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Health
DeFazio holds round table on what happens if Affordable Care Act goes away

DeFazio

Chris Jennings is 66, retired, and lives on social security income of $1,200 per month.

In June, Jennings went to the hospital with blood clots in her lungs and stayed there for four days.

That’s a preexisting condition, which could make Jennings ineligible for private health insurance if the Affordable Care Act goes away.

The medication she’s taken since for the blood clots would also cost $485 a month without the ACA, she said.

Timothy Morris of Eugene lost his job in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he spends sleepless nights wondering whether he should sell the car or keep it because he may need to live in it if he can’t make the rent.

Morris said having health insurance under the ACA gives him one less problem to lose sleep over.

He watched his mother struggle with medical bills before she died, and said those kitchen table discussions changed dramatically after the ACA passed.

“It’s a night and day kind of difference,” he said.

Jennings and Morris were among the everyday ACA beneficiaries who joined U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio on Thursday in a discussion about what could happen if the Supreme Court overturns the act.

The court is only two weeks away from a hearing on the act’s constitutionality.

The court is expected to take up Texas v. California one week after the election. The court has been asked to decide whether the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional. It will also consider the possibility that just parts of the act are unconstitutional, such as the protection of those with preexisting conditions.

The case was filed by a group of plaintiff states, led by Texas, that oppose the ACA. Another group of states, led by California, is defending the ACA.

President Donald Trump’s administration has sided with the plaintiffs in opposition to the ACA. His recent Supreme Court appointment of Amy Coney Barrett has raised concerns among ACA supporters like DeFazio that the entire act may be thrown out.

“And there is no immediate replacement,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio said if that happens, 73,000 people in his Fourth Congressional District would immediately lose their insurance — people who had received expanded Medicaid under the ACA through the Oregon Health Plan. The Fourth District includes Douglas and Lane Counties, along with most of Southwestern Oregon.

If the specific protection for people with preexisting conditions is thrown out, then another 372,000 in his district could lose their insurance too.

Loss of the ACA would also increase prescription drug costs for many seniors on Medicare Part D. About 155,000 people in his district are on Medicare Part D, he said.

Some Oregonians don’t remember, he said, that Oregon Health Plan membership used to be determined via a lottery.

“Every year, tens of thousands of people were not allowed to get on the plan because they didn’t win the lottery,” he said.

The ACA ended the lottery and gave the state the resources to extend OHP to all who were eligible.

Round table participant Donna Courtney, formerly an insurance underwriter, said people with conditions ranging from weight issues to prediabetes to osteoporosis could be denied insurance if the preexisting condition protection goes away.

She said contracting COVID-19 would also become a preexisting condition.

She said she found some people were denied insurance because of a condition recorded in a doctor’s notes that they didn’t even know about.

“To go back to those days would really be just so catastrophic, and I think people just simply don’t realize what that looks like,” she said.

DeFazio said these are life and death issues for people in his district.

DeFazio, up for reelection this year, also pointed out his opponent Alek Skarlatos opposes the Affordable Care Act.

While that’s true, Skarlatos has also said he wants to protect people with preexisting conditions.

But DeFazio said neither Skarlatos nor the Republicans nor President Trump have put forward a plan to do that.

“The president said, ‘Well I’ll have something better, much better, much better, it’ll be fabulous. Everybody will have better insurance and it will cost less.’ Well he’s had 4 years in the White House and there’s no plan,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio said if the ACA is thrown out, he would push for a better version of the bill. He favored the House version rather than the Senate version that ultimately passed, he said. The House version had a national health care exchange and removed the health insurance industry’s antitrust immunity.


Health
Tough firefighters, cuddly pets team up for calendar to help cancer patients, rescue animals

Firefighters and rescue animals teamed up to model for a new calendar that’s raising money to help both cancer patients and animals in need of homes.

Douglas County Cancer Services teamed up with Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center for the calendar and the firefighters are pictured with animals, including some from the shelter.

“We had kittens, we had a bunny rabbit that came for Easter and then we had some dogs dressing up in Santa outfits and it turned out, I was ecstatic with how it turned out,” said calendar organizer Sara Ray.

Ray is a nurse practitioner who works with cancer patients. She also sits on the board of Douglas County Cancer Services, and her husband Josh Ray is a firefighter with the Roseburg Fire Department and Roseburg Professional Firefighters Union Local 1110.

“It is the most comical thing, especially if you know the guys personally. These rough and tough firefighters and then they are snuggling with kittens,” she said.

COURTESY PHOTO  

Scott Cooper, a firefighter with the Roseburg Fire Department, appears in this November picture for a calendar to benefit Douglas County Cancer Services and Saving Grace.

Josh Ray appears in the calendar’s March photo with a Great Pyrenees from Saving Grace.

“He now goes by Mr. March. He’s never going to live it down,” Sara Ray said.

