North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

January 25, 2001

 Pool gets state's OK, dollars

Blackouts roll over Humboldt

Health care alliance launched

How dry are we?

Sixth-graders need shots

Drink a cup for El Salvador

Chair of rail authority resigns

HCAR employees unionize

Women of achievement sought

Mobile medical office grant


Pool gets state's OK, dollars

The Eureka High School pool -- the only public pool in the city, closed for the past five years due to needed repairs -- could be open as early as fall.

School officials received oral approval last week from the state for a two-phase plan to repair and reopen the pool. The work will be funded by a donation of $180,000 from Eureka City Councilmember Cherie Arkley and her husband, businessman Rob Arkley.

"Nothing's in writing yet from the state. It's more of a handshake thing," said Jerry Johnson, chief business official for Eureka City Schools, who has been shepherding the project.

An earlier plan was rejected by the state because it was not in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act, which requires access to all spaces available to the general population.

Access to the pool, which includes special parking and a new poolside lift, and the women's lockers were in the original plan, Johnson said. The sticking point was access to shower and restroom facilities for the men which would have required major reconstruction of the building.

Phase I of the plan calls for remodeling a smaller space for male handicapped use in the interim. Phase II includes a promise of full access to the men's locker facilities when the school performs earthquake retrofit work, which is planned but not yet funded.

"We're hoping to have funds for the retrofit by 2003," Johnson said.

Construction for phase I is expected to take 50-55 days once contracts are let. Johnson said he hopes full state approval will be in hand by late summer.


Blackouts roll over Humboldt

California's power crisis continued this week as demand outstripped supply, forcing scheduled power outages to reduce the load on the state's electricity grid. Hoopa, Rio Dell, McKinleyville, Fortuna and Eureka were hit with outages lasting from one to two hours.

The disruptions have been minimal, according to law enforcement agencies. Pat Medina, chief of police in Rio Dell, said that people in Humboldt County may be better prepared than most.

"For the short term, people are used to power outages. The power goes out when the weather is bad all the time," Medina said.

Rio Dell doesn't have to deal with one of the biggest potential problems of blackouts -- stoplights -- because there aren't any in the city. When blackouts occur, drivers should take extra care at stoplights, which should be treated as four-way stop signs.

Blackouts continue to be a possibility through the coming weeks, said Christina Werst, a spokesperson for the Independent System Operator in Folsom. The ISO is the agency responsible for deciding when blackouts are necessary.

"It's going to be tight," Werst said.


Health care alliance launched

Four years in the making, a new health care alliance is set to rent office space and begin hiring staff, thanks to a $200,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

The Community Health Alliance will formally receive the check from foundation officials at a reception Thursday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m. in the Plaza Grill Room in Jacoby Storehouse in Arcata.

The nonprofit was formed to help local employers that are self insured better manage their health care plans by providing claims administration and medical management services.

Recent rapid increases in the cost of providing health care insurance may help to make the new service more attractive to employers.

"The market has changed this past year to our benefit," said Brian Mau, project coordinator.

Currently many large employers contract outside the county for claims management service.

Services being offered include basic claims services -- such as processing authorizations and paying bills -- and medical management.

"Medical management is authorizing procedures, setting policies to help control cost and improve care," Mau said.

The Community Health Alliance is a coalition of area hospitals, clinics, public health and other agencies, businesses, schools and other groups affected by changes in the health care delivery system.

There are six community health committees in Humboldt and Del Norte which will send representatives to regional meetings of the alliance.

For more information about the Community Health Alliance, contact Mau at 839-9666 or mau@northcoast.com.


How dry are we?

As of Tuesday rainfall on the North Coast is barely half of normal for the season. Just 10.25 inches of rain have been recorded for Eureka since the season began July 1. Normal is 29.98 inches.

The lack of rain -- and lack of snow in high elevations -- is increasingly of concern throughout the state, which is dependent on reservoirs for year-round water supplies and dams for hydroelectric power.

"The snow pack isn't so important here," said Gary Votaw, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office on Woodley Island.

"We're more dependent on late winter and early spring rains to replenish the water table," Votaw said. "And, of course, it's important to the fishermen and the rivers."

Eureka normally sees 6.76 inches of rain in January, but just 1.18 inches had fallen for the month as of Tuesday.

Last year also started out dry, but with 9.71 inches in January and 7 inches in February, the North Coast quickly caught up with normal.


Sixth-graders need shots

"If they haven't started yet, sixth graders need to get in to their doctors this month to begin the series" of hepatitis B vaccinations, warned county Health Officer Ann Lindsay.

Hepatitis B is a potentially deadly virus which attacks the liver. Most people who have the disease acquire it as young adults.

The vaccinations are required by state law for all seventh graders. Because the vaccination series takes four to six months, students need to begin them as soon as possible.

Call 268-2108 for more information or locations for low-cost vaccine providers.


Drink a cup for El Salvador

Just 40 minutes after Jane Lufkin's flight left Guatemala Jan. 13, a severe earthquake hit El Salvador, killing 687, destroying 91,000 homes and causing more than $1 billion in damage.

Lufkin, co-owner of the Humboldt Bay Coffee Co., has started an effort to help El Salvador back on its feet. She visited a coffee plantation in that country during her stay in Central America and said she formed a bond with the people who grow her coffee.

