Randolph Mountain Club buys new rescue litter with $2,400 grant

with two pics
 
By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Daily Sun
RANDOLPH — Thanks to a $2,400 New Hampshire Outdoor Council grant, the Randolph Mountain Club recently acquired a new 13-pound titanium Cascade basket-style rescue litter to replace a 35-pound Stokes litter that had been used by search-and-rescue crews for 35 or more years. New Hampshire Outdoor Council is a non-profit organization, supported by donations and not tax dollars, that serves visitors to the state’s back country.
Bill Arnold of Randolph explained that he had applied for the grant on behalf of the club after the old one was “torn out” by being used on Feb. 28-29, 2016, to recover the body of 54-year-old Timothy Hallock of Orient, N.Y. who had died of hypothermia near the bottom of the headwall of Castle Ravine below Edmands Col on the Presidential Range.
On Feb. 28, Gray Knob caretaker Kevin Ross pulled the litter from the enclosed cabin to the junction of the Emerald and Castle Ravine Trails, where he was met by two teams of rescuers who were engaged in moving the dead hiker in a body bag.
After the victim was strapped into the Stokes litter, more than 30 volunteers took turns pulling it through ice and crusty snow, over rocks and across icy streams down the Castle Ravine Trail to Bowman, the height of land that divides the Androscoggin and Connecticut River watersheds. The nearly snowless winter conditions were particularly difficult for hikers, including crossing unfrozen brooks.
The new Cascade litter, fabricated in Idaho, is not only nearly a third lighter than the one it has replaced, but also comes apart, allowing it to be carried by two searchers and then easily snapped together when at a rescue or recovery site.
The new litter will be kept at the ready at Randolph Mountain Club Gray Knob cabin on Mount Adams along with an older Stokes litter that has a sled-like bottom. Gray Knob is staffed year-round with a caretaker.
Volunteers under the aegis of the state Fish and Game Department turn out to participate in search and rescue missions.
The local Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue has some 40 members.
Arnold wrote up the Hallock recovery for the Randolph Mountain Club June 2016 newsletter. “As the (recovery) group left the woods (at about 2 a.m.), it was a most impressive sight to see: 30-plus headlamps bobbing up and down along the last few hundred feet of the old railroad track at Bowman,” he said.
Arnold is a longtime Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue member who was named EMS Honoree of the Year in 2014 by the North Country Public Safety Foundation.

Gorham Paper and Tissue paying off debts

By Christopher Jensen

IndepthNH.org

Gorham Paper & Tissue, the last paper mill in the North Country, is doing well enough to still be paying off a $1.1 million debt to the town of Gorham.
“They’re doing a great job paying and keeping up with the agreement,” Gorham Town Manager Robin Frost told the Gorham Select Board last week.
She said the mill has paid off $390,000, but still owes about $785,000. It owes back taxes from 2013.
The mill is also still making payments on money owed to the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District, said Sharon Gauthier, its executive director.
The plant has struggled with issues including energy costs and intense foreign competition that has put many other mills out of business.
In 2011 it was purchased and reopened by Patriarch Partners, a private investment firm based in New York. It is specializing in what are known as away-from-home towels such as those found in restaurants or bathrooms in office buildings.
Plant manager Dick Arnold couldn’t be reached for comment.

