Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Arcata Council Set to Select a New Mayor, Vice Mayor

Posted By on Tue, Oct 19, 2021 at 3:09 PM

Brett Watson - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ARCATA
  • Courtesy of the city of Arcata
  • Brett Watson
Arcata Mayor Brett Watson has not submitted a resignation letter but the city council is scheduled to select his replacement and chose a new vice mayor during a special meeting tomorrow.

The item on the 5:59 p.m. agenda just before the regularly scheduled meeting states simply: With a mid-term vacancy of the mayor’s position, the council will consider the election of a new mayor and vice mayor.

In an email to the Journal, City Manager Karen Diemer wrote that she was limited in what she could say at this time due to the “personal nature” of the circumstance other than “in communication with him for personal reasons the city is considering the rotation of mayor and vice mayor.”

She also confirmed that Watson has not submitted a resignation letter.

Watson, who was first appointed to fill an open seat on the council in 2017 before being elected the next year, was arrested for driving under the influence in August at a controlled traffic stop being conducted by the California Highway Patrol on L.K. Wood Boulevard.

He later released a statement saying he was having a difficult time dealing with the year anniversary of his father’s suicide.

Vice Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar told the Lost Coast Outpost that she and the other three councilmembers decided Monday to call the special meeting and she “strongly encourages the public to watch the beginning of the meeting.”

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Two Storms Heading This Way

Posted By on Tue, Oct 19, 2021 at 10:05 AM

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Another round of rain is headed this way, with the first in a one-two punch of storms expected to hit this evening, followed by a stronger front later in the week.

The heaviest showers are forecast to hit over night in both cases, with most areas in the region seeing a half inch to 1 inch of rain from storm No. 1 while the second will bring around 1 inch to 1.5 inches, although areas around Garberville could see double that amount, according to the Eureka office of the National Weather Service.

A wind advisory is slated to go into effect at 5 p.m. today, running until 2 a.m. Wednesday, for the Del Norte County coast and interior as well as Humboldt County. The winds from the southeast are expected to hit 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph expected.

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Monday, October 18, 2021

Former County Building Inspector Sentenced to One Year in Jail, Two Years Felony Probation for Soliciting Bribes

Posted By on Mon, Oct 18, 2021 at 4:04 PM

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Patrick William McTigue was sentenced to serve one year in jail, two years of felony probation and ordered to pay restitution to his victims after pleading guilty to one count of bribery and two counts of felony grand theft while working as a county building inspector a few years ago.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, McTigue used his position as a county building inspector to solicit bribes totaling over $120,000 from individuals seeking permits for commercial cannabis operations. McTigue defrauded his victims by agreeing to expedite their applications in return for money or other assets.

According to the release, additional counts of the same crimes involving three additional victims will be included requiring McTigue to pay restitution. The prosecution agreed to this resolution to secure restitution for all of McTigue’s victims and to ensure that convictions will prevent him from obtaining similar employment in the future.

McTigue was remanded and began serving his one-year sentence today.

Read the full press release below.

Earlier today, Judge Kaleb Cockrum sentenced 50-year-old Patrick William Francis McTigue, of Fortuna, to serve one year in jail, two years of felony probation and to pay restitution to his numerous victims. The sentencing follows an October 13th hearing where McTigue pled guilty to crimes committed while he was working as an inspector for the Humboldt County Building and Planning Department: one count of felony bribery (Penal Code section [PC] 68) and two counts of felony grand theft (PC 487) involving three separate victims.  Additional counts of the same crimes involving three additional victims will be included in the order requiring McTigue to pay restitution. The prosecution agreed to this resolution to secure restitution for all of McTigue’s victims and to ensure that convictions will prevent McTigue from obtaining similar employment in the future.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, McTigue used his position as a County inspector to solicit bribes from individuals seeking permits for commercial cannabis operations.   He defrauded his victims by agreeing to expedite their applications in return for money or other assets.   McTigue defrauded victims of over $120,000 during his employment with the County.

