Mar 5, 2015

Some special education teachers now getting worker’s compensation

Working with special education students sometimes puts teachers at risk of injury. Despite potential occupational hazards, special education teachers in Wyoming have not received worker’s compensation coverage.

New legislation signed into law Tuesday will change that, but only for a small group of educators.

Beginning July 1, worker’s compensation will be provided for teachers and service providers, such as speech therapists, who work with students requiring educational services beyond a regular classroom. Those teachers and providers will be covered in the extra hazardous category.

Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, who sponsored the bill, said some lawmakers were shocked when they learned that special education teachers haven’t already received worker’s compensation coverage.

“Aids who help have always been covered — just not the teachers, and it makes no sense,” said Northrup, who represents part of Cody.

Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, speaks during the 2015 Legislative Session. Photo by CJ Baker
To highlight the need for worker’s comp coverage, Northrup talked about an area special education teacher who was unable to work after her thumb was badly injured by a student.

“She took all of her personal days and all of her vacation days,” Northrup said. “She came back to work with her thumb still bandaged up, and she was gesturing with her other hand and the same kid reached over, grabbed her thumb and wrenched it and did the exact same thing to her other thumb.”

While insurance covered medical costs, “she had no ability to recover lost wages, lost time — any of that,” Northrup said.

Northrup said a Powell school nurse pointed out another health risk for special education employees is coming into contact with bodily fluids when working with students.

“Aids who help have always been covered — just not the teachers, and it makes no sense,” said Rep. David Northrup.

Cody school board trustee Stefanie Bell has advocated for worker’s compensation coverage for all special education teachers.

School districts in Wyoming can either cover 100 percent of their employees or only those mandated by law, Bell said in an email Wednesday.

“We only have the two choices,” Bell said. “If a district sees a position that may be hazardous, they cannot choose to cover those individuals. Again, they can cover everyone or, as we did, try to change the law.”

Rob McCray, chairman of the Powell school board, said local education leaders believe the legislation will be beneficial for employees who work in special education.

Bell said this statutory change will protect staff, students and school districts.

“These are truly workplace injuries,” Bell said. “This restores equity in the workplace for those covered in that the assistant and the teacher are both equally covered by workman’s compensation insurance.”

In her 15 years as a school board trustee, Bell has seen injuries that affected special education teachers.

“These trusted staff members incur the costs associated with those injuries — the lost time at work, their insurance deductible and out-of-pocket expenses,” Bell said.

“These are truly workplace injuries. This restores equity in the workplace for those covered ...,” said Cody school board member Stefanie Bell.

Northrup would like to see worker’s compensation coverage for all special education teachers, and he proposed a measure to do that during last year’s legislative session.

“It got defeated because it would be $2 million annually to cover them,” Northrup said.

This time, the bill was scaled back to include a smaller, specific group of educators — about 97 full-time employees statewide.

At roughly $200,000, it’s just a fraction of what it would cost to include all special education teachers.

“This law covers special education teachers who ‘provide services to eligible students with behavioral, emotional, cognitive, learning, physical or health disabilities that require educational services to be provided outside of the regular classroom, because the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily in the regular classroom,’” Bell said.

Sen. Charles Scott proposed an amendment that would have expanded the coverage to all special education teachers, but it was defeated on the third reading, Bell said.

Legislators will likely discuss coverage for more special education teachers during the interim and in committees, Northrup said.

“Now that the ice has been broken pretty good, we need to make sure that we can get it put together,” he said.

Northrup’s bill, House Bill 138, was approved unanimously with amendments in the Wyoming House of Representatives. In the Senate, it was approved 22-7. Local senators Hank Coe, R-Cody, and Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, voted in favor of it and served as co-sponsors. Reps. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, Sam Krone, R-Cody, and Dan Larsen, R-Powell, also supported the measure as co-sponsors. Gov. Matt Mead signed the bill Tuesday afternoon.

Northrup called it a good start.

“It’s a start down a road that needed to happen,” Northrup said.

Cody nurse charged with sexual assaulting female patient

A Cody nurse stands charged with sexually assaulting a patient while she was unconscious and undergoing surgery earlier this year.

