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Friday, December 9, 2016

EPD Chief: Officers Fired More Than 40 Shots in Tuesday's Pursuit

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 5:16 PM

Officers secured the scene before clearing medical personnel to respond to help Clayton Lee Lasinski, who was shot by police after allegedly brandishing a firearm at officers. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Officers secured the scene before clearing medical personnel to respond to help Clayton Lee Lasinski, who was shot by police after allegedly brandishing a firearm at officers.
Amid the chaotic foot pursuit in downtown Eureka Tuesday evening that ended with 26-year-old Clayton Lee Lasinski shot once in the chest, officers fired more than 40 shots, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills confirmed to the Journal.

Lasinski remains hospitalized, but is expected to survive. No officers were injured in the incident, and Mills also confirmed this afternoon that he doesn’t believe Lasinski ever fired his .45 caliber pistol during the incident that took place shortly before 5 p.m.

“I do not believe he fired any rounds — I believe he didn’t know how to manipulate the gun,” Mills said, explaining that the gun taken from Lasinski at the end of the incident had a full clip, an empty chamber and its hammer cocked back, which Mills believes indicates Lasinski didn’t realize he had to pull a round into the gun’s chamber in order to fire and was “dry firing” the weapon at officers.

The incident began after a California Highway Patrol officer attempted to pull Lasinski’s Dodge pickup truck over after he allegedly rolled through a stop sign when turning westbound on Fourth Street in Eureka. Lasinski then allegedly pulled the truck into the parking lot of the Best Western, where he bailed on foot — leaving two female passengers in the car — and fled the scene.

The CHP officer asked EPD to assist in canvassing the area for Lasinski, saying he was possibly armed with an unknown weapon. A few moments later, the officer called dispatch to report that Lasinski was in possession of a handgun, according to a Best Western employee who said the suspect had pointed the gun at him while fleeing the property.

The red Mazda allegedly stolen from Sole Savers and abandoned about a block away. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • The red Mazda allegedly stolen from Sole Savers and abandoned about a block away.
An EPD officer finally spotted Lasinski near Seventh Street and pursued the suspect on foot. Lasinski allegedly ran into the parking lot of Sole Savers auto dealership, where he found a red Mazda 3 idling in a loading bay with its passenger door open. Lasinski got into the Mazda as the officer approached, according to a witness interviewed by the Journal, and the officer opened fire into the driver's side door area of the vehicle. A moment later, the witness said, the Mazda peeled out and fled the scene. On Wednesday, numerous bullet holes were visible in a white equipment shed in the loading bay behind where the Mazda had been idling the night before.

Additional shots were fired as the Mazda left the Sole Savers parking lot, according to the witness. The vehicle came to a stop a block away, in the intersection of Sixth and B streets, where additional shots were fired. Lasinski then fled down B Street toward Fifth Street, stopping at one point, according to a witness, to turn and point his pistol at pursuing officers, and drew more police fire. Ultimately, officers pursued Lasinski onto Fifth Street, where he stopped about halfway down the block between B and C streets, leaning against a black Volkswagen Jetta. Officers staged nearby with weapons drawn, but waited as Lasinski appeared to bleed out and collapse to the ground. At that point, they moved in, pulled a firearm from Lasinski’s hand and called for medical to come and assist him. According to witness accounts and video of the incident, officers did not attempt to provide first aid as they waited for paramedics staged nearby to move in and care for Lasinski.

Several sources not authorized to speak publicly about the multi-agency investigation into the officer involved shooting told the Journal that the preliminary investigation indicates officers fired a total of 44 rounds during the pursuit. Mills said he couldn’t confirm that number, but said he could confirm that “more than 40” shots were fired during the incident.

Meanwhile, the investigation is ongoing. Mills said the four officers who fired their weapons were scheduled to be interviewed this afternoon and will remain on administrative duty until cleared to return to the field. Their names have not yet been released to the public.