McTigue faced a maximum sentence of over 5 years in prison.  In prosecuting the case, Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Steven Steward argued that incarceration was warranted because the crimes harmed not only individuals but also the public’s trust in government.  At the conclusion of this morning’s sentencing, Judge Cockrum remanded McTigue into custody to begin serving his one-year jail sentence.  Deputy Public Defender Casey Russo represented McTigue.

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Public Health Confirms 56 New COVID-19 Cases

Posted By on Mon, Oct 18, 2021 at 3:24 PM

PUBLIC HEALTH
  • public health
Humboldt County Public Health reported today that it has confirmed 56 new COVID-19 cases since Friday, with no new related hospitalizations or deaths.

The new cases come after laboratories processed 511 samples with a test-positivity rate of 11 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September. Through the first 18 days in October, it sits at 12.6 percent, still far outpacing those of the state (2 percent) and nation (5.7 percent).

A state database shows 15 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

According to the county's dashboard, 58 percent of the local population is now fully vaccinated, with nearly 72 percent of those 12 and older having received at least one dose. 

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Port Backlogs Sum up California’s COVID Crisis

Posted By on Mon, Oct 18, 2021 at 5:53 AM

The extent to which California’s — and the country and world’s — challenges are interconnected was exemplified by President Joe Biden’s Wednesday announcement that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will move toward 24/7 operations to help unsnarl massive supply chain backlogs.

Still, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Sunday during a CNN interview that the situation is not ending anytime soon.

"Well, certainly, a lot of the challenges that we have been experiencing this year will continue into next year," Buttigieg said on State of the Union. "But there are both short-term and long-term steps that we can take to do something about it. Look, part of what's happening isn't just the supply side. It's the demand side. Demand is off the charts. Retail sales are through the roof."

Before the pandemic, usually just one cargo ship had to anchor near the ports — which together handle 40 percent of containers entering the U.S. — while waiting to unload its goods. On Tuesday, there were 58 — down from a record 73 in mid-September. The massive pileup can be traced to, among other things, port closures in China, factory lockdowns in Vietnam, an uptick in online purchases from consumers stuck at home with stimulus checks to spend, and an unprecedented shortage of truckers and warehouse workers needed to transport items from the ports.

The logjam may have also caused Orange County’s largest oil spill in three decades: Officials’ prevailing theory is that a ship anchor pierced an undersea pipeline. And it apparently helped port truckers win $30 million in wage theft settlements announced Tuesday — because truckers are typically classified as independent contractors, they weren’t paid for time spent waiting in hours-long lines at the backed-up ports.

Sailors on the anchored container ships have also been stuck in limbo, resulting in an uptick of medical issues, food shortages, violent fights and reports of depression and suicidal thoughts. To pass the time, said Merry-Jo Dickie, a ship custodian, “they do a lot of shopping online” — ironically, one of the very things contributing to the ship backlog in the first place.

Experts and labor advocates say the supply chain breakdown reflects the extent to which workers are mentally and physically breaking down.

Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union: “One of the major problems with the current state of logistics is the shortage of port truck drivers. They are not paid a living wage and are largely treated as indentured servants.”

The North Coast Journal contributed to this report.
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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Here Comes the Rain ... and Snow

Posted By on Sun, Oct 17, 2021 at 11:07 AM

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A cold front is ushering in a taste of winter this afternoon, with moderate rainfall possible and even snow at higher elevations, according to the Eureka office of the National Weather Service.

The rest of the week is also expected to be wet.

Highs for today are forecast to be 10 to 20 degrees cooler than Saturday and 1 to 3 inches of snow is expected this eventing above 4,500 to 5,000 feet. There is, according to the NWS, a "30 percent chance for 2 inches of snow around Scott Mountain Pass on (State Route) 3 this evening."
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Friday, October 15, 2021

Public Health Confirms 10 New COVID-19 Cases; FDA Recommends Emergency Authorization Use of J&J Booster Dose

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2021 at 5:33 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 10 new COVID-19 cases, with no additional deaths or hospitalizations reported.

Public Health also reported that an advisory committee voted unanimously to recommend the FDA authorize emergency use for a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for adults 18 and older and authorize Moderna boosters for certain high-risk groups.

The committee also discussed data on using a booster of a different vaccine type from the one used in the primary series, commonly called “mixing and matching," but did not make a recommendation.

