The early February sun shone on the first Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Pottawatomie County, an event that one vaccine recipient said felt “like a party.”
Vicki Flattery said everyone from the staff to those arriving for the vaccine was “excited and festive.” “It’s a great vibe,” she said.
Pottawatomie County Public Health collaborated with county healthcare leaders for months to ensure smooth delivery of vaccine. The event at the Onaga Community Center was staffed by Pottawatomie County Public Health, Community HealthCare System, and Wamego Health Center on Feb. 1. It was the first of many mass vaccination clinics in the works. As the county receives more doses, more clinics will be available around the county.
Leslie Campbell, Pottawatomie County Health Department Director, said she is grateful for the collaboration from Community HealthCare System, or CHCS, and Wamego Health Center.
“Both [CHCS CEO] Todd Willert and [Administrator] Steve Land said ‘we will help you,’ and we just started working on doing it together,” Campbell said.
Organization was key. From parking and entering the building, registering and filling out paperwork, receiving instructions and vaccine, and staying for the 15-minute waiting period for safety, vaccine recipients visited several stations spaced around the building.
“When you break each piece out, it goes a lot faster,” Campbell said.
The Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Department assisted with traffic flow and parking. “They did an awesome job outside so we don’t have too many people waiting in registration. Other clinics in the area had problems with that,” Campbell said.
Several recipients remarked that the clinic ran smoothly.
“This was well organized. I was impressed. I think we were worried about sitting in line and waiting like we’ve seen on TV. That didn’t happen here,” said Eugene Berges.
Debbie Berges echoed her spouse’s sentiments and noted that good information was available. “The setup flowed very well. Everyone was friendly and answered questions if we had them. I had several, and she answered them politely and clearly,” she said.
Community HealthCare System staff assisted with scheduling patients who had signed up through Pottawatomie County to receive the vaccine as well as with registration and administration, setup and teardown, and supplies. Scheduling 300 recipients was a difficult task. Merica Surdez, CHCS chief of provider and clinic operations, and Melody Couper, Pottawatomie County Health Department LPN, spent many hours working through the list and coordinating phone calls.
Mindy Olberding, chief nursing officer, said CHCS nurses were excited to help.
“It feels like a great service we are providing. It’s been a tough year, and it’s good to see people on the healthy side and be able to do something to prevent illness instead of seeing them when they are very sick. We’d rather see them like this than barely able to breathe,” Olberding said.
Willert said he’s proud of his staff for stepping up to make the collaboration work.
“We’ve had many hours of meeting and planning, and it’s great to see it come to fruition. We’re thrilled to be on the offensive against the pandemic,” Willert said.
Along with Olberding and Willert, Campbell noted that giving vaccine is good for her staff’s morale.
“It’s tough to be the messenger for some things. After months of people being upset when you put them in quarantine – and their kids, too – having the vaccine and being the good messenger makes it so much better,” Campbell said.
Campbell hopes everyone who has the opportunity will receive the vaccine.
“Think of your community: the more herd immunity we have, the better off everyone Is going to be. Protect those who can’t get a good immune response because they are on cancer treatment, for example, and think of your neighbors,” Campbell said.
Those who are concerned about safety should visit with their physicians to find out what’s right for them. Campbell noted that Pottawatomie County Public Health has not seen any severe reactions so far.
“We are very prepared, but we have not had any issues other than a sore arm, minor body aches, and maybe a temperature,” Campbell said.
Chris Flattery received the vaccine along with his wife, Vicki. “We’ve said since the beginning that everyone should get it. The more, the merrier!” he said.
When the pandemic subsides, Vicki is looking forward to more festivities. She knows a party atmosphere when she sees it because of her experience with a beloved family business, Ottoway Amusements.
“I’m looking forward to carnivals again. There were no carnivals or local festivals last year, and our vendors are suffering. It trickles on down. If there are carnivals again, that means the rest of the country is back on track!” she said.
The Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Westmoreland Co-op on Jan. 26, for the report of a burglary and theft, said Sheriff Shane Jager in a press release. Deputies determined an unknown person or persons had forced entry into the business and removed money and other items.
A short time later, deputies were dispatched to the county landfill, on Wheaton Rd., rural Wamego, also for burglary and theft. The deputies determined both burglaries were likely connected.
Based on information developed by detectives, Jager said a search warrant was executed at 207 Kansas St., Leonardville. The Riley County Police Department assisted the PTSO detectives in recovering stolen property from the two burglaries. Phillip Rose, 28, Clay Center, was arrested at the residence by the RCPD on an outstanding burglary/theft warrant from Cloud County.
A number of items from the burglaries were recovered at the Leonardville residence and detectives are continuing to investigate. Anyone with information on either burglary is asked to please contact the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office at 785-457-3353,and ask to speak to Captain Darrin Stewart or leave a tip via the Crimestoppers link at www.ptsheriff.com.
Pottawatomie County’s recent snow removal effort was somewhat less than successful during the last event, so Dustin Newman, public works administrator, brought some proposed policy changes to the county commission on Monday.
Commissioner Greg Riat agreed with that assessment, noting he has pictures of the same roads outside the county which were cleared, yet inside the county they were not.
“We knew Monday morning (Jan. 25) that it was coming,” he said. “I’m saying we can do a lot better and shame on us for not. Everything around us, their roads are clean except for ours and I think we should take a look and see what we can do better. We have good people and we can do better.”
Newman said a lot of the county’s difficulties involved timing and mixture.
The county’s current plan has employees starting at 4 a.m. and working no later than 9 p.m., with high traffic areas getting treated first. The county uses a 1:1 mixture of sand and salt for road treatment.
