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Muscatine's U of I Health Care clinic celebrates ten years of helping residents

MUSCATINE — For many residents, having a clinic in town means not only having to save a drive to Iowa City or the Quad-Cities, but also a sense of familiarity and comfort even during medical procedures.

For ten years now, the University of Iowa Health Care clinic has been offering this as well as other medical services to Muscatine residents, and with their official 10th anniversary coming up, Dr. Michael Maharry was more than happy to take a look back at the clinic’s history.

“It’s very gratifying,” Maharry said when asked how he felt about it. Being one of the original founding members of the U of I Health Care clinic, he has had the chance to watch it grow and change from the very beginning. “Babies that I’ve taken care of ten years ago are now ten-year-olds.”

Because of the clinic’s growing popularity, they have quadrupled their staff to meet the needs of Muscatine. “It started with me ten years ago as a single person, and now we have four people there that are working full time,” Maharry said, pointing out a couple of original members.

Kathy Wieringa started as the clinic’s office manager and helps with communications. Linda Baker, the clinic’s phlebotomist, has also been with the clinic from the start.

The clinic is only 10 years old, but Maharry explained that Muscatine’s collaboration with the University of Iowa goes back 40 years and counting. “There have been doctors coming down from Iowa City – specialists in cardiology and cancer treatments and pulmonary or lung doctors – that have been coming down to serve Muscatine since the 1970s,” he said.

One of the highest need services in Muscatine is dialysis. Originally, there was a building specifically for dialysis, but when it became too old, the need arose for a new space for patients to receive treatments.

The U of I Health Care clinic was built with this in mind, dedicating half the building to dialysis. The rest of the clinic is used for primary care, family medicine and specialists from Iowa City.

Maharry attributed part of the success of the clinic to its association to U of I. “I just think that patients trust the University brand,” he said, “and we try to uphold that trust.” He offered the medical students who come to learn contribute to the clinic’s success.

“At the U of I, we’re educators as well as doctors,” Maharry said, “and if you’re teaching other students, it’s assumed you know what you’re doing. (Our doctors) have the reputation that they know what they’re doing if they’re able to teach it to someone else very well.” He considers the people of Muscatine a valuable teaching source for these students. “They are teachers, as well. (The clinic) is just a great learning place because there are real diseases to take care of and real people to help.”

The clinic can hold visits over video chat, allowing them to treat patients without building more exam rooms. “There’s definitely opportunity for growth,” Maharry said, “We’re always looking to see more patients, and if we need to bring on more doctors, then we certainly will.”

Dr. Maharry is proud of the work he and his clinic have accomplished in the past decade. "I really feel that I make a difference in Muscatine, just because there are a lot of people that have a lot of medical issues and that we’re really helping,” he said, “and I just want to thank all my colleagues and great team members. We wouldn’t be as successful without our whole team.”

Maskless Trump tours plant

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Pandemic politics shadowed President Donald Trump's trip to Michigan on Thursday as he highlighted lifesaving medical devices, with the president and officials from the electoral battleground state clashing over federal aid, mail-in ballots and face masks.

Trump visited Ypsilanti, outside Detroit, to tour a Ford Motor Co. factory that had been repurposed to manufacture ventilators, the medical breathing machines governors begged for during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But his visit came amid a long-running feud with the state's Democratic governor and a day after the president threatened to withhold federal funds over the state's expanded vote-by-mail effort. And, again, the president did not publicly wear a face covering despite a warning from the state's top law enforcement officer that a refusal to do so might lead to a ban on his return.

Meanwhile, signs of renewed business activity are surfacing across the country as states gradually reopen economies and some businesses call a portion of their laid-off staffers back to work. Yet with millions more Americans seeking unemployment aid last week, the U.S. job market remains as bleak as it's been in decades.

More than 2.4 million laid-off workers filed for jobless benefits last week, the government said Thursday, the ninth straight week of outsize figures since the viral outbreak forced millions of businesses to closer their doors and shrink their workforces.

And while the number of weekly applications has slowed for seven straight weeks, they remain immense by any historical standard — roughly 10 times the typical figure that prevailed before the virus struck. Nearly 39 million people have applied for benefits since mid-March.

"There is little evidence that the reopening of the economy has, as yet, led to any sudden snap back in employment," said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

In Michigan, all of the Ford executives giving Trump the tour were wearings masks, the president stood alone without one. At one point, he did take a White House-branded mask from his pocket and said to reporters he had worn it elsewhere on the tour, out of public view.

"I did not want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it," Trump said.

For a moment, he also teasingly held up a clear shield in front of his face. A statement from Ford said that Bill Ford, the company's executive chairman, "encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived" and said the president wore it during "a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years" before removing it.

The United Auto Workers union noted in a statement that "some in his entourage'" declined face masks and said "it is vitally important that our members continue to follow the protocols that have been put in place to safeguard them, their families and their communities."

The UAW also noted Trump's statement that he had just been tested for the virus and said it wanted to make sure he understood the wider "need for an economical instant test that can be administered daily to further protect our members — and all Americans."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that mask wearing isn't just Ford's policy but it's also the law in a state that's among those hardest hit by the virus. Nessel said that if Trump refused to wear a mask Thursday "he's going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facilities inside our state" and "we're going to have to take action" against any company that allows it in the future.

Trump has refused to wear a face mask in public, telling aides he believes it makes him look weak, though it is a practice that federal health authorities say all Americans should adopt to help slow the spread of the virus.

Ford said everyone in its factories must wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and that its policy had been communicated to the White House. At least two people who work in the White House and had been physically close to Trump recently tested positive for the virus.

Earlier Thursday, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled at the White House as Republicans stake out new plans to phase out coronavirus-related unemployment benefits to encourage Americans to go back to work.

