WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: More state hospitals collaborating to improve care
Over 100 Wisconsin hospitals are collaborating with each other to improve the quality of their care.
And it's resulted in big savings for them, and better care for you. The Wisconsin Hospital Association said the improved care is in the form of fewer re-admissions, as patients learn more about taking care of themselves after they go home -- and hospitals learn more about reducing bad reactions to medications. Because of all that, an estimated 3,500 Wisconsin patients did not have to be re-admitted -- and that's saved hospitals about 34-million dollars since the middle of 2012. The Obama health reform law reduces Medicare reimbursements to hospitals with excessive re-admissions. But the hospital group said it didn't take Obama-care to get them to pay attention to the problem. Association president Steve Brenton says hospital-related infections have also been reduced -- and all the improvements generate value for patients, employers, and health insurers.
Drinking water in northeast Wisconsin has been found to contain excessive amounts of a chemical that can cause a childhood bone disease. UW-Green Bay performs ongoing groundwater studies to test for natural, non-radioactive strontium. The most recent study found unhealthy amounts of strontium in 73-of-115 samples taken from well water -- mostly in Brown and Outagamie counties. The UW-Madison Water Resources Institute released the report. Previous tests have shown a presence of the chemical in much of eastern Wisconsin. Green Bay scientist John Luczaj said families with young children who use their own deep water wells should have them tested at least once for strontium. It's a material that naturally dissolves from bedrock, and it's not the radioactive chemical of the same name that's a by-product of nuclear weapons' tests. State health officials say infants and young children who take too much of the natural strontium can get rickets -- a disease that shortens and thickens their bones, and can result in deformities like knock-knee. Excessive strontium can also cause damage tooth enamel. Water softeners and reverse osmosis filters can remove much of the dissolved chemical.
Republican state lawmakers will try again to let youngsters with special needs go to private schools using tax-funded vouchers. Four Republicans plan to introduce a new bill in both houses today. The sponsors are Senators Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), and Representatives John Jagler (R-Watertown) and Dean Knudson (R-Hudson). Vouchers for disabled youngsters were originally proposed a year ago as part of the state budget. Sponsors said it would have given parents more chances to find the correct school environment for their kids. But the idea was scrapped after critics said disabled youngsters would get fewer legal protections in private schools, since they don't have to follow the same federal disability laws as public schools. Last year's budget proposal would have let five-percent of disabled Wisconsin students get tax funds for private schools. It was later rejected in favor of a larger-but-limited expansion of school-choice statewide. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says the new bill most likely require that disabled students try to get proper placements in public schools outside their districts, before they can get private school vouchers. Lisa Pugh of Disability Rights Wisconsin says the provision won't mean much. That's because public schools have limited seats for open enrollments, and even more limited resources for special-ed students.
A doctor from Eau Claire is scheduled to go on trial today for allegedly touching 15 young male patients inappropriately. The trial of 61-year-old David Van de Loo was moved to Superior after heavy pre-trial publicity in the Eau Claire area about 150 miles away. Barring a last-second surprise like a plea deal, the trial is expected to run for three weeks in front of a Douglas County jury. The case first came to light in August of 2012, after Van de Loo gave a sports-related physical to a 16-year-old boy -- and he allegedly tried inducing an erection in the youngster three times during the exam. Van de Loo was fired in September of 2012 from Eau Claire's Mayo Health System, where he practiced in sports medicine and pediatrics. Criminal charges started coming down a month later, and other counts were added later as more alleged victims came forward. Van de Loo is charged with 17 felony counts of first-and-second-degree sexual assault, child sex assault, and assaults by a medical employee. He also faces 26 civil suits alleging malpractice by sexual abuse.
