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St. Charles Plans Layoffs Amid Rising Costs

BEND, OR -- St. Charles Health System President Joe Sluka announced nearly 200 layoffs Wednesday. In a letter to the public, he cited rising costs and the payback of pandemic relief funds for budget shortfalls. 

The health system will eliminate 76 vacant positions and layoff another 105 employees.

Read his full statement:

 

May 18, 2022

Over the past two years, St. Charles caregivers have worked tirelessly to care for the people of Central Oregon when they needed it most: during a global pandemic – a public health crisis unprecedented in our lifetime.

They turned a parking lot into a COVID-19 testing site.

They converted an empty conference room into a community vaccine clinic.

They’ve taken care of the sickest COVID-19 patients in our hospitals and provided the latest treatments at our clinics.

Along the way, St. Charles – with support from the community – did everything we could to take care of our caregivers, so that they could take care of you.

All of that, of course, came at a price:

  • Our labor costs have skyrocketed, largely due to our need to bring in expensive contract clinical staff from other areas of the country to help us meet the community’s needs.
  • Equipment and supply costs have also increased, as they have in every industry.
  • Our surgery volumes have been down for two years, which means significantly decreased revenues.
  • Last but not least, we are now paying back federal pandemic relief funds to the tune of more than $1 million every week.

We’ve been working hard to reduce expenses for a few months, and those efforts have helped. But they are not enough to dig us out of this financial hole. We ended the month of April with a $21.8 million loss.

We are now at the point where we have to take additional action to ensure the long-term financial stability of the health system.

It pains me to tell you that we must reduce our workforce this week. We are eliminating 76 positions that were already vacant, but that isn’t enough. We are also reducing 105 positions that will result in layoffs.

First and foremost, that is not just a number. Those are our colleagues and our friends. We are grateful to them for their dedication to our community and we are saddened to see them go.

Over the past few weeks, we have gone through a thorough process in which we compared every area of our organization to industry benchmark standards.

Where we are out of line with those standards, we must make changes. In particular, many leadership positions are being eliminated to bring our structures into alignment with other health systems of our size.

These reductions are projected to reduce expenses by more than $20 million annually.

Still, we will likely end 2022 in the red. It has taken us two pandemic years to get us into this situation, and it will take at least two years for us to recover. And sadly, we are not alone. Organizations across Oregon and the country are facing similar financial challenges.

To the communities we serve, I want to reassure you of a few things:

  • We have a responsibility to ensure our community has access to high-quality health care and are focusing these reductions in mostly non-clinical areas to minimize the impact on patients.
  • We are still recruiting and hiring new caregivers to rebuild our workforce and reduce our need for expensive contract labor.
  • We are reviewing all of our service lines to ensure they are financially sustainable, which could result in additional changes.

While these decisions are incredibly difficult, we are making them because we are committed to becoming a more efficient health system that is well-equipped to continue what we’ve done for the past 104 years: Care for the people of Central Oregon.

As always, we greatly appreciate your support.

Sincerely,
Joe 

 


RHS Hosts Pet Adoption Fair

REDMOND, OR -- A group of Redmond High School students will host a pet adoption fair Saturday with animals from three local shelters. The eight student organizers talked to KBND News. "This all kind of started when our teacher asked us what’s some good things we can do for our community. And Matt had the idea of doing an adoption fair to help dogs and kittens get adopted, so we just sort of took off with it," said Mason. Matt added, "We kept on asking her to do it and then, I didn’t think she was actually going to say yes but then she was like, 'alright, put everything away, we’re going to do this'." "And honestly, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’re all very glad she let us do this," said Mason.

Saturday’s event is more than just a pet adoption fair, "We’re also going to try to raise awareness for the Humane Society and other local animal shelters," the students say, "We want to raise money for them, too." And they're serious about that fundraising. They say you should bring cash. "There will also be a raffle. You can win prizes such as a dog basket from stores like PetSmart. Wilco is making a basket for us, we have dog treats, Dick’s Sporting Goods is making a basket and multiple others."  Local Paws, a local pet supply store, is also providing adoption packages with supplies for new families.