The man was arrested Monday on a charge of first-degree sexual assault and made his first court appearance Tuesday morning in Park County Circuit Court in Cody.

The Park County Circuit Courtroom in Cody
Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters adopted the recommendation of Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric and set the man’s bail at $75,000 cash pending further proceedings.

Charging documents say a fellow nurse caught the man with his fingers inside a female patient’s genitals during a January foot procedure.

Wyoming law protects the identity of defendants charged with sex crimes unless and until their case proceeds to District Court. As a result, the public version of the charging documents refer to the man only as “R.W.G.” and redact the name of the facility where the surgery and alleged sexual assault took place.

However, Cody News Company has independently learned the defendant is 44-year-old Robert William Guty, a registered nurse who formerly worked at Cody’s Northwest Wyoming Surgical Center.

Charging documents say the man, who Cody News Company has identified as Guty, was fired from his job after the allegations were reported and investigated at the facility.

“We take patient safety very seriously and act upon such matters immediately and appropriately. Out of respect for privacy, we do not comment on any patient-related matter, and it’s the center’s policy not to comment on any employee matters,” Northwest Wyoming Surgical Center Administrator Todd Currier said Wednesday when asked about the allegations against Guty.

“However, we can confirm that the person in question is no longer an employee with the center,” he said.

Currier added later that, “the matter in question is an isolated incident that we have taken action on.”

Guty has not yet entered a plea to the charge, but charging documents indicate he denied the allegations when Currier confronted him.

“We can confirm that the person in question is no longer an employee with the center,” said Northwest Wyoming Surgical Center Administrator Todd Currier said, adding, “the matter in question is an isolated incident that we have taken action on.”

The assault allegedly occurred in January during a routine foot procedure, according to an affidavit from Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford written in support of the criminal charge.

One of the nurses helping with the procedure “observed (Robert Guty’s) hand go under the blanket in the hip area, so she decided to lift the blanket to see what he was doing,” Stafford wrote of the woman’s account. “She told me that she observed his hand under (the patient’s) underwear and inside of her vagina. She said (Guty) pulled his hand out quickly and she witnessed his body posture drop.”

The nurse said she was so upset by what she saw that she left the operating room and began crying; she reportedly told another nurse in the facility’s locker room that “she actually saw what they have been assuming for a long time” about Guty, Stafford wrote.

According to the affidavit, three nurses who were not present for the procedure had harbored suspicions for some time that Guty was inappropriately touching female patients’ private areas.

One recalled seeing questionable contact on multiple occasions; another had started keeping a log of the things she saw and heard about Guty’s handling of patients; the third said that, because of her suspicions about Guty, she’d worn lots of extra clothing when she received medical care, Stafford wrote.

That third nurse reportedly told the detective that, while she and her co-workers had been suspicious, Guty’s hands had always been hidden under blankets, so they never had confirmation that the touching was happening.

“She said it is such a severe allegation that they wanted to be sure before saying anything,” Stafford recounted in the affidavit.

The nurse told a co-worker that “she actually saw what they have been assuming for a long time,” detective Jason Stafford wrote.

The nurses went to Currier with their concerns right after the incident allegedly witnessed in the operating room, the affidavit says.

In addition to the nurse who reported seeing Guty assaulting the patient, three other medical personnel were present for the patient’s procedure: an anesthesiologist and two additional nurses. Stafford said those three people reported seeing nothing strange; the anesthesiologist said she was focused on monitoring the patient’s vitals signs, and one nurse said she generally had her back to the patient.

Currier reportedly told police that when he confronted Guty, the nurse said he was blindsided by the allegation of the sexual touching and, when asked if he’d touched patients inappropriately, said no. Currier also reportedly told police that Guty had offered no explanation for what the other nurse had described him doing and generally was very quiet.

The Wyoming Board of Nursing's website shows Guty became a registered nurse in 2007

Guty was suspended while the center investigated the report. On the third work day following the incident, Guty was fired, and the center’s nursing director contacted the patient, the affidavit says.

