The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the Treasure County Health Department and RiverStone Health, have confirmed two West Nile Virus human deaths in Montana over the past week.
There have been 15 confirmed WNV cases this year.
The deceased, a Treasure County male in his 80s and a Yellowstone County male in his 70s, died of severe complications related to West Nile virus infection. The individuals had no history of travel outside the state within the past month.
“These deaths are an unfortunate reminder infection with WNV can have serious consequences,” said DPHHS Director Richard Opper. “We want to remind people to take precautions and protect themselves as the season comes to a close.”
In the U.S. this year, 890 human cases of WNV have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these cases, 33 have died.
Most people who become infected with WNV experience no symptoms. Some individuals may develop a mild illness, called West Nile fever, which may last for three to six days.
Other individuals, fewer than 1 out of 150, may be come severely infected with West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis. Symptoms of this disease may include headache, rash, high fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, muscle weakness, tremors, convulsions, coma and paralysis.
There is no treatment for WNV infection other than supportive care.
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 September 2013 09:24
This information comes from a family member: Missing since Saturday night, Sept. 7, is Joshua Breding of Billings, 26.
He was last seen at 8:30 p.m. at First Street West and Terry Avenue in Billings.
He is described as 6 feet tall, 270 pounds, with brown hair and a goatee, brown eyes and a dark mole on his neck. He was last seen wearing jeans and a dark blue and white T-shirt.
The family member said, “Josh is struggling with bipolar disease and quit taking his medication two months ago and needs our help. We have reported his disappearance to the police, notified all of his friends/acquaintances but have come up with nothing. We have no idea of his location since the 7th but are hopeful he is still in the Billings area. If you have any information about Josh, please contact the Billings Police Department.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 09:31
Several hundred people crowded onto the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn for about two hours last Thursday seeking to oust Judge G. Todd Baugh for his comments and subsequent apology in a rape case.
Cherise Moralez was a 14-year-old rape victim who committed suicide and whose teacher, Stacey Rambold, had been disciplined before for having sex with his students, according to news reports.
In addition to supporting Moralez’s family, some protesters sought to let the nation know that Billings will not tolerate what it views as unacceptable leniency and victim-shaming comments from its senior elected government officials.
“I think the sentence was very unfair. The man who was convicted had been proven to have committed the crime. What the judge said about her personally was inflammatory. He recanted the comment about her age, but still I think he needs to be disbarred from the legal profession and removed from office,” said Dorothy Gray, 75, a retired licensed practical nurse who said she knew Moralez’s mother, Auleia Hanlon, through her nursing work. Ms. Gray held a sign on which she had written “Justice for Cherise.”
Protesters made colorful signs reflecting their objections to Baugh’s sentencing decision, which many said was unreasonably light. The judge had sentenced Moralez’s convicted attacker, a former Billings Senior High School teacher, to 15 years in prison, with all but 30 days suspended. A Billings legal expert said that Judge Baugh applied to the sentence a previous plea deal Rambold had made with prosecutors.
In a previous hearing, said the expert, Rambold had admitted to raping Moralez in exchange for a lesser sentence. That the lesser sentence was only 30 days, cut down from the original 15-year sentence, was the impetus for public outcry. Calls to Judge Baugh’s office to request comments about Billings’ reaction to his sentencing decision according to prior plea deals were not returned as of press time.
Later that night, the Cable News Network reported that Judge Baugh thought the suspension of more than the mandatory minimum (two years) for rape made his sentence potentially illegal. He scheduled a hearing for this Friday to determine this point of legality. A Billings lawyer who did not wish to be identified said the county attorney, Scott Twito, had been analyzing the case in a review that started after the Aug. 29 protest.
A statement released on Aug. 28 from School District 2 Superintendent Terry Bouck indicated that the district supported the county attorney’s previously requested sentencing recommendation of 20 years with 10 suspended and that Mr. Bouck personally pressured Rambold to surrender his teaching license.
Mr. Bouck wrote, “From my review of the newspaper accounts and the investigation materials, I find that the District reacted quickly and appropriately once it found out about the relationship. The District was devastated when some time later the student committed suicide.”