At a press conference Wednesday, Mills said he understands "that each officer is personally accountable for every round that they discharge and where that round ends up. And I will report back to the community once we've completed that investigation as to our actions last night."

Mills said today that investigators have been working hard to figure out where every round discharged by EPD officers was fired, as well as where they ended up. The investigation remains ongoing.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Man Shot by EPD Expected to Survive

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 5:22 PM

EPD Captain Steve Watson, right, and Sgt. Gary Whitmer talk during the investigation of an officer involved shooting that took place near EPD headquarters around 5 p.m. Tuesday. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • EPD Captain Steve Watson, right, and Sgt. Gary Whitmer talk during the investigation of an officer involved shooting that took place near EPD headquarters around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Clayton Lee Lasinski, the 26-year-old suspect shot by Eureka police officers Tuesday evening, remains hospitalized but is expected to survive, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said at a press conference this afternoon.

Lasinski was shot once through the chest, Mills said. And Mills said that while it's clear Lasinski brandished a handgun at officers at multiple points during the pursuit yesterday,he's not sure if the suspect ever fired the weapon.

Mills said the officer involved shooting incident that gripped Eureka yesterday began with a simple traffic stop by a California Highway Patrol officer who saw Lasinski roll through a stop sign when turning onto Fourth Street. When the officer attempted to pull Lasinksi over, he allegedly turned into the Best Western at Fourth and Commercial streets, ditched his car and two female passengers in the parking lot and fled on foot.

Lasinski apparently believed he had an out-of-state warrant out for his arrest, which proved not to be the case, though Mills said it was “certainly the reason he was fleeing.”

Mills said a couple of Best Western employees attempted to detain Lasinski, but he told them he was “strapped,” pulled a handgun and ran off, jumping a fence en route toward Fourth Street. Mills said the CHP officer then put out an emergency call for assistance, reporting that an armed suspect had just fled the scene and offering Lasinski’s description. Calls came in to police dispatch reporting sightings of Lasinksi near Roy’s Auto Center on Fifth Street. An EPD officer then spotted him travelling easot on Seventh Street and pursued him on foot.

The red Mazda allegedly stolen from Sole Savers and abandoned about a block away. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • The red Mazda allegedly stolen from Sole Savers and abandoned about a block away.
Lasinksi then turned into the Sole Savers car lot at Seventh and A streets, where he jumped in a red Mazda that was left running on the lot, according to Mills. Here, shots were fired for the first time during the incident, the chief said. Lasinkski then allegedly fled in the Mazda, turning onto Sixth Street, where he drove against one-way traffic for less than a block before abandoning the car at the intersection of Sixth and B streets. Mills said it’s unclear whether the car died at that location or Lasinski simply decided his chances were better on foot.

A number of EPD officers then picked up a foot pursuit of Lasinski, Mills said, chasing him northbound on B Street until he turned west on Fifth Street. Shots were fired at several locations along this route, the chief said, though he didn't specify by whom.

Lasinski ultimately stopped his attempt to flee on Fifth street about halfway between A and B streets, where he leaned against a black Volkswagen. He stood there until he collapsed and was handcuffed by EPD officers after they pulled what Mills identified as a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol from his hand. He was then loaded onto an ambulance and transported to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.

Officers secured the scene before clearing medical personnel to respond to help Clayton Lee Lasinski, who was shot by police after allegedly brandishing a firearm at officers. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Officers secured the scene before clearing medical personnel to respond to help Clayton Lee Lasinski, who was shot by police after allegedly brandishing a firearm at officers.

No officers were injured during the incident.

Mills said it remains unclear if Lasinski fired his handgun during the exchange — which stretched through multiple crime scenes spread across more than four city blocks — though he brandished the gun at officers numerous times. When officers pulled the gun from Lasinski’s hand, Mills said it had a full clip with the hammer cocked back in firing position, which he took to mean he’d either fired his clip empty and reloaded, or the gun had malfunctioned and not fired at all.

