Around Cook County

News and other information from Cook County

Hospital-Blue Cross stalemate moves toward resolve

Thu, 05/02/2013 - 6:28am

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota has altered its plans to change its payment methodology.  Lori Nelson, Blue Cross Vice President, contacted Cook County North Shore Hospital administrator Kimber Wraalstad yesterday. Wraalstad told WTIP the adjustments will apply to all rural critical access hospitals.

Blue Cross had originally scheduled major payment changes to smaller hospitals on May 1. Implementation of the new system has now been moved to January 1. Individual hospitals have negotiated contracts with Blue Cross for how they are reimbursed and at what rates. The insurer had proposed major changes to those contracts.

Wraalstad said Blue Cross will assist hospitals in obtaining the 3M Grouper software and pay for ½ of the software costs for one year. The softwear provides a coding mechanism hospitals use to bill Blue Cross for reimbursements. The Minnesota Hospital Association maintained the May 1 change over was too soon to accommodate adopting the complex coding system.

In addition, Wraalstad said “Blue Cross will develop some type of process or ‘safety net’ for critical access hospitals with insufficient operating margins to cover the cost of Blue Cross commercial members.”
She added at this time, neither Blue Cross nor the hospital will be proceeding with termination as an Institutional Service Provider. Wraalstad had received a service termination letter from Blue Cross late last week.

On Monday, the Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and Attorney General Lori Swanson, met individually with Blue Cross executives to discuss the issue.

Wraalstad said, “We are appreciative that Michael Guyette, Blue Cross CEO, and his Executive Management team are willing to participate in negotiations so that the community members and visitors to Cook County will continue to have access to services at Cook County North Shore Hospital and Care Center.”

Hospital and Blue Cross in reimbursement stand-off

Thu, 05/02/2013 - 4:47am

Blue Cross is proposing changes in how they pay small hospitals and how much. It could result in a 12.2 percent cut to Cook County North Shore Hospital. WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with hospital administrator Kimber Wraalstad about the impact on them and their patients.

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Move It in May starts today

Wed, 05/01/2013 - 12:32pm
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Ready to move it with your neighbors all the way down to New Orleans?  WTIP volunteer Tracy Benson spoke with Kristin Wharton and Hartley Newell-Acero on Wednesday’s AM Community Calendar.  

More information at sawtoothmountainclinic.org/events

(Click on A.M. Calendar link below to hear interview)

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View more news from WTIP

HealthShare could help small businesses

Wed, 05/01/2013 - 11:52am

Small businesses and the people who work for them may be happy to learn that a local, nonprofit health coverage program is available at a cost they might be able to afford.
HealthShare was established four years ago by a group of area health care providers and foundations.  Their goal was to reduce the number of uninsured by providing health and wellness services to working families in Cook, Lake, St. Louis, and Carlton counties through an affordable, employer-sponsored health coverage program.
About 500,000 people in Minnesota are currently uninsured.
Health Share Inc. Executive Director Jenny Peterson spoke to a group of businesspeople at a Business Networking Luncheon sponsored by Cook County Higher Education on March 27, 2013.  She said funding for the program comes from employers, employees, and the community, including local foundations and health care organizations. “Definitely the health care system sees the value in this,” she said, adding that the Affordable Care Act is only going to cover about 60 percent of uninsured Americans.
Preventative care is an key component of HealthShare, which offers reduced costs for people who go through health risk criteria and set two health goals with a care manager once a year.  People who do not take preventative measures, such as taking medication to avoid a health crisis, end up needing higher-costing health care.  “We strongly believe in wellness and promoting health,” Peterson said.
Services that are covered include primary and specialty office visits, hospital and emergency care, pharmacy (up to a certain amount), lab, radiology, physical and occupational therapy, equipment and supplies, and up to 20 behavioral health visits a year.

Library Friends needs your books

Wed, 05/01/2013 - 11:51am

While you’re doing your spring cleaning, consider donating your gently used books to the Library Friends.
These books, recent magazines, videos, DVDs, and CDs are needed for the Friends’ annual book sale Aug. 1-3.  Income from this sale helps support the Grand Marais Public Library and all public school libraries in Cook County. Sorry, moldy or musty books, textbooks, cassettes and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books cannot be accepted. Donations received by July 10 will be included in the sale.
Books should be brought to the library.  Do not put these items in the outside drop box.  For more information call the library at (218) 387-1140.