After that, the student’s parents filed a claim against the teacher and the district, which was eventually settled by the district’s insurance carrier. Previous news reports indicated the family received $91,000.
The directors of two progressive organizations led the discussions during the protest and invited participants to a microphone set up in front of the crowd, noting that the judge’s comments about the sexually assaulted deceased teenager focused national attention on Billings.
Marian Bradley, head of National Organization for Women, Billings Chapter; Sheena Rice and Kate Olp, with the Montana Organizing Project, said the national spotlight shone on Billings.
Ms. Rice said, “The world is watching us. We have National Public Radio, we have CNN, we have Arista from New York here today.” A protester, Jane Orth, said, “It was all over the national news. I saw the petition on the national Headline News.”
The petition gathered signatures via Twitter with the hashtag “#Justice4cherise” and the website “www.moveon.org,” said Rice.
Another protester, Rich Clawson (no relation to Billings Outpost columnist Roger Clawson), said, “I just could not believe what he said. The people who should have been defending her dropped the ball.” He said the comments from Baugh influenced him to attend the protest and to urge the judge to resign. Publicly asking the judge to resign, Ms. Bradley spoke for almost a minute and a half in front of the crowd.
“We must get Judge Baugh to resign now. He took the burden of responsibility off the shoulders of the perpetrator and placed it on the shoulders of a suffering child. This is not OK. I have been talking to the state attorney’s office. This type of thing is not in our town”, said Ms. Bradley. A retired art teacher and self-proclaimed longtime protester, Kate Morris, said, ”That man was a predator; he’d been written up before. It’s just like the Catholic priests. He was allowed to stay in a position where he could abuse. Judge Baugh victimized that woman one more time with his sentence.”
Shouts from the crowd reflected the views of Bradley and other protesters. ”Resign, Baugh,” people shouted. In order to get Baugh out of his seat, a recall accusing him of criminal action would have to be presented to the Judicial Standards Board and then prosecuted in the Montana Supreme Court. Such actions would drag on long past 2014, the anticipated year in which Baugh might run for re-election, despite his advanced age. The crowd clearly stood not with Baugh, but with the victim.
They yelled from the back, “Justice, we love you, we support you.” And finally, somebody screamed, “Boys are also abused.” Ms. Rice listened closely to what the crowd said, stood squarely at the microphone again, and said, “We are here to demand justice. We will not stand for victim-blaming language anymore.”
Another representative from the MOP, Kate Olp, said, “It is not OK to stand in ignorance about the realities of sexual assault.” Protester Debbie Ferguson, 58, who attended the protest with her daughter, Terry, 28, held up high a sign upon which she had written, “I stand with the victim.” Ms. Ferguson said, “She doesn’t have her voice anymore, so this judge thinks she had some kind of say. A teacher took advantage of a young girl and got away with it. His apology was not sincere at all - there was no justice for this girl.”
Ms. Rice called for all in the crowd to bow their heads in silence for two minutes to noiselessly ask for justice and to empathize with the victim’s family. Sobs and sniffles could be heard, along with a few beeps and whistles from cell phones. Everyone looked respectfully down. One protester began to cry and walked away after saying that Judge Baugh took away her child two years ago.
About 40 people lingered at the protest site until a few minutes after 1 p.m., kneeling in order to write comforting messages to the memory of Cherise. On a three-part whiteboard entitled, “Justice for Cherise,” a teacher from Hardin wrote, “You will not be forgotten.”A substitute teacher wrote, “This will not happen ever again.”
Others wrote, “We love you and support you.” Mr. Clawson, 68, who is a retired designer, said, “We are the moral gatekeepers. This flies in the face of what Billings has come to be.”
He added, “This ain’t Missoula and this ain’t Bozeman. This is Billings.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:28
HELENA – With wildfire charring tens of thousands of acres of Montana, Insurance Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen urged those who have lost property to wildfire or are threatened by the fires to contact her office if they have any trouble with their insurance.
“If you have lost your home and are unsure where to go for help understanding your insurance policy, call my office at 1-800-332-6148,” she said.