A total of four EPD officers fired shots during the incident, Mills said, declining to identify the number of shots fired this early in the investigation. Witnesses interviewed by the Journal reported hearing anywhere from six shots to more than 20 during the incident, which lasted a little more than 10 minutes.

“I understand that each officer is personally accountable for every round that they discharge and where that round ends up,” Mills said. “And I will report back to the community once we’ve completed that investigation as to our actions last night.”

Mills said the four officers will remain on administrative duty until he clears them to return to the field.

Stressing at multiple points throughout the press conference that this investigation is in its infancy — with the officers yet to be interviewed, camera footage yet to be reviewed and witnesses yet to be contacted — Mills said it will be thorough and objective. It is being conducted under the county’s Critical Incident Response Team protocol, which assigned EPD senior detective John Gordon and District Attorney investigator Marvin Kirkpatrick to lead the effort.

During the press conference, Mills was asked about what seems to be an escalating trend of crime and violence locally. “There seems to be a trend right now where people are willing to take on police, and that’s not acceptable in a civil society,” Mills said. "In order for Humboldt to become the city we want to be, there needs to be a culture of lawfulness.”

Mills asked anyone in the community who witnessed part of yesterday’s incident to contact the Eureka Police Department to report what they saw and aid the investigation.
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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Taxpayer Advocate Leo Sears Dies

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 1:36 PM

Longtime taxpayer advocate Leo Sears, far right, pictured at a Coffee with a Captain event, has died. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Longtime taxpayer advocate Leo Sears, far right, pictured at a Coffee with a Captain event, has died.
Longtime taxpayer advocate Leo Sears, known for his outspoken opinions, sometimes controversial criticisms of local government and a pair of high-profile lawsuits he helped file, has died.

Eureka Mayor Frank Jager described Sears as a person who “put himself out there for what he believed” and had the facts to back up his argument.

“Sometimes going over to his house or having lunch with him was like being taken to the woodshed,” Jager said of Sears’ propensity for taking elected officials to task if he disagreed with their decisions. “He really knew his stuff.”

Sears, whose Facebook pages states he was born in 1934, died sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning.

A Korean War veteran actively involved in an annual wreath laying ceremony on Humboldt Bay to honor the fallen, Sears was at the helm of the Humboldt Taxpayer’s League in 2005 when the group filed a lawsuit against two Eureka waterfront developers, alleging a conflict of interest because they served on a city advisory board.

While the case was eventually taken over by another city resident before ultimately being thrown out, the league’s decision and its aftermath marked one of the more contentious chapters in the city’s recent history.

More recently, in 2015, Sears filed an ongoing conflict of interest lawsuit alleging the Humboldt County Harbor, Conservation and Recreation District board’s decision to accept a loan from Coast Seafoods and then provide the company with a lease extension was a violation of state law because one of the board's member, Greg Dale, is employed by the company.

“In the form of an understatement, he spoke his mind,” said attorney Bill Bertain, who’s known Sears since 1979 and represented him in the harbor district lawsuit. “You didn’t always agree with Leo, but you listened to him.”

“He always believed in good and transparent government,” Bertain added.

A graduate of Eureka High School and Humboldt State University, Sears retired from his career as a senior auditor-appraiser with the county of Humboldt in 1996.

A frequent contributor to the Times-Standard opinion page, Sears served as a longtime member of Eureka’s Finance Advisory Committee and was well-known for voicing his views on how the city allocated its budget, especially when he disagreed. Over the years, he also volunteered with the Eureka Police Department.

“Leo voraciously fought to use taxpayer money for public safety and was willing to lay his skin on the line to do so,” Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said in an email to the Journal on Tuesday. “He will be missed.”

Jager said Sears, whom the mayor had appointed to several city commissions, was “heavily involved in the pulse of politics” and kept a file on just about every issue facing the city and county.

“I lost a friend. I lost someone who kept me on my toes,” Jager said. “He was a great person for this community. I wish we had more of them.”