City moving ahead with shutting down home health program

By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN – The city will move ahead with shutting down its home health program and health clinics under a proposal that North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency will absorb the health department staff and create a Berlin team to serve its existing patients and continue the clinics.
City Manager James Wheeler last week presented the council with a proposal from the North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency President Michael Counter providing three options. The options included
• The city would continue to operate its Medicare certified home health program and health-related clinics with North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency providing management services at a cost of $8,000 to $10,000 a month, not including the cost of laptops and licenses.
• Having North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency take over the Medicare-certified home health and visiting nurse services and the city would continue to provide health clinics and promotion activities.
• The city would exit both the home health and health promotion activities, and those services would be integrated into North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency.
Under the last two options, North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency, which is based in Littleton, would hire Berlin Health Department staff — two full-time registered nurses, a per diem registered nurse, and the full-time biller. The agency would commit to working diligently to schedule the Berlin Health nurses in the department’s existing territory as part of the Berlin team of North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency with a focus on maintaining consistency and continuity of care for the health department’s current patients.
Wheeler recommended going with Option 3 and having North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency take over both the home health and health clinics. He said existing patients would be able to choose to go with North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency or go with another provider.
“If we’re going to transition out, it makes sense to opt out of both,” he said.
The manager said there are still details to be worked out before the transition can take place. The city must notify the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services of its intent to “voluntarily terminate” its Medicare enrollment, inform referring agencies that the city will stop taking new patients, notify employees and the union of the city’s intent to cease operations, and provide written notification to current patients as well as providers of the closure.
City Councilor Mike Rozek made a motion that the council direct Wheeler to proceed with Option 3 and have the city exit both the home health and health clinics and notify Department of Health and Human Services that the city is voluntarily terminating its Medicare enrollment. The motion carried by a 6-2 margin, with councilors Diane Nelson and Denise Morgan Allain voting against it. Mayor Paul Grenier and Councilor Roland Theberge were absent.
Wheeler pointed out that this has been a trying and emotional process for health department staff, many in attendance at the work session. He described the staff as extremely dedicated and praised them for their professionalism.
The council has wrestled with its decision over the future of the health department for months. Earlier this fall, the city hired Simione Healthcare Consultants of Hamden, Conn., to do an operational and financial assessment of the city’s health department. The study estimated it would cost $250,000 to continue the home health program. Most of that expense would be to acquire an electronic medical record system mandated by Medicare. The study also estimated it will cost about $112,000 to close down the home health program and the various clinics the health department operates.
A public hearing was held, and all those in attendance urged the council to keep the home health program, noting the city has operated it for decades. On Nov. 28, the council took a straw vote in work session and overwhelmingly supported continuing the program. But when the resolution came for a vote on the council floor three weeks later, it failed to get the required two-thirds majority to allocate the additional funds to acquire the new computer system and make the other necessary changes. While he called the vote shortsighted, Mayor Paul Grenier instructed Wheeler to move ahead with options for the city to shut down the health programs.

School board works to finalize budget

By Kirstan Knowlton
BERLIN — With the exception of salary increases, which are negotiated with the teachers' union, this year’s budget for the Berlin School District shows little increase over last year’s figures.
With an emphasis on providing more services to students, principals from each school presented their proposed budget request to the school board, including additional “wish list” items like a Reading and Math Intervention Specialist.
Even with these additional items, this year’s budget request is just $42,000 more over last year’s budget, however this does not include teacher salary and benefits.
“It’s important to let our needs be known. This is ultra conservative for a budget,” said Nicole Plourde, chair of the school board.
In previous years, the schools strayed away from listing additional positions, knowing that they likely wouldn’t get approved, but in order to keep a record of immediate needs, principals were encouraged to present all items they felt were necessary for the success of their students.
Among those positions requested was a teacher for the Student Support Center at the Berlin Middle School. Other budgetary increases include the purchase of 100 Yoga Chromebooks for incoming freshman and replacement of a ceramic kiln for the art program at the high school.
With recent news that the legislature has voted to phase out the state Education Stabilization Grant Program, the district is faced with the reality that they will receive $219,000 less annually over the next 25 years until the $5.4 million the city received is down to zero.
With overall goal to provide an adequate education to all students, the board is looking for creative ways to shift funding to where it is needed the most.
“I would like to see all these positions filled. Are there places that we could cut to provide the positions?” Said board member, Louise Valliere. “Five, six and seven year olds are more important than masonry in my opinion. Is there anyway we can reallocate those funds?
Byran Lamirande, business administrator for the district, explained that there could be money available from the capital improvement fund.
“It shifts the focus to staff, but it doesn’t change the request,” said Lamirande.
Lamirande also noted that ongoing costs like energy use is less this year than it was five years ago, despite the increase in electric rates, due to energy saving measures the school has taken to make the buildings more efficient.
Plourde also echoed the importance of providing for the current needs of the students.
“The needs of the school is not the same as it was 20 years ago or even 10 years ago,” said Plourde.
The school board and administrative staff members will finish preparing the budget at their next meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19, at 6 p.m.