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Public Safety committee continues talks of fire merit commission

Though still clearly divided on the issue, city firefighters and council members are continuing talks of implementing a merit system for the department.

In 2017, talks between the firefighter’s union and city officials turned sour, eventually resulting in the idea being dropped entirely after members of the union voted it down.

But the council’s Public Safety Committee brought the issue back to the table, with its first meeting held in October.

City council president and committee member Tim Salters said during the third such meeting, held Thursday at City Hall, 201 Vigo St., that it’s necessary to keep an open line of communication as he worked to dispel rumors and concerns about the process.

“Let’s go ahead and get the hearsay and rumors out on the table — we don’t want things to be misconstrued or for there to be any confusion. It’s the last thing we need,” he said.

One of the concerns addressed by Salters included worries that the process of implementing a merit system would be rushed; another concern was that firefighters would be left out of the process, with local political leaders making decisions behind closed doors.

“Those are not things we want to do,” he said. “We want to put a plan together that works.”

If implemented, a merit board — likely comprised of between 3 and 6 members — would be established to oversee the hiring, promotions and disciplinary actions of the city’s fire department.

Currently, promotions and hirings are largely up to administrators, i.e. the elected mayor, who appoints the fire chief during his or her tenure.

The merit board would be comprised of representatives selected by Mayor Joe Yochum, a former fire chief himself, the city council and the union.

The intention, proponents of the move say, is, in part, to take local politics out of those processes to ensure every firefighter or applicant has a fair shake at moving up the ladder.

And local politics was clearly a point of contention during Thursday’s meeting, as firefighters eluded to a string of recent promotions, all of whom are “from the same shift,” a few of the dozen or so attendees noted.

Though some firefighters expressed discontent at the way promotions are currently decided, there is still reluctance to transfer to a merit system — in part, they say, because they don’t feel it would change the outcome of hirings, firings or promotions in such a small city.

Councilman Brian Grove, a member of the committee, responded by noting that a merit system, even in a tight-knit community, could still prove beneficial and fair.

“At least you’d be ranked in the finals (for promotion), instead of not even being considered because of last name and who you do or don’t know,” he said.

But some firefighters say they still have questions — and even some concerns — before jumping on board.

Firefighter Andrew McNeece expressed some anxieties felt by department members about being tethered to an unfamiliar system, noting that the majority of guys on his shift are opposed.

“There is a mistrust of the people who will write (the merit regulations),” he said. “And all the grey area mixed in.”

Despite the divide and mistrust, firefighters and committee members will move forward with the next step, drafting what a potential merit board would look like — the number of members, their qualifications and their responsibilities, as well as governing rules for the board.

Salters says he views each of these meetings as a win, despite some difficult discussions and tensions, particularly in comparison to merit board talks that broke down quickly in 2017.

“We were yelling at each other last time in city council chambers. While at times that could be entertaining, this seems to be better,” he said with a chuckle. “I think we can figure something out, I really do.”

Indiana lawmakers could seize sway over governor's orders

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana legislators would gain the authority to immediately overrule any public health emergency orders issued by the governor under a proposal advanced Thursday by lawmakers.

The move to give the Republican-dominated Legislature greater oversight of those orders comes amid conservative discontent about the 55 coronavirus-related executive orders that GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb has issued in the past 11 months — during which time lawmakers had been out of session until early January.

The proposal endorsed 7-2 by an Indiana House committee would allow a 16-member group of legislative leaders to call lawmakers back to Indianapolis for a special session at any time after the governor has issued any statewide emergency order, including for epidemics or other situations, if the Legislature isn’t currently meeting.

A previous version of the bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Matt Lehman would have require the General Assembly to be called into session for an extension of a governor’s emergency order beyond 60 days.

Lehman said that under his current proposal, legislative leaders would not be required to call lawmakers back to the Statehouse if they didn’t have objections to the governor’s orders that could still be extended 30 days at a time or take any action to confirm those orders.

“It’s just at any time during those extensions, the legislative body may say, ‘OK, the third extension we need to come back and at least have a discussion,’” said Lehman, a Republican from Berne.

The House and Senate are considering various proposals to limit the reach of state and local public health orders amid complaints about the treatment of small businesses and intrusions on personal liberty and during the COVID-19 pandemic that the state health department says has killed more than 11,000 people in Indiana. Legislators, however, have taken no action toward overturning any of Holcomb's current public health orders.