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Huffman on DAPL: 'Justice and Environmental Protection Have Won'

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 4:25 PM

Huffman
  • Huffman
North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman issued a statement last night applauding the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will deny an easement needed for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, forcing the project to abandon its controversial route and undergo an environmental review.

“Since July, tensions have escalated to a boiling point at the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I thank the Obama administration for this bold announcement today, to diffuse what may have otherwise been a tragic conflict,” Huffman said in the statement. “By denying the easement at Lake Oahe and by completing a full environmental review, the federal government is taking a necessary step to ensure our nation is not complicit in yet another grave injustice to Native Americans.”

A host of locals have been at the scene of massive demonstrations in North Dakota, where protesters seeking to occupy the pipeline’s path have been forcefully removed by police wielding tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in subfreezing temperatures. Read more about the protests, and local involvement in them, in our Nov. 10 cover story “We Travel in a Spiritual Way.”

Huffman has repeatedly joined other members of Congress in urging the Army Corps of Engineers and the Obama administration to intercede in the escalating conflict, and last week penned a letter to “demand accountability for (the) alarming treatment” of protesters.

Huffman dubbed this weekend’s news of the denied easement as a victory.

“Today, justice and environmental protection have won out over arrogance, greed and pollution,” he said in the statement. “We can all be proud that our government has listened, weighed the equities and the implications of this consequential decision, and has bravely done the right thing."

See the the full release from Huffman’s office copied below.


Rep. Huffman Applauds the Obama Administration’s Move to Deny Easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline

Washington, D.C.- Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) today applauded the Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement that they will deny the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe and will issue a full environmental impact statement on the effects of the pipeline. This announcement came at the urging of Congressman Huffman, who led a letter with Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) just weeks ago, asking the federal government to take this very step.

“Since July, tensions have escalated to a boiling point at the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I thank the Obama administration for this bold announcement today, to diffuse what may have otherwise been a tragic conflict,” said Rep. Huffman. “By denying the easement at Lake Oahe and by completing a full environmental review, the federal government is taking a necessary step to ensure our nation is not complicit in yet another grave injustice to Native Americans. Today, justice and environmental protection have won out over arrogance, greed and pollution. We can all be proud that our government has listened, weighed the equities and the implications of this consequential decision, and has bravely done the right thing."
Rep. Huffman has helped lead the effort in Congress in pushing for accountability and justice at the Dakota Access Pipeline site.
In his November 15th letter, on which he was joined by 22 lawmakers, Congressman Huffman called on President Obama to deny the easement for the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe. That letter also called for the Department of Justice to send observers to ensure water protectors and journalists' safety.
On November 28, he led another congressional letter with Rep. Grijalva, requesting an immediate meeting with White House and Department of Justice officials to demand accountability for alarming treatment of Water Protectors and peaceful demonstrators at the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, and to denounce the closure of the Oceti Sakowin camp.



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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Caroline Titus Wins Free Speech Award

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 12:24 PM

Enterprise Publisher and Editor Caroline Titus. - RYAN BURNS/JOURNAL FILE PHOTO
  • Ryan Burns/Journal file photo
  • Enterprise Publisher and Editor Caroline Titus.
Caroline Titus is one of two reporters being honored by the First Amendment Coalition this evening during the California Press Foundation's annual meeting in San Francisco.

Titus will receive the Coalition's Free Speech and Open Government Award as an acknowledgement of her 18-month battle with the Humboldt County Fair Association over disclosure of its financial records. The long court battle, which began not long after her husband, Stuart Titus, was let go from the fair board in 2012, was covered by Titus in The Ferndale Enterprise. The Tituses filed a successful First Amendment and wrongful termination suit, alleging that the Fair Board had fired Stuart Titus because he refused to suppress his wife's coverage of the fair board.The Tituses settled their suit for $150,000 in January of 2016, after an intense back-and-forth that included an attempt by the fair association to subpoena her gynecological records.

Reached yesterday by phone, Titus said she was "extremely proud" to be receiving the award, but in the meantime, "the beat goes on." She was putting the latest issue of the Enterprise to bed even as she prepared her acceptance speech.