There will be lots of cute dogs and cats from the Humane Society of the Ochocos, Brightside and Street Dog Hero. Also, mascots for photo ops and RHS Panther apparel for sale. But what are these students learning? They tell us, "We’re learning how to be good leaders. We’re learning how to give back to the community."

The pet adoption fair is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., right in front of RHS on Rimrock Way. 


Bend City Councilor Announces Resignation

BEND, OR -- Just a week after Mayor Sally Russell announced her resignation from the Bend City Council, Councilor Rita Schenkelberg is also stepping down.

In a letter sent to Council Monday and obtained by KBND News, Schenkelberg cites the inability to meet expectations of a full-time job and Council duties. Schenkelberg’s resignation is effective as of Wednesday's Council meeting, as is Mayor Russell’s.

Here is Schenkelberg's full letter to Council:

 

Dear fellow city councilors and city staff, 

I am writing to inform you of my resignation as of the May 18th, 2022, meeting. I am grateful for all the support I have received during my time in office. I have learned so much and was grateful to bring ideas forward which weren't previously discussed. Thank you to all the staff who took time to explain and navigate topics with me. Thank you to all the staff who invited me to see where they work and share about their positions and responsibilities. 

Thank you to my fellow city councilors. I am grateful to you all. Thank you for teaching me about local government and the nuances of our position. 

I am unable to meet the expectations of my full-time job and being a city councilor. The pressure to be the first queer, non-binary, poc was not sustainable for me. My hope is that the thoughts and ideas I have brought forward can help inform future decisions.

Thank you everyone again, 

Rita Schenkelberg (They/Them)- City Councilor


Bend Mayor Delivers Final State of the City

BEND, OR -- Mayor Sally Russell delivered her final State of the City address Tuesday night at an event hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce. Russell plans to step down at Wednesday's Council meeting. 

During the presentation, Mayor Russell recapped the past year, including projects she considers successes, "This past year, we changed the fireworks code." She also covered transportation projects, "We completed the GO bond project list," she added, "We actually adopted an integrated water system water plan with a focus on conservation," and she focused a lot on housing, "and worked on middle housing development code changes."

Russell also says the city will ask voters to approve a levy next year, to fund additional fire resources, including the staffing of firefighters at the Pilot Butte station, built in 2019, which currently only houses medics.

And, Russell addressed her impending resignation, saying she does not plan to run for another office any time soon, and wants to take some time off.


Gas Prices Hit New Highs

BEND, OR -- Drivers face new record highs at the pump this week. "The national average jumps 15 cents in the past week, to $4.52 a gallon. The Oregon average soars 21 cents to $5.06," says AAA's Marie Dodds, "This is the first time ever the Oregon average has been over $5 a gallon." Locally, the Bend average is also $5.06, jumping 20 cents in the past week.

Dodds tells KBND News it’s all because of the cost of crude oil. "That is still elevated. And, in fact, crude prices have climbed in the last week. We are currently around $112 a barrel; and to put that in perspective, a year ago, we were around $60 a barrel." She blames the war in Ukraine, which came on the heels of pandemic-related oil shortages, "You factor in the subtraction of Russian oil from global markets, and you’ve made a tight situation even worse."

 


Preliminary Local Election Results

LOCAL CANDIDATE ROUNDUP

Final results won't be known for at least a week, but here are the trends we're seeing as of Wednesday morning:

Redmond voters appear to be supporting the $40 million bond to build a new police station; it’s passing with 55% of the vote.

In Sunriver, a $7 million levy to build a joint police and fire facility is also passing, with 70% voting yes.

However, in Crook County, a $66 million bond package to address health and safety needs in schools is failing, with 51% voting no.

Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone is leading in his Republican Primary. He’s expected to face Oliver Tatom in the fall, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Crook County Commissioner Brian Barney received over 71% of the vote, which puts him in line to remain in his seat on the County Court.

And in an upset, Jefferson County voters appear to have ousted Sheriff Marc Heckathorn. His challenger Jason Pollock received over 52% of the vote in that three-way race.

