Friday morning, February 7, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., began a series of meetings with medical professionals, business and community representatives in Warren and Fauquier Counties.
Only slightly after the scheduled starting time of 10:45 a.m. did Valley Health President and CEO Mark Merrill introduce the former Virginia governor and incumbent senator to those gathered in a third-floor conference room to discuss a series of statewide health care issues and what Congress can do to both coordinate with state governments and the health care sector to improve and protect medical services across the commonwealth.
Topics included the Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act; challenges facing new medical school graduates seeking Residencies in a tightening work force; how to offer new nursing school graduates similar training opportunities to those offered medical school graduates; the positive impacts on health care coverage of Virginia finally adopting Medicaid Expansion; prescription drug costs and how to bring them down; the drug and opioid crises and assuring that governmental initiatives are not too narrowly focused on one aspect of that crisis; surprise medical bill’s impacts on middle and lower class American families’ ability to maintain financial solvency; and even the role of private sector greed in traversing the health care service landscape.
During the discussion Warner identified some related issues including what he called “skinny plans” misrepresented as parts of so-called “Obamacare” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed into law during the Obama presidency in an effort to make more affordable health insurance available to more Americans.
“There is nothing in some of these plans,” Warner observed of private sector misrepresentations, calling for more legal teeth to assure some standards of “truth in advertising”.
One participant observed that however they were represented, the so-called “skinny plans” generally covered only catastrophic medical events, leaving people uninsured for more routine and frequent family medical needs.
The general consensus concerning Medicaid Expansion and the ACA seemed to be expressed by the comment from the table, “the idea to flush all of it is not working – we should be in a fix-it mode”.
Warner also took several shots at what he called abuses of the “PE guys” (Private Equity) – “I think they have not been straight shooters,” he observed.
In response, another participant said his organization was “one thousand percent in support of ending surprise medical bills and getting patients out of the middle” and had sponsored legislation the last two years trying to improve that situation. That participant noted that one such bill had passed two years ago in Virginia, adding, “But some of the commercial insurers had some issues with it and used their power with the state employee health plan to squash it.”
“You hit the nail on the head, the issue we face here is egregious that you have certain doctors out there charging , 300-, 400-, 500-, 600-percent with Medicare; and it often reflects poorly on the hospitals when we’re kind of stuck in the middle of it,” another participant responded, leading to the observation:
“But if you go the route of Murray-Alexander and you allow the insurers to have this median in-network benchmark rate as a backstop, they’re going to go to every hospital in Virginia where their rate is, say 110% or 120% or whatever of that benchmark; and they’re going to say ‘We’re going to set your rate at 60% of that benchmark and you’re going to take it – because I know if you don’t
I’m going to still be paying you less. And that’s our fear, not what the doctors and the PE-funded groups are getting paid, that’s not our issue. Our issue is giving these large insurers that in some cases have 60%, 70% market-share throughout rural Virginia, even more power to dictate what their rates are.”
Warner responded that he believed when Murray-Alexander was presented “there was a recognition there was potential for abuse,” adding he thought a middle ground solution was achievable.
“I think there is an interesting bipartisan coalition of people who got offended at some of the PE activity. So, you guys are smarter than me here – figure out something … This is front and center – and you guys are all saying take the patient out of the middle,” Warner replied of the dilemma facing legislators and the medical establishment in reacting to private sector abuses within that establishment and the health insurance and investment sectors.
“How it all comes together in the end, I think, remains to be seen. But I do agree with you that I think there are ways we can narrow the proposal that gets at your concerns, but also protects hospitals,” came the reply from the table, adding, “And some of that might be included with the network adequacy requirements for insurers; and some of these other pieces that have not been part of the conversation because of a lot of what’s been put on paper has been anti-provider, but ignored the role the commercial insurers of the world play.”
Noting he had family experience with the impact of surprise medical bills, Warner added, “This may be a case where these firms were so damn greedy – ‘darn’ greedy for the press,” Warner self-edited with a glance toward media present drawing laughter, adding, “you know, that they took it in the shorts.”
