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North La Crosse council member seeks to ban bike lanes on Gillette Street

The question of whether Gillette Street on the city’s North Side will get bike lanes will now be up to the La Crosse Common Council.

Scott Neumeister

Council member Scott Neumeister, who represents a portion of the North Side, introduced a resolution prohibiting bike lane construction on Gillette Street from Rose Street to Onalaska Avenue and leaving parking lanes on both sides of the street. The resolution will go the Judiciary and Administrative Committee at 6 p.m. Tuesday for a public hearing before going on to the La Crosse Common Council on March 14.

Neumeister said the resolution was his only recourse to stand up for his constituents after the Board of Public Works voted in favor of bike lanes over parking on the north side of Gillette Street.

The city plans to reconstruct the corridor, George Street to Onalaska Avenue this year and George to Rose in a couple of years. The plan calls for the width of the street to remain the same, and city staff say the curbs will stay where they are. City ordinance calls on staff to evaluate possibilities for bike lanes whenever a street is reconstructed.

“They voted 3 to 2 to pass that, and both council members voted against it,” Neumeister said. “That is binding. That automatically moves forward. The only way we can turn that is to bring that in front of the council for reconsideration.”

Neumeister said he isn’t anti-bike; he said he believes bike lanes have a place, just not on Gillette Street.

Neumeister said the street, which runs past the La Crosse industrial park, is frequented by large trucks and trailers that raises safety concerns for him.

“It’s one of the busiest streets on the North Side, and it’s a dangerous place to have a bike lane,” he said.

Homeowners and business owners in the area also raised objections to giving up parking spots.


La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat, who chairs the Board of Public Works, voted in favor of the bike lanes, saying the move supports the city’s overall goal of improving transportation as laid out in the 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and complete streets ordinance.

“It’s not just the travel lanes on the street for cars, but it’s also pedestrian safety and bicycles, and this to me does the best job of blending the goals for all of those modes of travel,” Kabat said.

The area has a number of facilities, such as schools, the North Side Community Library and bus stops, that drive pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Data gathered by city staff showed 12 reported bike/vehicle crashes on that stretch of road between 2005 and 2017. According to the Crash Modification Factor Clearing House, bike lanes reduce vehicle and bicycle crashes by 40 to 73 percent.

“I heard very strongly from folks that felt the parking issues were very important; however, I don’t believe that street is utilized very much or as much as folks think it is for parking,” Kabat said.

Staff from the city’s engineering and planning departments did parking counts at six different times of day between Jan. 25 and Feb. 6 and found an average of 11 cars parked in the 187 available spaces, for a utilization of 5.7 percent.

Kabat also emphasized that decisions such as where specifically to put bike lanes are put into the hands of the Board of Public Works by city ordinance to handle the day-to-day implementation of city plans and policies, like the bicycle and pedestrian master plan.

“That’s part of the challenge. If we were to take every one of these types of decisions to the full council, it would cause gridlock basically. It would dramatically increase the amount of time it takes to get things done,” Kabat said.

“To have all of these decisions go back to the council, I think it would be a bad precedent,” he said.

Falls in facilities part of Wisconsin's high rate of deadly spills

On an outing to a concert, Arlene Rotter fell and broke several ribs.

Her family moved her from a senior apartment to assisted living. Seven months later, she fell in a hallway and broke her hip.

While Rotter did rehab elsewhere after hip surgery, her family moved her to memory care, another part of assisted living. Two days after she arrived, she fell while trying to get up from a chair. She broke the other hip, requiring more surgery.


Ron Rotter, shown with his mother, Arlene, at Attic Angel Community in Madison, said he is impressed with the care she receives at Attic Angel's assisted living facility. Despite that, she has fallen there and broken her hips.

At least 27 percent of deadly falls among people 65 and older in Wisconsin, which has the nation’s highest rate of such falls, occur in residential institutions such as assisted living facilities and nursing homes, according to state data from 2015 to 2017.

In Wisconsin, 19.6 percent of nursing home residents fell, compared to 17 percent nationally, in the most recent quarterly report available from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Some 1,600 nursing home residents in the state, or 7.2 percent, had falls with injuries, compared with 6 percent nationally.

The state’s nursing homes received 130 citations in a category often related to falls last year, including seven serious citations. That is slightly more citations per facility than average nationwide, according to Jim Robinson, a senior scientist at UW-Madison’s Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis, who analyzed the data for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Assisted living facilities — which collectively have nearly twice as many beds as nursing homes in Wisconsin — reported 2,664 falls in 2017, most of them with injuries, according to the state Department of Health Services. That was up from 2,371 the previous year.

It’s not possible to quantify falls-related citations against assisted living facilities because the citations have general categories, said health department spokeswoman Jennifer Miller.

Operators say there is a fine line between protecting residents’ safety and their autonomy — especially in assisted living, which is designed for people who aren’t as feeble as those in nursing homes and has fewer regulations. In assisted living, residents and their family members also share responsibility for avoiding falls, administrators say.