Currier and the nursing director explained to the patient what they’d learned, the actions they’d taken and that it was up to her to contact law enforcement, the woman told Stafford.

The patient, who was kept unconscious with an anesthetic as part of the surgery, said she had no memory of the surgery.

“(The patient) told me that she was having a difficult time dealing with what happened to her, because it’s all she can think about,” Stafford wrote.

The charge qualifies as first-degree sexual assault, rather than second-degree, because of the allegation that the sexual intrusion occurred while the patient was physically helpless.

The affidavit says Stafford tried to interview Guty in late January, but was unsuccessful. The charge was filed Feb. 25.

Wyoming Board of Nursing records show that Guty — who owns a home between Cody and Powell — has been a registered nurse for seven years.

He is being represented by public defender Scott Kath of Powell, who didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment on Wednesday.

A preliminary hearing — where Judge Waters will determine whether there’s enough evidence for the case to proceed to District Court and towards a trial — is tentatively scheduled for Monday.

Local doctors own 60 percent of Northwest Wyoming Surgical Center, with the other 40 percent owned by West Park Hospital.

Heart Mountain historian to be honored by Daughters of the American Revolution

The Big Horn Basin chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) will honor LaDonna Zall for her contributions and efforts toward the creation of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. 

Zall will receive the Mabel Brown Cumulative Contribution Award at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Irma Hotel’s Governors Room. The Daughters will meet prior to the ceremony at 10 a.m.

Longtime Heart Mountain Interpretive Center champion LaDonna Zall (right) is being honored by the Daughters of the American Revolution Saturday morning. She is pictured with Interpretive Center Archivist Nicole Blechynden in this file photo provided by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.
The award is presented to a women who has contributed significantly to the preservation of area history and Zall is an ideal recipient for such an honor, said DAR member Marylin Schultz, who worked with Zall at Park County Archives.

“She'll be getting a medal and a certificate,” Schultz said. “The joy of being acknowledged for work well done brings a sense of being appreciated.”

Zall worked tirelessly to create a center in honor of Heart Mountain’s inhabitants, who were forced to live there by government order from 1942-45.

“She really contributed more than anyone else to the idea of an interpretive center,” Schultz said. “I think she really earned it (award) and deserves it.”

Zall’s connection to Heart Mountain spans many years. As a young girl, she watched the first trains arrive carrying Japanese-American and Japanese people whose destination was the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Schultz said.

“She represents the heart in the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation with unwavering support and service,” said Brian Liesinger, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation executive director.

Years later, Zall became a part of the Heart Mountain Foundation from its inception in 1996. Zall has served as the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center’s acting curator for more than 20 years, often without a salary, Schultz said.

Kudos from the center, too.

“She has been a steadfast supporter, volunteer curator, board member and friend for many years,” said Brian Liesinger, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation executive director. “Because of her devotion to the HMWF, we have dubbed our research facility (housed in the Interpretive Center) the LaDonna Zall Research Center. She represents the heart in the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation with unwavering support and service.”

Zall published a book in 2012 chronicling Heart Mountain internee stories. Another volume is on the way, Schultz said.

In 2013 Zall was nominated for a Wyoming State Historical Society award by the Park County Historical Society for “Tales of Heart Mountain: Short Story Compilation.”

Mar 3, 2015

Meeteetse students’ trout-saving plan earns $35,000 prize, chance for more

MEETEETSE — The lesson was conservation with a technology prize.

For their project designed to save native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, Meeteetse Schools youth and their teacher, Michael Power, earned a big technology payday for their school through a Samsung contest.

More might be had with enough votes.

Their project was designing a fish screen to prevent cutthroats from entering an irrigation canal off Pickett Creek on the Pitchfork Ranch west of Meeteetse.

Students from Michael Power’s 10th-grade class take measurements and sketches of an irrigation canal diversion dam to create their own model, intended to keep Yellowstone cutthroat trout out of a canal. From left are Logan Raper, Jenna Williams, Jamey Olson and Tommy Thompson of Trout Unlimited. Courtesy photo

Meeteetse Schools is one of 15 national finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. They were selected from more than 3,100 applicants nationwide. The contest is designed to encourage teachers and students to solve real-world issues in their community using classroom skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

“As a national finalist and Wyoming state winner, Meeteetse Schools will receive $35,000 in technology,” according to Allison+Partners, a firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. handling the public relations for Samsung.

