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COURTESY PHOTOS 

It took four days for Elsa to warm up enough to eat on her own.


Govt-and-politics
Black Hawk County hires firm to sell Country View

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County has hired a local attorney and a national real estate broker to find a buyer for the Country View care center.

Members of the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Thursday to retain Chicago-based Marcus & Millichap to help sell the county-owned nursing and mental health care facility on Dunkerton Road.

Waterloo attorney Eric Johnson also has been hired on the recommendation of County Attorney Brian Williams to assist the county in a potential sale process.

The action reversed a vote two days earlier to reject looking at the sale. Supervisors Craig White and Tom Little changed their minds and joined Frank Magsamen and Linda Laylin in hiring the brokerage, which would only be paid from a commission if the sale takes place.

Supervisors: Country View sale back on the table

WATERLOO — At least one member of the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors is changing his position and will now consider the county’s possible sale of the Country View care facility as a way to keep it open.

“We’re going to keep Country View open no matter what, but we’ve got to be honest with ourselves and look at all the options out there,” White said. “It’s hard to do, but I’m looking out for the patients too.”

Country View, which is more reliant on Medicaid reimbursements than most private care centers, is projected to run a $2 million budget deficit this year and a $3 million loss in the next fiscal year.

“It’s going to be a continuing spiral, and we’ve got to do something to stop it,” said White, noting the supervisors can reject any sale if the buyer is not willing to meet stipulations placed on the deal by the county to protect residents and staff.

Laylin said the board had been told previously private companies would not be interested in buying Country View. But the county has received an inquiry, and representatives from Marcus & Millichap said they’ve helped close sales on similar facilities.

“I think we owe it to the residents out there as well as the taxpayers,” Laylin said. “We are trying to do something for the staff as well.

“We’ve been trying to do everything we can to not close it,” she added. “If there’s an opportunity for us to make it a better facility and assist more people with it … I think we have to take a look at that responsibly.”

Supervisor Chris Schwartz voted against hiring the broker in favor of looking at other options to control costs and reduce the budget deficit.

“Country View is, by and large, a mental health facility, and everyone’s constantly saying we’ve got to do more to provide mental health facilities,” Schwartz said. “If there’s going to be an investment in mental health it doesn’t come from anyone but us. For me, it doesn’t come from selling off Country View.”

Two residents with family members at Country View urged the supervisors to keep the facility in county ownership and search for ways locally to keep it open.

“We have enough brains in this community that we can work out something,” said Dolly Fortier, whose daughter has lived at Country View for more than 30 years.

“These are people who are vulnerable,” she said. “Other people in our community need to speak for those who cannot.”

Former state Rep. Bill Witt, a Western Home Communities board member whose sister lives at Country View, also urged the supervisors to engage local experts in finding a working model that works financially.

“(My sister) is finally at a place where she has stability; she has great care,” Witt said. “If Country View went into private ownership you would lose that. That would be the first big cost that those new owners would cut: the salaries and benefits for the people right now who are compensated well for doing an important job well.

“Please give yourselves some time … to see what kind of input you can get before you take the leap,” he added.

Magsamen said he would welcome the input from the Western Home and other agencies, noting the supervisors could nix a future sale if a better plan was put forth.

Board members are still trying to determine how much money to budget for Country View in the fiscal year starting July 1, noting a sale may not take place that quickly and the county needed to be covered should a sale fall through.

A majority of board members Thursday said they favored a $2 million tax subsidy for Country View instead of the projected $3 million shortfall.

“That will put the pressure on us to find other solutions,” Magsamen said.

Without funding for Country View, a homeowner would have realized a reduction in the county share of their property tax bill next year. With $2 million for Country View, that would be closer to a 5 percent increase.


MATTHEW PUTNEY, COURIER PHOTO EDITOR 

Traffic moves slowly along highway 20 near the west 4th street exit as the snow starts to move into the area Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, in Waterloo, Iowa.


Winter storm crept in slow, promised overnight wallop

WATERLOO — Winter keeps battering Northeast Iowa this week, as snow crept back into the area Thursday evening.

“Five to eight inches will be common by noon” today, according to Rod Donavon, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Des Moines.

North of Iowa Highway 3, lesser amounts of 3 to 5 inches were expected.

Schools in both Waterloo and Cedar Falls are closed today.

Snowfall was light initially, but downtown Waterloo streets were covered by 6 p.m. Thursday. Snow was forecast to continue into this morning, with the heaviest amounts expected by 3 a.m.

Local road crews were poised to hit streets early and clear them for this morning’s traffic. Cedar Falls public works and parks manager Brian Heath said Cedar Falls crew made sure priority streets were clear Thursday evening, and then “rest, regroup and start plowing everything at 4 a.m.”

Iowa Department of Transportation officials urged drivers to slow down and be prepared for the unexpected, as highways could remain slick into Saturday. That warning comes on the heels of a deadly winter storm Monday that claimed the lives of eight Iowans. A Bloomfield man died Tuesday in a crash authorities deemed weather related.