The FDA is expected to make an official decision on boosters for both vaccines soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is then expected to meet sometime in the next week to discuss who will be recommended to receive them. 

The new cases come after laboratories processed 372 samples with a test-positivity rate of 11.16 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September.

A state database shows 15 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with five under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

According to the county's dashboard, 58 percent of the local population is now fully vaccinated, with nearly 72 percent of those 12 and older having received at least one dose. 

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Hospitals Brace for Strikes as California Workers Protest Staff Shortages

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2021 at 3:43 PM

Hospital staffers and union organizers waved signs and banners in protest over staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021. - PHOTO BY FRED GREAVES FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters
  • Hospital staffers and union organizers waved signs and banners in protest over staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021.

As weary health care workers across California enter the 19th month of the pandemic, thousands are walking off the job and onto the picket line, demanding more staffing.

The strikes and rallies threaten to cripple hospital operations that have been inundated by the COVID-19 Delta surge as well as patients seeking long-delayed care.

More than two dozen hospitals across the state — including some Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health facilities and USC Keck Medicine — have experienced strikes by engineers, janitorial staff, respiratory therapists, nurses, midwives, physical therapists and technicians over the past four months.

This week, nearly a third of all California hospitals reported “critical staffing shortages” to the federal government, with more predicting shortages in the coming week. Hospitals are unable to meet the state’s required staff-to-patient ratios for nurses or schedule adequate numbers of other critical personnel.

In the Central Valley, the region hit hardest by the Delta surge, National Guard medics have been deployed since September to assist area hospitals.

The reason for the shortages? Record patient volumes at the same time that many workers have been driven away from the bedside by burnout, early retirement and the seemingly unending stress of the pandemic.

Flourish logoA Flourish chart

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West estimates that about 10 percent of its members — close to 10,000 people — have retired, left the profession, or taken extended leaves of absence during the pandemic.

“What’s really important is that 10 percent doesn’t turn into 15 percent, does not turn into 20 percent. There’s not enough temporary staff out there to fix what’s going on,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW.

The shortages are an untenable scenario, unions say — one that has persisted for many years brought to a boiling point by the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, union grievances with hospitals are increasingly about inadequate staffing, although bargaining over pay remains a key issue.

Money matters when it comes to holding onto workers, they say, especially because temporary staff brought on for pandemic response often make more than regular employees. In some instances, traveling nurses have been paid $10,000 per week at California hospitals with severe staffing needs.

“You’re paying exorbitant amounts for travelers while the existing workforce makes exactly the same amount (as before the pandemic),” Regan said.

Striking to “stop the bleeding”

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced efforts to expand the health care workforce through a volunteer health corps. Although tens of thousands signed up, most people didn’t have the necessary medical skills, and only 14 volunteers worked out.

The California Department of Public Health also signed a $500 million contract to help hospitals pay for emergency health care workers like traveling nurses. That contract expired in June.

Unions say those efforts are a Band-aid on a larger problem. Instead, they say policymakers should get hospitals to try harder to retain their current employees.

“Right now, hospitals, the health industry, the state of California, you need to do a lot more so that it doesn’t get worse,” Regan said. “We’re doing very little as a state to support this workforce that has been under a really unique set of pressures.”

In an early attempt to stop the churn, SEIU-UHW sponsored a bill that would have provided hazard pay retention bonuses to health workers. Opposed by the hospital association. the bill died after a third reading in the Assembly and did not make it to the Senate.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance who introduced the bill, said the hospitals’ claims that they couldn’t afford hazard pay were unfounded since they received billions in federal pandemic funds, some “specifically earmarked for hazard pay and bonuses for frontline workers.”

“The state made a decision that they were not going to provide financial incentives to recognize and retain healthcare workers, and we think that’s shortsighted,” Regan said.

Over the summer, hundreds of nurses at hospitals, including USC’s Keck Medicine, San Francisco’s Chinese Hospital and Riverside Community Hospital, staged strikes over inadequate staffing and safety concerns.

Now more than 700 hospital engineers employed by Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California have been striking for four weeks, demanding higher wages.