See this and other exchanges on challenges facing hospitals, the medical industry and legislators in trying to traverse a complex landscape surrounding a basic human need – health care – its costs, the role of greed in the financial and health insurance sectors, as well as other variables impacting rural areas in support of the availability of medical services, in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Lord Fairfax Health District offers free COVID testing session in Woodstock
The Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) will offer COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, June 8, at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, 300 Fairground Road, in Woodstock. Five hundred tests will be available.
Testing offered will be the nasal swab sample that looks for the presence of RNA from the actual virus. It will be offered in a drive-through format. Participants will be required to provide consent for testing and contact information so that proper follow-up can occur.
“We selected this location for our first community testing session, due to the presence of several outbreaks in Shenandoah County, and a desire to reach out to members of the medically underserved community, many of whom live in the area,” said Dr. Colin Greene, District Director. “We are very happy to be able to offer these tests at no charge to the patient.”
LFHD will offer testing on a first-come, first-served basis, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., or until test supplies are exhausted, whichever comes first. Testing is available to anyone ages 10 years and older. All persons must remain in the vehicle, and no walk-ups will be tested. Those seeking tests should be seated near a window of the vehicle.
To protect yourself and healthcare workers, please wear a cloth face covering or mask. Please keep at least six feet of distance between yourself and other people at all times. Please tell the testing providers if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, deep cough, or shortness of breath, or believe that you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
For more information, call the Lord Fairfax Health District at 540-459-3733.
Town Talk: A conversation with Sgt Laura Gomez and Captain Jeff Holzbauer; new dogs tags, K-9 additions
In this Town Talk, we’ll have a conversation with Sgt Laura Gomez and Captain Jeff Holzbauer from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Sgt Gomez is an Animal Control Officer and Captain Holzbauer is in charge of the Patrol Division.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division has the primary law enforcement responsibilities of providing a wide range of services and to initiate a proactive approach when assisting the community.
The Animal Control Division provides enforcement of all animal control issues within the County of Warren and the Town of Front Royal. Animal law enforcement, including the methods of capture, confinement, and disposition of nuisance animals, both domestic and feral, requires that the animals be treated in the most humane manner possible. Warren County or Town residents who require the assistance of Warren County Animal Control are to contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 540-635-4128 or in the case of an emergency, 911. This includes any questions dealing with wildlife matters.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
Valley Health System welcomes new President and CEO
Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s new President, and Chief Executive Officer began work Monday in true COVID-19 style: appropriately distanced, wearing a face mask, elbow bumping new colleagues, and joining more than 6,000 coworkers to report a daily personal health attestation for the safety of patients and colleagues.
Certainly, neither Nantz nor his predecessor, Mark Merrill, anticipated making this major leadership transition during a public health crisis. Merrill’s retirement farewells and Nantz’s welcomes are occurring via email and video until it is safer to meet face-to-face and travel to Valley Health sites around the region.
During the Valley Health Board of Trustees’ nationwide search and comprehensive interview process with system, physician and community leaders, Nantz stood out as an accomplished and visionary healthcare leader with an impressive record of building advanced clinical programs and successful physician and community partnerships and improving patient satisfaction, quality metrics, and employee engagement at the local, regional and system levels.
“From the moment I first met with the search committee and then stepped on the Valley Health campus in Winchester, I knew I had found a place where people shared my commitment to improving the health and well-being of the community, especially those who are marginalized and under-served,” Nantz says. “During my interview process, every board member, every provider, every leader, and every staff member demonstrated a dedication and commitment to Valley’s Health’s mission of “Serving our Community by Improving Health”. It was clear to me that I had found a new place to call home and caregivers with whom I could join in serving the community.”
Nantz previously served in executive roles with Bon Secours Mercy Health, most recently as Chief Administrative Officer and Atlantic Group President; before that as Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Bon Secours. He has also held executive positions at Carolinas Healthcare System (now Atrium Health) and Carolinas Medical Center–NorthEast, and leadership roles in the audit practice of a Big 5 accounting firm. A certified public accountant, Nantz holds a Master’s in Health Administration from Pfieffer University and is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.
