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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Auburn's Dejour Morris runs against C-NS during high school football at Holland Stadium in Auburn.

Union blasts Auburn Community Hospital over staffing, contract

For the past year and a half, Ken Spurgeon said, Auburn Community Hospital has been short-staffed. 

The vice chair of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Spurgeon has worked as a registered nurse at ACH for nearly 20 years. Now, he said, he is becoming increasingly concerned about staffing levels at the hospital. 

Spurgeon will be one of three ACH employees speaking at the Cayuga County Legislature meeting next week. Their goal, he said, is to raise awareness about the "staffing crisis" and negotiate a new contract with management. 

"We're proud of what we do here ... but there is a crisis in health care regionally," Spurgeon said in a phone interview with The Citizen. "We just want to bring attention to the staff-to-patient ratio to achieve the best outcome possible for our patients." 

That ratio varies on every floor and department, he said. Union members will have specific statistics at the Legislature meeting Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Matt Chadderdon, a spokesperson at ACH, said there are currently 1,080 people employed at the hospital; that includes 180 nurses that are represented in contract negotiations. 

"We have maintained safe staffing levels in accordance with the existing labor contract," Chadderdon said in an email to The Citizen. "Patients receive exceptional, high quality care, and in fact, the patient experience at ACH meets or exceeds the state and national benchmarks in numerous categories." 

Despite his concerns about staffing levels, Spurgeon agreed with Chadderdon's assessment of care. 

"This hospital is safe and the staff cares and management cares," he said. "But we want nothing but the best for the people that come to this hospital. ... We need to increase the numbers and make sure that patient safety and staffing is our main concern." 

In a letter, the union cited three issues that members hope to address: fair raises, benefits and staffing. It also claimed that some of the hospital's current staffing grids have fallen below the national levels of care. 

"The last years we have worked under harsh conditions because we are understaffed," the letter said. "We have worked short, rotated and constantly floated which limits our ability to provide the quality care that our patients deserve." 

After the meeting — which will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26 in the Regional Economic Center at Cayuga Community College — several union members will participate in a candlelight vigil outside the college. The union will then meet with hospital management for contract negotiations Thursday, Oct. 5. 

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Weedsport Elementary School gathers Hurricane Harvey relief supplies for Texas class

When Brittany Ekross showed her third-grade students images of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the children responded with slack jaws and bulging eyes.

Ekross believed having her Weedsport Elementary School students see pictures, such as a birds-eye view of a Texas school mostly submerged by water, would illustrate the reality of the situation and help them realize the disaster hit children like them.

After that, Ekross' pupils were immediately on board with her idea to donate supplies to a pre-kindergarten class in Texas that was impacted by the hurricane. The teacher recalled seeing photos of the destruction in late August and felt she had to get involved. She found the organization Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, which matches donors with classrooms in need.

The entire school has since taken on the cause of donating supplies for their "adopted" classroom.

Texas Teachers assigned Ekross a pre-K English as a second language class in the Humble Independent School District, which serves parts of Houston and other areas. She was given a list of supplies the teacher of that classroom needed.

The teacher's "wish list," included backpacks, crayons, grade-appropriate books, markers, construction paper, glue sticks, big erasers, tissues, hand sanitizer, clear pencil bags, toiletries, kids' blunt scissors, LEGOs and classroom decor items like calendars, to name a few items.

She asked Melinda Ervay, Weedsport Elementary's principal, if her class could tackle the undertaking. Ekross was given the green light and she spoke with her students about it on the first day of school. After showing her pupils aftermath photos, one child offered up pencils from his own backpack, she said.

Her students left school that first day with letters to parents explaining the situation. Parents donated items that next day, and the rest of the school got involved soon enough.

Ekross said her classroom aide, Sarah Knapp, and the students made two displays adorned with the words, "Texas Strong," and the colors of the state's flag, so donated items could be placed there.

She praised the school and the community for the generosity, saying she didn't know exactly how many supplies have been given, but she estimated just one particular box alone had around 200 items. She said she hopes to send out the goods by the middle of October, noting she has decided to pay for shipping herself.

She is immensely proud of her students, saying they aren't just caring for just one another, but are thinking about how they can make a difference in the world. Students have shown interest in helping those affected by Hurricane Irma, which devastated parts of the Carribean and Florida after Harvey struck Texas.

Ervay, the elementary principal, said she thought Ekross' initial proposal was a fantastic idea. If people from outside the school wish to donate, Ervay said, they can contact the school at (315) 834-6685 to set up a drop-off.

"We figure the more stuff we get, the better it will be for this teacher and these students," Ekross said.

Skaneateles drinking water continues to be free of toxins

Drinking water for those served by Skaneateles Lake continues to be free of harmful algal bloom toxins, though low levels were still detected inside the city of Syracuse Gatehouse in the village of Skaneateles.