In Antioch, more than 350 workers at Sutter Delta ended a week-long strike over inadequate staffing Friday but have yet to reach a contract agreement with their employer.

In the Victor Valley and Roseville, hundreds of workers staged recent rallies and vigils to highlight what they’re calling a “worker crisis.” Advocates say their upcoming schedules are packed with pickets planned in solidarity with other unions.

“We’re doing very little as a state to support this workforce that has been under a really unique set of pressures.”

Dave Regan, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West

And perhaps the strongest flexing of union muscle has come in Southern California, where members of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, or UNAC/UHCP, voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike against Kaiser Permanente if negotiations remain at a standstill. Should a strike materialize in the coming weeks, more than 24,000 members would walk out of the health care giant’s medical centers and clinics in more than a dozen cities.

Although the dollars and cents of bargaining vary from union to union, the common thread is clear: They want employers to “stop the bleeding” of health care workers fleeing the profession and invest more in recruiting and retaining staff.

The union found 72 percent of its members — which includes nurses, occupational and physical therapists, midwives and other medical staff — were struggling with anxiety and burnout, and between 42 to 45 percent reported depression and insomnia. About 74 percent said staffing was a primary concern.

How hospitals are responding to shortages

Hospitals say it is not as easy as hiring more employees. With so many people leaving the workforce, there aren’t enough candidates to fill the gap. Even support staff like janitors, cafeteria workers, clerks and assistants are in short supply.

“There is no question there is a shortage of health care workforce. We have far fewer people in the workforce today than we did when the pandemic started,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association.

Many hospitals have offered employees shift bonuses, child care subsidies and temporary housing to keep them from spreading the virus to family members while keeping them at patients’ bedside. But it hasn’t been enough.

“I don’t know that it’s anybody’s first choice, but we are in a situation where we have to rely on the travelers (traveling nurses),” Emerson-Shea said. “Hospitals would much rather have their permanent staff, but in this situation, with as long as it has been and the workforce dynamics so complex, we need both.”

“We have far fewer people in the workforce today than we did when the pandemic started.”

Jan Emerson-Shea, California Hospital Association

The state hospital association has asked state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly to assist hospitals with workforce concerns in part by reinstating funding for traveling workers and making it easier for hospitals to get exemptions from the state’s strict nurse-to-patient ratios. In a written response, Ghaly said the state would continue helping designated surge hospitals pay for extra staff and was working to expedite nursing ratio waivers for heavily impacted regions.

“There’s no resolution yet, but the conversations are occurring, which is important because we are not through the pandemic,” Emerson-Shea said.

Like many industries, hospitals rely on historic averages to predict the need for employees. The average number of patients in a given time period determines how many employees will be scheduled each day. The problem, workers say, is that using the average means frequently they are working with minimal staff.

“There needs to be a massive paradigm shift of how hospitals treat clinicians, and that’s less just-in-time staffing and less just-in-time supplies,” said Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice at the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United.

Sibilia Espinoza, a registered nurse, stands in the ICU of Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center wearing full protective equipment. Her union, UNAC/UHCP, voted overwhelmingly to strike in part because of staffing conditions during the pandemic.

Peter Sidhu, a former intensive care nurse at the Kaiser Woodland Hills Medical Center, said the union has filed staffing grievances each year for the past seven years. During the pandemic, the strain has gotten worse. Woodland Hills Medical Center is one of the facilities that may be affected by a strike.

“Between the first surge and second surge, we had several months where there was zero planning. There were no new grad programs, there was no new hiring,” Sidhu said.

“So going into that second surge, which was really bad here in California, we knew we were in trouble,” Sidhu said. With adequate staffing prior to the pandemic and efforts to increase staff levels in between surges, workers would not have burned out so rapidly, he contends.

Bargaining over salaries and benefits between Kaiser and Alliance of Health Care Unions, which includes the Southern California group UNAC/UHCP, stalled at the end of September after five months. The strike authorization is the first of its kind for UNAC/UHCP in the past 26 years, and members say long-standing staffing issues and burnout contributed to employee dissatisfaction.