In his first video introduction to Valley Health employees this week, Nantz touched on what motivates him personally and what his priorities are as Valley Health’s CEO:
“Winston Churchill once said, ‘Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.’ I believe that with all my heart and it’s why I have spent nearly 30 years in not-for-profit healthcare. It is at the core of my call to serve in the ministry of care delivery. To be sure, I feel that each of us has been called to serve others by providing access to high quality, affordable health care, and an exceptional patient experience, regardless of whether or not those individuals have the ability to pay. I think we are called to treat everyone who walks through our doors with dignity and compassion and that we must respect and appreciate the unique set of beliefs and experiences that they bring to our organization. That’s what drives me and what gets me up in the morning.”
“These are challenging times,” Nantz continued. “The COVID pandemic has changed much about the way we provide care, how our community views healthcare workers…and even the way we live. You can be confident that Valley Health’s medical and executive leadership have taken steps to ensure the delivery of safe, quality care as we diagnose and treat those with COVID, as well as care for our other patients with emergent healthcare needs. Our health system will continue to respond and adjust in these changing and uncertain times, and we will endeavor to ensure financial stability for both individual employees and the organization as a whole.”
Face masks are a labor of love for one local woman
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may be an old adage to some, but to Warren County resident Redz Castro Downes, it is a way of life.
Castro Downes, a Certified Nursing Assistant, is known to her family and friends as a kind-hearted person who always looks for ways to brighten the lives of those around her.
While caring for her husband, local attorney David Downes, during a recent illness, Redz realized that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was making it harder to find the face masks that were now required for wearing. She was especially concerned that her husband have adequate face-coverings as he recovered.
Having always wanted to learn how to sew, Redz decided to purchase a brand-new sewing machine and try her hand at making masks for her own family. “I’ve always wanted to learn sewing skills, and maybe make clothes for myself,” she said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview.
Undaunted by the fact that she did not know how to sew, Castro Downes stocked up on fabric at a local store, and downloaded a pattern to make washable, fabric masks.
In a short time, Redz mastered mask-making, each one taking less than 20 minutes from start to finish. Husband David and step-daughter Gayle have joined in, creating an assembly line. Gayle cuts out the mask pieces, David measures and cuts the elastic that forms ear loops, and Redz stitches the masks together.
Since the family began wearing their stylish masks, friends have taken notice and are asking if they can purchase the washable, cotton face coverings. So far, the Downes’ cottage industry has produced over four dozen masks, and the orders are pouring in!
Customers, such as Front Royal business owner town council candidate Betty Showers says the masks are “light, comfortable, adjustable and absolutely adorable!” She added that the masks were a great price and “I would recommend them to everyone.”
Especially popular among Redz’s customers is the plain black mask, with or without a Virginia Beer Museum logo. The first one was made for David, proprietor of the only beer museum in the commonwealth.
Redz says the proceeds from her mask sales will be split 50/50, with half of the money going to her family, who live in the Philippines and have been hard-hit by the pandemic. The other half will go to the Virginia Beer Museum, which is slated to reopen Friday, June 5 at 5 PM after being shuttered nearly three months.
The masks will be available for purchase at the museum, beginning Friday.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced earlier this week that all museums, theaters, and other tourist attractions across the commonwealth can re-open for business.
To order a mask: Message Redz Castro Downes or David Downes on Facebook Messenger.
VBM fabric masks $10 each, fabric masks $10 each or 2/$15
Front Royal Unites plans peaceful June 5 equality march
Citizens of Front Royal, Va., plan to come together tomorrow to make their voices heard in a peaceful protest of the institutional injustices against people of color across the United States.
The newly formed Front Royal Unites has organized a Friday, June 5 march beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Bing Crosby Stadium on E. 8th Street in Front Royal.
“It is important to remember to remain peaceful — there have been sustained reports of people showing up to agitate the outcome of this event,” wrote Front Royal Unites organizers in a statement released on Wednesday. “But together and through unity, we will not allow them to disturb our peace and take away the focus from the movement. We will lead by example.”
The Front Royal Unites event, like many across the nation and world, was spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., after a white police officer knelt on the black man’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street.