"It's not like just opening a can and making a cup for me now. People picked each bean by hand to make me this coffee and they're barely scraping by. And now it's even worse."

Humboldt Bay Coffee Co. will donate 10 cents for every cup and $1 for every pound of a special El Salvadoran earthquake relief coffee to the American Red Cross. Not to be outdone, other coffee roasters have pitched in. Muddy Waters, Sacred Grounds and Gold Rush will all donate a part of their profits as well.

"We're a roaster and El Salvador is one of the largest coffee-growing regions in the world," said Muddy Waters owner Damon Woudenberg.

The earthquake is believed to have destroyed much of the country's growing and processing capacity, an immense blow for a country where coffee is the No. 1 export.

Woudenberg said it wasn't unusual for the coffee roasters to cooperate on such a project. "We're competitors, but the market is large enough to support us. There's a good bond between us."


Chair of rail authority resigns

Bob Jehn, who chaired the board of the North Coast Railroad Authority during a period of rebuilding of the rail system, announced last week that he would resign as soon as a replacement was appointed.

"Time constraints have made it impossible for me to devote the attention to the railroad that it deserves," Jehn said.

In the past two months he has been appointed mayor of Cloverdale and the president of the Redwood Empire division of the California League of Cities. In addition, he has launched his campaign for the 1st District Assembly seat held by Virginia Strom-Martin who is expected to retire in 2002 due to term limit laws.

Jehn leaves the railroad at a time when conditions are improving. Service has been suspended since 1998, when storms caused landslides across parts of the track and other parts were deemed unsafe by federal inspectors.

Jehn said a paid freight train might be able to run into Petaluma from Lombard, just south of Napa, within the next few weeks. More than $2 million in debt payment has been disbursed, with the remaining $8 million expected by the end of February.

Jehn said the NCRA is "sticking to its guns" about opening the northern end of the line by the end of the year.

"A lot of people will find that incredible and I wouldn't blame them," Jehn said, especially since there are still unresolved issues relating to the release of remaining $8.1 million in disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

 


HCAR employees unionize

When Jim Smith told management officials at Humboldt Community Access and Resource in late 1999 that their employees wanted to unionize, they were shocked. Last week, after a remarkably friendly negotiation process, an agreement was signed between the private non-profit and 60 newly organized employees.

Smith, a business agent with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was first contacted by HCAR's employees in June of 1999. HCAR, which provides support to disabled individuals, was facing a budget crunch and rising health insurance costs and had to curtail employee benefits.

"You can get a better-paying job at McDonald's," HCAR personnel director Sue Bittner said. But the work is satisfying, she added, and some employees have been around for 20 years.

Organizing the employees turned out to be a step toward reconciliation between labor and management. Smith said that the attitude at HCAR very quickly became, "We are advocates of the disabled, why should we stand in the way of advocacy for our employees?"

Negotiations with federal mediators started early this month and after three days a tentative contract was reached.

Many of the problems boiled down to communication and were resolved once direct talks were started, Smith said. Employees were upset about HCAR's at-will employment policy, for example. At-will employment means the employee can be terminated at any time.

When Smith alerted management to the fact that employees wanted a different employment code, management was able to adjust its policy without really losing any ground -- Bittner said HCAR employees were never let go without cause anyway.

The contract has yet to be finalized. It will be ratified by employees by mail in the coming weeks and is expected to be adopted sometime in February.

"It's a great contract and it was a great process," Smith said. "When we started, it looked like it would be a huge struggle but now the federal mediators have said they're going to write it up as a model for others to use."


Women of achievement sought

Nominations of women who have made a significant difference to the women and girls of Humboldt County are being sought by the Humboldt County Commission on the Status of Women for its Women of Achievement award program. Women may be nominated for volunteer involvement or work-related efforts far exceeding normal expectations.

Letters of nomination should describe the nominee's contributions and contact information for both the nominee and the individual or group making the nomination. Information must be sent by Feb. 1 to the Humboldt County Status of Women Commission, 825 5th St., Eureka 95501 or faxed to 822-7213.


Mobile medical office grant

The Mobile Medical Office was awarded a two-year expansion grant last month from the California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation. The $220,000 grant will help fund the expansion of primary health care clinic hours and mental health service to individuals in Eureka, Fortuna, Blue Lake, Rio Dell and Crescent City.

Funds will help pay part-time additional staff -- including a physician, a psychiatrist and a medical assistant -- and related operating costs. The grant will help the program qualify for a change in status that is intended to improve its long-range financial stability. The entire expansion project is expected to cost $600,000 over two years.

The Mobile Medical Office is a nonprofit community health center on wheels providing underserved rural, low-income and homeless individuals in the county since 1990. Founded by Dr. Wendy Ring, the service seeks to improve access to primary health care for those who have difficulty obtaining care through traditional channels due to financial, geographic and cultural barriers.

The recent addition of Dr. Leslie Foote under the grant program has provided additional clinic sites, including a clinic on Saturdays at the Serenity House winter shelter in Eureka for homeless families. Additional funds for the expansion have been contributed by St. Joseph Hospital's Community Needs Network Committee ($25,000) and the state Department of Health Services Rural Health Service Development Program ($150,000). Contributions may be sent to the Mobile Medical Office, P.O. Box 905, Blue Lake 95525.


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