School counselor position receives overwhelming support

Tue, 04/30/2013 - 12:28pm

The Jane Mianowski Conference Room at Cook County High School was filled with students at the April 18, 2013 ISD 166 school board meeting, determined to convince the school board to keep Bryan Hackbarth and his school counseling position.
At the March meeting, the board had voted to eliminate the job, although Superintendent Beth Schwarz assured them that they could add it back.
Colton Thompson presented a petition signed by 140 students asking the board to reinstate the position.  He said before the petition was created he couldn’t walk down the street without people asking him if there was a petition he could sign.  “I don’t know how much community feedback I’ve gotten.  Everybody is just really impressed with the job [Bryan Hackbarth] does,” Thompson said.  “To get rid of him would be absolutely foolish.”
Bjorn Johnson said it would be easy to just graduate and wash his hands of the matter, but he strongly believed letting go of the counseling position was the wrong decision.  “We need a guidance counselor at CCHS,” he said. Classmates have told him they couldn’t have graduated without Bryan Hackbarth’s help.  Johnson said that he had never seen students band together in such a way and that he believed the school could actually use two full-time counselors. 
CCHS would have a lot more dropouts without Bryan Hackbarth, Ali Iverson said. 
Colton Deschampe’s mother, Sherri, who attended CCHS, said Bryan Hackbarth was the best counselor the school has ever had.
Colton Thompson’s grandmother, Arvis Thompson, read from the school stationery on which board meeting agendas are printed.  It states in part, “We provide a safe environment in which mental and physical health is a priority.”  “It sounds like Brian is the key to your mental health,” she said.

County board approves new office equipment for assessor's office

Tue, 04/30/2013 - 12:25pm

The Cook County assessor’s office will be getting some new office equipment and furniture.  On April 16, 2013, the county board authorized Assessor Betty Schultz to spend about $1,000 for a computer and monitor and to order office furniture and remodeling at a cost of about $3,400.  The equipment and furniture will be used by the new assessor’s technical clerk that Schultz hoped to have in place by May.
Ordering furniture and equipment for a new clerk is part of a process that began months ago.  The county board originally approved a new computer software program that would track multiple types of information for each parcel of land.  County Assessor Betty Schultz then asked for the addition of a full-time clerk to work in the office while the other staff went out gathering all the data that the new clerk would put into the new software program.  The board approved this as well as the addition of a county fleet vehicle so the two assessors working under Assessor Schultz could go out and gather data separately. 
Before approving the office equipment and furniture, Commissioner Garry Gamble asked if the county had anything sitting around that could be used by the new clerk in order to avoid the requested purchases.  The assessor said she had consulted with Information Systems Director Danna MacKenzie and Maintenance Director Brian Silence, who had nothing available.
Commissioner Sue Hakes asked Assessor Schultz to try to negotiate with the office furniture company, Hermann Miller, on price.  She said she had already done so.  Commissioner Bruce Martinson said he thought they should get another bid from another company, and Schultz said Herman Miller tends to be the least expensive and have the best quality.

County board to continue discussion of hiring a county administrator at special meeting April 30

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 7:52pm

The impending retirement of Cook County Personnel Director and County Board Secretary Janet Simonen has propelled the county board into considering the possibility of creating an administrative position that could oversee all departments within the county. 

On April 15, 2013, the board and department heads held a special meeting to talk with three county administrators – Timothy Houle of Crow Wing County (pop. 62,500) and Brian Bensen of Sherburne County (pop. 88,499) in person and Trish Klein of Itasca County (pop. 42,763) on speakerphone. 

Timothy Houle of Crow Wing County said an administrative position will be successful if the administrator is perceived as taking the staff and board where they want to go, He recommended that the board have an annual retreat where they set goals. 

There were questions of whether a board retreat would be open to the public.  The administrators said, “You’ve got to get comfortable doing this stuff in a fishbowl. You’ve got to get comfortable living, working, and breathing in this fishbowl.”

Commissioner Jan Hall said theyneed to look at whether they can afford to have an administrator.

To which Trish Klein said, they need to look at whether they can afford not to. She said that in two years, she has probably saved Itasca County 20 years worth of her salary because they started going out for bids on jobs.

Cook County is similar to a corporation with a $17 million-a-year budget, said Timothy Houle of Crow Wing County and there’s no way a business of that size would not have some sort of chief executive officer.  He stated that more and more counties are moving toward hiring administrators or coordinators.

County approves three Revolving Loan Fund requests

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 2:11pm

The county board approved three requests that had been approved by the Revolving Loan Fund Committee on April 15.  The first was a loan of $48,000 to Randy Sjogren for improvements to the mini-golf course in Grand Marais, which he has purchased. 
The name of the business will be Putt ‘n Pets, and it will include domestic animals such as goats, chickens, and pheasants for viewing.  Improvements include seating areas, more food offerings, improved landscape, and lighted balls, holes, and clubs for evening use.
The second loan was for $16,000 to David Rak and Don Bertolini to supplement a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development grant of $38,500 for the Mangy Moose Motel.  The $56,000 project will include new windows, sidewalks, railings, lighting, interior insulation, energy efficient heat pumps and water heater, and handicap accessible bathrooms.  The beauty salon building will be upgraded as well.
The third loan was for $17,000 to Bruce Block for a $51,000 addition to Sydney’s Frozen Custard & Pizzeria.  The extra space will include an interior seating area and additional deck space.  The interior seating will allow the business to sell beer and wine.
After these loans, the Revolving Loan Fund balance will be $99,869.

