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Wind rekindles fire, causing damage to cars at Grease Rack

Wind was the culprit in causing a fire to rekindle Sunday afternoon and spread to damage cars behind Grease Rack just south of Hiawatha.

Hiawatha Fire Chief Gene Atland said the call came between 2-3 p.m. to respond to 2276 U.S. 73 Highway, just south of Hiawatha to a field fire that had rekindled and spread. Atland said the some property further south and east of the Grease Rack had been the location of an owner controlled burn on Saturday, with no issues from the original burn.

“That wind kicked back up Sunday and rekindled it,” Atland said, noting that a burn ban was in effect for Sunday, but not Saturday when the original burn had occurred.

Atland said several vehicles parked on the Grease Rack property, east of the building, had sustained damage — some pretty severe.

Fortunately, no homes in the area were damaged — and the Grease Rack building also escaped damage.

“That’s why I called in mutual aid due to the structures,”Atland said, noting that Robinson and Horton Fire Departments also assisted.

Atland said it took about an hour and a half to get the fire extinguished, which ended up burning a quarter of a mile to the access road.


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Health climate of county, school district continues to improve

The Hiawatha School Board heard positive news of the county and school health climate from the county health director and school nurses at Monday night’s regular meeting.

Brown County Health Director Robin Downard updated the school board on county health figures with the good news that there were only four active COVID cases and 0 hospitalizations as of Monday night. Since mid-January, the county numbers have continued to decrease, which has also resulted in low positive numbers and quarantines within the schools.

Board members asked for an update on vaccines and Downard said as of that day 1,260 first doses of the COVID vaccine had been administered and 450 second doses. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses — typically administered three weeks apart.

Downard said the vaccine distribution was currently in Phase 2, which is primarily for those age 65 and older who have signed up, along with other critical need employees and those who weren’t able to be vaccinated in Phase 1.

Downard estimated by by the end of this week approximately 1,100 complete doses of all who have signed up through Phase 2 will be administered and by April 9 all of the second doses will be administered.

The positive news that a little more than 10 percent of the county will have been vaccinated by April 9 started a conversation among board members about whether Downard felt it was safe to begin lessening restrictions within the school facilities.

Some restrictions have already been loosened up a bit, but the focus of Monday night’s discussion was whether the district continue with masks.

According to the new guidelines put forth by the Center for Disease Control, those persons who have been vaccinated can mingle with other people who have had the vaccine after two weeks following their second dose without masks. Downard said this new guidance has not been approved by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment yet, but said it was likely to be approved.

However, this does not include all of the staff, and potentially very few of the students at this time. Staff were given the opportunity to get vaccines in the first phase, however students have not received the opportunity to be vaccinated yet.

Some board members indicated they felt the mask mandate could be lifted following Spring Break. They asked Downard’s opinion on the safety of this option.

Board member John Wright said he felt that teachers who had received the vaccine should be allowed to get rid of their masks following spring break.

“I think the risk factor drops considerably in the next month,” Wright said.

Downard said she would not recommend getting rid of masks at this time.

“I don’t feel comfortable doing away with masks at this time,” Downard said, noting that hopefully by the time school resumes in the fall it will be safe and allow for a “fresh start.”

She noted that it is so close to the end of the school year and she did not want to see another spike in cases if masks were taken away within the schools.

Board President Tom Simmer also pointed out that the City of Hiawatha still had a mask mandate and said the district needed to check with the City Commission as well before making any move toward abolishing the use of masks.

Board member Ian Schuetz said he agreed he did not want to rescind the mask guidance “too quick,” but also didn’t want to just wait until the end of school if the health climate showed they were not necessary prior to then.

He said once the 65-plus age group hit the “magic date” of two weeks following that second dose, he felt confident the district could start lessening restrictions. He did note that he felt the students had adapted to the wearing of masks.

Superintendent Lonnie Moser said that many other schools are still requiring the use of masks, but some have gone to optional usage.