Wisconsin went back in the deep freeze this morning -- and another brutal cold snap is expected for most of the week. Hayward was at 24-below at six o'clock. It was minus-22 in Ladysmith, with the state's coldest wind-chill factor at 35-below. The temperature in Marshfield plunged 12-degrees in six hours, to 16-below at six a-m. The only above-zero temperatures in Wisconsin were in the Milwaukee region. Racine was the warmest at two-above. But even there, wind-chills were in the minus-20 range. The National Weather Service has issued wind-chill advisories until 10 this morning for eastern Wisconsin, and until noon for the western part of the state. In addition, a lake-effect snow watch has been issued for Bayfield, Ashland, and Iron counties along Lake Superior. Forecasters say up to a foot of new snow is possible from tomorrow afternoon through Thursday morning. Lesser amounts are expected statewide tomorrow night, with blowing snow possible. Meanwhile, it's not supposed to get any warmer. Highs in the single digits are predicted at least through Thursday. Lows could get down to 10-below tonight. By Friday, highs are supposed to get back into the 20's.
As cold as it's been, you might think it's impossible to fall through the ice -- but you'd be wrong. The Wisconsin Public Service utility says the ice remains thin near hydro-electric facilities, even after it was 15-to-30-below for a sizable length of time this month. WPS generation official Bill Bosacki says the ice is often thin, inconsistent, and unsafe near hydro-electric dams and adjacent reservoirs. That's because the water under the ice flows a lot more quickly than it does elsewhere. Bosacki says the utility has signs, ropes, and barriers warning folks to stay away from thin ice -- but anglers have been setting up shop inside the boundaries anyway. Also, another bout of cold weather is on the way for tonight and tomorrow. Parts of northern Wisconsin could get down to 20-below overnight. Even at that temperature, Bosacki says folks should not be lulled into thinking the ice at the hydro-electric dams are safe. Wisconsin Public Service has 15 of those facilities in about the northeast quarter of the state.
The parent company of a northeast Wisconsin utility is selling its electric service in Upper Michigan. The Integrys Energy Group of Chicago said yesterday it will sell the Upper Peninsula Power Company to the equity firm of Balfour Beatty Infra-structure Partners. The price is almost $299-million. State and federal regulators must still approve the deal. Integrys CEO Charles Schrock says it will provide more money to cover power plants and infra-structure for its other utilities -- including Wisconsin Public Service of Green Bay. Integrys is upgrading pollution control equipment at the Public Service coal-fired plants near Wausau. Also, the state recently approved the company's plans to upgrade power line equipment in parts of northern Wisconsin. Media reports says Integrys was not planning to sell the UP utility until it was approved by Balfour Beatty a year ago. The utility has 52,000 customers and 120 employees in Upper Michigan.
One of the state Legislature's top law enforcement advocates is calling it quits. Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay told the AP he will not run for re-election this fall. He said 14 years in Madison is enough. Bies is a former chief sheriff's deputy in Door County, and he currently heads the Assembly corrections' panel. He has proposed a number of measures to help law enforcement over the years -- but he rankled some police officials last year when he proposed having outside agencies and a state review board investigate all deaths of suspects by officers. Byes said he saw departments clear their own people in a number of high-profile cases, and it raised public credibility questions. One official called the proposed state review board an unnecessary bureaucracy, and the bill remains pending in the Assembly. Also, Bies was one of just two Republicans to vote no last fall, when the Assembly voted to raise the speed limit on rural interstates from 65-to-70. The measure is expected to die in the Senate. Bies owns the Carroll House restaurant in Sister Bay. He says he'll keep running that place after he leaves the Legislature.
Police in Sheboygan County expect charges to be filed tomorrow in what appears to be a case of human trafficking. Plymouth deputy police chief Christopher Ringel says an investigation continues, after three arrests were made yesterday. Somebody called 911 about 2:45 a.m., to say that a young girl was wandering on a street. Police later found the girl, who claimed she was being held against her will. Officers learned that the house where she was staying had a Milwaukee man who was was wanted on a felony warrant, and was apparently armed. Police said several people tried fleeing, but ran back in the house after seeing they were surrounded by officers. A three-hour standoff ensued. Two people who tried leaving were arrested. A SWAT team was called in. And the standoff ended when a third person came out and was taken into custody. No injuries were reported. Officials said a human trafficking charge will be sought against a 24-year-old man. A 25-year-old man was arrested on a burglary warrant from Milwaukee. The 16-year-old girl was also held on an unrelated juvenile warrant from Milwaukee.