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Eureka Rotary Members Donated 110 Turkeys to Rescue Mission

Posted By on Thu, Nov 24, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Standing L-R: Matthew Owen, President, Rotary Club of Eureka; Mindy Bussman, Rotarian and George Petersen Insurance; Virginia Bass, Rotarian and County Supervisor; Ron Lawton, manager of Safeway; Charlotte McDonald, Eureka Main Street; Mike Dearden, manager of Eureka Wells Fargo; George Orwen, Rotarian. Front Row: Bryan Hall, Executive Director, Eureka Rescue Mission - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Standing L-R: Matthew Owen, President, Rotary Club of Eureka; Mindy Bussman, Rotarian and George Petersen Insurance; Virginia Bass, Rotarian and County Supervisor; Ron Lawton, manager of Safeway; Charlotte McDonald, Eureka Main Street; Mike Dearden, manager of Eureka Wells Fargo; George Orwen, Rotarian. Front Row: Bryan Hall, Executive Director, Eureka Rescue Mission
The Rescue Mission's industrial freezer was too full to walk into earlier this week, thanks to the donation of 110 turkeys from the Rotary Club of Eureka.

Rotary president Matthew Owen said he put the call out to Rotary members after finding that the shelter only had 10 turkeys to feed the 100-plus people expected at their holiday dinner. On Monday Rotary members arrived with a truck full of frozen turkeys, which were purchased at a discount from Safeway and Grocery Outlet.

Bryan Hall, executive director of the Mission, expressed his gratitude on Facebook, posting the video including below and saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" On Nov. 20 the Mission provided shelter for 153 men, women and children. Hall added that they are still in need of coats and gloves. Many people come to the Mission for dinner but then return to the chill of the night, and Mission staff try to outfit them with warm clothing and hygiene kits before they go.

The Mission's holiday dinner takes place the day before Thanksgiving. Just down the street, St. Vincent dePaul's dining center was preparing to feed around 500 people on Thanksgiving Day. The center's cook, Mary Price, said they had received 12 hams and 27 turkeys, enough to tide them over until Christmas. Community donations of hams, pies, vegetables and other food are still welcome up until 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving day, when the feast begins.







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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Anger, Song and a Group Hug at Arcata's Anti-Trump Protest

Posted By on Sat, Nov 12, 2016 at 5:28 PM

Julie Shonkwiler, a Humboldt State University senior and psychology major, left, and Brianna Jensen, also a senior and psych major at HSU, held signs during an anti-Trump demonstration at the Arcata Plaza on Friday. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Julie Shonkwiler, a Humboldt State University senior and psychology major, left, and Brianna Jensen, also a senior and psych major at HSU, held signs during an anti-Trump demonstration at the Arcata Plaza on Friday.
More than 200 people gathered Friday afternoon to march from the Humboldt State University Campus down to the Arcata Plaza and back, decrying the election of Donald Trump as the nation's next president.

The protest remained peaceful throughout, as emotional participants chanted, yelled and sang. Once the march reached the Arcata Plaza, participants gathered around the McKinley statue as about a dozen speakers passed around a megaphone and took turns addressing the crowd, denouncing Trump and the American political system, and urging people to engage and make change.

Many of the participants were HSU and Arcata High School students, though a swath of the local non-student community also participated. As the crowd marched toward the Plaza, temporarily halting traffic on H Street, a Trump supporter found himself stranded in his pickup truck as the crowd passed. He applauded the protest and reminded participants that America is a democracy and that Trump will become president Jan. 20, no matter how many "Not My President" signs are waved. Some marchers jeered the man but the march passed without any real confrontation.

Once the protest returned to HSU, organizer Emily Lynn addressed the crowd, saying the protest took her from feeling helpless to empowered. "What I've learned today is that the people really are more powerful than our government," she said.

Local photographer Mark McKenna was on scene throughout the protest, which culminated in a group hug on the HSU campus, and shares the following slideshow. (Check out his photos from Thursday's protest in Eureka here.)

