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Plan to use paratransit buses for hospital off the table

MICHIGAN CITY — A plan to substitute paratransit buses for city buses to make regular stops at Franciscan Health Michigan City is back to the drawing board.

At Monday’s Board of Works & Safety meeting, officials announced that city bus service will no longer include the hospital, and the stop would be available via paratransit instead.

That plan has since been put on hold.

As bus service now runs, riders are dropped off at the west end of the hospital near the Emergency Department. Hospital officials told the BOW last month that this is unsafe for pedestrians and ambulances, and problematic for Emergency Department staff who have to help riders navigate the facility.

Mayor Duane Parry told the board Monday that to have city buses drop riders off at the hospital’s main entrance as requested is not feasible, as it would elongate the distance and timing of current bus routes, and would need to be approved by the Federal Transit Authority.

Additionally, operating a large bus in a parking lot with vehicles parked on both sides presents a safety hazard, he said.

Parry said he initially recommended using the former INDOT access road to the east of the building for bus service. However, the hospital rejected that suggestion on the basis that doing so decreases the safety and security of the hospital campus.

So, the decision was made to discontinue regular bus service to the hospital and begin using smaller, 14-passenger paratransit vehicles on an as-needed basis.

That plan was to take effect in 30 days, but on Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office announced that plan was not feasible and, for now, the 12 city bus routes that serve the hospital each day will continue as usual.

Transit Director Robin Tillman told the BOW on Monday that any resident could schedule the paratranit service by calling in advance, and indicated those riders may be dropped off at any hospital entrance.

However, mayoral spokesman Chris Yagelski said that plan may have confused riders.

They would have had to call a day ahead to schedule pickup, then ride a regular city bus to the bus stop on CR-400N near the hospital. They would then wait for a paratransit bus to take them the rest of the way.

In addition, Yagelski said, riders using such service would have to be eligible for disability to utilize paratransit service.

Parry met Wednesday morning with Dean Mazzoni, hospital president and CEO, and it was determined the bus service would stay the same, at least for now.

“Nothing will change,” Yagelski said, “but in the future the mayor indicated he may take another look at this.”

The current paratransit service will also continue as usual, he said.

Parry will return to the BOW at its next meeting on Feb. 17 to take the paratransit bus plan off the table.

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SkillUp realizing a positive return on investment

MICHIGAN CITY — Through an Indiana Department of Workforce Development grant, employees and employers are seeing a significant return on their investment in the SkillUp program in La Porte County.

Tim Johnson, president of MCTD Inc. in Michigan City, has been a proponent of the program since its inception.

“We have been involved in all three iterations of the program over the past couple of years,” Johnson said. “Manufacturing jobs in La Porte County need educated employees who are trained for the unique technology that is used in our production.

“The SkillUp program has allowed our corporation and others to benefit by upgrading the skill set of employees on our factory floor.”

The Northwest Indiana Workforce Board oversees the use of grant money to prepare the pipeline of workers for manufacturers in the county and greater region. The board has partnered with several local schools and manufacturing organizations to ensure that the funds are used to improve the skill set of current employees, as well as provide educated and trained workers for the future.

In the case of MCTD Inc., the tangible results showcase the benefits of the program, Johnson said.

“We use CAD/CAM software called Mastercam for 3D CNC machining. Finding workers who know how to use the software to its fullest capabilities is very challenging,” he said.

“Through the SkillUp grant, we were able to send one of our current employees to a class in South Bend. Mike (Granger) was able to acquire new skills that benefited our company and expanded his individual skill set.”

That’s just one example of how the SkillUp grant benefits manufacturing companies and workers across La Porte County and the nearby region.

CNC is short for computer numerical control, Johnson explained.

The CNC process automates the process of manual control, where live operators are needed to prompt and guide the commands of machining tools via levers, buttons and wheels, he said.

“A CNC system resembles a regular set of computer components, but the software programs and consoles employed in CNC machining distinguish it from other forms of computation. Workers trained in CNC machining are very valuable assets to their management.”

3D machining is a new version of Mastercam software that expands the capabilities of CNC processing, he said.

“Machinists must be trained in how the software works in order to reap the benefits. It can be challenging to find the appropriate classes to learn the software. Ivy Tech in South Bend offers the class every year, and MCTD Inc. took advantage of the opportunity.”

Granger has been an employee at MCTD for more than 20 years and jumped at the chance to take the class and expand his skill set. Johnson worked with NWIWB to get SkillUp funds for the tuition at Ivy Tech, and MCTD paid for books and other necessities.

The collaboration resulted in Granger acquiring the Mastercam skillset to utilize the software for machining at MCTD, Johnson said.

