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CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Atlantic Fire Captain Tom Cappel competes in a water hose drill Saturday during the 139th Annual Iowa Firefighters Association Convention held in Forest City.


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IFA Convention like a family reunion for firefighters (copy)

FOREST CITY | The Iowa Firefighters Association's annual convention is a bit like a family reunion, according to Cathy Seymour.

Seymour, whose husband, Bob, has been on the Martensdale Fire Department for 50 years, said what she likes best about the event is "everything."

"We have so much fun," she said. 

Forest City hosted the convention for the third time this week. The city previously served as the location for the event in 1997 and 2007.

More than 2,000 firefighters from fire departments all over the state, plus their spouses, came to this year's gathering. 

The convention officially kicked off Wednesday, although some participants arrived earlier. The event ends Sunday, with the annual IFA business meeting.

Much of the convention took place at the WIT Rally Grounds.

Firefighters and their spouses competed in waterball, a contest in which a ball is suspended from a cable high in the air.

Two teams use hoses to spray the ball. The goal for each team is to move the ball into the other team's territory and score goals. 

Convention-goers also participated in a bean bag toss and other games. Golf and bowling outings were planned for them.

Socializing is a big draw, several attendees said.

"It's nice to see friends from all over the state," said Sarah Krukow, whose husband, Joe, is on the Osage Fire Department. "It's the one time of year we get to see everyone."

Events on Sept. 9, including firefighter drills by the courthouse and a parade, were open to the public.

"The competition on Saturday is always fun to watch," Krukow said.

The Heritage Park campground, located next to the WIT Rally Grounds, was full of RVs during the convention.  

For firefighters in the region, having the event in Forest City is a bonus because they don't have far to travel.

"It's close this year. It's nice," said Chris Brinkman from the Manly Fire Department. 

One thing he likes about convention is the hospitality tents with a DJ or karaoke that some fire departments host. 

If someone on the department is running for an IFA office, the hospitality tent might feature free drinks and sandwiches, he said. 

Osage Fire Chief Kurt Angell has brought his Dalmatian, Oreo, to the IFA convention every year since 2010. 

In the days of horse-drawn fire carts, Dalmatians were trained to run ahead of the carts to clear a path and guide the horses and firefighters where they needed to go.

At convention Angell and Oreo ride around on golf carts — a popular mode of transportation for attendees — to visit with everyone.

"She has fun," Angell said. "She likes people."

The two of them also participate in parades. 

"I don't have to worry about candy," Angell said. "If kids can pet the dog, they won't even notice if there is candy."

Rich Riebkes of the Wellsburg Fire Department has been to many state conventions.

"It's a getaway," he said, noting it's a chance to meet people from all over the state.

Riebkes and his wife, Susan, were able to visit their daughter and son-in-law, Trista and Adam Helm of rural Woden during their time in Forest City this year. 

One of their grandchildren, three-year-old Reagyn Helm, even helped her grandpa drive a golf cart around the convention grounds. 

Riebkes has been to all three conventions that have taken place in Forest City.

He said what makes the Forest City location special is the great campground facilities.

"You've got everything here," he said.


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Mayo Clinic doctor alleges hospital system committed antitrust violations

ALBERT LEA, Minnesota | A Mayo Clinic Health System doctor has sent numerous complaints to federal authorities since March 2015 alleging antitrust violations by his employer, a development that comes as tensions continue to spark between the hospital system and the community.

Matthew Kumar, who chairs the Department of Anesthesiology at the health system’s Albert Lea and Austin campuses, has filed three complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and one complaint with the Department of Justice.

He informed Freeborn County Attorney David Walker of his complaints last month, and Walker has since been given permission to share the documents, which were obtained by the Tribune on Thursday.

Walker sent Kumar’s complaints to Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and 1st District Congressman Tim Walz.

In his letter to Walker, Kumar said he predicted the transition of most inpatient services to Austin.

“I predicted the current situation that the citizens of Austin and Albert Lea find themselves — reduction or elimination of services, rise in cost of health care, loss of choice in treatment options and being forced to seek health care far away from home,” he said. “Now I am complaining to you, so that you may pursue litigation against the Mayo Clinic on behalf of citizens of Albert Lea and Austin.”

Many residents of Winnebago and Worth counties -- particularly those in the northern portion of those counties -- have expressed concerns about changes to services at Mayo in Albert Lea, where they receive care. 

Walker has formally requested officials look into antitrust concerns regarding the planned transition. During an Aug. 21 meeting in Albert Lea, Swanson implied that legal action against the hospital system would be difficult.

In a statement on Thursday, the hospital system said it was not “previously aware of any antitrust complaints having been filed with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission over the past two years, including the complaints reportedly filed by Dr. Kumar. We have not been contacted by either agency or any government official about these complaints specifically, or about any antitrust concerns. We are confident that we are in full compliance with corporate governance, antitrust statutes and all other applicable Minnesota law.”

The hospital system cited a Rochester Post-Bulletin article last week that said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and her staff concluded there was no evidence antitrust laws were broken.