She said the dog was so great, they almost took him home.

“I couldn’t believe that he was up for adoption. He was a beautiful dog,” she said.

Josh Ray said he was nervous at first about being in the calendar because he was worried the calendar would be a bit more racy.

Unlike some firefighter calendars, though, this one is strictly G-rated. The firefighters are fully clothed, shirts on, and wearing the turnouts they wear when responding to a fire.

He said it wasn’t too hard to pose with the dog, and his four-footed co-model was really relaxed about it.

“I have two dogs at home, so it came pretty natural,” he said.

The Rays have two chocolate labs.

Josh Ray has been a firefighter for nine years and said he joined originally because a friend was a firefighter. Once he did, he “just fell in love with it all.”

He said one of the things he loves about the Roseburg firefighters is their community involvement.

“Our Union Local 1110 does a really good job at events for our community, fundraising or just being there for people who need it. It kind of comes with our job,” he said.

From left to right, fire fighter Sean Arrington with Lincoln the bull mastiff, fire fighter Josh Ray, fire fighter Mike Anderberg with Drake the chocolate Labrador; and fire fighter Keven Comstock pose for a calendar shot at the Roseburg Fire Department station in downtown Roseburg.

The fact that so many people are struggling right now to get through a pandemic, he said, seemed like another good reason to do the calendar.

“It’s just something to brighten people’s day,” he said.

Sara Ray said she had wanted to do a calendar fundraiser for Douglas County Cancer Services for awhile. After the nonprofit’s annual tea and fashion show was canceled due to the pandemic, she decided the calendar’s time had come. She said DCCS plans to team up with a different nonprofit each year for a calendar, but the tea and fashion show is also expected to return in 2021.

Part of the calendar proceeds will go to Saving Grace and part to Douglas County Cancer Services. DCCS provides wigs, hats, breast prosthetics and assistance with bills, as well as Christmas food boxes. All the money remains in the community.

Skyelynn Atterbury of the Atterbury Company in Roseburg took the pictures and helped create the calendar.

The cost to purchase a calendar is $25. They are available in Roseburg at the Douglas County Cancer Services Office in the Community Cancer Center, as well as at Saving Grace and Old 99 Brewing Co. They’re also available in Sutherlin at Dakota Street Pizza Company and online at dccancerservices.com.


Coronavirus
Douglas County announces five new COVID-19 cases, state has second record day in a week

The recent spike of coronavirus cases in Oregon hit another crescendo Thursday when the Oregon Health Authority reported 575 new positive and presumptive cases while also announcing that two more Oregon residents had died in relation to the disease.

The 575 cases in one day had been the most in a single day since the health authority began reporting statistical data on COVID-19. Thursday’s report trumped the report from last Friday, when 550 cases were announced.

The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team announced five new positive and presumptive cases in its Thursday report. One of the new positive cases was a prior presumptive which had been confirmed, raising the county’s total to 369 since the start of the pandemic.

Two county residents were receiving medical care due to the coronavirus, both at local facilities, but Douglas County has seen a spike in the number of residents in quarantine.

The county response team announced Thursday that there were 335 residents in quarantine, in addition to 52 being cared for in isolation. While those in quarantine are considered contacts of patients who have tested positive, the number of quarantined residents has nearly doubled in a week as the DCCRT reported 179 such cases in its Oct. 22 report.

The state’s two deaths — a 96-year-old Multnomah County woman and a 94-year-old Marion County woman — raised the death toll in Oregon to 673. Both women reportedly had underlying health conditions.

The state’s largest clusters of new confirmed cases continue to be in the Portland and Salem metropolitan areas. There were 272 new cases reported from Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Columbia counties, with Washington County also reporting its highest single-day total with 107.

In the Salem-area counties of Marion, Polk, Yamhill and Linn, there were 96 cases.

In Southern Oregon, Jackson County reported 54, while neighboring Josephine County had one.

As cold and flu season draws near, the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team continues to emphasize vigilance among residents to protect not only themselves, but their neighbors as well.

“We know we sound like a broken record, but our primary focus is to do everything we can to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our residents,” the team said in Thursday’s report.

“We know that fall and winter holidays are just around the corner and that means it is time to plan for festive holiday activities, but while it may be hard, it really is important that you consider alternative options to social gatherings this year.”

The county hosted a drive-thru testing clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. Douglas Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer provided a presentation on the Douglas Public Health Network’s Facebook page at 4 p.m. Friday.


Coronavirus
Staffing schools amid a pandemic comes with a few challenges, but districts are able to retain and hire new staff

Hiring during a pandemic comes with its challenges: there are no recruiting events, interviews are virtual and there’s a lot of uncertainty.

Roseburg Public Schools Human Resources Director Robert Freeman said two people who were offered jobs by the school district declined.