 

CONGRESSIONAL RACES

Redistricting split Central Oregon into two Congressional Districts for Tuesday's Primary.

Again, these results are still early, but Second District Congressman Cliff Bentz appears to have secured the Republican nomination for his seat by an overwhelming margin. He has 75% of the vote.

Joe Yetter leads the Democrat contest for CD-2, 69% to 28% over Adam Prine.

 

In the Fifth District, Jamie McLeod-Skinner appears to have unseated incumbent Congressman Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary. McLeod-Skinner has nearly 61% of the vote, over Schrader's 38%.  

In that Republican contest, Lori Chavez-DeRemer has the lead with almost 42% of the votes in a five-way race.


Suspect in Sisters School Threat Case In Custody

SISTERS, OR -- The man accused of threatening Sisters schools earlier this month is now in custody. Deschutes County Sheriff’s detectives learned Charles Schmiel was in Beaverton on Monday. They contacted local authorities, who found Schmiel at a car dealership.

He was arrested without incident and transported to Bend where he is now jailed on a charge of Disorderly Conduct.

Investigators believe Shchmiel is responsible for the threat against an unnamed Sisters school on May 5th.


Lifeguards, Swim Instructors Needed for Summer

BEND, OR -- The Bend Park and Recreation District will host another hiring event, this time focused on lifeguards and swim instructors. 

The hiring event is Wednesday, May 18, 4:00 – 6:30 p.m. at the Bend Park & Recreation District Office: 799 S.W. Columbia Street. 

At the event, attendees can learn about positions, complete applications and participate in on-site interviews. BPRD plans to make job offers on the spot. Lifeguard and swim instructor applicants can schedule in-water testing for next steps.

This pre-season event features numerous recreation positions for the important work of our aquatics, recreation, therapeutic recreation and custodial teams.

“We’ve hosted two prior hiring events this spring and hired more than two dozen new employees at those events,” John Bataclan-Wilson, BPRD recruiting specialist, said in a statement. “This event is focused on our aquatics and recreation position openings and we invite people to come learn what working for play means with BPRD.”

Featured openings include:

  • Lifeguard – part-time
  • Swim Instructor – part-time
  • Facility Manager-on-Duty – part-time and full-time
  • Therapeutic Recreation Leader – part-time
  • Recreation Staff – part-time, specializing in various activities including art, climbing, outdoors or tennis
  • Custodian – part-time

To streamline attendance at the event, interested applicants are encouraged to complete a one-minute Hiring Event Pre-registration Form.

The positions offer a variety of benefits, which may include paid leave, recreation facility passes and recreation program registration discounts. Working hours vary and multiple shifts are available. Some positions are available for age 15 years and older; other positions are available for age 18 years and older.

Learn more about positions and apply at: https://www.bendparksandrec.org/jobs.


Warm Springs Man Pleads Guilty For Sexual Assault

PORTLAND, OR -- A Warm Springs man pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually assaulting a woman on the Warm Springs Reservation in August of 2020. According to court documents, 27-year-old Jerome Stanley want into the woman’s room after being told not to, assaulted her, then later admitted to the encounter during a recorded phone call with the victim and acknowledged it shouldn’t have happened.

The US Attorney's Office says Stanley faces a maximum sentence of two years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and five years' supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for August 8. As part of his plea deal, he will pay restitution to the victim and register as a sex offender.


Man-made Beaver Dams Coming to Jefferson County

MADRAS, OR -- Crews will soon install artificial beaver dams in a Jefferson County waterway, in an effort to remove pollutants. Ally Steinmetz, with the Middle Deschutes Watershed Council, says a new grant will pay for “Beaver Dam Analogues” - or BDAs - in Campbell Creek. "It’s basically a way to filter agricultural runoff coming off of Agency Plains, which is a heavy agricultural use area," Steinmetz tells KBND News, "And our monitoring has found high levels of pesticides in this creek, so these BDAs will act as natural water filters."

The BDAs are created using organic material to mimic the water purfying work beavers have been doing for thousands of years, "We use a hydraulic post pounder to install untreated posts into the creekbed laterally across the creek. And then we’ll weave natural materials like willow sticks or juniper branches through the posts, so it forms this sort of tight webbing that will, over time, fill with sediment and leaves."