On March 18, Power, a seventh- and 10th-grade teacher at Meeteetse Schools, will present his students project in New York City to a live panel of judges who will select three grand prize winners.

A fourth winner will be chosen by Samsung employees and a fifth, the Community Choice Award winner, will be determined by public online voting.

The five grand prize winners will receive an estimated $120,000 in technology, according to Allison.
With competitors from many big city schools, every vote Meeteetse gets is crucial. He’s telling people via Twitter.

“We’re kind of the David versus Goliath so we have to get the word out,” Power said.

Jenna Williams, Logan Raper, Ian Johnson, Colton Curtis, Jamey Olson and Brent Riley were the 10th-grade biology students who designed the project. Also involved were sophomore Colton Curtis and senior Caitlynn Hiser, thanks to a mentoring relationship they had with Tommy Thompson of Trout Unlimited, Power said.

Every season, cutthroats enter the canal. Unable to escape, the trout eventually die.

The screen is designed to allow water to flow into the irrigation system while keeping fish out. An automated solar-powered brush would remove debris from the screen, Power said.

His kids learned that science can be applied to solve real-life problems. “It’s just opened their eyes,”  he said.

The project has inspired student career interest in science, design, technology and engineering.

“The real world piece is so important to their education,” Power said.

Meeteetse Schools 10th graders, from left, Jenna Williams, Logan Raper, Ian Johnson, Colton Curtis, Jamey Olson and Brent Riley, designed a fish screen to protect Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Courtesy photo

The Pitchfork Ranch allowed his students access to the ranch where the screen would be built. Thompson lent his knowledge of trout diversion projects and Jason Burckhardt, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department fish biologist, taught them Yellowstone cutthroat biology, Power said.

Screen installation is slated for 2016.

“It’s a go so far,” Power said.

He’s proud of his students for their hard work.

“The product they put out was awesome,” Power said.

Commitment to Cody Labs expansion could come soon

A Cody pharmaceutical manufacturer is expected to soon decide whether to move forward with plans to dramatically expand its facilities and workforce.

Officials with Cody Labs — owned by Philadelphia-based Lannett Company — have proposed investing upwards of $100 million and adding more than 100 new jobs in the coming years by building new production facilities off of Road 2AB, on Cody's northern edge.

“Sometime in the next month or so, Lannett will have a board meeting where hopefully everything goes well and they approve the entire project,” Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said this month. He sits on the board of the economic development group Forward Cody, a major proponent of the project.

A new Cody Labs warehouse — aided by a $2.53 million state grant to be repaid to Forward Cody — is already nearing completion at the 2AB site.

Grosskopf said the warehouse offers around 10 times the space of Cody Labs' existing facility on the city's west strip (which will continue to be used). However, the warehouse is just “Phase I” and is small compared to the plans Cody Labs and Lannett are considering for “Phase II.” The second phase — which could be followed by a third phase over the coming decade — would include a 108.5-foot high production building for creating active pharmaceutical ingredients, among some 116,500 square feet of new indoor space.

Cody Labs has said it could invest $102 million over the next four years. Wyoming Legislators put $25 million into a state loan program last year, specifically with the idea of helping along this project.

The company confirmed to Gov. Matt Mead last June that it was interested in the state funds — and in recent months it began the city of Cody’s planning and zoning process for Phase II — but it has not yet officially committed to the full expansion.

“Hopefully at the next (Lannett) board meeting, they’ll say, ‘Go,’” Grosskopf said

Worland rancher concludes Game and Fish Commission term

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Mike Healy’s six-year term with the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission concludes March 1.
Healy represented District 5, which covers Park, Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie counties. The commission is the policy-making board for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, according to Game and Fish.