The wind was expected increase to 15-25 mph out of the north, Donavon said, causing “some blowing snow and some areas of drifting snow.” Temperatures were projected to drop to the mid- to low-teens today with wind chills of zero to 10 below. Temperatures are expected to continue dropping Saturday.


Govt-and-politics
Wellmark will offer Iowa Obamacare coverage in 2019

DES MOINES (AP) — Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans to sell health insurance policies compliant with the federal Affordable Care Act in Iowa next year.

The company announced Thursday plans to offer policies as long as there aren’t any significant changes to the 2010 law also known as Obamacare.

Wellmark, the state’s largest health insurer, announced last April it would stop selling subsidy-eligible ACA plans because of high costs, an uncertain future and the loss of $90 million over three years. It insured 21,400 individuals.

On Thursday the company said it believes the individual market can be functional again.

Minnesota-based Medica is the only company selling ACA-compliant polices statewide this year.

About 72,000 Iowans buy health insurance on the individual market. People enrolled in those plans saw a nearly 43 percent premium increase this past year.

Company officials said more stability in the ACA market allows Wellmark make the return, said Cory Harris, executive vice president and chief administrative and legal officer.

“Remember last year in Washington, it was all about repeal and replace, which left our company with a lot of uncertainty about the viability about this particular market segment,” Harris said. “A lot of that has seemed to have subsided to some degree.

“That regulatory uncertainty has dissipated just enough that we think we’re able to step back in and serve the market segment that we had historically been in and we want to be in.”

Enrollment nationwide on the ACA exchange remained virtually unchanged from last year, despite efforts by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to eliminate or weaken the 2010 health law. According to nationwide figures from the National Academy for State Health Policy, almost 12 million people signed up during the enrollment period for 2018 health coverage through the ACA.

Wellmark’s exit left three insurers on the Iowa exchange — Medica, Aetna and Gundersen Health Plan.

Aetna departed Iowa’s individual insurance market in April 2017, leaving Medica as the only statewide provider of ACA-compliant plans — health plans that cover certain “essential benefits” dictated by the federal law.

Gundersen sells in only five of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Michaela Ramm of The Gazette contributed to this report.


Iowa Senate panel gives preliminary OK to heartbeat bill

Sinclair

DES MOINES — Iowa would ban most abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy under a bill that received preliminary approval Thursday in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The so-called heartbeat bill faces several more legislative votes and its future is uncertain. If the measure becomes law, it likely faces litigation by opponents who argue it violates U.S. Supreme Court rulings that affirm women have a legal right to abortion.

The bill would ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The legislation allows for abortions at a later period to save a pregnant woman’s life. A physician who intentionally performs an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected would face a felony, punishable with prison time and a fine of up to $7,500.

Such a ban is not in effect anywhere in the country. Ohio lawmakers have made several attempts to enact such a policy, but Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed the measure when it reached his desk.

A three-person subcommittee in the Iowa Senate held public testimony on the bill before the panel’s two Republicans signed off on the measure. It now heads to a full committee, which is expected to vote next week.

GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly indicated she is anti-abortion. Her press secretary, Brenna Smith, would not comment on the bill but added in an email Thursday the governor “believes in protecting life and has said she will never stop working to protecting the unborn.”

Sen. Amy Sinclair, an Allerton Republican who helped advanced the measure, said she dismisses any notion the bill is “a war on women.”

“It is not health care. It is killing women,” she said. “And that is a war on women.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned the bill would force the University of Iowa to lose accreditation of its residency program in obstetrics and gynecology because it would challenge medical teachings on abortion.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland noted some women don’t know they’re pregnant until after six weeks of pregnancy.

Leah Vanden Bosch of West Des Moines testified against the bill. She said she’s had an abortion, and the ability to make that decision stopped her from killing herself at a difficult time in her life. She said it was hard to speak publicly about her experience, but felt she had to for other women who may not feel comfortable enough.

“I would not be here if I didn’t have this choice,” Vanden Bosch said to the lawmakers. She added: “I’m praying to the same God that you are right now ... he’s pushing me here to speak to you and show you a different side.”

The Legislature is considering several other bills related to abortion restrictions. That includes a measure that would ban abortion, though that proposal has not been scheduled for a legislative meeting.

Lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a bill that critics argue would deny a pregnant woman access to a medical malpractice claim if her doctor failed to make or disclose a diagnosis related to the pregnancy that may have caused the woman to have an abortion. Another bill, still open for further debate because of the two-year legislative calendar, would prohibit the sale of fetal tissue regardless of whether its use “is for valuable consideration.” The medical community has raised questions about that measure’s impact on research.

The heartbeat legislation comes less than a year after the Legislature banned most abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A provision in the law that required a three-day waiting period on women seeking the procedure is not in effect amid ongoing litigation.