Senator Mark Begich says is likely given the bill’s bipartisan support.

In November, Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell told the Alaska congressional delegation that commercial losses due to fisheries closures that came as a result of terrible king salmon runs totaled nearly seventeen million dollars.  Whatever money is approved and finally makes its way to Alaska, will be divvied up by NOAA.  During a meeting about the disaster in July, Governor Parnell’s advisor for Fisheries, Oceans and Arctic policy Stefanie Moreland explained how that process works.

“NOAA will be guided by whatever the appropriations language is, that says how the funds may be used,” Moreland said.  ”I expect the state to work closely with the delegation and with NOAA to help inform the distribution of these as guided by the appropriations language and the authority that provides for use of these funds,” she said.

Though the overall bill has bipartisan support, there’s no way to tell exactly how much of the aid will find its way to the Kenai Peninsula.

“What will happen is let’s say the state has a (hypothetical) $10 million request. but the money can only suffice for $5 million, then they’ll sit down and figure out what are the highest priorities with the community.  That’s why it’s hard to say what items would be and would not be (included),” Begich said.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL, Mark Arehart/KYUK-


Holiday Lights: Soldotna Gets A New Tree

Motorists traveling along the Sterling Highway in Soldotna after 6 pm Wednesday night probably noticed the newest holiday ornament in town at Soldotna Creek Park.

 

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Grants Will Help Satisfy Demand For Affordable Housing

Three community housing projects have received funding to move on to a second phase of expansion.  The developments in Soldotna and Homer have been made possible by grants from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

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The three projects are being funded by part of a $35 million grant program called Greater Opportunities for Affordable Living, or GOAL.  The program provides grants, tax credits and loans to project sponsors like the Kenai Peninsula Housing Initiative, which is expanding housing projects in both Soldotna and Homer as demand increases.

“The market is taking care of a couple of those needs in the Soldotna area with private sector development of assisted living facilities there,” said Steven Rouse, Executive Director at KPHI.  ”But all across the Peninsula in all regions, from Seward to Homer, Seldovia to Nikiski, we see a need,” he said.

And all areas of the state have similar needs, which means a lot of competition for the kind of funding necessary to build these kinds of housing.

“To give you and idea of how competitive it was for the Silverwood Project (in Soldotna), we had just a little under $4 million in funds available this year and we had close to $13 million in requests for that source of funding alone,” said Danial Defino, a Planner at Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.  ”The competition was very steep,” he said.

The Silverwood project will add six units to the existing complex in Soldotna near the Senior Center.  That facility is age-based rather than income-based.  The Alderbrook project in Homer is income-based housing for families.  However, a major consideration for in developing a second phase at Alderbrook is factoring in the cost of hooking up to natural gas once it arrives in Homer.

“We may develop that in 2013, but we’re taking a wait and see attitude as to Homer’s decision about natural gas,” said Rouse.  ”The expenses…make operating an identical building about three times more expensive in Homer than in Soldotna,” he said.

Another Homer project, Harbor Ridge, will renovate twenty-four units for low income families by Cordes Development using AHFC grants.  Projects in Eagle River, Anchorage, Kodiak and Wasilla were also approved.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


CPH One Of Four Alaska Hospitals That Could Face Penalty From Medicare

Hospitals across the country are looking at the possibility of lower Medicare reimbursements if they haven’t met federal benchmarks to lower readmission rates.  Four hospitals in Alaska have been assessed the penalty, including Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna.

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To be clear, the federal government isn’t demanding that hospitals pay them back for patients who were readmitted too soon after being discharged.  As with most health care issues, it’s a little more nuanced than that.

Tucked away in part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act is provision added to the Social Security Act and inside that is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s Readmissions Reduction Program. Designed specifically to lower readmission rates, that’s what could cost hospitals what amounts to a tiny fraction of their overall revenue in the form of lowered reimbursement rates.

Hospitals are assessed the penalties based on the number of patients readmitted for certain conditions relative to the number of patients the government expects to be readmitted within 30 days of being discharged.  According to Kaiser Health News, readmissions nationwide run at a rate of nearly 20% costing the government an extra $17.5 billion each year.

At Central Peninsula Hospital, those numbers are a little lower.

“During that time we had 67 CHF (congestive heart failure) discharges and 17 of those patients got readmitted within 30 days,”said Rick Davis, CEO at Central Peninsula Hospital. “That’s 1.6 more patients than they would have expected us to have based on the national average,” he said.

The assessments only apply to a few conditions, pneumonia, acute myocardial infarction and CHF.  That was the only condition that saw readmission over the three years.

“Of those 17, 12 were admitted for something other than heart failure.  It was GI bleeds or a hip fracture, urinary tract infection, things like that,” Davis said.

“Patients are going to get readmitted for other things so there’s not a lot you can do about those, but of those who were admitted for CHF-related problems, we are working on how to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

The readmissions didn’t occur at a steady pace over the three year period..  Of the 17, 12 occurred in the first 18 months.

The readmission penalty is actually pretty small, just 0.8% of the total Medicare reimbursement at CPH.

“It looks like we could have a fine of about $6,500 which is about 5/1,000ths of a percent of our annual net revenue.  It’s a pretty small fine, but…the biggest point is we just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and working getting these patients not readmitted in 30 days,” Davis said.

For fiscal year 2011, CPH generated $98,517,005 in net patient revenues.

The hospital hasn’t been fined yet.  CMS was authorized to begin reducing payments to hospitals with too many readmissions on October first.  Central Peninsula Hospital is one of four in the state identified in a Kaiser Health report as eligible for the penalty, joining the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Mat-Su Regional Health Center in Palmer and the Yukon Kuskokwim Regional Medical Center in Bethel.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-