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Reunited: Restrictions ease for long term care facilities

For the first time in three months, a local father and son sat face-to-face for a morning visit this week.

Todd Janssen and his father, Roy, who lives at a Decker’s Family Care facility, were finally able to visit outdoors, without a window between them Monday, after some restrictions involving long-term care were lifted by the Minnesota Department of Health, or MDH.

“I brought you some candy,” Todd told his father, who examined the two bags of chocolates. “I thought you might be running low.”

Sitting 6 feet apart, the duo were the first to visit this way at a Decker’s facility since lock down restrictions were put in place in March because of COVID-19.

“It’s really good medicine for the residents to be able to near their loved ones,” said John Decker, of Decker’s Family Care. “”They’ve been without this kind of connection with family for three months. It takes a toll on their mental health.”

Prior to eased restrictions, the facility had a system set up for online video and closed window visits, but it doesn’t compare to sitting across from each other, Decker said.

Todd agreed.

“My dad is 97 years old,” he said. “He can’t hear very well so when we were on the other side of the window, I had to take a notepad with a magic marker and write in big letters. It was tough.”

MDH issued new guidance last week for long-term care facilities looking for safe ways to allow friends and family members to visit residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We continue to recognize how the effects of isolation can have serious impacts on the health and well-being of residents and know that visitor restrictions have been extremely challenging for all of us over these last several months,” MDH officials said in a news release.

Decker’s Family Care, like other long term care facilities, are taking precautions to keep residents, staff and others safe. Decker’s requires appointments to visit with a resident be made 24 hours in advance; family members will go through a phone screening prior to the visits, they will have their temperature taken upon arrival and they must properly wear a mask at all times.

“We are strict on these policies,” Decker said. “We have 16 residents and nobody has even had a cold in nine months.”

Decker credited staff for keeping residents safe and taking precautions outside of work.

“What keeps me up at night is worrying about COVID-19 getting into the facility,” he said. “My staff is doing an amazing job with cleaning schedules and precautions.”

While the restrictions don’t allow for the normal visits between the Janssens and other families, Todd said it’s a step in the right direction.

“Sitting across the table from him is a heck of a lot better than on the other side of a window,” he said. “Even if it’s sitting on a deck hollering back and forth so he can hear me – this is just better. I already made my next appointment to see him.”

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Rainy Lake tradition continues

A Fourth of July tradition that has grown in popularity over the years will continue this summer on Rainy Lake.

And the family who started the Grindstone Island Boat Parade has more of a reason to organize it this year.

The parade, which began with about 15 boats in 2013, and grew to more than 60 boats last year, will cruise past area resorts July 4, but a face will be missing from the lineup.

Larry Roche, who came up with the idea for the local event, died May 24 after a brief battle with lung cancer. He was 74 years old.

“Larry would want us to do this,” said Alyce Mannausau, Larry’s sister-in-law, who has helped organize the parade over the years. “We thought about taking a year off, but people need this, this year more than ever.”

The event aims to be fun for the whole family, and Alyce and her husband, Larry Mannausau, said people are encouraged to decorate their boats and line up around 5:30 p.m. July 4 in front of the Roche/Mannausau cabin on the southeast corner of Grindstone.

There will be two lead boats and two jet skies with neon flags, to help keep order in the line up, which will parade in front of Sha Sha Resort, Island View Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge in a follow-the-leader format.

“We just want it to be fun,” Alyce said, adding there’s a traveling trophy awarded to the winning boat. Last year’s winners, Deb and Randy Ciminski, will judge the 2020 contest.

Plan for fun

The idea for the event came when members of the the Roche/Mannausau families were sitting in the front porch of the Grindstone Island cabin – a spot where many memories have been made over the years.

“I think Larry saw a boat parade in a magazine and thought it was something we should do here,” Alyce said. “He was really all about it.”

The first summer the parade route went around Grindstone Island, but most of the people in the parade were those who own cabins on the island.

“There was nobody to look at us,” Alyce said with a laugh. “So then we started to include the resorts.”

Over the years, competition within participants has increased, but the foundation of fun – what Roche would have wanted – remains.