“The vote to authorize a strike by union members is disappointing, especially because our members and communities are continuing to face the challenges of the ongoing pandemic,” Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser’s senior vice president of human resources, said in a statement. “In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.”

‘Burnout can only be getting worse’

In a recent study by the UC San Francisco Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care, the number of nurses aged 55 to 64 planning on quitting or retiring in the next two years jumped nearly 14 percent between 2018 and 2020, setting up the field for a five-year shortage.

Joanne Spetz, the center’s associate director of research and lead study author, said new graduates before the pandemic sometimes struggled to find employment while employers frequently complained about not being able to find enough experienced nurses to hire. But the overall number of nurses in the workforce was enough then.

Now, with nurses reducing their hours or quitting, the state is in a more tenuous position. About 7% fewer nurses reported working full-time in 2020 compared to 2018, and sharp declines in employment were seen among nurses 55 years and older, according to the study.

“We’re looking at having a shortage in the short term,” she said. “The wild card is, with the pandemic lasting this long, burnout can only be getting worse. What if we have a bunch of 30 to 35 year-old nurses who say ‘screw this,’ then we’re losing a lot of years of working life from these nurses.”

“One day you walk in and your unit is full, and two days later you walk in and a large portion of those patients have passed away.”

Peter Sidhu, former intensive care nurse

Sidhu is one of those experienced nurses who found himself reeling from the dual forces of COVID-19’s brutal emotional toll and short staffing.

He had volunteered to work with the first COVID-19 patient that arrived at his ICU in March 2020. That first patient quickly turned into dozens each day, with many dying.

“One day you walk in and your unit is full, and two days later you walk in and a large portion of those patients have passed away. You’re double-stacking body bags,” Sidhu said.

He struggled with anxiety, anger and insomnia before his shifts, knowing there would be more patients than nurses could care for, and that they would have no time for breaks. He said he was told that under the state’s temporary emergency waiver of nurse-to-patient ratios he would have to take on more patients.

A year into the pandemic, Sidhu called it quits and now works as the union’s treasurer. Of the eight members in his original ICU nursing team, only two remain working, he said.

“I’m 42, and I was planning on working at the bedside until I turn 60,” Sidhu said. “And then after COVID, I said ‘I am done.’ I was super-done.”

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

County Marks 9,000th COVID-19 Case

Posted By on Thu, Oct 14, 2021 at 4:25 PM

PUBLIC HEALTH
  • public health

Public Health confirmed 20 new COVID-19 cases today, pushing Humboldt County past a total of 9,000 cases, while also confirming a new hospitalization.

The new cases come after laboratories processed 168 samples with a test-positivity rate of 11.9 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September. Through the first 13 days of October, it stands at 13.9 percent.

A state database shows 19 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

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Humboldt Residents Could See a Change in Representation Under Draft Redistricting Maps

Posted By on Thu, Oct 14, 2021 at 4:02 PM

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • wikimedia commons
Humboldt County residents’ representation on the board of supervisors, in Congress and in the state Legislature is on the line as two commissions look at redrawing boundaries of those districts.

The process happens ever 10 years after the federal government publishes census data to ensure the populations of the districts are evenly distributed.

The last go-around on the Congressional side placed Humboldt out of longtime Representative Mike Thompson’s turf and Jared Huffman, then a termed-out member of the state Assembly, easily won the election for the redrawn Second District, which includes Humboldt, Mendocino and Marin counties, which he has represented to date.

Now the California Citizens Redistricting Committee is once again looking at shaking things up when it comes to who speaks for Humboldt on the state and federal levels.

At its meeting tomorrow, the commission is slated to discuss and review boundary opinions, some of which move the county out of Huffman’s district, as well as those of state Sen. Mike McGuire and state Assemblymember Jim Wood by connecting Humboldt with counties to its east rather than those south along the coast.

View tomorrow’s agenda — the meeting runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. — the proposals and find feedback forms here.

Meanwhile, the county's Redistricting Advisory Commission is doing to same type of work, in this case looking at where the boundaries for the five supervisorial districts will fall.

It also has a meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. to look at making recommendations for the final-round of draft maps. Find the meeting agenda here and more info on draft maps and how to give feedback here
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