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Homer-Center joins Juul litigation

Homer-Center School District agreed Thursday night to enter into an attorney-client fee contract with Frantz Law Group as well as the Butler law firm of Dillon McCandless King Coulter & Graham LLP “for the commencement of a legal action against Juul Labs, Inc.

Juul, formerly known as PAX Labs Inc., is being sued along with other defendants, including but not limited to Altria Group Inc.; Altria Client Services; Altria Group Distribution Company; Nu Mark LLC; and Philip Morris USA Inc.

As district officials observed when the matter was discussed at a board planning meeting on Nov. 3, Homer-Center has spent literally thousands of dollars on sensors and other equipment in its bid to bar the use of vaping products on school property.

It was approved Thursday night as part of a list of consent items. The district said it is taking that action “for the purpose of claiming money damages related to school district costs” spent in a bid to enforce that restriction.

It also adds Homer-Center to a growing list of Pennsylvania districts that joined forces with Frantz Law Group ALPC of San Diego, Calif., which according to its website “is committed to holding JUUL accountable for its detrimental role in the increased usage of e-cigarettes by our youth and the resultant damage to the learning environments of our schools.”

Locally, that includes Indiana Area and Freeport Area school districts, part of ARIN Intermediate Unit 28 along with Homer-Center, and such entities as Butler Area, Karns City Area, South Butler County (now Knoch), Moniteau, Pittsburgh, Slippery Rock Area, McKeesport Area, Mifflin County and (Pittsburgh) North Hills school districts.

Thursday’s meeting marked a transition, as it was the last one for district Business Manager Gregg Kalemba as interim superintendent. Sitting in for the meeting was new Superintendent Ralph Cecere Jr., who was chosen in September and awaited a 60-day contract hold, to assume his new $126,000 position on Nov. 28. Cecere is former superintendent in the Portage Area district in Cambria County.

There was one dispute during the meeting about volunteer softball coaches. School Director Vicki Smith objected to Holly George in the role, though she said she could vote for Abby Ginter, the other candidate for that role.

School Director Michael Schmidt moved to table the item and School Director Gerald Bertig seconded that motion. The motion passed 8 to 1 with School Director James McLoughlin the lone dissenter.

The board approved Dave Bocz as a volunteer track coach and Lori Nagy as a volunteer swim coach, in both cases pending receipt of updated clearances.

Board members expressed their regrets as they accepted the resignation of cafeteria worker Andrea Nicolo, who is retiring after 27 years on the job effective Dec. 31.

The school directors also expressed their congratulations to the high school girls’ volleyball team, which won the Heritage Conference championship and made it into the PIAA quarterfinals.

They also honored fifth-grader Blair Mack and ninth-grader Rebekah Marshall with Wildcat Recognition awards, and Kaitlyn Harper as Kiwanis Senior of the Month.


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Supervisors balance budget, maintain tax rates in Burrell

BLACK LICK — A flat budget for 2023 has been posted for a month of public review and comment at the Burrell Township municipal office.

The township supervisors Wednesday voted to display the spending plan until the next meeting.

The supervisors said only the street light fee would be increased because Penelec has increased its rates. The increase would cost the average household served by street lights “just a couple bucks a year,” according to the supervisors.

Few line items will change much. Diesel fuel will cost more. It costs almost twice as much as it did a year ago, Chairman Larry Henry said, but it won’t push the township into deficit spending. The budget lists $854,000 in expenses, coming in almost $8,000 short of the anticipated $862,000 of revenue for the year.

Tax rates will stay the same: 1.02 mills on real estate for general operations, 0.27 mill to fund the Black Lick Volunteer Fire Department and 0.078 mill for fire hydrant system maintenance.

The supervisors will consider final approval on Dec. 21.

In other business, the supervisors agreed to reappoint Mark Schaeffer, David Henry and John Ihli to new terms on the Burrell Township Sewer Authority board and appointed Carol Dellafiora, of Coral, to the Burrell Township Library Board.

Library Director Jen Van Hannak said Dellafiora “has a passion for reading” and is eager to help with fundraising toward the construction of the new library and municipal building on Main Street in Black Lick.

She fills the vacancy left by the departure in October of R.K. Shoemaker.


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Food banks buoyed by community

Food banks operated by Indiana County Community Action Program and Chevy Chase Community Center shared in the generosity of Giant Eagle supermarket shoppers who made donations Saturday at a food drive run by Knights of Columbus Council No. 1481 and Rairigh-Bence Funeral Home in Indiana.

