Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Altoona Mirror

Location: Altoona, Pennsylvania

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Altoona Mirror (Newspaper) - March 7, 2001, Altoona, Pennsylvania Nation: Legal noose tightens around Napster Cl Life: Contest winners share their pie-baking secrets Dl Altrmna Copyright 2001 WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2001 500 newsstand THE SERIES Todiy: Your tax money helps local municipalities pay their bills, right? So getting a look at those bills should be no problem, right? Thursday: There's a proposal on the table to strengthen Pennsylvania's Right to Know law. To comment: Call Staff Writer Jay Young at 946-7535 or send e-mail to: Area municipalities fail to comply Altoona City Hall workers know how tax dollars are being spent, but they don't have time to tell taxpayers. That's what Altoona resident Bob Cassarly learned after he requested access to a record of payments made by the city during July. Altoona was one of five area municipalities that failed to comply with the state's Right to Know law during a six-month Mirror investigation. Of 47 government agencies visited, only 20 or 42 percent fully complied with the law. The rest limited or failed to allow a resident with a legiti- mate request to view documents that by law are open to the public. Cassarly entered the city's temporary City Hall FOURTH OF FIVE PARTS Stories by Jay Young and requested access to the July payments records, which state law allows any resident to view. After being told that the request must be in writing, Cassarly made a written request Feb. 5. Within a day, the following written request was delivered to City Hall: "Please consider this request to the list of payments or invoices paid by the city of Altoona during the month of July 2000." The written request also asked that any denial of the request be made in writing. The reply from City Hall came via the tele- phone. A city secretary said officials weren't sure what Cassarly wanted. Cassarly restated his written request, and he explained that he wanted to see a list of the bills paid during that month. "Well, what kind of the secretary asked. Cassarly gave several examples, including pay- ments made to contractors and various expenses. The secretary again asked "what kind of pay- ments" Cassarly wanted to see. Cassarly said he essentially wanted to see all the payments made by the city for that month. Please see A8 INSIDE How clerks at area municipal offices responded to requests for lists of payments. PAGE A8 Hospitals bleeding red ink At Altoona Hospital: A swelling deficit means cost cutting and possible layoffs. At Bon Secours: More admissions help push facility into the black barely. BY WILLIAM KIBLER StaffWriter Altoona Hospital is running a multimillion- dollar deficit, has ordered all departments to slice their budgets and plans to cut jobs to make ends meet, according to a union letter to members. The hospital is not talking specifics as it pre- pares to organize a budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. "Numerous measures relative to increasing revenues and decreasing expenses are under consideration throughout the hospi- tal spokesman Rick Reeves said. Management has told all department direc- tors that they need to reduce their budgets by 6 percent for next fiscal year, according to the union letter. Six percent for an operating budget of million is million. The union has learned of a few positions that won't be renewed next fiscal year, and directors have not filled some of those already, according to the letter. "Members can only wait until management makes their final decision concerning the lay- off the letter read. Altoona Hospital lost a little less than mil- lion last year, but it would have lost more than million if not for a windfall Medicaid reim- bursement that covered three years worth of short payments, Reeves said. Altoona lost million in operations dur- ing the first three months of this fiscal year, according to the Nov. 9 issue of Viewpoint, an in-house hospital publication. Nonoperating investment income on accounts intended for facility and equipment upgrades more than offset that by but that is not what the hospital wants. "We are using our savings to pay for our day-to-day the Viewpoint story said. Please see A12 Pressures mount on both revenue and expense sides. Fi P a Mirror photo by Jason Sipes Bon Secours-Holy Family Hospital is one of the 20 percent of facilities in the state running in the black this year. Here, Mary Grose (left) and Sharon Wharton assist Dr. Ziad Khoury during a heart catheterization. BY WILLIAM KIBLER StaffWriter Iinancial anemia is epidemic among hos- pitals in the nation and the region, with about one-third nationally and four- fifths in Pennsylvania running in the red, offi- cials said. "It's as serious as it's been in the last said Rick Wade of the American Hospital Association. "You're beginning to see some of the cracks in the system." Sometimes emergency rooms grow over- crowded for lack of staff. Sometimes hospitals even divert patients headed to their emer- gency rooms to other hospitals, Wade said. Hospitals are refocusing on fundamentals. "When you're hard-pressed financially, you've got to stick to the core of what the com- munity Wade said. But the refocusing sometimes comes at the expense of valuable programs such as commu- nity clinics, which offer screening and educa- tion that hospitals no longer can afford but' which the community can ill afford to lose In the long run, Wade said. Hospitals are delaying building improve- ments, upgrades of equipment and specialty training and the creation of new services such as skilled nursing facilities, which are centers, halfway between nursing homes and acute hospitals, Wade said. There are multiple causes for the financial illness on both the revenue and expense side. The problems tend to be worse for small hos-.. pitals because they can't benefit from economies of scale, said Robert Weech- Maldonado, a Penn State University professor and expert in health policy and administration. Hospitals are earning less because of declin- ing reimbursements from insurance, fewer inpatients because of managed care pressure, more charity cases because people lack insur- ance and low doctor productivity in some practices purchased by hospitals. Please see A9 Man trying to distribute 'Jesus Video' around Blair BY LINDA HUDKINS For The Mirror If James Edwards gets his way, each and every household in Blair County will get a copy of the "Jesus Video." "I am going to do the Sinking Valley resident vows. "It will be done." Never mind that it will cost upward of And never mind that only about 10 per- cent of the 220 churches in Blah- County responded to his initial plea to help fund the project and half of those respond- ed by saying, "No thanks." "That set me back on my heels a says Edwards, who's no clergyman, just a fellow retired from working 37 years in U.S. intelligence. With a few rebuffs behind him, Edwards decided to take on the county in pieces, households at a time, Tyrone first. Please see A7 MAZ MAKES IT IN Former Pittsburgh Pirates player Bill Mazeroski smiles as he answers questions after being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee Tuesday afternoon in Tampa, Fla. Please see story, Page Bl. The Associated Press Williamsburg money request turned down Blair commissioners are concerned about proposed site for elderly apartment complex. BY KAY STEPHENS Staff Writer HOLLIDAYSBURG A Will- iamsburg group interested in pro- viding more'housing for low- to moderate-income elderly residents asked Blair County commission- ers Tuesday to double a proposed allocation of block grant funds. But two of the three commission- ers indicated no interest in increasing the proposed allocation, explaining that they have questions about the site pro- posed for the apartment building. Williamsburg Area Improved Dwellings has been making plans Please see A7 Subscription or home delivery questions: 946-7480 or (800) 287-4480 6 Lottery numbers, A2 Partly cloudy, Forecast, A2 -1' HdT-ADS.Qom white-hot! Altoona [THE GREAT COMBINATION Call us today... Make money today. Ask for THE GREAT COMBINATION of MIRROR CLASSIFIEDS and HOT-ADS Phone (814) 946-7422 or fax us at (814) 940-7547 Business Hospitals Obituaries Opinion Local Scoreboard A? All Ml A6 Classifieds C4-12 Comics OS Community news D2 Movies D3 Television D4 IN NATION The 15-year-old accused of killing two fellow high school students was an "angry young investigators said Tuesday. PAGEC1