“It’s an effort that involves resident cooperation and family involvement,” said Tina Belongia, director of quality advancement and regulatory affairs for the Wisconsin Health Care Association, which represents assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

“If the resident doesn’t want to use a walker, nobody can make him or her,” said Janice Mashak, a vice president at LeadingAge Wisconsin, which also represents assisted living facilities and nursing homes. “We can educate them, but it’s their right if they choose not to use it.”

As for Rotter, 93, whose most recent hip fracture came a year ago at Attic Angel Community in Madison, her children visit frequently and staff check on her regularly. Rotter, a longtime volunteer and needlepoint artist, remains in the memory care portion of assisted living at Attic Angel, and now uses a wheelchair.

“Other than having someone with her 24 hours a day to catch her if she falls, I don’t know what else could be done,” said Cathy Rotter, of Madison, Arlene Rotter’s daughter-in-law and a physical therapist.

Revoking a license

One assisted living facility recently cited by the state for falls is Faith Gardens in Sun Prairie. It received four citations and a $650 fine last year for violations that included not having appropriate falls prevention plans for two residents, including one who fell and later died.

The state moved to revoke Faith Gardens’ license last year for problems in caring for several residents, leading the owner to close the center in January. One of the residents was Alice McGaw, 84, who was found dead outside in December 2017. McGaw’s children are suing the facility.


Bob Spoerl holds a photo of his mother, Mary Susan Spoerl, shown with her late husband, Edward. Mary Susan Spoerl died in 2015 after falling twice in one day at Madison Pointe Senior Living, an assisted living facility in Madison. 

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are supposed to try to prevent falls. If falls occur, they are expected to report them, investigate the causes and take steps to reduce the chance of additional falls.

For residents at risk for falls, assisted living facilities should provide physical therapy, teach them how to use canes or walkers, adjust furniture and lighting or take other steps to the reduce the risk, according to the state health department.

But a state document says such approaches “are not mandatory.” Rather, they “may be useful in helping your facility sustain compliance.”

Falls rate not dropping

Less than half of assisted living facilities in Wisconsin used falls prevention programs in 2015, and one in nine didn’t even track falls, according to a study published in 2017 by UW-Madison researchers.

The study looked only at some of the 11 percent of facilities in the Wisconsin Coalition for Collaborative Excellence in Assisted Living. The coalition, started a decade ago by the state health department, the university and the state’s four assisted living associations, aims to improve the quality of care.

After the report came out, some facilities said they had prevention programs or tracked falls in ways not captured by the study, said James Ford, the lead researcher. Others started such efforts in response to the findings, Ford said.

Now, 92 percent of facilities in the coalition say they have falls prevention programs and 97 percent say they track falls, Ford said.

“The paper drove a lot of changes,” he said.

Mashak, of LeadingAge Wisconsin, said assisted living managers share tips on reducing falls, such as bringing clothing from high shelves to residents who have fallen while reaching for clothing.

Shari Kellogg, who runs two assisted living facilities at Skaalen Retirement Services in Stoughton, a member of LeadingAge, said she does pre-admission assessments for new residents in their previous homes, not at Skaalen, to better understand their risk for falls.

“I can see how they’re functioning before they get to us,” Kellogg said.

Despite years of such efforts, the rate of falls among LeadingAge members has risen slightly, while falls with injuries have held steady, Mashak said. She attributes that to the increasing age and frailty of assisted living residents, and to the freedom they maintain.

“They have a right to live the way they want to live,” she said.

Asking for assistance

Mary Susan Spoerl died a week before Christmas in 2015 after falling twice in one day in her bathroom at Madison Pointe Senior Living, an assisted living facility on the East Side.

The second fall resulted in a head injury that killed her two days later, said her son, Bob Spoerl, of Madison. She was 89.

She had received five hip replacements and walked with a cane. She used oxygen because of heart disease. But she was lively and enjoyed visits with her two sons and their families.

Bob Spoerl said his mother didn’t like to ask for assistance. “She had been told to request help when she wanted to go to the bathroom, and I reiterated that with her,” he said.

He said Madison Pointe is a good facility and staff frequently checked on her.

Likewise, Cathy and Ron Rotter said Attic Angel staff seem to do what they can to prevent Arlene Rotter, Ron’s mother, from falling.

Attic Angel takes routine steps to prevent falls, such as removing throw rugs, evaluating medications and monitoring sleep-wake cycles, said Lisa McGlynn, director of nursing services. The facility also has distinctive offerings that she said might reduce falls: seated kick-boxing classes, full-spectrum light in the morning and aromatherapy at night.

The Rotter family now pays extra to have two workers handle Arlene Rotter. After her first hip fracture, they encouraged her to move more. After the second one, they decided on a different approach.

“Maybe she’s better off being a wheelchair so she won’t fall again,” Cathy Rotter said.

Wisconsin births decline to lowest point in 40 years

MADISON (AP) — A drop in teen pregnancies has contributed to the lowest number of babies being born in Wisconsin in more than 40 years, according to a university researcher.