It's one of two projects to be funded through a $587,919 grant from Oregon's Watershed Enhancement Board awarded to the Jefferson County Soil and Watershed Conservation District. "We’ve been monitoring the creek; been doing water quality monitoring for about six years," says Steinmetz, "So we have a really good baseline to see what the watershed is telling us about pesticide use over time. And then hopefully be able to track the effectiveness of beaver dams in removing pollutants."

The grant will also fund juniper removal in the Trout Creek area. Projects are expected to begin early next year, when streamflows are low and the risk of fire from the use of heavy machinery is reduced. 

 

Photo: BDA in Bridge Creek, courtesy USFS


BPRD Offers College Scholarships as Recruitment Tool

BEND, OR -- Hiring struggles continue for the Bend Parks and Recreation District. But, there's a new incentive for applicants of one chronically understaffed program. "We definitely recognize that the staffing challenges that everyone is experiencing right now do make it so you have to have more creative solutions," BPRD's Julie Brown tells KBND News. That creative solution is to entice college students to apply for a position in its Kids Inc. after-school program, "What we have is a $5200 a year scholarship in exchange for being a paid staff member in our program to work 20 hours a week."

There are 12 scholarships available at each local college - OSU-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College. And Brown says their major doesn’t matter, "If we have students that are studying the sciences or theater arts or math, they are welcome to participate in this program, too." The scholarship is in addition to the employee's hourly pay of more than $18 an hour. Brown says funding for the scholarships will come from the district's budget and she expects this to be an ongoing program.

BPRD is also working with Bend-La Pine Schools to remove barriers for juniors and seniors who want to apply for a paid internship, "With the assistance of the Future Center at their individual high schools, they can coordinate their class schedules so that they can have an open period at the end of the day and be able to have the hours worked to be an employee in the Kids Inc. program," says Brown. Paid high school interns can also earn school credit on top of their hourly wage. 

You'll find more information on both the college and high school programs at BPRD's website. All positions start in the fall. 


It's Election Day!

BEND, OR -- Statewide voter turnout was just 18% as of Monday. Deschutes County's rate is slightly better at 24%. Voters are deciding who will get their party’s nod for big races like Governor and several Congressional seats, as well as various city, county and regional contests.

But your vote won’t count if it’s not in on time. This is the first statewide election with the new postmark law. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan says you need to pay attention if you still need to mail your ballot. "We want to make note that if folks are putting that ballot into a blue USPS collection box, check the collection time; right? If you’re putting it in at 7pm on Election night but the last collection was 4pm, you’re not going to get that postmark." Ballots postmarked today will still count if they’re received within seven days.

If you’re dropping yours off at an official county drop site, it must be in by 8 p.m. today. 

 

Candle Blamed for Prineville House Fire

PRINEVILLE, OR -- A Prineville home was destroyed in a Monday morning fire blamed on an unattended candle. Fire crews responded to NW Seehale Avenue before 9:30 a.m. and found smoke and flames coming from the front of the house.

They were able to quickly put out the fire, but the home was deemed a complete loss and one cat was found dead inside.

No one was home at the time. The Red Cross is helping the displaced family of five. 


Price Gouging, Infant Health Concerns Amid Formula Shortage

SALEM, OR -- Governor Kate Brown declared an “abnormal market interruption” Friday, due to the nationwide baby formula shortage. "That allows Oregon’s price gouging laws to kick in and allows us to regulate and go after any businesses who are upping the price of baby formula," says Kristina Edmunson with the Oregon Department of Justice.

She says it’s already happening, mostly on websites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, "We’re seeing individuals who are selling to other individuals at really high prices. And we’re also seeing people who might hear of a shipment that comes into a store and goes into the store and purchases a high amount of this formula. And that’s why many stores have put the restrictions on."

The shortage is due to a major recall of one brand, combined with labor shortages and supply chain issues. Edmunson tells KBND News, "We want to make sure that families who need this formula are able to go into their grocery store. So, we want to make sure that people have as much access to the limited supply of baby formula as there is right now." 