Lindeen also encouraged Montanans to follow these guidelines:
If your property — auto, home or other insured building — is damaged by wildfires:
• Call your insurance company or agent as soon as possible.
• Remember that others in your community will also be contacting their insurance companies. Be patient, but persistent.
• Ask your insurance agent what information is needed to file a claim. Have your policy number ready, if possible.
• Take photographs or video of the damage before things are cleaned up or repaired.
• Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property.
• Save all receipts, including those from temporary repairs covered by your insurance policy.
Plastic tarps or sheeting used to protect broken windows and damaged buildings
from additional exposure to elements are usually covered by your homeowner’s policy.
* If your home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live there, you may have coverage
for additional living expenses while repairs are being made. This is true for most
standard homeowner’s policies.
* If you cannot stay in your home, save all receipts, including hotel stays, reasonable
meals, and any necessities that you must buy. Not everything may be covered, but
without receipts, you may be out of luck.
* Ideally, you have an inventory list and photos of your valuables available, stored online in
a safe place. If not, you can use a home inventory checklist to help you remember any
property that was lost or damaged in each room in your house.
If you have not yet been evacuated:
* Keep an inventory list (with photos and video, if possible) of your belongings and store it
in a safe place, like a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box outside your home. Emailing it
to yourself ensures that you can retrieve it anywhere you have access to the internet. If
you have receipts and photos to document valuables, you will streamline the claim
process when needed.
*Building a home inventory is easy with this free checklist. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or
Android smart phone, you can also download the free home inventory application.
If your car is damaged by wildfire, take the following steps:
* Call your insurance agent or insurance company with your policy number and file your
claim as soon as possible. Ask your agent what you’ll need to file a claim.
* Ask your insurance company if you have coverage for a rental vehicle if your car is not
drivable. Save any receipts and bills, including those from a car rental, towing, or storage
of your damaged car.
* If your car was damaged and you have comprehensive coverage with car rental, call
your insurance company right away. They can usually schedule a rental car for you
quickly, while yours is being repaired.
Last Updated on Thursday, 29 August 2013 10:02
Shawn Pearson's Northern Rockies Type 2 Incident Management Team will host a public meeting at the Red Lodge County Fairgrounds (Incident Command Post) at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26. The meeting will provide the community with an update on the status of the Rock Creek Fire as well as a question and answer session.
Current Size: 900 acres
Containment: 25% Structures Threatened: 545
Status: The fire is burning in sage and timber in steep terrain. The fire is located 5 miles southwest of Red Lodge. There are private residences and commercial businesses in the valley bottom. U.S. Highway 212 is open to all traffic with a 35 mph speed limit through the fire area. There are no evacuations in effect at this time, and all campgrounds in the local area are open.
Yesterday’s Activities: Fire behavior yesterday was mild due to cloud cover in the morning. Firefighter progress included hand and dozer line construction and structure protection. Crews reinforced hand line along the south flank of the fire. Bucket drops focused on extinguishing hot spots along the northwest flank of the fire. Crews continued handline construction behind homes in the West Fork of Rock Creek as a contingency action.
Current Resources: Five 20-person crews, twenty engines, one piece of heavy equipment, two water tenders, and four helicopters. Total personnel: 234.
Today’s Activities: Higher temperatures and winds will lead to increased fire activity today including smoldering and torching within the fire’s perimeter and increased smoke. Crews will continue to construct handline along the southwest and northwest flanks of the fire with assistance from air support. Structure protection and indirect fireline work will continue behind homes in the West Fork of Rock Creek.
Restrictions/Closures: A Custer National Forest area closure is in effect and includes closure of Silver Run Trail #102, Ingles Creek Trail #64, and Beartrack Trail #8. A temporary flight restriction (TFR) is in effect surrounding the Rock Creek Fire area. Stage 1 fire restrictions are in place for the Beartooth Ranger District.
For further information, visit: www.inciweb.org; Select “Rock Creek Fire” in Montana.
