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Mercyhealth begins $15.3 million expansion of Janesville campus


Increased demand for plastic surgery and the desire to keep up with cutting-edge technology has spurred a $15.3 million renovation and expansion project at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center.

Local demand for plastic surgery services has jumped over the last 30 years. Mercyhealth is responding by building a new plastic surgery facility on its Janesville campus, CEO Javon Bea said.

The facility will be the cornerstone of a set of renovations that will be completed over the next six to nine months.

Funding for the Janesville expansion comes from leftover money that had been earmarked for construction of the Mercyhealth Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside in Rockford, Illinois.

Submitted image 

This computer image shows the future plastic surgery office at Mercyhealth Terrace.

Plastic surgery goes hand-in-hand with being a trauma center, Bea said. Patients who have birth defects or who have experienced traumatic accidents or major surgery make up the growing population of people who need services.

Plastic surgery, skin and laser patients currently are treated in a temporary modular clinic near the campus’ sports medicine building.

The new facility will offer patients more privacy, Bea said. The former plastic surgery space will be outfitted for surgical and radiography space.

Angela Major 

Support walls are set up for a new foundation Tuesday at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville.

Crews have started building the foundation of the plastic surgery facility. Internal renovations are also underway, including:

  • Installation of a hybrid operating suite in the emergency department.
  • Addition of two ophthalmology procedure rooms for eye care.
  • Upgrades to nuclear cameras, nuclear medicine and CT scanners in the radiology department.
  • Renovation of ultrasound, echocardiography and stress lab areas.

Hybrid surgical suites reduce patient transfers by allowing multiple operations to be performed in one room.

For example, if a patient receiving a stent in his heart experiences a medical emergency and needs open-heart surgery, doctors can perform that surgery without having to move the patient.

Submitted photo 

The hybrid operating suite at Mercyhealth’s new Javon Bea Hospital and Physician Clinic-Riverside in Rockford, Ill., is similar to what will be built at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville.

Ophthalmology services are in greater demand as the baby boomers age, which prompted the addition of operating rooms, Bea said.

The local upgrades will provide seamless transition for physicians who work in both Janesville and Rockford, he said.

Mercyhealth has hired about 300 specialized physicians in the last year to accommodate a larger population of patients in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, including more than 55 pediatric sub-specialists, Bea said.

Construction of the hospital on Rockford’s north side has given Rock County patients better access to a number of new services. Some new specialists work in both Rockford and Janesville, and some work only in Rockford, but that’s still closer to Janesville than Madison or Milwaukee, Bea said.

“It is not taking away (from Janesville); it is adding to it,” Bea said.

In the last year, 18,876 southern Wisconsin patients have used Mercyhealth facilities in Rockford. The largest influx of patients came when Javon Bea Hospital opened at the beginning of the year, Bea said.

The Janesville expansion is the largest set of projects the hospital system has undertaken since it upgraded Mercyhealth East, built Mercyhealth North Emergency Room and Clinic and renovated the main hospital between 2011 and 2015.

Angela Major 

A rainbow forms as Paislee Jordan, 3, enjoys the splash pad Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Riverside Park in Janesville.

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Early estimates show Janesville getting less general school aid


Janesville will receive an estimated $1.1 million less in general school aid in 2019-20 under early estimates released Monday by the state Department of Public Instruction.

This is the second consecutive year that Janesville’s estimated general aid dropped. The district is estimated to get about $64.65 million next year, about 1.7% less than the approximately $65.76 million it received this year.

However, it’s difficult to say what that $1.1 million number means, especially at this point, said Keith Pennington, the Janesville School District’s chief financial officer.

“This is very early in the process, and this is one of many numbers that will be coming to us in the future,” Pennington wrote in an email to The Gazette.

For one thing, Gov. Tony Evers has not signed the Legislature’s proposed state budget.

“There’s been a lot of talk about a $200-per-student increase,” Pennington wrote. “Our (budget) worksheet only showed a $13 amount.”

The key will be the signed budget, he wrote.

About 59% of Wisconsin’s schools will receive more general aid than they did last year, according to DPI estimates.

Locally, the Beloit School District is slated to see its general aid rise by 5.8%. Beloit Turner will get an estimated 8.3% more aid, and Whitewater will receive 13.2% more.

However, many districts could get less. Big Foot, Lake Geneva, Walworth and Williams Bay could see double-digit decreases in general aid if the DPI’s estimates are accurate.

Statewide, $4.74 billion has been earmarked for general school aid, a $83.2 million—or 1.8%—increase over last school year, according to a DPI news release.

General aid is determined by a complex formula that considers property values, enrollment and spending.

Some school districts, such as Middleton and Verona, get little general aid because of their wealthy tax bases.

In Janesville, general aid makes up a little more than 80 percent of all the state aid the district gets, Pennington said.

It’s difficult to determine how changes in general aid, also known as equalization aid, will affect an overall budget, Pennington has said in past interviews.

Wisconsin school districts operate under state-imposed revenue limits, which are adjusted annually. If one category of income increases for a school district, other income might have to decrease to keep the district below its revenue limit.

If aid goes down, tax levies could go up.

The actual aid amount each district will receive won’t be announced officially until Oct. 15. On that date, the DPI will certify amounts for the 2019-20 general aid based on audited data and finalized state budget numbers, according to the release.