Report suspected violations to the Attorney General's price gouging hotline at 503-378-8442 or online. You'll find more information on the statute at the Oregon DOJ's website

 

Families struggling to find baby formula may be tempted to make their own. You can find recipes for homemade baby formula online, even on TikTok. But Oregon’s WIC director says that could lead to serious health issues. "Formula is just that; it’s a formula," says Tiare Sanna, "It’s got very specific nutrients and it is impossible to replicate that at home. So you could have nutrient imbalances, you could have electrolyte imbalances, you can actually put too much of a load on the infant’s kidneys that can be dangerous."

Sanna says there’s also the risk of over-dilution, "Sometimes parents will over-dilute the formula; they think it will last longer. And that’s a problem because children don’t get the right amount of calories and nutrients. And again, babies have very small kidneys and they could actually get water intoxication."

And, she says babies shouldn't switch to cow’s milk until 12 months old, because it’s not considered a “complete food.”

Her best advice: keep checking stores, and consider switching brands, "it’s kind of like Crest and Colgate; they all meet the same needs, they all meet the child’s formula and nutrition needs." For moms who've recently weaned, re-lactating may be possible. For families using formula to supplement breastmilk, moving to full-time breastfeeding could be an option. She says your pediatrician may also be able to help secure more formula and can discuss other options and WIC clients can get help from their local office. 


Recent Pot Busts Highlight Risk to Water Supply

PRINEVILLE, OR -- A recent drug bust in Crook County highlights the risk illegal marijuan grow operations pose to the region’s water supply. Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE) Sgt. Kent van der Kamp says illicit grows, like the one seized in Juniper Canyon last week, are often found in residential areas. "They’ll just take more than their share of water," he tells KBND News, "A marijuana farm or a marijuana indoor grow requires lots of water. And, they’ll usually just take an abundance of the water leaving nothing in the well or they’ll dry a well."

Sgt. van der Kamp says illicit operations are very different from legal pot farms who have rules to follow and often apply for water rights, "Hydroponic grows or indoor grows, they’re recycling the water so not using as much. But what we’ve seen with a lot of these cartel grows or really illicit grows is they don’t care. They show up, they devastate the land, they’re putting human waste in holes and covering them up, they’re just spraying every pesticide imaginable in every direction [and] insecticides and they’re not caring about the environment."

Sgt. van der Kamp says tips frequently come in from fed-up neighbors, which is how the Crook County grow was discovered, "Neighbors will call and complain and say 'hey. I have a marijuana grow next door to me. I don’t have an issue with marijuana, but now I can’t take a shower because I don’t have water.' Or, 'I can’t cook food because I don't have water. And they’ve now dried my well with their well'.”

Van der Kamp believes the problem is growing in Central Oregon as southern Oregon agencies crack down on cartel activity. On Wednesday, Jackson County officials seized 4,800 marijuana plants. "They put so much attention and enforcement action in Josephine and Jackson County the cartels are realizing, ‘hey, this is a bad plan. Let’s start breaking this up and going around to different parts of the state.’ So now what we’re seeing is the old game of Whack-A-Mole," says Sgt. van der Kamp, "They whack the mole over there and the mole is going to pop up somewhere over here." While Thursday's bust in Crook County is not directly linked to cartels, van der Kamp says the operation had a lot of similarities.

He also says these illegal grows are becoming more sophisticated and more dangerous as their Central Oregon footprint gets bigger, frequently setting up in residential or remote areas where they won't be noticed.

 

File photo


Bend City Council Considers Shelter Code Amendments

BEND, OR -- After hearing from dozens of people concerned about code changes for Bend shelters, City Council asked staff to draft amendments for them to consider later this week.

A number of complaints were due to an allowance for shelters to use an on-call manager. That is no longer under consideration, "They're removing 'on-call' and requiring on-site management," says Pauline Hardie, a Senior Planner for the city. That means a shelter open 24 hours must have a manager on site at all times, "But they’re also going to allow that on-site management to be provided by a shelter resident that’s designated by the shelter provider."