“That provided the company with a new ability to offer clients 3D CNC machining in tool and die machines they sold. The company benefited financially, and Granger acquired a valuable skill set that made him an even more employable machinist.”

The return on investment has been impressive.

“The Mastercam software allows me to program our machines faster and more precise,” Granger said. “3D machining is the forefront of technology for manufacturing. I was excited and grateful to be get the opportunity to take the class and learn new tools.”

The 12-week class at Ivy Tech was a 30-minute drive for Granger, one he was happy to invest in. He said the class not only taught him the use of the software, but enlightened the way he thought about CNC machining.

“Learning what 3D machining could do provided me with a different way of looking at the job,” he said. “The software utilizes applied physics to be more efficient. I feel like I can accomplish new and unique tasks in our business.”

Johnson calls it a win-win for the company and the employee.

“Both of us have benefited from Mike’s new skills,” he said. “This is what the SkillUp program was intended to do – keep and improve manufacturing jobs in La Porte County.

“Machining occupations are growing and evolving in La Porte County, and we encourage other local manufacturers to join the collaboration to build the workforce we need for today and for the future.”

Linda Woloshansky, president and CEO of the Center of Workforce Innovations and staff to the NWIWB, said the impact of this initiative will be tremendous, not only on manufacturing sector partnerships, but also on the community.

“The intent is to develop a framework which can be applied to other industries and in other counties throughout the region,” she said.

“The initiative will also extend outstanding opportunities for high school students, including those who participate in Career & Technical Education, local college students, and adults seeking a career in manufacturing,” Woloshansky said.

And SkillUp is not just for current employees. The program is available for high school students interested in a career in manufacturing, as well as those currently unemployed and in search of a manufacturing career, she said.

High school students and parents are encouraged to contact their school’s career counselor to learn more about SkillUp. Those looking for a manufacturing career can contact Work One.

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No suspected coronavirus cases in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — After a potential novel coronavirus patient in Porter County tested negative, there are currently no suspected cases in Indiana.

However, the Indiana State Department of Health is continuing efforts to educate Hoosiers about the virus that originated in China. The goal to ensure that the public, healthcare providers and local health departments have the latest information to keep themselves and their communities healthy, according to State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box.

“There continues to be no confirmed cases of 2019 novel coronavirus in Indiana at this time,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday.

“At my direction, the Indiana State Department of Health is working in close coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other federal, state and local partners, to share information and monitor this evolving public health situation. While there is no need for immediate concern, the state will remain on alert to ensure Hoosiers are protected.”

While there are no suspected cases under investigation in Indiana, one resident who recently traveled to China is on self-quarantine in accordance with CDC guidelines, Box said.

That individual is not symptomatic, and all appropriate measures are being taken, she said. The ISDH would not provide additional information, citing privacy laws.

The person suspected of having the virus in Porter County was placed in isolation at an area hospital until blood tests conducted by the CDC confirmed they did not have the illness.

Box said information about the novel coronavirus outbreak is “changing rapidly” and encouraged Hoosiers to check the ISDH website for the most current information.

“We learn something new every day about this illness,” she said.

“While the news reports are concerning, I want to reassure Hoosiers that the majority of the patients under investigation in the U.S. so far have tested negative for novel coronavirus, and remind them that seasonal influenza poses a greater health risk at this time.”

According to the CDC, as of Wednesday, a total of 293 people in 36 states and territories have been tested for the virus. Of those, 11 tested positive and 206 negative, while results were pending for 76 people.

Positive tests were reported in Illinois, California, Arizona and Massachusetts. Confirmed cases have also been reported in 27 other countries, including Canada.

Influenza activity, however, is reported as “high” and “geographically widespread” in Indiana, according to the ISDH.

So far this flu season, which started in October 2019, there have been 45 influenza-related deaths in Indiana as of Jan. 25. Last week, outbreaks were reported at 9 long-term health facilities and 4 school districts.

Michigan City Area Schools used two eLearning Days last week after absences among students and staff reached a high level, and cleaning and sanitizing of buildings was conducted.

St. Stanislaus Catholic School was closing for two days this week for the same reason.

According to the ISDH, human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:

Respiratory droplets released into the air by coughing and sneezing

Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands

Touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands

Rarely, fecal contamination

The best way to protect yourself from any respiratory illness, including the flu, according to the ISDH, is to:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Stay home when you are sick.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Healthcare providers with a patient experiencing symptoms of novel coronavirus, or individuals who have symptoms and recently traveled to China are asked to contact the ISDH Epidemiology Resource Center at 317-233-7125, 317-233-1325 after hours, or epiresource@isdh.in.gov.