“However, if the attorney general has any additional questions for us, we will respond accordingly,” the hospital system stated.

In the letter to Walker, Kumar said Mayo “eliminated competition by not allowing hospital privileges for non-Mayo physicians and buying up existing hospitals or building new facilities.

Kumar said Mayo Clinic is the single source for health care in 72 adjoining communities.

“Generally, monopolies eliminate competition, drive up the cost of goods and services, limit consumer choice and bend the political and regulatory processes,” he wrote. “The adverse effects are worse when the monopoly turns to health care.”

Kumar predicted that if the monopoly was not broken, Mayo would continue to cut services at its community hospitals.

“It will lay off physicians, surgeons and nurses whom the Mayo Clinic administrators think are redundant and duplicative,” Kumar wrote. “They will close facilities and mothball existing resources.”

In the five-page letter sent to the Federal Trade Commission in April, Kumar alleged Mayo Clinic “has created a gigantic healthcare monopoly” that is affecting Medicare and Medicaid patients.

“Now it is using (its) monopoly power to deny health care to elderly, low-income Medicare and Medicaid patients,” he said in the letter. “It is a blatant violation of our antitrust laws, Center for Medicare Services laws and civil rights laws. In addition, it is morally and ethically wrong.”

In a July 2016 article to the Federal Trade Commission, Kumar alleged Mayo Clinic engaged in bid-suppression from travel agents in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida.

The letters, along with Mayo Clinic’s announcement on Thursday that it would discontinue clinic services at its LeRoy campus, could further inflame tensions between the hospital and the community as the intensive care unit is planned to be transitioned to Austin in October.


CZoeller / CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

People walk to and from the entrance of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea, where officials plan to consolidate its inpatient services to its Austin, Minnesota, location.


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Murray: Starting in September

September always brings new beginnings. Look at the ads and walk down the aisles of any superstore and you’ll find new beginnings galore.

The blank notebooks begging to be filled; the new pencils yearning to be sharpened; the flash drives waiting to store more information than anyone really needs ... these are some of the signs that school is in session again.

It just dawned on me that I have two juniors now … one son is a junior in college and the other, a junior in high school. Wow, that junior year is a doozy … no matter if you’re in high school or college.

When you’re a freshman, your September beginning is pretty low-key, so as not to freak you out so much you may never make it to October. Your sophomore year is more relaxed, as you know the ropes and the academic rigor pumps up its game.

Enter your junior year, though, and it smacks you in the face, totally piling the work on and stretching your academic chops like never before. Once you’re a senior, you’re home free … even in September. You’ve not only survived your junior year, but you’ve lived to tell about it. Seniors are on their way out …whether to college, graduate school, or real life!

I remember my junior years (both high school and college) in vivid detail. I was busy out of my mind and sometimes thought my head would explode with all of the new knowledge taken in daily.

Somehow, though, my head is still intact, and when I have to learn something rather challenging now, I think, “At least it’s not … (fill in the blank with any one of my tough courses here).”

No matter if you have kids in school or college, don’t you kind of get all sentimental every September? Don’t you miss buying school supplies? Don’t you miss the worry of the first day of school/college, wondering if you’ll have friends in your classes … or if you’ll get the “good” teacher or professor? Don’t you miss the true anticipation of a weekend where you at least get two days off of school?

I miss all of those things, and sometimes buy a notebook and some new pens for myself just so I don’t become too melancholy. There’s just such a promise of awesome things to come in September. "This may be the year I ... (fill in the blank with hopes and dreams … like make All-State; letter in swimming; travel abroad; get that internship; write my book … the options are endless).”

My oldest son had another September beginning (that actually began in August, but is in full swing this month). Not only is he beginning a new university, but he is also beginning his life of living totally on his own.

We went to visit him on Labor Day and discovered that he is really “adulting” better than I was at his age for sure. Heck, he might be doing a better job of it than I’m doing right now.

Living in a house a few hours away with his golden retriever, Max, he is totally loving life and everything that comes with it. He calls or texts often enough to tell me about his classes, work, and any other thing that crosses his mind. Hearing about his new experiences is almost enough for me to vicariously enjoy.

A large part of me, though, is also a bit envious, remembering the time I lived in that same city on my own, and even now, wanting to go to that awesome university that he chose. Maybe I could work on my PhD there; I could live with him and we could commute together. Nah … he needs his own story. The first chapter is starting out to be a real page-turner.

Meanwhile, on the homefront, my youngest son is finding out that a pile of advanced classes, extra-curriculars and a heavy work schedule are indeed a little too much of a beginning. This is the guy who needs his downtime, and he hasn’t had much since school started. Welcome to your first junior year, son. Survive this and you’ll get to experience it “super-sized” in your junior year of college!

I kind of miss those stressful years where papers, projects, and picky professors made my life crazy. I think of them every September … and go out to buy some school supplies to help me feel like I’m starting afresh with all of the other students.

Now … back to grading MY students’ papers. I want them to remember me as one of their “picky professors” who made their life a little crazy … in the best and most memorable way possible.