Last Updated on Sunday, 25 August 2013 13:13
As of Saturday morning:
Current Size: 900 acres
Containment: 20% Structures Threatened: 545
Status: The fire is burning in sage and timber in steep terrain. The fire is located 5 miles south of Red Lodge. There are private residences and commercial businesses in the valley bottom. U.S. Highway 212 is open to all traffic with 35 mph speed limit through the fire area. There are no evacuations in effect at this time.
Yesterday’s Activities: Pockets of fuel burned within the fire perimeter. Helicopter bucket drops took place throughout the day to cool hot spots. The structure group continued patrolling for spot fires along U.S. Highway 212, and crews continued mop-up along the south flank of the fire. Hand and dozer lines were extended along the north flank. Preventative contingency hand lines were begun in the West Fork of Rock Creek.
Current Resources: Five 20-person crews, twelve engines, two pieces of heavy equipment, two water tenders, and two helicopters. Total personnel: 216.
Today’s Activities: Temperatures today will be 70-75 degrees with relative humidity 30-35% and northwest winds of 5-20 mph. The fire is expected to behave very similarly to yesterday with shifting winds and flare-ups. Hand crews will continue to scout and build hand lines on the southern and northern portions of the fire. Structure protection will continue along U.S. Highway 212.
Restrictions/Closures: A Custer National Forest area closure is in effect and includes closure of Trail #102 Silver Run, #64 Ingles Creek Trail, and #8 Beartrack Trail. A temporary flight restriction (TFR) is in effect surrounding the Rock Creek Fire area. Stage 1 fire restrictions are in place for the Beartooth Ranger District.
For further information, visit: www.inciweb.org; Select “Rock Creek Fire” in Montana.
Last Updated on Saturday, 24 August 2013 16:02
From Duane Winslow, emergency and general services director for Yellowstone County: Please be aware that as of midnight tonight, Tuesday Aug. 20, 2013, Yellowstone County will be entering into Stage I Fire restrictions. This will prohibit all open burning in Yellowstone County. One exception that will remain is that if agricultural burning is required, the landowner can be allowed to burn after consultation with and permission from, the Fire Chief in their district. A copy of the resolution is attached and a signed copy will be available on the Yellowstone County website once it is available. The website is … www.co.yellowstone.mt.gov
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 August 2013 10:51
HELENA – Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen released today the list of prices for insurance policies that will go on sale this fall as part of the final roll-out of Obamacare’s insurance industry changes.
As expected, the prices are in line with what Montanans expected to pay for health insurance had Obamacare not become law, a fact Lindeen attributed to Montana’s citizen protection laws that have long prevented many of the worst insurance industry abuses. In some cases, the prices may be somewhat cheaper than current rates.
“I’m pleasantly surprised by these prices and pleased that Montanans who have survived cancer and other serious illnesses will no longer be denied health insurance or priced out of the market,” Lindeen said. “Not everything about Obamacare is perfect, but these market reforms were a long time coming.”
All insurance sold in Montana is regulated by Lindeen’s office – including pricing and benefits covered. The prices Lindeen released Monday are final for 2014 and will not change during the year. The prices will be posted to the commissioner’s website today.
The rates are for plans that will be sold beginning in October through the federally built insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace will be an online insurance store where Montanans can compare plans sold by three different private companies: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, PacificSource and the Montana Health CO-OP. The rates released Monday do not include tax credits that many Montanans will receive when buying insurance through the Marketplace.
All the plans sold in the Marketplace – and in the private insurance market – must now cover ten “essential health” areas, including mother-newborn care, doctor’s office visits, emergency medicine and others. The plans are broken out by “actuarial value,” – an insurance term that refers to how much an individual pays for medical spending and how much the insurance company pays. In this way, Montana insurance shoppers can easily tell which plans are similar. A “platinum plan,” for example, has an actuarial value of 90 percent. That means the insurance company pays 90 percent of medical costs on average, while the consumer pays 10 percent.
Lindeen reminded Montanans that the prices do not reflect new federal programs designed to make buying insurance more affordable, programs many Montanans buying in the Marketplace are expected to qualify for. More information about the tax credits and other discount programs are on Lindeen’s Obamacare education website, www.montanahealthanswers.com.