The Onondaga County Health Department and City of Syracuse Department of Water issued a statement Friday night that levels coming into the village Thursday were 0.19 micrograms per liter, under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory guideline for vulnerable populations. Due to chlorination, however, both government entities said the drinking water has shown no toxins and is safe to drink. Testing will continue daily.

Skaneateles Lake has had detectable levels of toxins in the water since Monday. Skaneateles Schools have reopened their drinking water fountains, which Superintendent Ken Slentz had shut off on Sept. 20 following the toxin reports. Joint statements issued by county, state and water officials originally said the village of Skaneateles's water detected toxins. That statement was later revised for following test results to say toxins were detected prior to chlorination. Thus, officials have said, no toxins are detected at the village's taps.

What is harmful algae and what can it do to your health?

Harmful algal blooms are a kind of bacteria that usually crop up in water bodies during late summer. They can look like a thick pea soup, or like a thin blue-green film of paint on the water's surface, depending on their intensity.

"What has become apparent is the poor communication processes involved with this issue," he wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. "These processes have resulted in a good deal of confusion in our community and led to our decision to utilize bottled water until such time as we could confidently state that our water is safe. Going forward, we will continue to work with the village, County Department of Health, and the State Department of Health to ensure consistent, fact-based information is being shared in timely and consistent fashion."

Skaneateles is not the only New York water body suffering from blooms. The state Department of Environmental Conservation reported Friday that 16 water bodies were added to its HABs notification page for a total of 65. Owasco, Cayuga and Skaneateles lakes continue to be listed as with confirmed blooms.

Meanwhile high levels of toxins were detected in a bloom reported on Monday in Owasco Lake. The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program updated its website Friday with the latest test results showing a toxic bloom just north of Lindenwood Cove.

The bloom had about 16 times the state Department of Environmental Conservation's threshold of microcystin at 318.7 micrograms per liter. It also had nearly 50 times the DEC's threshold for chlorophyll a, another indicator to confirm an algae bloom.

Watershed Specialist Drew Snell said Friday that shoreline blooms were still widespread from south to north. He said the southwest corner and the east side of the lake are particularly showing signs of continued algae events.

The Cayuga County Health Department took water samples from the city of Auburn and town of Owasco's water treatment plants Friday morning. Those results were also not immediately available Friday night, though the past few results have shown no detectable levels of toxins in the drinking water. 

Medical marijuana company expands delivery service to Cayuga County

One of New York's registered medical marijuana companies will expand its home delivery service to include Cayuga and Onondaga counties beginning in October.

Columbia Care NY announced Thursday that it will deliver medical marijuana products to certified patients in the program who are unable to drive to a dispensary.

The company manufactures its medical marijuana in Monroe County and has dispensaries in Manhattan, Plattsburgh, Rochester and Suffolk County. The home delivery service is already available in Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario and Wayne counties.

The delivery service in Cayuga and Onondaga counties will begin Oct. 8. On Nov. 6, home delivery will be available to patients on Long Island and Staten Island.

"Home delivery provides a way for patients, especially those who are homebound or battling chronic, debilitating illnesses, to receive the medications they need without barriers or burdens of traveling to our dispensaries," said Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care. "The resounding success of our delivery service thus far has led us to expand into these additional counties, with the goal of eventually providing access throughout the state to all registered patients and caregivers."

Deliveries will be made from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays. Orders must be placed by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

There is a $20 fee for deliveries and the recipient must use a debit card with a PIN number to complete the transaction. No other payment methods will be accepted, according to the company's website.

More information about Columbia Care's delivery program can be found at

According to the state Department of Health, there are 1,231 registered practitioners who may prescribe medical marijuana in New York. There are 30,486 certified patients who can obtain the drug.

In Cayuga County, there are 128 certified patients and one registered practitioner.

Patients who are eligible for medical marijuana must have certain diseases or conditions outlined by the state Department of Health. The list includes cancer, AIDS or HIV, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Huntington's disease or chronic pain.

The state Department of Health awarded five companies licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana in 2015. Last year, the agency permitted nurse practitioners to prescribe medical marijuana to patients and allowed deliveries to patients. Before the regulation was revised, the only way to obtain medical marijuana was by visiting a dispensary.

In a statement Thursday, the agency touted the improvements to the medical marijuana program.

"Recent enhancements such as adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition, permitting home delivery and empowering nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients, have helped to improve access for patients, and increase choice," the state Department of Health said.

The health department recently issued five more licenses to medical marijuana manufacturers. The companies will be allowed to grow and sell the drug in New York.

One of the newcomers, New York Canna, will grow medical marijuana in Onondaga County.

There are no dispensaries in Cayuga County. There are three in Onondaga County.