In all, donors gave 1,624 pounds of food and $1,037.80 cash to help stock the food pantry shelves as Thanksgiving and winter approach.

From left, Kim Kunkle and her grandchildren Maxwell McCoy and Iris McCoy donated nonperishable foods to the campaign.


Deaths

Obituaries on Page A-4

CORNELL, Betty Jean, 90, Beyer

McMASTERS, Marcia Lynn, 80, Indiana

STAYROOK, Joanna R. (O’Neil), 91, Indiana

Late death

FREEMAN, Robert, 84, Penn Run


Teddy

“It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” Alan Shepard, American astronaut (born on this date 1923-1998)


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Leapfrog gives Indiana Regional Medical Center a 'B' grade

The Fall 2022 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade results have been issued, with Indiana Regional Medical Center slipping back to a “B” grade after achieving an “A” in the spring.

“IRMC has bounced up and down between a Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade A and B for several years,” said Dr. Richard Neff, IRMC’s chief medical officer. “We strive to work at continuing to reduce harm and are proud of the results, but there is always more to do.”

In a breakdown across multiple categories, IRMC scored:

• An above-average score of 0.790 for infections, where the best hospital score was zero, the worst 4.287, and the average was 1.13.

• A best-case score of zero for problems with surgery, where the worst score was 0.373 and the average was 0.02.

• A above-average score of 0.89 for safety problems, where the best hospital score was 0.60, the average 1.00 and the worst score was 3.34.

• A best-case score of 100 for practices to prevent errors, where the average was 87.00 and the worst hospital score was five.

However, in the category of “doctors, nurses & hospital staff,” Leapfrog said IRMC “declined to report” requested information. The best hospital score here was 120.00, the worst zero, and the average hospital’s score 116.32.

Indeed, Leapfrog said, “thousands of hospitals nationwide report to the Leapfrog Hospital Survey to help patients and purchasers make better health care decisions. This hospital did not participate.”

Annie D. Rizzo, the White Township hospital’s director of marketing and community relations, said IRMC, “like many other hospitals of our size, do not have the resources available to provide all of the details required to share most of the information that we did not report.”

Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit watchdog organization that advances patient safety in hospitals, said the Fall 2022 results mark the 10th anniversary of the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, which assigns a letter grade to nearly 3,000 U.S. general hospitals based on how well they protect patients from preventable medical errors, accidents, injuries and infections.

“Never in history have we seen across-the-board improvement in patient safety until this last decade, coinciding with the history of the Hospital Safety Grade,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group.

Dalton Cox, a senior account executive at JPA Health, said 40.9 percent of Pennsylvania hospitals achieved “A” ratings, the ninth-best state in the nation.

Regionally, IRMC Pennsylvania Mountains Health Care Network partner Punxsutawney Area Hospital achieved an “A” rating, up from “C” grades in Spring 2022 and Fall 2021, and not being graded in Spring 2021 and Fall 2020.

Nov. 1 marked the second anniversary of PMCN and the two hospitals merging their boards of directors, as they seek an even more fully integrated health care system.

PMCN was formed in 2015 as parent company of IRMC, PAH and Clarion Hospital as the three facilities explored opportunities to more closely integrate in an increasingly challenging health care marketplace.

Since then, Clarion Hospital has become part of the Butler Health System, which, in June of this year, agreed to combine its operations with Excela Health, parent company of hospitals in Latrobe, Greensburg and Mt. Pleasant.

In the Fall 2020 grading, Butler Memorial Hospital and Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg each received an “A,” Latrobe Hospital received a “B,” and Excela Health Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant and Clarion Hospital each received a “C.”

Also nearby, Allegheny Health Network’s Forbes Hospital and UPMC East, both in Monroeville, each received an “A,” as did UPMC Altoona and Pittsburgh area Passavant, Shadyside and Presbyterian hospitals, AHN’s Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Heights and West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.

ACMH Hospital near Kittanning, Penn Highlands DuBois and Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber each received a “C,” and Duke LifePoint’s Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center received a “D”

Nationwide, Leapfrog officials said, 30 percent of hospitals received an “A,” 28 percent received a “B,” 36 percent received a “C,” 6 percent received a “D,” and 1 percent received an “F.”


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Ford resigns as Purchase Line superintendent

PURCHASE LINE — After four years in the role, Shawn L. Ford is resigning as superintendent of the Purchase Line School District, effective Feb. 15, to become assistant superintendent of DuBois Area School District.

In a letter dated Thursday, Ford told district employees, students and community members that “it is with regret” that he is resigning, a decision that “was thoughtfully considered and only personal in nature.”