Governors across the country are facing similar pushbacks and Holcomb has said he doesn’t want to give up the authority to act quickly.

Lehman’s proposal would largely leave in place the governor’s authority under the state’s emergency powers law, which was largely drafted in 2003 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But many legislators want greater say since they believe the law was meant for temporary situations such as floods, tornadoes or terrorist actions, even though epidemics are included among the 29 situations specified in the law.

Provisions in the bill, however, would prohibit any state or local emergency orders from placing any restrictions on religious services, including on crowd sizes.

Holcomb placed attendance limits on religious services, including funerals and weddings, during the early weeks of the pandemic but lifted those restrictions in May.

The bill, which now goes to the full House for consideration, would also require local health officials imposing tougher restrictions than ordered by the governor to first obtain approval from county commissioners or a city council. Lehman said that provision would apply only to new restrictions sought after the law would take effect.

Democrats on the House Rules Committee questioned whether such steps wrongly injected politics into public health decisions.

Good Samaritan looks to state-of-the art tech in push for good hand hygiene

Florence Nightingale’s book, “Notes on Nursing,” published in 1860, made one of the very first mentions of the importance of frequent hand washing.

She wrote: “Every nurse ought to be careful to wash her hands very frequently during the day.

“If her face, too, so much the better.”

Today, more than 160 years later, the technology exists to back her up.

“Since Florence Nightingale, hand hygiene has been at the core of protecting people from illness,” said Rachel Spalding, chief nursing officer at Good Samaritan. “And now, we’re using a new kind of technology in such a way that it’s helping people to be reminded to do that — and coaching them on best practices at every opportunity.”

Spalding recently announced the purchase of a new program, Biovigil, that is able to monitor, in real time, how often nurses and physicians wash or sanitize their hands.

Nurses and physicians — also respiratory therapists, patient care technicians and really anyone entering and exiting patient rooms — will be asked to wear a small badge, one that picks up signals from beacons placed at every patient room as well as sinks and hand sanitizing stations around the hospital.

The badges, which are unique to each individual healthcare worker, use a kind of traffic light language to indicate how clean a healthcare worker’s hands are.

Green, of course, means hands have been very recently washed or sanitized, yellow encourages them to do so quickly and red indicates the need to stop immediately and head to a hand-washing station before entering another patient room.

The badges are worn on the healthcare worker’s scrubs or lab coats, plainly visible to fellow employees and, perhaps more importantly, the patients themselves.

The badge can detect infrared sensors — or beacons — installed in patient rooms, so every time the doctor or nurse walks in or out of a new room, the badge knows.

Healthcare workers can ensure their lights remain green by spending adequate time in front of other beacons placed at sinks and hand-washing stations.

State-of-the-art sensors, too, are placed at hand sanitizing stations; healthcare workers can simply hold their hands up to the sensor, which detects the percentage of alcohol on the hands.

If the doctor or nurse delays the hand sanitizing process, the badge turns yellow. If they downright ignore it, it turns red.

“And this is the only electronic hand hygiene monitoring system that reminds you and coaches you at every opportunity,” Spalding said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 75,000 patients died last year from healthcare-associated infections — or HAIs — in the United States. It’s consistently ranked as one of ten leading causes of death.

HAIs are defined as infections that patients contract after they’ve been admitted — that is, the patient arrives at the hospital with one ailment then picks up a new infection during his or her stay.

Studies show those preventable infections cost hospitals around $30 billion in added costs a year.

Biovigil’s badges float from hospital worker to hospital worker as they change shifts. To activate a badge, staff members plug in a modified USB key encoded with their identification number.

Later, when the badge charges at a docking station, it downloads the comings and goings of that particular worker into a system.

That part of the program, Spalding explained, allows the hospital to generate much-needed compliance reports.

The program, too, can be synced to a healthcare worker’s own cell phone, sending reports on how well — or how poorly — they did.

More than anything, however, Good Samaritan is trying to create a trustworthy environment for patients.

“We see this as an opportunity to engage patients in their own care,” she said. “Now more than ever, patients want to feel safe. There is a lot of anxiety about COVID and other infections, so this minimizes that patient anxiety.

They know we’ve done our due diligence and that our hands are clean.”

Spalding said the goal is to implement the new system sometime in April.