Janesville’s total amount of aid could change “hundreds of thousands of dollars” either way, Pennington said.

Angela Major 

3-year-old Lilyana Hernandez smiles while she plays in the splash pad Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Riverside Park in Janesville.

Angela Major 

5-year-old Zoë Bullock runs through spraying water at the splash pad Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Riverside Park in Janesville.

Obituaries and death notices for July 3, 2019

Alex G. Chironis

Timothy T. Fett

Jean V. Jarosz

Doris L. Marcks

Big farms find easy ways around Trump trade aid limits


When President Donald Trump’s administration announced a $12 billion aid package for farmers struggling under the financial strain of his trade dispute with China, the payments were capped. But many large farming operations had no trouble finding legal ways around them, records provided to The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act show.

The government paid out nearly $2.8 million to a Missouri soybean-growing operation registered as three entities at the same address. More than $900,000 went to five other farm businesses in Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and two in Texas. Three other farming operations collected more than $800,000. Sixteen more collected over $700,000. More than 3,000 recipients collected more than the $125,000 cap.

Recipients who spoke to AP defended the payouts, saying they didn’t cover their losses from the trade war and that they were legally entitled to them. U.S. Department of Agriculture rules let farms file claims for multiple family members or other partners who meet the department’s definition of being “actively engaged in farming.”

But critics, including U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has long fought for subsidy limits, say it’s the latest example of how loopholes in federal farm subsidy programs allow large farms to collect far more than the supposed caps on that aid.

Grassley said in a statement to AP that some of the nation’s largest farms are receiving huge subsidies “through underhanded legal tricks. They’re getting richer off the backs of taxpayers while young and beginning farmers are priced out of the profession. This needs to end. The Department of Agriculture needs to re-evaluate its rules for awarding federal funds and conduct more thorough oversight of where it’s funneling taxpayer dollars.”

USDA officials defended the program, saying they believe its rules are being followed and that the department has procedures in place to audit recipients.

About 83% of the aid under the Market Facilitation Program has gone to soybean farmers because they’ve suffered the most under China’s retaliatory tariffs. The program sets a $125,000 cap in each of three categories of commodities: one for soybeans and other row crops, one for pork and dairy, and one for cherries and almonds. But there are legal ways around those caps, and the data show that farmers are using them.

Each qualified family member or business partner gets their own $125,000 cap for each category. Farmers who produce both soybeans and hogs, for example, would have separate caps for each and could thus collect $250,000.

Data provided to AP from the USDA show that the biggest beneficiary has been the DeLine Farms Partnership and two similarly named partnerships registered at the same address in Charleston, Missouri, that collected nearly $2.8 million combined. They’re led by Donald DeLine and his wife, Lisa DeLine. They referred calls to their attorney, Robert Serio of Clarendon, Arkansas, who said the three partnerships qualified legally and probably could have qualified for more if not for the caps. He said each partnership farms around 27,000 acres and is made up of eight or nine partners who all meet the “actively engaged” requirement.

USDA spokesman Dave Warner said in an email that the department couldn’t comment on the specifics of the DeLines’ operations but that such a large claim was likely audited to ensure eligibility.

At Peterson Farms in Loretto, Kentucky, eight members of the family partnership collected a total $863,560 for crops they grow on more than 15,000 acres in seven counties, including wheat and corn used at the nearby Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery.

Co-owner Bernard Peterson said that it didn’t make up for all their losses at a time when it was already hard to be profitable. The $1.65 per bushel aid payments for soybeans fell well short of losses he estimated at $2 to $2.50 per bushel, factoring in the loss of the Chinese market that took years to develop.

“It’s a big number, but there are a big number of people directly depending on the success of our operation in the community,” he said. Peterson said the operation supports about 30 families year-round and more at harvest time. “It’s a lot more than just the owners of the company.”

The numerous ways around the $125,000 caps mean that millions of subsidy dollars flow to “city slickers who are stretching the limits of the law,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, which has long tracked federal farm subsidy programs, and criticizes them as biased toward big producers and promote environmentally damaging farming practices. Urban dwellers might play only a small role in an operation without ever setting foot on the farm because of the loose definitions for who qualifies, he said.

More trade aid is on the way. The Trump administration in May announced a new $16 billion aid package for Round Two for 2019. But most details of how the new edition will be structured have yet to be released.

The USDA says it has spent only about $8.6 billion so far out of the $12 billion authorized. But Congress recently eased a rule that said a producer’s average adjusted gross income could not exceed $900,000. That change will require the agency to reopen Round One to producers with higher incomes, as long as 75% or more of their income is derived from agriculture. And that will push spending closer to the $12 billion.

Matt Keller, a pork producer in Kenyon, Minnesota, who also grows crops to feed his livestock, said he “definitely appreciated” the $143,820 he collected from the program. It didn’t cover all his losses, but it helped with his cash flow, he said. He reached the $125,000 cap on his hogs, and the remaining money was for his soybeans and corn.

Keller said his wife and other family members are all involved in his operation, which produces about 29,000 pigs per year. He doesn’t blame the trade wars for depressed hog prices, but he said the tariffs, piled on top of an already existing oversupply, make things even tougher for producers.

“It was kind of a relief, I guess, that we had a little support from the president and the country,” Keller said.