HCH provider Jodi Twombly discussed the vaccines, wearing of masks and overall health concerns of COVID with the board.

She said there have been some minor health issues for people wearing masks constantly — mostly teeth and skin issues — noting that the human body was not designed to wear masks “forever.” She also alluded to what the pandemic overall has done to the mental health of people — not just the wearing masks, but dealing with remote learning or work situations, quarantines, isolations.

“We will know in the years to come what COVID has done to us,” she said, noting that how do they gauge benefit versus risk, though.

Board President Tom Simmer said he felt positive that masks work and asked about other sicknesses.

Twombly confirmed that the masks have been helping reduce the spread of other respiratory illnesses this winter, especially compared to a normal year. She said so far the hospital has seen only one influenza case this winter, “and that’s incredible.”

She said it’s hard to know what for sure has led to the reduction in the spread of illness — whether it’s entirely due to the wearing of masks, increased hand washing and other safety measures or all of the above.

No decision was made concerning lessening any restrictions and Simmer emphasized again that the school district needed to reach out to the city since a mask mandate was still in effect, prior to making any decisions.


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Here comes Peter Cottontail...

Here comes Peter Cottontail...hopping down the bunny trail...hippity hoppity Easter’s on it’s way!

With Easter just around the corner, the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau is working on a plan to bring the Easter Bunny to town for the annual celebration at the courthouse square on Saturday, April 3.

HCVB Administrator Sarah Kleopfer presented the idea to the Brown County Commission at Monday morning and got approval for use of the courthouse square for the 10 a.m. Easter Egg Hunt on April 3.

The commissioners asked about social distancing and Kleopfer said that this year there will be additional spreading out of age groups around the entire square, rather than just on the north side, to help with spacing out.

As there is a mask mandate in effect, as approved by the City of Hiawatha, masks will be required for adults and children participating in the Easter Egg Hunt.

The Easter Bunny is expected to be in attendance this year, however social distancing measures will be put in place to eliminate any direct contact with him and masks will be required.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic had just hit the news and the governor had shut down school facilities and issued mass gathering protocol and so the 2020 Easter Egg Hunt had been canceled, along with many activities that year.

The Easter Bunny had been spotted in a neighborhood in town hiding eggs, and left a message for the community to stay safe.

Fast forward to a year later. Active COVID cases continue to stay low in the county the past two months after a late fall spike and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have begun to be distributed through the first two phases that include emergency personnel and elderly who have signed up for it.


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Hiawatha Community Hospital honored as one of top 100 critical access hospitals

Hiawatha Community Hospital announced it has been recognized as a 2021 Top 100 Critical Access Hospital.

Compiled by The Chartis Center for Rural Health. This 11th annual recognition program honors outstanding performance among the nation’s rural hospitals based on the results of the Hospital Strength INDEX.

“We’ve had many challenges in the past,” said John Broberg, CEO. “It is great to see the team weather those challenges and rally to improve operational performance that merits this special recognition as one of the TOP 100 Critical Access Hospitals.”

“The Top 100 program continues to illuminate strategies and innovation for delivering higher quality care and better outcomes within rural communities,” said Michael Topchik, National Leader, The Chartis Center for Rural Health. “We are delighted to be able to spotlight the efforts of these facilities through the INDEX framework.”

Over the course of the last 11 years, the INDEX has grown to become the industry’s most comprehensive and objective assessment of rural hospital performance. Based entirely on public data and utilizing 36 independent indicators, the INDEX assesses rural hospitals across eight pillars of performance, including market share, quality, outcomes, patient perspective, cost, charge, and financial efficiency. The INDEX framework is widely used across the nation by independent rural hospitals, health systems with rural footprints and state offices of rural health, which provide access to INDEX analytics through grant-funded initiatives.

