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Janesville Craig’s Connor Dillon reaches back to first base ahead of the throw from the pitcher during their 7-6 victory over Middleton in nine innings at Riverside Park in Janesville on Thursday, May 5.

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Mercyhealth's Janesville trauma center to be downgraded; system shelves local MD-1 emergency response unit


Under a rule change by a medical accreditation group, Mercyhealth’s Janesville trauma center later this will drop from a “Level II” rating to a “Level III” trauma center.

And while Mercyhealth officials say that shift signals no tangible changes in services to patients with severe injuries or critical emergency conditions, it’s the second significant change that’s come this year within the Janesville-based hospital system’s trauma and emergency medical services support division.

The change comes after Mercyhealth on April 1 made a related but separate move to sideline its Rock County MD-1 vehicle—an SUV equipped with medical and communication equipment that is staffed by a Mercyhealth doctor who can provide physician-level field support to local ambulance crews on critical calls.

MD-1 crews continue to operate in support of local EMS and Mercyhealth’s own trauma centers in Walworth County; Rockford, Illinois; and parts of Chicago’s northwestern suburbs. Janesville’s MD-1 vehicle had been in service and staffed by a doctor full time since 2013.

Chris Wistrom, Mercyhealth’s interim director of emergency medical services, said Mercyhealth now is wrestling with a forced rule change that has come down this year from the American College of Surgery. He said the agency now requires hospitals designated as Level II trauma centers to employ multiple, around-the-clock interventional radiologists who can respond to an emergency within 30 minutes. Interventional radiologists are specialists who use radiology as a surgical tool that can stop hard-to-reach internal bleeding found in trauma patients.

“It basically means they need to be here at the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, to meet that rule,” Wistrom said.

Dip in demand, tough hiring

Wistrom said Mercyhealth’s Janesville trauma center has never staffed an around-the-clock, in-house interventional radiologist, and amid a labor shortage that has hit the medical community hard, he said Mercyhealth and many other Level II trauma centers around the U.S. might have trouble recruiting and hiring more such specialists quickly.

The Janesville trauma center has used an intervention radiologist infrequently; it has needed such services in just two trauma center procedures over the last five years, Wistrom said.

Still, the fact Mercyhealth doesn’t have such a specialist in place means the Janesville trauma center will be downgraded from Level II to Level III. That change comes later this year, Wistrom said.

Wistrom said that change in tier designation doesn’t mean much other than the hospital doesn’t intend to recruit and fill a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week position that it has never staffed in the first place. He said the hospital otherwise intends no other changes to services it now offers as a Level II trauma center, surgical or otherwise, will change.

He said it’s not feasible for Mercyhealth to “chase the rule change” and that most patients won’t notice a difference under a shift to Level III.

“I would wager this is going to cause a lot of Level II trauma centers across the country to go to a level III,” Wistrom said.

“Our level of services that we’re providing to the community changes zero. Not one bit.”

Trauma centers have a three-tier rating that is based in part on patient foot traffic, but it is also based on in-hospital resources and staffing levels and how quickly certain specialists such as emergency surgeons can report to an emergency.

MD-1 vehicle shelved

In April, Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville, shelved its MD-1 vehicle, a move Wistrom and one local fire department official said came amid a dwindling demand for the service.

MD-1 is an SUV that is staffed around the clock by a doctor who travels to emergencies such as traffic and industrial accidents to provide field surgeries or other medical support for medic crews on site.

MD-1 in the past has not transported patients, and Mercyhealth did not bill patients for emergency services through MD-1.

Wistrom said that in 2021, Rock County’s municipal fire and EMS called for MD-1 assistance to emergencies just nine times. That compares to about 800 calls last year for Mercyhealth MD-1 units in Rockford and Walworth County.

Wistrom said he believes there has been a drawdown in calls for MD-1 in Rock County in large part because the county’s urban fire departments such as Janesville’s have tacked on additional ambulance crews and paramedic staff.

When MD-1 started running in Rock County in 2013, only two local EMS agencies were staffed with paramedics. Now, Wistrom said, eight agencies have paramedics.

In one past example of Mercyhealth’s use of MD-1, a Mercyhealth doctor gave a man trapped inside a crashed car an emergency dose of the anesthetic drug ketamine, which immobilized the man while fire crews worked to pull him free from a crashed vehicle. The crash victim later told The Gazette the MD-1 doctor’s move had saved his life.

Wistrom said even though Mercyhealth no longer has a dedicated MD-1 vehicle in the field here, other MD-1 units could travel to Rock County from Rockford or Walworth County if the vehicles were within range of an emergency call here.

Rock County EMS services also can continue to connect over the phone with an MD-1 doctor on call for emergencies at any time, Wistrom said.

