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Mason City police, Cerro Gordo County start mental health partnership

MASON CITY | The City Council approved a unique plan Tuesday night to have mental health professionals assist Mason City police with troublesome cases.

The council approved an agreement with County Social Services to collaborate on creating a law enforcement mental health care coordinator.

"The Mason City Police Department is continuing to see an increase in calls for service related to mental health," said Police Chief Jeff Brinkley.

He said in the past three years, the calls for service involving mental health situations has risen 22 percent.

Brinkley said the challenge has become finding ways to reduce the impact on public safety resources while providing better outcomes for mental health patients.

"The solution is a partnership with County Social Services," he said.

The law enforcement mental health coordinator will be County Social Services professional who will work with police on mental health situations and will have office space and other in-kind services at the Police Department.

Brinkley said the goal is to work with patients before they reach crisis status.

"We also hope to build a better network of family, community, provider and medical support — supporting clients ahead of crisis," he said.

Bob Lincoln, head of County Social Services, said the program is another piece in meeting the needs of both the police and the mental health community.

Councilman John Lee said, "This is a great program" and noted that mental health issues are increasing statewide.

Councilman Tom Thoma, a retired Globe Gazette newsman, said he spent many nights listening to mental health calls on the police scanner. "This is a terrific idea," he said.

The agreement is effective immediately and is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2019, but can be extended, said Brinkley.

Hospital restricts visitors as influenza cases increase in North Iowa

MASON CITY | The Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health has plenty of flu vaccines available, and is encouraging North Iowans to stop in for a shot as influenza cases increase in the area. 

Disease Prevention Specialist Jennifer Stiles said the vaccine is available via a walk-in clinic 10 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Stiles added no appointment is needed, and most health insurance plans should cover the cost of the shot.

There have been 14 influenza-related deaths in Iowa since Oct. 1, 2017, according to the department. Stiles said local statistics aren't available because they could possibly identify victims in smaller communities. 

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Bethany Bjorklund, an immunization nurse at Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health in Mason City, holds up a tray of influenza vaccines in her office on Tuesday.

She added colder weather may cause an increase in influenza cases due to people spending more time indoors. Influenza — which differs from norovirus, known as stomach flu — is a contagious respiratory illness that is more severe than a common cold. 

Because of the increase in influenza-related cases, Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa has initiated a Level 3 Visitation Restriction, starting Wednesday, Jan. 17, according to a news release.

The hospital is preventing anyone age 18 or younger from entering, as well as anyone with influenza-like or respiratory symptoms, unless they are seeking care.

Birth Center visitation is limited to the mother's partner, while pediatric department visitation is limited to parents and guardians.

The Level 3 restrictions also limit adult patients to two adults visitors during their stay, and emergency department patients are limited to one adult visitor, according to the news release.

The hospital says it will consider special circumstances for each patient, but the restrictions are for safety-related reasons. 

Mercy Infection Prevention Nurse Kim Overbeck said in a statement the strain circulating this year "tends to be more severe."

"Instating stricter visitation in the hospital decreases the opportunity for the spread of influenza to patients who are more vulnerable to the disease," Overbeck said.

The hospital institutes visitor restrictions when certain criteria is met.

Stephanie Duckert, marketing manager for Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, said in an email the following have caused the Level 3 visitation:

• Emergency department influx greater than 150 percent average for the same quarter last year. 

• Influenza-like symptoms accounting for 15 to 20 percent of emergency visits. 

Stiles, who works for public health, said that while the influenza vaccine isn't a perfect solution, it does prevent more serious symptoms, especially for the elderly and children.

"The flu shot isn't 100 percent going to prevent the flu," she said. "But if you do get the flu, it can make it less serious."

Update: 4 hurt, including students, after semi crashes into Lyle Public School art room

LYLE, Minnesota | A crash between a semi and another vehicle Tuesday morning caused the semi to lose control and crash into the Lyle Public School, sending two students to the hospital and injuring two others outside the school. 

A southbound car and semi collided in the intersection of Highway 218 and Pershing Avenue about 8:20 a.m., officials said. The semi collided with the rear of the car attempting to make a left-hand turn.

The semi then careened off Highway 218, crashing into the west wall of the high school art room. The entire cab entered the room where there were 12 students in class during the first period of the school day.

