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Winnebago Tribe moves to take over embattled hospital

WINNEBAGO, Neb. | The Winnebago Tribal Council has moved to take over management of the troubled Omaha Winnebago Hospital.

After voting last week to initiate the self-governance process, the tribe will soon ask the Indian Health Service to begin negotiations for the tribal takeover of the federally operated health care facility in Winnebago.

"The Winnebago Tribe has been working toward this day for more than two years. We believe the tribe can improve the quality and access to care at the hospital and stabilize the management of the health system," tribal Chairman Frank White said in a news release.

The tribe hopes to assume operation of the hospital by July 1. The tribe has scheduled a press conference for 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Ho-Chunk Center in Winnebago to discuss the move.

Self-governance allows Indian tribes to assume administration of federal programs. A steering committee has been formed to help the Winnebago Tribal Council prepare for the negotiations and eventual management of the hospital.

"Committee members have been working since June to plan and develop materials that support the assumption of the hospital. It is a critical endeavor for Winnebago to raise the level of health care available to all tribal citizens in our area," tribal councilwoman Victoria Kitcheyan said.

In July 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services terminated the hospital's Medicare contract after IHS and hospital officials failed to correct deficiencies the agency had found. The CMS released a report that identified a number of life-threatening deficiencies at the hospital, located about 20 miles south of Sioux City. Critics have blamed problems at the hospital for multiple deaths and misdiagnosis of patients.

Trust in the hospital took another hit in August, after it was revealed that up to 35 podiatry patients may have been inadvertently infected with diseases including HIV and hepatitis because a podiatry instrument was not properly sterilized between procedures. The podiatrist responsible for the mistake was fired.

IHS officials says improvements have been made at the hospital, where some top staff were replaced and day-to-day management of the emergency department was turned over to a private contractor based in Arizona.

The tribal council said it hoped to retain current employees after it assumes management of the hospital.

Winnebago tribal leaders have met with the Omaha Tribal Council regarding the transition because both tribes share concerns about the IHS' failure to achieve recertification and want the hospital restored to appropriate standards, White said in the news release.

'It's like a great big party'
Adoption Day gives families good reason to celebrate

SIOUX CITY | A courtroom is not typically a place in which celebrations take place.

Lawsuits end with a winner and a loser. A criminal defendant is guilty or not guilty. Somebody's almost always walking out of that room upset or disappointed.

Set against that usually somber backdrop, a celebration like Adoption Day at the Woodbury County Courthouse becomes an even more joyous occasion.

"It's really like a great big party at the courthouse, celebrating for kids. The courtroom is just full of families. There's just a lot of excitement," said Amber Meyers, who along with husband, DJ, finalized the adoption of three of their children at last year's Adoption Day event.

This year's event, open to the public, is at 10 a.m. Saturday. Celebrated as part of November's National Adoption Month, the event aims to raise awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care. Eight families will finalize the adoption of 11 children during the festivities, which include food, music, games and speakers. Last year, approximately 4,600 children across the nation had their adoptions finalized at an Adoption Day event.

DJ and Amber Meyers decided last year that the event would be the perfect way to officially make Vanessa, Jacoby and Violet part of their family. They could have finalized the adoptions a couple weeks earlier, but chose to do so with other families on Adoption Day.

"We really wanted to make it special for them," DJ said.

Amidst all the festivities, there's still the serious side of finalizing the adoption process. Amber and DJ recalled standing before a judge, taking an oath and answering a series of questions before the papers were signed and the adoption of their children was finished.

But it was part of the joy experienced by a couple that has opened its arms to many children who have needed a home. When the two were married in 2010, Amber had four children, and DJ had one. They've since added five more, all by adoption.

It began with the decision to be foster parents. DJ said friends often told them that they were good parents and that they should become foster parents. The more they talked about it, it made sense.

"We just heard a lot of people suggest it. We said, 'you know, maybe we're being led in that direction,'" Amber said. "It came to the point where the time was right in our lives."

They attended an informational meeting about becoming foster parents. During the training that followed, they learned that they could also add an option that would allow them to adopt foster children in their care if the biological parents' parental rights were terminated.