The head of Madison's technical college laid out some challenges at the state's official observance of Martin Luther King Day. Madison College President Jack Daniels told a State Capitol audience yesterday that economic justice for the poor needs to become a reality -- just as Doctor King envisioned in 1968 when he organized the Poor Peoples' Campaign. Also, Daniels said the racial achievement gap in Madison's schools is "unacceptable." He noted that half of Madison's black students do not graduate high school on time -- and many African-American adults never achieve degrees or marketable skills. Governor Scott Walker sang along to "We Shall Not Be Moved" during the Capitol ceremony. Protesters again turned their backs on Walker while he was reading the state's proclamation for King Day. They held up signs reading "MLK Jr. would have expanded Medicaid" and "Still a Liar."
Newly-released search warrants provide more details into the investigation of Kelly Dwyer's disappearance in Milwaukee. The 27-year-old woman has been missing since October 10th, when she was last seen with her boyfriend Kris Zocco. According to media reports, the unsealed warrants showed that police used a cadaver dog to check Zocco's apartment for evidence of homicide and hiding a corpse. The dog was said to have found Dwyer's scent in five areas of the apartment building -- including a trash chute, a trash room, and near a garbage bin. That apparently led police to a landfill in October to look for Dwyer's body. Police said they found quote, "potential items of evidence" -- but they're not saying what it was. Also, the search warrants showed that investigators got suspicious when Zocco gave conflicting times to officers about his whereabouts the night Dwyer vanished. The 39-year-old Zocco has not been charged in her disappearance -- but he was arrested twice soon afterward on drug charges and 17 counts of child pornography possession. Both those cases are still pending, and Zocco is free on a quarter-million dollar bond. Police say they still consider Dwyer's disappearance an active missing persons' case.
A rail line used only by freight trains is open again in Racine County, after part of a coal train derailed on Sunday in Caledonia. The Union Pacific Railroad says it could take up to two weeks to clean everything up. Nineteen cars of a 135-car coal train jumped the tracks. The mangled cars are still there -- and the railroad says the coal that spilled is being sold to scrap dealers, smelters, and others. An investigation continues, but state railroad officials say the train hit cracks that may have been caused by this month's extremely cold weather. About 500-feet of rail tracks were repaired just before they re-opened yesterday morning. Part of Five Mile Road at the derailment site was still closed yesterday. The train was carrying coal from Wyoming to a power plant in Sheboygan when the mishap occurred. No hazardous materials were spilled, and nobody was hurt.
Kenosha Police were awaiting autopsy results yesterday on two people found dead in a home during the weekend. Officials said the bodies of a 55-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man were discovered at the house on Saturday. Neighbors said the victims were a mother and her adult son. No other details were immediately released.
Two groups that support UW-Madison are merging, so they can become more efficient with their fund-raising. The boards of the University of Wisconsin Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Association have unanimously voted to join forces. Over 400 members of the UW Foundation are scheduled to vote on the matter Thursday. Each group will continue to operate on their own -- with their own names -- but they'll answer to the same people at the top. Foundation CEO Mike Knetter says there's almost a complete overlap in the friends and alumni that both groups deal with. And with private fundraising more of a concern, the Alumni Association's Paula Bonner says it's important to speak with one voice while benefiting the university. Both groups said the effort is not in direct response to a comprehensive alumni fund-raising project that's been sought by new Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank. That effort is in its early stages.
If you're a Target customer victimized by a recent security breach, you might be able to blame a teenager from Russia. The cyber-security firm of Intel-Crawler has identified a 17-year-old boy as the author of the malware blamed for infecting up to 40-million debit and credit cards. Officials said encrypted data was compromised at checkout counters where buyers swiped their cards. It affected all 18-hundred U.S. Target stores, including around 40 in Wisconsin. The president of Intel-Crawler said the teenager did not perpetrate the Target attacks, but he wrote the programs which made it possible. It's believed that 60 different versions of the malware could have been sold to dozens of cyber-criminals -- thus making it possible for other retailers and their customers to eventually be victimized. Meanwhile, police in McAllen Texas said they arrested two people trying to enter the country from Mexico with fraudulent credit cards. Officials said information from the Target breach might have been used by those suspects, a man and a woman in their 20's.