Mike Healy
“It’s a really intriguing position because you’re working with an agency that’s driven by a passion that’s unseen in state government,” Healy said. “I just don’t think that you find that anywhere.”

“Mike deeply cares about both serving the public and Wyoming's wildlife resource to the best of his ability,” said Alan Osterland, Game and Fish wildlife supervisor in Cody.

The commission worked with ranchers to create wind farm rules. “I think we did really good work with sage grouse,” Healy said.

In 2011, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe reached an agreement with Gov. Matt Mead to remove wolves from the Endangered Species List, but a lawsuit last fall resulted in the canines back under federal protection.

“I think our solution was considerate of what Fish and Wildlife wanted; to create a thriving population of wolves around Yellowstone (National Park),” Healy said.

A bill to increase hunting and fishing license fees failed in the 2013 session of the Wyoming Legislature. A panel of three commissioners, including himself, initiated some money-saving measures, but a license price hike remains inevitable.

“We still need to go to the Legislature in a couple years for a fee increase,” Healy said.

His spread, the LU Ranch outside Worland, has been around for 100 years, with his family owning a majority of the ranch’s shares for the last 80 years. It is a 148,000-acre operation. Of that 29,000 acres are deeded to the Healy family, 100,000 acres are Bureau of Land Management land and 19,000 acres belong to the state of Wyoming.

Because of the large tracts of public land, he has granted hunters ingress. “It’s only fair to give access,” Healy said.

“I think a good management philosophy is to allow access for hunting,” said Healy.

Located on Gooseberry Creek, the LU ranch provides habitat for numerous game and non-game wildlife, Osterland said.

Ranches have plenty of open space and that is what wildlife depend on. “We had the first ranch in the hunter walk-in management program,” Healy said. Most hunters respect the land, he feels.

“I think a good management philosophy is to allow access for hunting,” Healy said.

“Department personnel have wanted to nominate the LU for landowner recognition programs, however, Mike would have no part of it,” Osterland said. “That is what kind of guy he is, very humble.”

He runs 1,400 cattle in his high desert operation. A good cattle management practice is keeping fences in good repair and employing pasture rotation to preserve range health, Healy said.

“He is a extremely good land steward,” Osterland said.

Healy was commission president from March 1, 2013, to Feb. 28, 2014.

As president, Healy ran meetings efficiently. He went to some of the region’s public meetings as well as department functions such as Christmas parties and retirements. He was very accessible to both the department and the public.

“Department personnel greatly appreciated his taking time to attend and talk with them about wildlife issues,” Osterland said.

Commissioner Healy never filled out an application.

Aspiring commissioners apply for their appointments. The governor of Wyoming accepts the applications and makes appointments subject to Wyoming Senate confirmation. However, Healy was appointed by Gov. Dave Freudenthal because his relationship with Game and Fish, he said.

“Mike is an exceptional commissioner and will be sorely missed,” said Osterland.

Healy served in the Wyoming Senate from 1987-92. He was elected for four years and reelected for another term. However, re-districting required him to run again he decided not to throw his hat back into the ring.

Healy, 68, and his wife, Sarah, have two grown sons. D.J. lives in the San Francisco area and Brian at State College, Pa.

“Yes,” said Osterland. “Mike is an exceptional commissioner and will be sorely missed.”

Game and Fish personnel are good at what they do, Healy said.

“It’s just fun to be around people that really enjoy their work,” he said. “That’s what I’ll miss.”

Auditor says county’s practices have improved

Park County is getting better marks from its auditor than it did a year ago.

The number of concerns reported by auditors from CliftonLarsonAllen dropped from 11 last year to six this time around. The firm’s review covered the county’s most recent fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014.

CliftonLarsonAllen scrutinized the county’s financial statements and processes for accuracy, compliance with government accounting standards and susceptibility to fraud, among other things.

“Some very good improvements this year,” said Shawn Sonnkalb, a manager in CliftonLarsonAllen’s Broomfield, Colo., office, on Feb. 17. “I’d like to see a little bit more (improvement), but I think this year was a very good success.”