Arrests and charges of four police officers followed. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd to the ground by his neck, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But on Wednesday prosecutors charged him with a more serious count of second-degree murder.
Earlier today, a judge set bail for the other three former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death at $1 million each, or $750,000 under certain conditions, including that they do not work in law enforcement or have any contact with Floyd’s family. The officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao have been charged with second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
While the arrests and charges have been referred to as a good first step in bringing justice to Floyd and his family members, protests have been held throughout the U.S. and across the globe by people calling for larger changes that would end systemic racism, police brutality and other issues of inequality, such as those related to housing, education, employment, and healthcare for blacks and other people of color.
The mission of Front Royal Unites is to eradicate white supremacy, according to the group’s statement.
“We believe silence is complicit and injustices against minority groups must stop!” according to the group’s mission statement. “From the courthouse to the schoolhouse, bridges must be built and not burnt down. We want to ensure that regardless of your complexion, you are not feared, you feel safe, and you get equal footing. Together we are united. Together we are Front Royal.”
Front Royal resident Justin Thorne, an organizer of Front Royal Unites, said during a Facebook video that the group seeks “multiple changes for black lives,” especially in small towns.
Front Royal Unites organizer Justin Thorne of Front Royal spoke to group members in an online Facebook video earlier this week reiterating the need for a peaceful march.
“We are going to be the better people and try to make a change for the better,” Thorne said in his video. “We are protesting for black lives, for justice, and for unity. We need to educate people. We need to change this system.”
Earlier this week, Front Royal unites met with officials from the Town of Front Royal, the Front Royal Police Department, and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department to develop an agreeable plan for the march, including the route.
Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis told the Royal Examiner that “meetings with Front Royal Unites worked out fantastically.”
In addition, a few of the police department’s officers, along with members of the local sheriff’s department, “will be taking part in the march” and walking alongside the participants, Magalis said.
“We are fortunate for those individual citizens within our community who have helped, are helping, and will continue to help to see this event through,” said Front Royal resident Samuel Leon Porter, a Virginia advisor and head of communications for Front Royal unites.
The rain-or-shine event begins at 6:30 p.m. and will start and end at Bing Crosby Stadium, wrapping up around 8:30 p.m. A rally, several speeches, and a cookout will take place at the stadium following the march. The event is free to the public.
Among the scheduled speakers at the stadium following the march is Front Royal Councilwoman Letasha Thompson, a life-long Front Royal resident.
“Everyone has the right to protest,” Thompson posted June 3 on the Front Royal Unites site. “The key here is to remain PEACEFUL even if someone tries to provoke you. I’m looking forward to a peaceful and UNIFYING event where we all stand UNITED.”
Other speakers include Porter, a retired member of the U.S. Navy; local community leaders Kenny Sonnie and Gene Kilby; and Kori Morris, the volunteer coordinator for Front Royal Unites. The master of ceremonies is Stevi Hubbard, who is head of community relations for Front Royal Unites.
Porter said that for residents concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, they may still participate by parking their vehicles at the stadium where they will be able to hear participating speakers being broadcast over the stadium loudspeakers.
And while members of Front Royal Unites have received some negative comments, Thorne urged participants not to have that same mindset and to instead remain positive, peaceful and focused.
“Prepare yourself mentally to hold it all in,” Thorne said on his video. “It’s very important. This is a peaceful protest and it needs to stay peaceful so that we can get our point across.”
Front Royal Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick said he thinks the march and rally will be successful. “I have every hope this will be a peaceful event,” Tederick told the Royal Examiner this evening.
The Front Royal Unites march will begin and end at Bing Crosby Stadium.
Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video with Front Royal Unites organizers:
Royal Cinemas reopens
Rick Novak of Royal Cinemas and Royal Family Bowling Center announces that the Royal Cinemas has reopened. Rick had the staff in on Thursday, June 4th to get the projections up and running – so what you would call a “soft open’, but really gets underway on Friday, June 5th. Check out the showtimes and movies here.
Mike McCool our publisher stopped by the theater Thursday afternoon and spoke with Rick about the reopening of Royal Cinemas and Royal Family Bowling Center.