Hardie tells KBND News using an RV as a temporary shelter in a private residential driveway is also out of the proposed changes, "Based on a lot of public comments, the Council is recommending to remove hardship shelters from the proposed code amendment. And possibly looking at a later date at how else to accommodate people who are going through hardships, on people’s properties." She says the existing "medical hardship" code remains in place, which allows a temporary dwelling on private property for specific, documented medical cases. 

And, Council asked for a revision to require shelters communicate not only with adjacent neighbors but also with neighborhood associations, "Every shelter probably does it different, so we didn’t codify how it has to happen. We’ll leave that to the shelters and how they typically do their outreach to the adjacent neighbors and to, now, the Neighborhood Association land use chairs," says Hardie.

Council will discuss and vote on the changes at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

 

Prineville Woman Accused of Trafficking Drugs From Portland

MADRAS, OR -- A Prineville woman is accused of bringing dangerous drugs into Crook County from the Portland area.

Detectives with the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement team arrested 42-year-old Judith Carter early Saturday morning, following a multi-day surveillance operation in the metro area and Central Oregon. She was detained at a Madras truck stop at 3 a.m., with the help of Jefferson County deputies and State troopers. CODE says Carter had been the focus of a long-term investigation.

During a search of her car, detectives say they found a commercial quantity of meth and counterfeit pills made of fentanyl, along with other evidence. They have also identified several associates and more arrests are expected. 


DCSO Makes Drug Arrest at Storage Unit

BEND, OR -- Deschutes County deputies arrested a Bend man on multiple drug-related charges after he was found at a local storage facility. 53-year-old Chris Humphrey also had an outstanding warrant for violating parole at the time of his arrest.

Detectives say he was found at the U-Haul Storage facility where he rented a unit, with two pounds of meth, a Butane Hash Oil lab and a felony amount of BHO.

Humphrey was arrested Thursday and charged with Unlawful Possession of Methamphetamine, Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine, Unlawful Manufacture of an Illegal Extract (Marijuana item), Unlawful Possession of an Illegal Extract (Marijuana item) and Warrant (Probation Violation). 

 

Employers Address Rising Gas Prices For Staff

BEND, OR -- Central Oregon employers are getting creative in how they attract new workers and address rising costs for existing staff. One company is shelling out cash. 

"With the rising prices of gas here in Bend - not only Bend but Oregon and across our footprint  - it’s really having a significant financial impact on employees," says First Interstate Bank Vice Presient Eliescha Stone. First Interstate started providing a gas stipend last month to employees making less than $65,000 a year. "It’s now $65 per pay period, which equates to $130 a month," says Stone, "This is ongoing through June. At that point, we’re going to reassess based on if gas prices continue to rise, if our employees are still experiencing this." Stone tells KBND News, while some companies allow employees to work from home to alleviate fuel costs, bank tellers and other staff are needed to make sure branches open every day. 

According to Stone, the idea started with the CEO, "He was going and getting gas in his truck and he started thinking about one of our employees who was commuting - their drive was an hour and a half every day. And he thought 'wow, they have to fill up and we need to help our employees'."

Stone is the Bend Retail Hub Manager, and says the stipend is also helping attract new workers among staffing shortages, "Some of our greatest recruiters are actually our internal employees who are out talking about this. So, it’s worked to the benefit of the bank because they’re doing some of the recruiting."


Detectives: Nursery Supply Store Was Front For Drug Operation

PRINEVILLE, OR -- Central Oregon drug investigators seized 1880 marijuana plants and arrested two people following a long-term investigation in Crook County. CODE detectives executed search warrants Wednesday at the Prineville home of Robert and Fawn Griffin, a commercial indoor grow operation and their nursery supply store. The store, called “Herbology,” was not licensed to sell, export or grow pot.

During the search, police also found 168 pounds of processed marijuana and $20,000 in cash, along with three rifles and two pistols. Detectives say the couple also used a complex money laundering scheme involving real estate and structured banking transactions. 

The Griffins face numerous charges and are now in the Crook County Jail.


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