Auditor Shawn Sonnkalb of CliftonLarsonAllen lays out his findings.
Compared to the prior fiscal year, Park County came into compliance with requirements attached to some federal dollars and created new, improved processes for handling employee contracts and reviewing entries in the county’s general ledger.

The other six “findings” from the prior year were not fixed.

“Like my bosses like to say, ‘Think big, but improve incrementally,’” Sonnkalb told county officials. “You can’t do everything in one fell swoop — and we don’t expect you to, either.”

One of the repeated concerns is that the county does not adjust its statements from a cash basis to the accrual basis required by government accounting standards. The county has historically relied on its auditors to do the conversion, but that’s been a source of conflict with the past few auditing firms, because it effectively forces them to audit their own tabulations.

CliftonLarsonAllen officials suggested last year that they might not honor their three-year contract if the county didn’t start making efforts to take over the work. The county has started that process and Clerk Colleen Renner hopes to hire a staffer with a financial background to help.

“Like my bosses like to say, ‘Think big, but improve incrementally.’ You can’t do everything in one fell swoop — and we don’t expect you to, either,” Sonnkalb said.

The other findings are generally aimed at county processes that could have the potential for fraud and need more oversight or transparency.

For example, they include recommendations to prohibit any county worker from being able to alter the county’s books on their own, to keep better tabs on the county’s assets, to detail more financial transactions in the county’s general ledger and to more regularly check and reconcile cash balances.

The recommendations are generally intended to cut down on the chance of fraud and/or ensure continuity in the event an employee leaves.

Other suggestions include inventorying all the county’s assets and periodically reviewing pay rates once they’ve been entered into the system.

First Deputy Clerk Hans Odde said the clerk’s office just completed a full in-house audit of the county’s payroll.

Work on new Willwood Bridge - a $6 million project - to start soon

After years of planning, work to build a new Willwood Bridge is about to get underway.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation began seeking bids on the project this month. The department plans to open them March 12 and choose a contractor the following week.

Construction on the new bridge over the Shoshone River will begin this year and likely be finished by fall 2016, said Cody Beers of Riverton, District 5 spokesman for the Transportation Department.

This bridge will be replaced by a new one, located a short distance upstream. Photo by Ilene Olson
It will be built a short distance upstream of the existing one-lane bridge over the Willwood Dam; the nearly century-old structure, which has been deemed “structurally deficient,” will remain in place, but with restricted use.

The project is estimated to cost about $6.08 million. The vast majority of the bill will be covered by federal dollars through the Bridge Replacement Off-System Program, with Park County required to pitch in $578,000, or 9.51 percent of the project cost.

“There’ll be a lot going on in this next year,” said Park County Engineer Brian Edwards.

“Depending on the contractor, dirt work may happen this summer,” Beers said. “Work in the river (substructure and piers) may begin this fall and continue through the winter; girders will be set and the bridge deck concrete pour will likely occur next spring.”

That timeline could change, based on the contractor’s schedule, he said.

Much of the construction will take place during the early spring and late fall seasons in order to work around irrigation seasons, he said.

“The new bridge and road will be offline from the current bridge and road, so there won’t be much need for traffic control,” Beers said. “The contractor will be able to do most of the work away from the road.”

Willwood Irrigation District Manager Tom Walker said the district’s plan to lower the level of the Shoshone River to get a good look at the sluice gates behind the dam is separate from the bridge construction.

Beers said WYDOT will cooperate with the district during the bridge project.

“There’ll be a lot going on in this next year,” said Park County Engineer Brian Edwards.

After the new bridge is built, the existing one likely will be closed to through traffic, though it will remain available to the irrigation district, Walker said. 

“The county realizes that the district’s still going to need the old bridge,” he said, though some details still must be worked out.

“We don’t want to be liable for it,” Walker said. “If the county still owns the bridge and something happens to the bridge, we don’t wan the county to come back saying, you need to repair it.”

Edwards said the county has not yet had discussions about what it wants to do with the old bridge, but he personally hopes there will be some opportunities for restricted public access, such as fishing.

Walker said he’s heard the Bureau of Reclamation has plans to expand the recreation area below the dam.

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