About Hiawatha

Community Hospital

Hiawatha Community Hospital is a 25-bed critical access hospital located in Hiawatha, Kansas since 1951. The hospital provides inpatient, outpatient, surgical, and emergency room care and sponsors two rural health clinics in Hiawatha and a third clinic in Highland, Kansas, providing primary care services to the communities they serve.

Hiawatha Community Hospital and Amberwell Health recently announced an affiliation to create a clinically integrated network to provide patients in Northeast Kansas improved access to a full spectrum of care close to home.

The affiliation of Hiawatha Community Hospital and Amberwell Health provides the opportunity to strengthen the future of healthcare in Northeast Kansas and surrounding areas. Within Amberwell Health, the affiliated organizations can share clinical service lines and operational infrastructures.


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Legion asks for county help on improvements to building

The Brown County Commission discussed potential improvements to the American Legion building in Hiawatha at Monday morning’s regular meeting.

American Legion Post 66 Commander Curt Weldon joined the meeting via Zoom and asked for the county’s assistance in an approximate $9,000 to $10,000 project on the facade of the Legion building, that would include replacement and widening of the front door to be ADA compliant. Other projects would be replacing the front of the building — which dates back to early 1970s and had started to rot — capping the windows.

The Legion owns the building, but the county leases it for the purpose of a Senior Citizen Center. Weldon told the commissioners that he obtained a grant to pay for a third, and proposed the county split the remainder of the project cost with the Legion.

Commissioner Bill Pollock also encouraged that donations be asked for from people who utilize the building.

The commissioners asked Weldon to provide him copies of the bids for consideration at the next meeting.

The commission also had additional discussion on whether to hire James Neeld, an attorney who specializes in wind energy negotiations, to represent the county for any future wind farm discussions. While there has not been any specific wind farms set to go be built in Brown County, it was discussed that transmission lines for the Nemaha County wind farms would go through Brown County. Because of this and the potential for future discussions concerning the expansion of wind energy into Brown County, the Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill offered his advice that the county should have someone who could negotiate on its behalf.

Hill said he had received a good report on behalf of Neeld from the Nemaha County Attorney and noted that the county would not need to pay a retainer, but would pay for services rendered only.

He told the commissioners that negotiating with wind farms was a very specialized area and it was his advice to have someone ready to negotiate on the county’s behalf.

However, Commissioner Pollock expressed concern about the amount of money Nemaha County paid out and didn’t feel it was necessary. He said he felt the county should consider other people who would have the ability to negotiate.

Commissioner Richard Lehmkul, also chairman of the commission, advised that Commissioner Pollock could bring another name for consideration at next week’s meeting.

In other business:

The county voted to allow the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau to hold the annual Easter Egg Hunt at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 3. HCVB Administrator Sarah Kleopfer said they would require masks and spread out the age groups around the courthouse square to allow for more spacing.

Wanda Davis, Services for the Elderly Director, discussed a recall on the Horton taxi van. Davis has set up an appointment with Armbruster in Falls City.

The commissioners discussed the District 2 culvert replaced during the 2019 storms. Commissioner Shoemaker would like to submit the information we do have and determine if there is enough information for the damage to be covered under FEMA funds.

The commissioners voted to approve the court’s use of the Commission room for the purpose of trial monitoring for public use.

Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, presented the Brown County Mental Health Contract for 2021, for approval and signatures. The commission voted to approve and sign.

Tube bids for the three road districts were opened. Bids for the combined three districts were as follows: J & J Drainage Products Co. with a bid of $55,147.95; Welborn Sales with a bid of $61,378.75; and Metal Culverts with a bid of $63,721.49; Road Foreman Rodney Allen was present for the bid opening. The commission voted to accept the bid from J & J

Drainage Co. for $55,147.95, contingent upon delivery time and if it is the same product the county has had in the past.

The commissioners voted to approve the liquor license for the Country Cabin.

The commissioners held two Executive Sessions on non-elected personnel. No binding action was taken on either.


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