He said Mercyhealth is actively hiring more MD-1 staff for its hospital operations in Rockford, Walworth County and “potentially’ Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Janesville Deputy Fire Chief John McManus said the open phone line to MD-1 is the most “valuable” part of the partnership between Mercyhealth and his department’s EMT division.

McManus said his department is overall more capable of tackling multiple serious ambulance calls at once without a strain on staff under the addition late last year of a fifth full ambulance crew in Janesville.

Once conflicted, Biden embraces role as abortion defender
President Joe Biden once said Roe v


Soon after being elected to the U.S. Senate, Joe Biden was pulled aside by a Democratic colleague who wanted to know how he was going to vote on abortion.

Biden explained that while he was personally opposed to abortion and would resist federal funding for the procedure, he didn’t want to impose his view on others by overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

“That’s a tough position, kid,” said Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut. Then Ribicoff offered him some advice, Biden recalled years later in a memoir: “Pick a side. You’ll be much better off politically. Just pick a side.”

During five decades in elected office, Biden has tried to avoid picking a side on abortion whenever he could. Now that’s impossible as the Supreme Court seems poised to strike down the constitutional right to abortion. A draft copy of the court’s majority opinion was published by Politico earlier this week, and a final decision is expected this summer.

As the Democratic president who happens to be serving when the Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda reaches its crescendo, Biden is being drafted into the kind of fight that he’s sidestepped for much of his career.

It’s not a natural role for him, despite his longtime defense of a woman’s right to choose whether to end her pregnancy. Like many Catholic Democrats, he’s expressed conflicting opinions on abortion, which his church regards as a sin but his political party views as a legal right.

Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Biden “understands there’s a difference between his personal view and what he would do in his personal life, and what he and his party stands for in terms of protecting freedoms for the American people.”

Although Biden called for protecting Roe v. Wade in his State of the Union speech in March, since becoming president he had never publicly uttered the word “abortion” until this week, when the draft court decision leaked. And he still prefers to frame the issue around privacy and people’s ability to make their own decisions free from government interference.

“This is about a lot more than abortion,” he said Wednesday at the White House. He often references other court decisions on same sex marriage or birth control. “What are the next things that are going to be attacked?”

It’s the kind of rhetoric that he deployed successfully during the 1987 confirmation hearings for Robert Bork, President Ronald Reagan’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he focused his questioning on Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision that allowed married couples to buy birth control.

“If we tried to make this a referendum on abortion rights, for example, we’d lose,” he wrote in his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.”

Biden’s handling of the issue was a sharp contrast with colleagues like Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who said in a speech that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions.”

“No one could have ever confused then-Sen. Biden with being a culture warrior,” said Jim Manley, a longtime Senate staff member who worked for Kennedy and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Bork’s nomination was defeated, preventing a rightward shift on the Supreme Court that could have jeopardized Roe v. Wade.

But there was still lingering suspicion about Biden’s support for abortion rights. Victoria Nourse, a lawyer who worked for Biden in the Senate, said the distrust became an obstacle when he was working on the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and increased protections against sexual assault and domestic abuse.

“The women’s groups wouldn’t come on board, because they thought he was weak on abortion,” she said.

The issue returned in 2019, when Biden was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Biden faced criticism for his support of the Hyde Amendment, which banned federal funding for abortions, and he swiftly reversed course on his longtime position.

Biden explained his shift by saying “circumstances have changed” because Republican-led states were enacting new abortion restrictions.

“I make no apologies for my last position,” he said. “I make no apologies for what I’m about to say.”

It was a change that mirrored a broader shift in American politics. Michele Swers, a professor of government at Georgetown, said it used to be more common to find anti-abortion Democrats and Republicans who support abortion rights.

Biden became a U.S. senator in January 1973, the same month the Roe v. Wade decision was issued, and he criticized the Supreme Court for going “too far.” When it comes to abortion, he told an interviewer, he was “about as liberal as your grandmother.”

However, activist groups at each end of the political spectrum have gained influence within the parties, Swers said, creating a clearer partisan split on the issue.

There’s little room for politicians who hold what Biden once described as “middle-of-the-road” views.

“If you want to move up in national politics, it is definitely harder,” Swers said. “I don’t think that someone who took the positions that he used to take could run for president now.”

During the presidential campaign, Biden also promised to support legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade in law. However, there’s little chance of that passing the Senate, despite the slim Democratic majority, leaving the White House with limited options to protect abortion rights.

Advocates and White House officials have spent months engaged in conversations about steps that could be taken if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Some ideas under consideration include highlighting the ability to obtain abortion pills through the mail, something that the Food and Drug Administration recently approved, or finding ways to help women travel to get abortions in states with more permissive laws.

“We want to see more, of course,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood. “We want to see all of the creative solutions in their arsenal right now, particularly at a moment where we’re in the greatest crisis.”