Data from the state Department of Health Services show there were less than 65,000 babies born in 2017, the lowest number in the state since 1973.

One major factor in the decrease in births is that fewer teens are having babies. Teen births have dropped 60 percent over a decade, David Egan-Robertson, of the UW-Madison Applied Population Laboratory.

“And in 2017, for the first time, teen births fell below 4 percent of total births,” he said. “So that’s quite a significant change. It’s been a very long-term process, but that’s a noticeable change in that age group.”

“The decline in births that has been happening over the last 10 years has really been showing up in public school populations,” Egan-Robertson said. “So as we go forward we have to take that into account. One of the big implications, particularly in more rural districts, is the number of births are down. In fact, in some counties they’re down as much as 30 percent from 2007. That’s really having an impact on local school decisions.”

The figures also show that low birth weight in babies is increasing. Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death, said Marilyn Noll, director of maternal-child health at March of Dimes in Wisconsin.

“It’s really shocking to see the stats continue to rise. Everyone is doing a lot of work and yet they’re not seeing the fruits of their labor,” Noll said.

Evan Vucci 

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2017 file photo, Allen Weisselberg, center, is seen between President-elect Donald Trump, left, and Donald Trump Jr., at a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen mentioned Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, several times in his public House Oversight testimony, linking him to hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Scott Neumeister

Evers budget has no new move against chronic wasting disease

MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget doesn’t propose any new strategies to fight chronic wasting disease despite years of demands from his own party for more action.

The budget checks off a long list of other Democratic priorities, including legalizing marijuana. But it doesn’t devote any additional funding or call for any new approaches for researching or slowing CWD. In fact, the budget doesn’t mention the disease even once.

“That makes me a little bit sad,” said Jeff Schinkten, president of Whitetails Unlimited, a national deer conservation group based in Sturgeon Bay. “We’re disappointed there’s no money in there. I don’t like closing a blind eye to it. We’re just ignoring it. It’s frustrating.”

CWD affects deer’s brains, causing them to grow thin, act abnormally and eventually die. It was discovered in Wisconsin in 2001 near Mount Horeb.

The state Department of Natural Resources reacted by calling on hunters to kill as many deer in the area as possible to slow the disease’s spread. Hunters and landowners refused to buy in, saying there’s no need to kill so many deer. The DNR took so much criticism that the agency ultimately dropped the plan.

Wary of angering deer hunters and losing their votes, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker took a largely hands-off approach after he took office in 2011. The disease has since spread across the state. According to the DNR, 26 counties had at least one infected deer in the wild.

Democrats urged Walker to do more throughout his tenure. Walker did in early 2018 as he headed into the campaign season against Evers, adopting Democrats’ plan to force deer farms to upgrade fencing and ban hunters from moving deer carcasses out of CWD-affected counties, defined by the DNR as counties with an infection or counties within 10 miles of a county with an infection. According to the DNR, 56 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties qualify as affected. Republican lawmakers scrapped the carcass ban last fall, though, saying hunters were outraged at the restriction.

Evers didn’t stress outdoor issues and didn’t announce any CWD strategies during his campaign. Still, liberals had hoped he would attack CWD more aggressively than Walker.

“This season there’s reason for hope,” former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz wrote in an article published in Isthmus, a Madison weekly newspaper, days into the November gun deer hunt. “With the election of Tony Evers, we can at least expect that our state will drop its current ‘see no evil’ policy and confront the problem ... The Evers election has made this year’s hunt just a little more joyous.”

But the budget does nothing with the disease. Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said in an email Friday that the administration is waiting for the DNR to come up with a CWD plan.

“Based on conversations with agency staff, there was not a need for the governor to put forward a specific budget request on CWD for this biennium because the DNR is continuing to work on its analysis of what can be done,” she said.

DNR officials had no immediate comment. Bill Bruins, a member of the DNR’s board and a Walker appointee, noted that the DNR is in the middle of a four-year study on deer mortality and Evers and the agency should wait until that’s complete before making any decisions.

“Is (CWD) a concern to the department and to everybody? Absolutely,” Bruins said. “(But) that has to translate into what’s doable and what can be done. That’s what the study is going to help us determine.”

Republican Tom Tiffany, chairman of the state Senate’s sporting heritage committee, said he’s not surprised Evers “punted” on the disease. The state has spent millions trying to fight it to no avail, he said. But he plans to ask new DNR Secretary Preston Cole during a confirmation hearing this week if the agency has a long-term plan.

“I could take a real partisan line here and say this is a failure of the Evers administration, but these are difficult decisions,” Tiffany said. “We’re just not sure yet what is going to be effective. But they’ve got to come forward with a plan. We need leadership from the Department of Natural Resources and ... the governor as well.”

Fred Clark, a former Democratic legislator whom Evers appointed the DNR board last week, was one of the more outspoken critics of Walker’s CWD strategy. He said he would have liked to have seen some CWD strategies in the budget but discussions about the disease are just beginning.

“It’s going to be a long road between here and seeing a budget passed,” Clark said.