Wisconsin Realtors sold almost 11-percent more houses last year than in 2012. That's according to new figures released today by the state's Realtors Association. Members sold just under 70,000 existing houses statewide in the year just ended. That's almost seven-thousand more than in the previous year. Median resale prices jumped by seven-and-a-quarter percent last year, to 143-thousand-500 dollars. December also saw increases, after a couple months of declines. Realtors sold almost 46-hundred homes statewide last month, up from 43-hundred-plus the year before. December resale prices went up six-percent to just under 140-thousand dollars. Realtors' Association board chairman Steve Lane said 2013 was a robust year for the housing market. He said home sales rose in each region of Wisconsin during the past year -- and they rose 34-percent compared to 2011, when the state's housing market hit bottom was the Great Recession was ending.
Four UW campuses are getting grants to help train teachers for nursing schools. The Madison, Milwaukee, Eau Claire, and Oshkosh campuses are sharing over three-million dollars in UW incentive grants. They're using the funds to offer fellowships, and forgive student loans for those who agree to teach in nursing schools. It's an effort to reduce an expected shortfall of registered nurses. The Wisconsin Center for Nursing says the state will have 20-thousand fewer RN's than it will need by 2035 unless something's done now. The additional nurses are needed to handle a growing number of Baby-Boomers in their golden years. Many new instructors will replace those who retire. The average age of nursing instructors in Wisconsin is 58 -- and the Center for Nursing says a third of instructions plan to retire over the next four years. At UW-Eau Claire, up to 80-percent of qualified under-graduate nursing students have been denied admission because there are not enough people to teach them. Wisconsin now trains 31-hundred nurses a year. The center's report says we'll need 7,500 in just six years.
Middleton High School students can no longer use cell-phones when they take tests. That's after there was widespread cheating on a calculus exam last month. District spokesman Perry Hibner said students took photos of the test questions on their cell phones -- and they either shared the questions, or sold them, to others who were about to take the same exam. The calculus test was given a second time to everyone who took it -- and those scores averaged three-percent less than the original exam. From now on, Middleton High School teachers will collect all electronic devices from students before an exam -- and they won't give them back until the tests are done. Also, Hibner says math-and-science teachers are also creating more than one version of a test to discourage cheating among class groups.
The Port of Green Bay handled 16-percent more shipping traffic last year than the previous year. Port officials said 2013 was a healthy season, especially compared to the recession-plagued years of 2009-and-'10. Over 2.2 million tons of cargo went in-and-out of Green Bay's gateway to the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, shipping within the Great Lakes is off to a very slow start in 2014, due to the extremely cold January. Crews that use Lake Superior say the ice-buildup is the worst in decades. Mark Gill of the Coast Guard said a normal three-day trip from Duluth-Superior to Gary, Indiana now takes 6-to-7 days as a result of the icy conditions. International shipping ended last week, after the locks closed at Saint Sainte Marie along the Upper Michigan border at Canada.
Wisconsin's apprenticeship programs are growing by leaps-and-bounds. State workforce development officials say the numbers of apprenticeship students hired by businesses grew 31-percent during 2013. Department Secretary Reggie Newson says an improved economy has employers taking more advantage of the state's apprenticeship programs, so workers can have the right skills. He said there's been growth in construction, manufacturing, and service apprenticeships -- the best growth he's seen in three years. Newson says the unemployed and under-employed have also found the on-the-job apprenticeships to be a path to a good job. State apprenticeship standards' director Karen Morgan says those in the programs find that their incomes go up -- and by the time they complete the training, they're generally getting wages that can support families. Next Sunday through Tuesday, the workforce development agency will host the 26th annual state Apprenticeship Conference in Wisconsin Dells.
Kids can learn how to ice-fish at a series of clinics next month in southeast Wisconsin. The state DNR, Milwaukee County, and the Wisconsin Council of Sport-Fishing Organizations are among those sponsoring the 45-minute clinics. They'll take February 8th at a number of lagoons and park ponds in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. Youngsters can learn how to use ice-fishing equipment, tie knots, and stay safe on the ice. Snacks and equipment will be provided. More information is available at the DNR's Web site, accessible at Wisconsin.gov.