If you feel strongly one way or another about Trump's election, the Journal urges you to participate in our 45 for 45 dialogue, details of which can be found here.

Slideshow
Anti-Trump Protest in Arcata
New Slideshow New Slideshow New Slideshow New Slideshow New Slideshow New Slideshow New Slideshow New Slideshow

Anti-Trump Protest in Arcata


By Mark McKenna

Click to View 17 slides


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Friday, November 11, 2016

45 for 45: A Call for Letters

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 at 3:21 PM

A pro-Trump counter protester at the Old Town gazebo on Thursday evening. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A pro-Trump counter protester at the Old Town gazebo on Thursday evening.
Anger. Vindication. Fear. Hope. Despair. A flood of emotion has washed over the country in the wake of Donald J. Trump’s stunning Nov. 8 upset to become the president-elect following one of the most divisive presidential contests in generations. In the face of this historic event, and the turmoil that’s followed, we want to hear from you, Humboldt. Or, more accurately, we want the president-elect to hear from you. So we’re asking readers to send us letters of 45 words or less addressed to the incoming 45th president of the United States. Send submission to letters@northcoastjournal.com by 9 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 14.
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Eureka's Anti-Trump Protest 'Passionate but Peaceful'

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 at 1:01 PM

Ernesto Najera holds a sign at Thursday night's protest.
  • Ernesto Najera holds a sign at Thursday night's protest.
A couple hundred people took to the streets of Eureka on Thursday night to decry the election of Donald J. Trump in a protest Police Capt. Steve Watson called "passionate but peaceful."

Protesters gathered at the Old Town Gazebo, marched up to the Humboldt County Courthouse and back over the course of a couple of hours. Watson said that at one point protesters flooded Fifth Street, and there were a couple of near misses with passing vehicles. A total of about seven officers were on hand to help control traffic and make sure things didn't get out of hand, Watson said, adding that there were ultimately no reports of vandalism or assaults. At one point, a few Trump supporters arrived in Old Town for a counter protest, Watson said, which escalated tensions briefly but ultimately led to dialogue between the two groups.

"This is democracy in action and we'll do everything we can — always — to protect people's constitutional rights to assemble and speak their piece," Watson said. "The one thing that we always ask is that they keep it peaceful. It's a passionate issue on both sides. The country is obviously divided and people feel deeply. But if we truly respect the democratic process, there has to be some attempt for unity."

Slideshow
Old Town Trump Protest
Old Town Trump Protest Old Town Trump Protest Old Town Trump Protest Old Town Trump Protest Old Town Trump Protest Old Town Trump Protest Old Town Trump Protest Old Town Trump Protest

Old Town Trump Protest


By Mark McKenna

Click to View 19 slides




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Thursday, November 10, 2016

UPDATED: Brius Rescinds Cancellation of Partnership Contract, Halts Closure of Two Skilled Nursing Facilities

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 4:59 PM

A recent protest in front of Partnership Healthcare. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A recent protest in front of Partnership Healthcare.
UPDATE: Partnership Healthcare announced yesterday in a press release that Rockport had rescinded letters terminating its contract with the MediCal administrator, meaning that patients in the facilities, or entering the facilities via the hospital, will not have to have their coverage re-negotiated.

“We are happy that a larger closure was avoided and that our fragile members in these facilities will not be forced out of their home communities.” said Liz Gibboney, CEO of Partnership. “We will continue to put our members first and work to ensure they receive high-quality care.”

The press release adds that "PHC is exploring non-institutional long-term-care options for its members, including PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), Home Health programs, and similar services."

Previously:

Brius Healthcare announced today that two of the three skilled nursing facilities slated to close — Eureka and Seaview Rehabilitation and Wellness Centers — will remain open. In a statement emailed to local news outlets, Brius owner Shlomo Rechnitz said his company anticipates a continued financial loss due to staffing costs. To mitigate that loss, it "will be establishing a charity foundation in Humboldt County for the care and treatment of the elderly to directly fund these losses."