Revamping jobless aid is fast becoming the focus of debate over the next virus aid package. After the Senate decided to take a "pause" on new pandemic proposals, senators faced mounting pressure to act before leaving town for a weeklong Memorial Day break. The Senate also began efforts to fast-track an extension of a popular small business lending program.

"Republicans and the White House are reaching consensus on the need for redesigning the unemployment benefits so they are not a barrier to getting people back to work," Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters on a conference call.

The flurry of activity comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed a new $3 trillion aid package through the House last week. The Senate, under McConnell, says there is no urgency to act, and senators are expected to reconsider more aid in June.

Over 5 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected by the virus, and about 330,000 deaths have been recorded, including about 94,000 in the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

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Trinity Muscatine Foundation awards Chamber Dollars to Trinity Muscatine Team Members

MUSCATINE - This week, the team members at UnityPoint – Trinity Muscatine received a surprise gift as thanks for the hard work they’ve done during the  pandemic.

“It was important that we showed how much we appreciated them,” said Chairman John Beckey, “The folks on our board were looking for a way to do that, to acknowledge their commitment and perseverance through difficult times.”

The Trinity Muscatine Foundation Board of Directors decided to award the Muscatine-based health care team $39,000 in Chamber Dollars which can be used at participating stores and restaurants.

 “Part of the purpose behind this was that the dollars would go to these folks, but also go to local businesses to boost their sales,” Beckey said, “It creates multiple winners.”

Beckey emphasized that every member of the UnityPoint team would receive Chamber Dollars, and everyone would get an equal amount. “It’s not just emergency room or ICU workers,” he said, “Whether you clean a room or you welcome a guest or you administrate an area, it’s all of equal value to us.”

With no specific plans in place, Beckey said that they are still keeping an eye on the situation and are ready to do what they can to help. “I think the Board is ready to help them in whatever ways they may need,” he said, “and the pandemic may present a whole different need than Chamber Dollars.”

While Muscatine County’s COVID-19 case numbers are high, Beckey reported the Muscatine's medical staff, and the equipment they use are able to meet the need so far. “Truly, I think Muscatine has been somewhat fortunate in that regard, but we don’t know if that’s going to work throughout this event, so we’ll see what presents itself as a need.”

For now, Beckey, and the Trinity Muscatine Foundation Board of Directors and the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, hope that the UnityPoint team enjoys their gift.

“I think that the board and the community certainly wants to express the fact that our medical team members are our key to getting through this with the least amount of harm to our people. We appreciate the risks they take every day, and the fact that they’re there for us,” he said.

The Palms 10 may open as early as May 29

MUSCATINE — Due to the short notice given by Gov. Kim Reynolds that movie theaters can reopen as early as this weekend, it will still be a couple of weeks before The Palms 10 in Muscatine opens its auditoriums to guests.

Fridley vice president Russell Vannorsdel said the target date to reopen Muscatine’s cinema is May 29. He explained that Fridley had asked the state to consider reopening movie theaters on Memorial Day. He said the theaters had found out they would be allowed to reopen on Wednesday, leaving them in a position not to be able to open all 18 theaters the firm owns in Iowa.

‘We have been in communication with the governor’s office for the past three weeks putting together a four page document of guidelines that Fridley Theaters would like to utilize when we get the opportunity to reopen,” Vannorsdel said.

Theaters were among the businesses that had to close as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced theaters would be among the businesses to reopen this week, along with zoos, aquariums, museums and wedding reception venues. Under the guidelines, bars will reopen on May 28.

Vannorsdel said Fridley has been working to put the guidelines in place. This Friday, Fridley is going to do test runs at their theaters in Carroll and Cherokee. Vannorsdel says if Fridley feels confident it can reopen safely, opening day for the remainder of the theaters will be May 29.

When the theaters open, they will be operating at less than 50% capacity to provide safe social distancing, both in the theaters and in the lobbies, Vannorsdel explained. In some cases the capacity will be less. He also said show times will be staggered so only one movie will begin at a time.

When the locations are reopened, there will be a brief verbal screening for guests. There will be floor decals and only a certain number of guests will be allowed in at a time. This is also to give workers time to clean and sanitize after a show. More cleaning will take place in the overnight. Staff will be wearing masks and will be screened when they arrive at work. Credit card use will be encouraged. Masks will be encouraged, but not mandatory, for guests.

While the sale of carry-out popcorn has been good, Vannorsdel said on opening day he wants the employees to focus on keeping the theater safe, so the sale of curbside popcorn would be suspended that day. He said the sale would continue during Labor Day weekend, as well as in the weeks following reopening.

“I understand that some people are ready to come back to a movie theater and others are not," he said. “For those who are not and want to stream at home but love theater popcorn, I want to continue to provide it as a curbside amenity, but on opening weekend I don’t think we will do both.”

Vannorsdel said the COVID-19 shutdown has had a significant impact on Fridley. He said it makes continuing operations difficult, and the company has been strategizing how to remain open. He said the community has shown great support with the popcorn sales that the company has been able to have a small revenue stream come in.

“With this low of a capacity it’s going to be hard to make money, but it’s going to be a first step,” Vannorsdel said. “Even if we are losing a little or breaking even, it’s better than the alternative of hemorrhaging money.”

Most of the movies that had been scheduled to be released in the near future have been pushed back to later release dates, with film studios hoping for at least a 75% theater capacity before they release new movies. Vannorsdel said the theaters will reopen with the releases that had been showing at the time of the closure. He said there are a few new releases scheduled for June or July. He commented the theaters are exploring the possibility of using past movies that are especially suited to being seen on the big screen. He said the theaters would have social media campaigns to see which movies the guests would like to see on the big screen again.