Obituaries and death notices for May 6, 2022

Beckra Brown

Linda Coy

Karen Elmer

Ronald L. “Ron” Flynn

Donald Allen Hanson Sr.

Janelle K. Hanson

Gregory S. “Greg” Kellogg

Ellen Kelly

Gary L. Peterson

Michael E. Richards

James R. Skar

Alan “Smitty” Smith

Edward A. “Ed” Stamm

Cynthia Tworek

Evelyn (Kendricks) Williams

Robert L. Williams Sr.

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Village of Darien
Cold storage development proposal asks for $46 million in tax breaks from Village of Darien
$118 million facility would be built on annexed town land if approved


A cold storage company is asking the village of Darien for nearly $46 million in developer incentives as it looks to build an 11.5-acre building that would be as tall as an average water tower.

Should the deal be approved as drafted, it would offset the company’s property tax burden over the next two decades by 90%, financial documents for the Walworth County village show.

During a Plan Commission meeting Wednesday, commissioners unanimously voted to recommend annexing 137 acres of town of Darien land in the southeast corner of the intersection of County C and County X for a proposed 500,000-square-foot facility that would be owned by NewCold. NewCold is an international cold storage company that manages fresh and packaged frozen food shipments that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has three U.S.-based locations in Washington, Idaho and Indiana.

The commission also unanimously voted to recommend the village board rezone the land and approve a permit for a building up to 150 feet tall—more than three times as high as the 45-foot limit set in place for other suburban-industrial buildings in the village’s ordinances. A memo from the company states that height is necessary to reduce energy and surface area.

An opponent of the project, town of Darien resident Bridget McCarthy, told The Gazette the commission had little discussion despite the meeting room being packed with members of the public who spoke against it.

Commissioner Kevin Atkinson told The Gazette on Thursday the commission postponed a vote on tax-increment financing and developer incentives because it needed final numbers.

“There wasn’t a lot of talk about anything factual last night. If you read the minutes, most of it was about how it affected or how people feel it’ll affect their lives,” he said. “It was a long meeting, a lot of public comment, which is good because in all honesty, that’s the only way we know what’s going on.”

Atkinson was otherwise reluctant to share his personal thoughts on the development, repeatedly referring The Gazette to the meeting minutes, and Jane Stiles, the plan commission chair and village board president, did not return a voicemail asking for comment.

McCarthy said the development should be sited elsewhere, possibly north of County X, noting the village has open space available in Tax Increment District No. 3, which is adjacent to Interstate 43.

“I’m not against NewCold. I am against the location,” said McCarthy, who works as a zoning planner. “I think the location is better suited in the existing TID that has vacant land available. Yeah, I’m definitely against the creation of a brand new TID, and that’s just irresponsible.”

NewCold is asking the village to allocate $54 million in tax-increment financing, with nearly $46 million being allocated to developer incentives. Public improvement costs such as roadways and water mains equal $3.4 million of the tax-increment funding, according to a report from Minneapolis financial adviser Ehlers, Inc. in the meeting agenda.

TIF is a municipal development tool that uses the combined increased property taxes on a development from multiple jurisdictions to subsidize or lure projects that otherwise would not be possible.

The proposed agreement between the village and NewCold would reimburse the company 90% of its taxes paid, or $2.8 million each year, the Ehlers report said, and the remaining 10% would remain in the TID until it reaches maturity. The incentive is structured as a pay-as-you-go TIF agreement, which keeps the village’s risk low.

Under the model in the Ehlers report, the district would close by 2043 and the NewCold project would bring in $2.3 million more in taxes than the TIF request.

The annexation request, rezoning and conditional-use permit are scheduled for the village’s May 16 board meeting, village administrator and clerk Lindsey Peterson told The Gazette. Another public hearing is expected to be held in June, Peterson added.

NewCold previously attempted to develop the land under the town of Darien’s jurisdiction in summer 2021, but the town’s plan commission members postponed discussion and action on its rezoning application because they thought they couldn’t answer questions that residents were posing, The Gazette reported in August. Tensions ran so high at that August meeting that a town of Darien man was arrested after he started yelling during the meeting and shoved a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy.

Town of Darien resident Riley Dunn, whose farmette borders the NewCold development to the east and north, said he and his wife had saved up to purchase the property about a year ago after living in the area their entire lives. He told The Gazette he worries about the effect the development will have on his horses, whose pastures abut the development site on the south side of his property.

Dunn was one of the town residents who spoke at the plan commission meeting, where he felt that his and neighbors’ pleas “went in one ear and out the other.”

“You go and you buy a farmette and you got fields surrounding you, and then all of a sudden, ‘Oh, hey, we’re gonna have a 131-foot-tall skyscraper come right behind you,’” he said. “We didn’t even have to have the meeting because it almost seemed like they already knew what they’re going to do.”