They became a licensed foster care family in 2014 and have cared for children in need ever since. Eventually, they had the chance to adopt Vanessa, Jacoby and Violet, now 9, 4 and 2, respectively, and celebrated with them at Adoption Day. In September, they adopted Daniel, 7, and Brielle, 5. They'd already had them for three years, so Amber and DJ chose not to wait until this Adoption Day to finalize the adoption.

They won't be at this year's Adoption Day, but the party will go on with several other families celebrating with their children. It's a cause well worth celebrating, Amber said.

"I just don't think people understand there is such a great need and you don't have to be perfect to foster or adopt," she said. "If people are even thinking about fostering or adoption, they can just go and check out Adoption Day."

It could lead to a celebration that lasts for the rest of a child's life.


Councilwoman plans to raise $30K to put 'Sioux City Sue' music on water tank

SIOUX CITY | A Sioux City Council member plans to spur a private fundraising push to paint the notes to the song "Sioux City Sue" on a prominent city water storage tank. 

Councilwoman Rhonda Capron said Monday she believes she can help the city raise an estimated $30,000 needed to secure permissions and to paint notes to the famous tune on the Singing Hills tank, which sits in Sertoma Park overlooking Interstate 29 and the Highway 75 bypass. 

"I'd love to see 'Sioux City Sue' up there," Capron told reporters after Monday's council meeting. "This water tower is going to be an entrance billboard for Sioux City, so when people come in or leave Sioux City they're going to remember us. And that's what it's all about to me."

KKaufman / Provided 


Her comments came after the council voted 4-0 to advance plans and specifications to repaint the more-than-20-year-old tank by next fall. Councilman Dan Moore was absent from Monday's meeting. 

Monday marked another change of plans for the design of the prominent tank. 

Going into the meeting, city staff had abandoned plans to paint the words "Sioux City Sue" on the tank along with notes from the popular 1945 song by Dick Thomas and Ray Freedman, which was recorded by notable musicians including Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby and Gene Autry, the last of which sang the song in a 1946 film of the same title.

Rick Mach, a special assistant to the city manager, told the council those involved had opted for a generic design after being quoted $3,500 as a possible cost for the legal fees and permissions necessary to use specific notes from the song on the tower. 

A generic design would still play on "Singing Hills," the name of the corridor where the tank sits.

Even without the fees, Mach told the council it will cost between $20,000 and $30,000 to put a design on the tank. The basic paint job itself, without any design, would cost $190,000 and is much-needed, he said. 

Councilman Pete Groetken said he was wary of the city covering that additional price tag.


"I have a tough time pulling the trigger with anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 when I think the money can probably be better spent somewhere else in the overall budget," he said. Groetken later added that he doesn't have a problem if that money is privately donated. 

Sioux City resident Chris Jensen urged the council not to settle for generic notes instead of the original song, saying "Sioux City Sue" would add humor and local flavor to the area. 

"The amount of money that you're talking about is a pittance when you consider the long-term effect of it," he said. "Don't spend the money to put some fictitious notes that do nothing, don't have any words. It's just scribbles on a water tower for $26,000."

Under the council's direction, the city will again explore the cost to put notes from the song on the tank. When the city receives bids on Dec. 12, the design costs will be included as an alternate, meaning the council will look at the separate cost and can include or eliminate it from the contractor's work. 

Capron said the city had previously discussed fundraising for the project, including a potential $10,000 donation from a private party. She said even if that specific donation falls through, she plans to approach enough private donors to cover the costs. 

"I'm going to go look for six people that want to give me 5,000 bucks apiece," she said. She added that the donors' names may be placed on the tank. 

Reinvestment district

In other action, the council approved a contract with the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the Sioux City Reinvestment District.

Under the contract, Sioux City will receive $13.5 million in state funding to assist with the construction of four big-ticket projects: a 150-room hotel near the convention center, an ag expo center, Ho-Chunk's Virginia Square, and redevelopment of the Warrior Hotel and Davidson building.

The city will then have up to 20 years to repay the money through the state's portion of hotel/motel and sales taxes generated by the new properties.

Sinkhole settlement

The council also approved an $11,000 payout for partial settlement of a tort claim made by Marlus Mammen for property at 3015 Pierce St. 

According to city documents, the City experienced heavy rainfall on Aug. 26 resulting in large amounts of runoff and caused a large sinkhole to develop, which then followed utility lines to the foundation of the residence at 3015 Pierce St.

KKaufman / Provided