The Journal has reached out to Brius's spokesperson, Stefan Friedman, for more details on the foundation as it is not immediately clear whether Rechnitz will be directly funding it or setting up the foundation and soliciting donations from community members. We will update when there is more information.

The path to fiscal clarity for the facilities — which allege a $5 million loss due to staffing costs yet pays money back to Rechnitz in the form of lease agreements and other related party expenses — is even less clear as sources say Brius has also cancelled its agreement with Partnership Healthcare, the region's MediCal provider. The two entities have been negotiating over the reimbursement rate for the last five months, waging a bitter public relations war. Partnership has stated it is reimbursing the facilities at more than the state-mandated rate — and more than the state average — and encouraged Brius to "look internally" to address financial issues.

Robert Layne, spokesperson for Partnership, confirmed today that Brius has cancelled its contracts with Partnership for all five facilities, effective Dec. 23. MediCal patients entering the facilities from the hospital may have their entry delayed as their reimbursement is negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Rechnitz's statement again put the onus on Partnership, saying, "We won’t be a part of patients being forced to move 300 miles away simply because the system fails to appropriately pay for their healthcare."

The Journal has also received confirmation and supporting documentation from the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform that Rockport Healthcare, the administrative company for Brius's Humboldt holdings, is recruiting patients and family members to bring suit against Partnership, although Layne said Partnership has not yet received notification of a lawsuit.

In a phonecall to the Journal, State Senator Mike McGuire said he appreciated “Rockport coming to the same reality” as those who fought to keep the facilities opened. But he also said the threat of closure was a manufactured crisis and “extortion.” McGuire he believed the entire situation was “grandstanding” meant to negotiate a higher rate.

“Bullying does not work in Humboldt County,” McGuire added. “We are going to continue to monitor the situation.”


Editor's Note: This blog has been updated from a previous version to clarify that patients currently in the facilities will not experience a change in their contracts. Incoming patients will have their contracts negotiated on an individual basis.

STATEMENT FROM SHLOMO RECHNITZ, BRIUS HEALTHCARE:

Today, we informed the California Department of Public Health that we are rescinding our closure plans for Seaview Rehabilitation and Wellness Center and Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, and will only move forward with our closure plans at Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center.

As a result of this request, no patients will need to be transferred out of the community. All patients at Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center will be offered relocation at our other four local skilled nursing facilities.

It is important to understand how we got here, and how we have arrived at this decision.

Last year, our five skilled nursing facilities in Humboldt County began experiencing significant financial losses due to the lack of available health care workers in Humboldt County and the lack of adequate reimbursement.

To help drive recruitment, we raised salaries in November 2015 and January 2016, but our losses only multiplied. Five months ago, we approached all community stakeholders to seek solutions to the desperate problems of a staffing shortage that has negatively impacted not only us, but local hospitals and other healthcare providers throughout Humboldt County.

After months of searching for solutions and because the outlook for 2017 was more dire than 2016, we made the difficult decision to file closure plans for three of our local facilities. Despite efforts of some local officials and a local union to disparage us, we took efforts to work with everyone to ensure a safe and orderly transfer of our patients.

In the months since announcing these closures we have continued to attempt to work with others to come up with a different way out. However, it has become clear that the critical participants are not willing to do anything to solve these serious problems. After speaking at length with the patients, families and staff throughout Humboldt County, we have decided that despite the enormous financial difficulty that we will sustain as a result, there is no way we can close these facilities.

We won’t be a part of patients being forced to move 300 miles away simply because the system fails to appropriately pay for their healthcare.

In addition, as these facilities will continue to lose money, we will be establishing a charity foundation in Humboldt County for the care and treatment of the elderly to directly fund these losses. We will be working with local stakeholders to determine how we can better care for our elderly and ensure that they have the necessary care and services locally.

We appreciate the stakeholders that worked with us throughout this difficult process, and look forward to our continued work throughout Humboldt County.


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