Last Updated on Monday, 19 August 2013 10:35
Ressa Charter, a third-generation Montana farmer from the Roundup Bull Mountains, spoke Thursday, Aug. 1, to the League of Women Voters of Billings on agricultural policies. Charter is the chairman of the Northern Plains Resource Council agricultural task force.
He began his presentation by talking about genetically modified grains. This year, GM wheat appeared in Oregon, even though none was planted in that area as Monsanto, which holds the patent on GM wheat, ended field testing in 2004. Foreign markets, such as Japan and Italy, threatened to close off any U.S. grain imports.
Charter is confident pressure can be put on the State Department to assure no GM grains threaten the export market from experimental test plots. There are wheat test plots in North Dakota. If the export market was closed to wheat from Montana, it would have a devastating economic effect on the economy of Montana.
Charter continued to say he did not believe we could have a vibrant democracy if the food industry is controlled by corporate agriculture. This belief was developed after being a member of the Peace Corps in both Russia and China where he saw the similarities of centralized control in communism and capitalism.
“Everything we produce,” he said, “goes to the Midwest, where it is processed and brought back to us. A free market? Not really.”
Family farmers cannot protect themselves. The popular response to the threats to family farmers is negligible because there is little personal knowledge of farmers and farming and the connection to nutrition.
We need to change the current “dominant narrative,” Charter said, such as the need for farmers to produce more to feed the rest of the world. “The question is do we need or want to be feeding the world?”
Another dominant narrative is that nutrition and farming have no connection. By producing GM commodities like corn in huge quantities with chemical fertilizers, we are depleting the soils and causing other environmental problems. Producing corn with a higher glucose content and feeding it to animals is simply passing on this glucose to people.
Charter questioned whether the use of supplemental water soluble vitamins and minerals can be effective in replacing trace minerals that we no longer get in sufficient quantities in our food.
Asked about the national Farm Bill, Charter said, “the best it does is prevent chaos.” We should be looking at a 50-year plan rather than five-year plans that create cheap commodities resulting in diabetes. A sustainable Farm Bill would include food and wellness programs.
Subsidizing corporate competitors pushes out small niche farmers.
A step we can take is to buy locally grown food, he pointed out. One such program is www.communityfoodclub.org sponsored by Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council. The Northern Plains Resource Council is working on alternative “dominant narratives” in the next few months.
The League of Women Voters of Billings has a monthly study group learning about agricultural concerns in order to modify the 40-year-old national League of Women Voters United States position on agriculture at the summer 2014 convention. You can read the position paper on www.lwv.org and contact the Billings LWV at www.lwvbillings.org.
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 10:55
Tami Haaland, an English professor at Montana State University Billings, has been named Montana’s poet laureate.
The Montana poet laureate is a two-year honorary position created by the state Legislature in 2005 and administered by the Montana Arts Council.
Haaland takes over from Sheryl Noethe. She will serve until Aug. 1, 2015.
On announcing Haaland’s appointment, Gov. Steve Bullock said, “She is a Montana born-and-raised published poet, and I look forward to expanding on some of her community services, like increasing youth participation in literary writing, and her work teaching creative writing at the Montana Women’s Prison.”
Tami Haaland is the author of two books of poetry: “Breath in Every Room,” winner of the Nicholas Roerich Prize from Story Line Press, and “When We Wake in the Night,” a finalist for the May Swenson Award.
Born on the Hi-Line where her family farmed south of Inverness, she not only teaches at MSU Billings, she also has been teaching creative writing at Montana Women’s Prison since 2008, and she coordinates a writing-in-the-schools program for Arts Without Boundaries.
Haaland was nominated by Montana’s first Poet Laureate, Sandra Alcosser, who said of her, “with heart and mind, she serves the world of poetry and its followers well.”
The post honors a citizen poet of exceptional talent and accomplishment.
The Poet Laureate also encourages appreciation of poetry and literary life in Montana. In 2005, Sandra Alcosser became our first Montana Poet Laureate and served for two years. Other previous Poet Laureates are Greg Pape, Henry Real Bird and Sheryl Noethe.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 17:03