Arian Schuessler / Eric Johnson/ 

A rough track leads to a semi, embedded in the side of Lyle Public School Tuesday morning. The semi left Highway 218 in Lyle after trying to avoid a car making a turn, striking it in the right rear of the vehicle. 

Lyle Superintendent Bryan Boysen said he could confirm that two students, neither of whom he identified, were taken by ambulance to Austin, and described their injuries as head injuries, but did not believe the injuries were serious.

A parent and a student, riding in the car struck by the semi, were also injured bringing the total to four.

Boysen said that he was alerted to incident when the school’s fire alarm went off. He entered the hallway leading to the classroom where he saw smoke. Employees directed him to the classroom where the semi was completely embedded.

“I entered the art classroom, walked in and saw a semi staring at me,” Boysen said.

All students were evacuated and sent to Our Saviors Lutheran Church to be picked up by their parents. While at the church, students were checked out by a first responder as a precaution.

Even with the two students injured inside the building, both Boysen and Christianson said the accident could have been a lot worse.

“The staff did a great job and … it makes you realize we’re family,” Boysen said.

“The good Lord was watching over us,” Boysen went on to say. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson said a reason the crash wasn’t any worse was that the semi struck a load-bearing wall, preventing the semi from going further into the building.

School was canceled for the remainder of the day and Boysen said it would probably be canceled Wednesday as well as the school assesses damage.

“We are already in the process of concealing and repairing it,” Boysen said, adding that a contractor from Austin would be going over the damage Tuesday. Part of the concern, Boysen said, is the possibility of roof collapse due to the damage.

All students were evacuated and sent to Our Saviors Lutheran Church to be picked up by their parents. While at the church, students were checked out by a first responder as a precaution.

Gold Cross Ambulance, the Mower County Sheriff’s Department, and the Minnesota State Patrol assisted at the scene. Counselors were available for students and staff if they needed to talk. 

The semi driver has not been identified.

Lyle is located about 40 miles northeast of Mason City. 

Iowans seek halt to large-scale livestock buildings

DES MOINES — Community activists and organizers flooded the Capitol rotunda Tuesday demanding more regulation and a halt to construction of large-scale livestock projects that are threatening Iowa’s air, water and quality of life, especially in rural areas.

“Enough is enough,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, which spent $1.5 million in 2015 to removed nitrates from the city’s water supply.

Stowe joined a coalition of 27 state, community and national groups in calling on state lawmakers to cap the growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) until Iowa has fewer than 100 water impairments and the state’s water quality has improved significantly.

Members of the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture rallied at the Statehouse in favor of 15 bills introduced by Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson.

The legislation seeks a moratorium on building or expanding CAFOs and proposals to review and “repair” Iowa’s master matrix law used in the permitting and siting of large-scale livestock feeding facilities. The proposals are supported by officials in about 20 Iowa counties, organizers said.

Johnson, who introduced himself as a “recovering local control denier,” said the legislative changes he is seeking are in response to concerns he has heard from Iowans facing a rapid and — in many cases — unwanted rapid increase in the construction of livestock buildings.

“They say it’s time to get tough on poor siting of hog confinements, including those being built in environmentally sensitive areas, and locating CAFOs where the smell and sound of someone else’s money is in your bedroom every night,” he said. “It’s happening in all four corners of the state and everywhere in between.”

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, who has filed several companion pieces in the House to Johnson’s bills, said Iowa has more impaired waterways than ever before, at a time when “water is the new liquid gold in our communities and in our country.”

Sue George, a Howard County resident, expressed concern that livestock facilities are being built on environmentally fragile terrain in northeast Iowa.

Livestock producer Chris Peterson lamented the loss of 94 percent of Iowa’s independent pig farmers due to the “explosive growth of industrial hog-feeding operations moving in, which have caused massive health, environmental and quality-of-life issues across the state.”

Johnson said alliance members were not just pointing out problems but were offering solutions.

“At a time when the DNR livestock compliance division has been literally cut to the bone, it’s time for the Legislature act,” he said.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, met with alliance representatives Tuesday but did not give favorable chances for a moratorium bill to move through the legislative process this session.

“I think that’s very unlikely,” Rozenboom said in the interview. “We’re trying to grow Iowa and make Iowa prosperous for our citizens. and I don’t think a moratorium is an answer. We have rules on livestock sites and facilities, and I think as long as we keep an eye on that, I think they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and I just don’t think a moratorium is a good answer.”