Ham Run happening—snow, rain or shine

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 2:10pm

Winter on the Gunflint Trail has been reminiscent of the Energizer Bunny—it keeps going and going and going. With ice still on the lakes and snow on the ground it's hard to believe the Ham Run half-marathon is right around the corner but it is. Are you ready?

For those who aren't ready for the half-marathon, there is the chance to run or walk the 5k Fun Run. And for the kids, there is the Little Runts Run. One of the Ham Run Half Marathon organizers, Sue Prom invites the community. “We'd love to see you on the ‘Trail Less Traveled’ on May 5th, snow, rain or shine,” she said.

Prom reminds potential runners that supporting the Ham Run supports many of the non-profits in Cook County. “The awesome volunteers at the event earn a little something for their non-profit organization,” she said.

In past years, the Ham Run has donated to the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, Boundary Waters Amateur Radio Club, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and many other organizations.
“It's a great community event and we need your participation to keep it going,” said Prom.

For more information about the route along the beautiful Gunflint Trail and to register, visit the race website at www.hamrunhalfmarathon.com.

Hovland ATV trail moving along

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 2:08pm

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received 18 comments on the proposed 16-mile ATV trail in the Grand Portage State Forest during a public comment period from January 21 to February 25, 2013.  Fifteen were in support of the trail, two expressed concerns about the trail, and one was simply a question. 
A DNR grant of $3,000 to Cook County will help fund the completion of the trail.
While the trail was proposed by the Cook County ATV Club with support from the county, it will be available for many other uses, including hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, skiing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. 
The trail will use existing DNR forest system roads, minimum maintenance roads, and forest access routes in the Tom Lake Area of Hovland, including the Boyd Road, Irish Creek Road, and Tom Lake Road. 
Members of the club will do most of the ongoing maintenance of the trail, with up to 90 percent of the costs eligible for reimbursement through the Minnesota Trail Assistance (grant-in-aid) program.  The DNR obtains the funds it uses for ATV trails from ATV users themselves. 
According to a summary of public comments, “Increasing participation in outdoor recreation activities is consistent with the DNR’s strategic objective to ‘connect people to the outdoors,’ which includes motorized recreation.”
One comment expressed a concern that if the trail were mapped for ATV use, more users from the Twin Cities would come to the area.  The DNR acknowledged that mapping it as an ATV trail may attract more ATVers. 

A little rain and cooler temps in the forecast

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 11:02am

The weather has warmed up and the snow is melting, but rain and cooler weather lies ahead this week. WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Gohde about moving into May.

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North Shore rivers putting on a show

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 8:20am

It was a long time coming, but North Shore rivers finally are breaking out of their icy restraints and once again are putting on a show.

The Duluth News Tribune credits the recent stretch of warm weather in an otherwise late-arriving spring.
The ice went out on the Gooseberry River over the weekend. Up the shore at Tettegouche State Park, the Baptism River above and below High Falls still sported significant amounts of ice on Sunday morning, but the river’s swift current was slowly eroding it away.

This year’s ice-out on the North Shore is more than a month later than last spring, when record high temperatures had rivers open and running high in March.

The National Weather Service reported Sunday that a snowpack of 18 to 24 inches remains in place in the higher elevations of the North Shore, which should continue to melt — and keep river levels high — this week.

Weekend News Roundup for April 27

Sat, 04/27/2013 - 10:02am

Each weekend WTIP news produces a round up of the news stories they’ve been following this week. Ely business owners organize against non-ferrous mining. Trails and camping are affected by the on-going winter. There’s new technology for the taconite plant in Silver Bay. It appears some Iron Range cities will be spared a highway re-route and Rep. David Dill talks about the House Higher Education bill .…all in this week’s news.

Program: 

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WTIP Celebrates 15-Year Anniversary

Sat, 04/27/2013 - 7:57am

WTIP North Shore Community Radio invites community members to stop by the station for birthday cake between 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. on Monday, April 29th to help celebrate the station’s 15-year anniversary. 

WTIP began in January of 1992 as a dream by local citizens who saw a need for a local radio station that could share and disseminate information that was pertinent to the region.  For six years dedicated volunteers established the building blocks required to create a radio station (including pursuing the funding, purchasing equipment, obtaining a FCC license, etc.). 

On April 28, 1998 WTIP went on the air. At first, it only broadcast a small portion of its own programming, from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM weekdays.  The rest of the schedule was filled by simulcasting KUMD radio in Duluth.  Within the first year, however, WTIP increased its service tremendously, adding the AM Community Calendar Program, the PM Community Calendar Program, evening music programs, and local sports broadcasts.  Each increase was made in direct response to the needs and feedback from the community, and was made possible by community members who stepped forward as volunteers. 

Throughout its 15 years of service, WTIP has embraced opportunities to build relationships and serve its ever-increasing community of listeners.  Efforts include news and weather services, explorations of issues affecting the area, and engagement and outreach efforts, both on and off the air. 

As a volunteer-driven community station, WTIP recognizes that their services would not be possible without community support.  They are thankful for the support they have received over the years, and look forward to continuing to serving the community in the years to come.