Ford told The Indiana Gazette that he will honor the terms of his contract and that “I have a high regard for Purchase Line, the students and the board.” He said “personal life circumstances” were a factor in his decision, along with “self-reflection, and input from my family and mentors.”

Ford, 56, was hired on Aug. 6, 2018, at an annual salary of $115,000 for a four-year term extending through June 30, 2022.

Ford had spent the previous 20 years working for the Crawford Central School District in Meadville, Crawford County. He had been employed as a teacher, assistant principal and athletic director, and for six years was principal at Cochranton Elementary School.

“Purchase Line is very similar to the Cochranton School system, where I have been working,” Ford said. “We had roughly 800 students there, which is similar to here.”

Ford earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Slippery Rock University, graduating in 1999, and a master’s degree in 2003. He added a superintendent’s letter of eligibility from Edinboro University in 2016.

“I have a great relationship with the board and have been welcomed by the Red Dragon community since arriving at Purchase Line,” Ford said in his letter. “I will have a more comprehensive announcement closer to my departure date. I am grateful for the lifelong relationships that I have forged while serving the students of this district. I look forward to a smooth transition and will continue to serve the district faithfully until my departure.”


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County board certifies results of general election

In a brief meeting Thursday afternoon, the Indiana County Board of Commissioners, serving as the Indiana County Board of Elections, voted 3-0 to certify the results of the Nov. 8 general election.

The results will be considered final once they are posted on the county’s website Tuesday, giving time for any objections to what is about to be finalized.

County Chief Clerk Robin Maryai said she and the others who served as the official return board, Debra Streams and Melissa Miller, chose three boxes of ballots at random, totaling approximately 700 votes — or about 2 percent of the 32,980 ballots cast Nov. 8.

“Every office was perfect,” Maryai said about the ballots chosen from Conemaugh Township Precinct 1, Pine Township Precinct 2, and West Mahoning Township.

“These head counts matched the machines perfectly,” Maryai told the board of elections. “All ballots handed out have been validated.”

County commissioners R. Michael Keith, Robin A. Gorman and Sherene Hess agreed.

Those results are not likely to change from what has been reported unofficially on the www.indianacoun typa.gov website (given in order of how the candidates appeared on the ballot):

• For U.S. Senate, Democrat and statewide winner John Fetterman drew 11,218 votes, but lost to Republican Mehmet Oz, who had 20,769, with Libertarian Erik Gerhardt netting 398 votes, Green candidate Richard L. Weiss 179 and Keystone candidate Daniel Wassmer 191 votes. There were 50 write-in votes.

• For governor (running jointly with lieutenant governor candidates), Democrat and statewide winner Josh Shapiro had 13,032 votes, while Republican statewide runner-up Douglas V. Mastriano carried Indiana County with 19,179, followed by Libertarian Matt Hackenburg with 248, Green candidate Christina DiGiulio 148 and Keystone candidate Joe Soloski with 135. There were 23 write-in votes.

• For U.S. Representative, 14th District, covering most of the county, Republican Guy Reschenthaler was unopposed and netted 22,578 votes, while 1,370 write-in votes were cast.

• For U.S. Representative, 15th District, covering the county’s northern tier, Democrat Mike Molesevich netted 552 votes, to 2,589 for Republican Glenn “GT” Thompson, with eight others writing in candidates.

• For Representative in the General Assembly, 62nd District, covering the southern two-thirds of the county, Democrat Brian Doyle received 7,604 votes, while Republican Jim Struzzi netted 18,147 votes, and 50 others cast write-in ballots.

• For Representative in the General Assembly, 66th District, covering the northern third of the county, as well as all of Jefferson County, Republican Brian Smith was unopposed and received 5,971 Indiana County votes, while 132 others wrote in candidates.

All the votes were received last week. Military personnel could send in ballots that would be received through 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, but Maryai said at this week’s county commissioners’ meeting that no ballots were received in the seven days following election day.

With the final actions of the 2022 election, Indiana County can turn to the 2023 contests, for which petitions will become available in about a month and a half.

County officials said the ballot next year will include candidates for commissioner, district attorney, prothonotary-clerk of courts, two magisterial district judgeships out of four in the county, three county auditors (for which voters will choose two, as they do for county commissioner), school boards, borough councils and township supervisors, as well as at least one township auditor and some borough auditors.

Some state judgeships may also be on the ballot, while in Indiana Borough four wards will merge into two and the process of reducing 12 council seats to eight will begin.


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