Newman said the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) stations in Blaine and Wamego have two crews working on 12 hour shifts that start as soon as the snow does, as opposed to the county’s method of after it stops, or when the graders come into work. KDOT also uses a straight salt mixture.
The proposed policy will get rid of the time constraint, so crews can get ahead of the snow, and Newman is considering switching to the all-salt mix.
Another change will come from the way the roads are prioritized. Currently the county uses the traffic counts, where the highest count roads are cleared first. The proposed change will have roads where hospital and emergency workers live, and where there are school children, cleared first.
Commissioner Pat Weixelman asked about the driving force for the changes.
“The major change is complaints from the public,” Newman responded, adding the school was the biggest driving factor.
Weixelman said he expected schools to make a call before it’s too late in the morning. He also questioned why students needed to be on the roads.
“You’ve got all this stuff on line, filling a void,” he said. “Why can’t it fill another void. Best thing is to keep the kids off the roads entirely.”
Kevin Logan, USD 323 superintendent, weighed in.
“We try, but it doesn’t always work,” he said. “We all had a little egg on our faces for the non-snow event. Every school canceled. We swung and missed. Tuesday morning was different, started icing and snowing. The superintendents were out. I was on the roads at 4:30, they weren’t bad. By 5:30 they were really bad.”
Logan also responded to the online suggestion.
“We can’t go remote automatically,” he said. “It doesn’t work. With a couple days notice, we can do it. If it’s safe to do so, we’ll run our buses and ask the kids to come to school. If the parents don’t feel it’s safe, the kids don’t come. But right now, we don’t have the capability to turn on a dime and Zoom those kids in.”
Commissioner Dee McKee questioned damage to the asphalt which could be caused by using straight salt, and the ensuing cost.
“Salt damage does cost us more in the long run,” Newman said. “Pot holes, etc. They get salt in there, and it’s a major fix. We get calls on that too.”
The commissioners approved hiring of a part-time position to help out Utilities Operator Kyle Minton.
Once filled, the position would provide an assistant as well as a backup person for Minton who has been asked to take over the MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) in the Blue Township Area.
According to Minton, MS4 helps with pollution prevention and making sure that soil and mud doesn’t run off the lots and into creeks and lakes especially when new houses are being built.
He went on to say that most contractors will use silt fences to help prevent runoff from entering the water, but when the fences aren’t used that’s where the problem arises.
The county has resolutions and procedures in place but it is just a matter of doing and enforcing them he said..
“I would like to hire someone who is very knowledgeable who has utility experience,” Minton said. “There is a large number of retired utility operators who might not want to work full time but want to work.”
The position is budgeted in the 2021 budget. Starting pay would be $17 an hour based on qualifications.
McKee said she was not opposed to finding an assistant for Minton, but she felt looking ahead they should consider a full time position.
Disagreeing with McKee, Riat said that he’d prefer they start with a part time position and see how it goes.
The vote was 2-1, with McKee opposed.
The commissioners presented John Burns a service award for 25 years with the Public Works Department.
The commission thanked Burns for his service. “I appreciate what you do John,” Weixelman said.
US 24 and Green Valley Rd.
Rural Water One agreed project costs to relocate the water line during construction work at the Highway 24 — Green Valley Rd. intersection will not exceed $169,000. Ebert Construction will work together with Larson Construction on the waterline.
Commissioners approved the contract with Ebert Construction with Weixelman abstaining.
Also approved was the transfer of $526,000 from the Special Fund into Highway 24 and Green Valley Road Fund.
Weixelman said he attended the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library Meeting on Jan. 27 to listen to concerns from a library patron regarding the mask mandate at the St. Marys Library.
“I went over to listen to what was taking place and what their concerns were,” Weixelman said.
The library’s argument was that it is its own taxing entity and has its own mill rate and therefore should be allowed to have the mask mandate.
The board told Library Director Judith Cremer to run it as she seems fit.
Pottawatomie County needs to develop wind and solar farm regulations, according to Steven Metzger, county planner.
He told commissioners at their Monday meeting that, while there is a moratorium on the building of wind farms in the Flint Hills, he wants to be ahead of the curve if something changes.
Metzger explained that because the moratorium is through an executive order, any governor could announce a change, meaning it’s not assured long term.
The county currently does have regulations for wind farms, allowing them with a conditional use permit on A1 (agriculture properties) according to Metzger, but they are approved by the planning commission so they do not have to go through the county commission.
“In my opinion, the current regulations are not sufficient,” he said. “I get phone calls from concerned property owners and I want to be prepared. If we have regulations in place, companies, the public and you guys know what to expect.” He was especially concerned as the approval would rest with the planning commission, a non-elected board, rather than the county commission.
There is also a de facto moratorium on solar farms, since the county has no current regulations for them although county planning staff is looking to permit solar farms to operate in some capacity on A1 properties.
“If we have no regulations, no one can do it,” Metzger said. Since there is no state prohibition against solar farms, Metzger said he wants to be prepared, “if we get inquiries”.
Currently solar panels on houses and grounds are allowed and do not require building permits.
“It makes sense to me to deal with commercial solar initially. That’s the one that will get less public input then commercial wind.” County Counselor John Watt said.
“I would really like you to gather information (for regulations), especially on the solar side,” said Commissioner Dee McKee. “People in Wamego are already working on it.”
The commission asked Metzger to draft regulations regarding solar farms.
Feb. 11, 1:30 p.m. — 2:30 p.m., Commodities Distribution, Distribution will be at the St. Marys Senior Center garage, 409 West Lasley.
Pottawatomie County Offices and Landfill will be closed on Monday, Feb. 15 in observance of Presidents’ Day. The Commissioners will not meet on that day, but will meet in regular session on Monday, Feb. 22.