“With everything going on this year, we knew this was something people needed,” Alyce said. “Larry loved the boat parade so much.”

Recalling memories of Roche brought smiles to Alyce and Larry’s faces. Dubbed the “bad Larry” because there were two at the cabin, Roche was known for his willingness to have a good time.

“He was always full of jokes,” said Larry Mannausau, also known as “the good Larry.”

“He was kind of a rascal, in a way,” Alyce added. “He was always laughing and he had a deep laugh that came from his toes up. He taught us all about being positive and saw the bright side of everything... We know he’ll be looking down on us this year.”

For more information on the parade, call Alyce with questions at 218-349-9982.

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Elementary staff at Indus School focus of special meeting

Independent School District No. 363 board members last week couldn’t come to an agreement about elementary staffing at Indus School.

With the district’s budget in the red, the board met in special session June 17 to consider reducing elementary staff and combining grade levels at Indus – one of the two schools in the district. Northome School, located 85 miles from Indus, is also included in the district.

At the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year, six positions at Indus were left vacant through resignations or not renewing contracts. Two of those positions – an English teacher and a physical education teacher – will be filled. Two others – the school nurse and the technology position – will be covered by shared staff at Northome School.

That left up for discussion last week whether to fill the remaining two positions.

A motion to hire back two teachers failed on a 3-3 vote with board members Brian Dreher, Bob Stueven and Shelly Patten voting no.

Minutes later, a motion to hire one teacher back also failed when Patten, Stueven and Teresa Rud voted no. The three other board members did not vote since the motion would have ultimately failed.

The decision is expected to come back to the table when the board meets in July.

Rud argued the district advertises small class sizes, and if grade levels were combined, it would increase the number of students in each class. In addition, she said there are kids with special needs who likely wouldn’t thrive in a mixed-grade setting.

“I think its going to be chaos,” Rud said. “We’re thinking of the kids. I know there are budgets. I know the kind of kids we have and I know this is not going to be good.”

In addition, Rud said she’s heard from families who said they will enroll their students in schools elsewhere in Koochiching County, should grade levels be combined.

“We could lose 11 kids,” she said. “Is it worth it? I think more parents will follow suit.”

Patten said board members are elected to balance the budget and do what’s best for the district as a whole, regardless if changes occur at Indus School or Northome School.

“We need to be a team,” she said. “We need to do what’s best for the district to balance the budget and make this district last ...We’ve been operating at deficits since 2013, we can’t keep operating that way. That’s our job as a school board: To keep it going... I understand it would be best to have one teacher per grade, I get that. Financially, I can’t see how we can afford to do that.”

Budget history

Superintendent Steve Cairns confirms Patten’s statement about budget challenges over the past seven years. Since 2013, the district has overspent about $1.4 million, he told The Journal.

“We want our budget to be balanced so we don’t use up savings,” he said. “When I started, we discovered an error in the budget that would cause us to overspend about $130,000 this year. We’ve been trying to make up ground all year.”

Cairns was hired at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year on an interim basis to help balance the district’s budget and mentor Northome Principal Jeremy Tammi, who will take over as superintendent for the 2020-2021 school year.

A portion of the $130,000 shortfall will be made up through additional state and federal funding the district wasn’t expecting because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With students learning remotely, free meals were delivered through the school Monday through Friday.

“When you take food out to everyone, they are considered free lunch students, and it got (the district) a little higher reimbursement than if we were in session,” Cairns said, adding it was unclear just how much would be reimbursed.

While Cairns is hopeful reimbursed dollars will help offset some of the $130,000 shortfall, he noted that is not something that can be relied upon for future budgets. Decisions associated with cuts and the potential of combining grade levels need to be made, he said.

“The difficult decision to combine some of these classes to stay within our budget is hard,” he said. “You work with these people and students and you want to be respectful. You want to provide the moon and the stars...but it’s also a business and we can’t have overspending.”

The superintendent commended the board for being unanimous on their votes over the past year and said he believes the issue on how many elementary teachers to have on staff next year will come to a decision in July.

“I believe the board will quickly resolve this,” Cairns told The Journal. “They’ll be back to working together very, very well... this is something that has to be talked about and once they talk it out, they’ll make a decision and move forward.”