“They chose not to accept our offer because of the coronavirus,” Freeman said. “They had a couple of concerns. One (of those concerns) was moving during a pandemic. They decided that wasn’t in the best interest of their family. And they felt like they didn’t know what the financial impact was going to be for school districts, and they didn’t want to give up their seniority at another institution to come here and then possibly lose their job in the future.”

But in general, the school district has been very happy with its hiring of new staff members.

“I think we had one of the best hiring seasons we’ve ever had,” Freeman said. “We’ve hired experienced teachers that came highly recommended and are proven so far to be incredible master teachers. And then our brand new teachers who’ve chosen to come work for Roseburg, have been outstanding.”

The district hired 36 teachers this year, including several who were just out of college. Freeman said his strategy has always been to recruit people with ties to Roseburg or Douglas County.

“I can think of one building where a brand new teacher is actually the go-to person to help with Canvas and setting up Google classrooms and things like that,” Freeman said. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty exciting for our new people to kind of come in and be leaders right from the get go.”

Canvas is a learning management systems used by Roseburg school district, which provides all assignments, grades and discussions on one platform.

Roseburg has in-person classes available for kindergarten through third grade, but all other classes are offered through distance learning.

However, when the kindergarten through third graders went back to school, more than 200 students wanted to continue remote learning, which created some staffing concerns that the school district mitigated by moving some teachers into new positions.

“We’ve had to repurpose some of our special positions like our (teacher on special assignment) or our learning specialists,” Freeman said. “We’ve been able to combine a couple grade levels; where they had three teachers and now they have two, and then one of those teachers is teaching remotely.”

As of Wednesday, the school district had eight teachers dedicated to remote teaching students who opted out of in-person learning.

With the additional safety measures in place regarding cleaning the school district had to switch some schedules around for the custodial staff and added a few hours to already existing contracts.

“We were able to mitigate the extra cleaning, that’s required because of COVID by redoing their duties, and adding hours,” Freeman said.

But the school district did lose some classified employees, who opted to stay home out of concerns for their health.

“To be honest with you, we’ve been able to fill those positions,” Freeman said. “It’s always hard to replace somebody that’s been with us, but we feel very strongly about the people that we’ve hired.”

And with the possibility of fourth and fifth graders coming back into the classroom, the district is anticipating that additional hires may be necessary.

“We are getting pretty close to our limit on repurposing teachers,” Freeman said. “At some point, we may need to consider adding staff, but at this point where we’ve been able to do that in house.”

At the South Umpqua School District, all schools have in-person classes and the district has had to make some additional hires as a result.

“Due to the increased requirements for COVID-19 and the requirements for all students to be in small cohorts it has increased our need for classified staff to provide coverage for certain duties,” said Tabitha Roberts, who is in charge of human resources at the district. “We have also found an increased need for custodial staff to support the additional sanitation requirements.”

Roberts said at South Umpqua, when staff members raise concerns about COVID-19, they assure them they are following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and listen to each individual’s concerns as they arise and make appropriate accommodations.

Roberts said that although there was an increase in concerns from staff in the spring of the 2019-2020 school year, when COVID-19 first emerged, there has not been a noticeable increase in concern this year.

Douglas Education Service District Superintendent Michael Lasher said the number of available substitute teachers is lower than normal in Douglas County, down from 300 to 215.

But the substitute teachers are in high demand, especially for school districts that have had to quarantine staff as a result of a positive COVID-19 case.

“As long as a substitute teacher hasn’t been exposed to COVID-19, they may accept assignments to teach at more than one school location,” Lasher said.

While substitutes in Oregon are permitted to teach preschool through 12th grade, the substitute teachers in Douglas County can choose where they work throughout the entire county.

“In addition, schools can also choose to have a core group of substitutes to call on and select only substitutes who meet their particular requirements,” Lasher said.

The Roseburg school district offered teachers some additional leeway amid the pandemic and made special arrangements with those who needed it.

“One of my goals during this pandemic was to extend some of those leaves that are afforded to our staff,” Freeman said. “Just recognizing the situation we’re in, the anxiety that staff has. And honestly, kind of selfishly (and) looking into the future, when this is over I still need those staff. So we have actually gone above and beyond what is mandated by us. We have extended leave options to those who maybe haven’t qualified for leave. And so I do have two teachers that are on a medical leave of absence. One of them is for health reasons, and the other one is to take care of their children at home.”

In addition to some teachers coming into a new school or new district, many have also emphasized the use of technology. Substitute teachers are given training on Canvas and Google Classrooms, and in the Roseburg school district every Wednesday is set aside for professional development with an emphasis on new technology.

“With some of our younger hires it was pretty evident how comfortable they feel with technology,” Freeman said. “And, of course, we’ve now emphasized the technology side of it during our interview process or hiring process.”