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A second COVID-19 testing blitz will be held in Maricopa.

That event is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 1, according to Kristina Donnay, the medical director and co-owner of the Maricopa Wellness Center.

It will follow the drive-thru testing set for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, July 18, in the north parking lot at the Copper Sky Recreation Complex.

Both events are being conducted by the wellness center in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Here is what you need to know:

Testing, which will be conducted by a swab to the nose, will detect active infection. It is not an antibody test.

Testing is limited and the event is first come, first serve. It is the first free-to-the-public testing made available in the city.

Please bring the following to be tested at the blitz:

• Government-issued photo ID (photocopy preferred), including driver’s license, visa, passport or military ID.

• Please bring photocopy (preferred) of insurance card (front and back), if applicable

• Two forms – a consent form and a LabCorp testing slip – can be accessed at those links, printed and completed, and brought to the testing blitz.

You must be 18 or older to be tested. No walk-ups will be tested; you must be in a car and all occupants of the car must be wearing face masks. There will be no bathroom access.

A copy of the test results will be sent in the mail by LabCorp, and test results can be accessed via LabCorp’s patient portal.

Coronavirus cases are surging in Arizona, with more than 4,200 new cases and 92 deaths reported Tuesday. More than 128,000 cases and 2,337 deaths have been reported in total, according to the state health department.

More than 5,940 of those cases were reported in Pinal County, which has reported 88 total deaths, including five since Saturday.

According to the state health department, 523 cases of the virus have been reported in the 85138 zip code, an increase of about 50 cases since Sunday, and 202 in 85139

Free COVID-19 testing will be available in Maricopa on Saturday.

The Maricopa Wellness Center and the Arizona Department of Health Services have scheduled a drive-thru testing blitz from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the north parking lot at the Copper Sky Recreation Complex.

Testing, which will be conducted by a swab to the nose, will detect active infection. It is not an antibody test.

Testing is limited and the event is first come, first serve. It is apparently the first free testing made available to the public in the city.

Maricopa Wellness has been providing testing for a $100 fee, which can then be submitted to insurance.

Please bring the following to be tested at the blitz:

• Government-issued photo ID (photocopy preferred), including driver’s license, visa, passport or military ID.

• Please bring photocopy (preferred) of insurance card (front and back), if applicable

• Two forms – a consent form and a LabCorp testing slip – can be accessed at those links, printed and completed, and brought to the testing blitz.

You must be 18 or older to be tested. No walk-ups will be tested; you must be in a car and all occupants of the car must be wearing face masks. There will be no bathroom access.

A copy of the test results will be sent in the mail by LabCorp, and test results can be accessed by LabCorp’s patient portal.

Coronavirus cases are surging in Arizona, with more than 2,500 new cases and 86 deaths reported on Sunday. More than 122,000 cases and 2,237 deaths have been reported in total, according to the state health department.

More than 5,600 of those cases were reported in Pinal County, which has reported 88 total deaths, including five since Saturday.

More than 662 cases of the virus have been reported in Maricopa –  476  in the 85138 zip code and 186 in 85139.

Leading Edge Academy. Photo by Kyle Norby

Leading Edge Academy Maricopa will participate in the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program.

As part of the program, the school will offer healthy meals every school day. Breakfast will cost $1.65; lunch will cost $3.50. Children may qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Reduced-price meals cost 25 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.

Qualifications for children to receive free or reduced price meals include: belonging to a household whose income is at or below the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines, belonging to a household that receives public assistance, or if the child is homeless, migrant, runaway, foster, or participates in a Head Start or Even Start pre-Kindergarten program.

Household size and income criteria are used to determine eligibility for free and reduced-price benefits if the household does not receive assistance or the children are not in the other categories mentioned above. Children can get free or reduced-price meals if the household’s gross income falls at or below the limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guideline chart.

To apply for free or reduced-price meals, households can fill out the application and return it to the school unless the household has already received notification that their children are approved for free meals this year. Application forms are being distributed to all households with a letter informing households of the availability of free and reduced-price meals for their children and what is required to complete on the application. Applications also are available in each school office and are posted on the school website.

Only one application is required for all children in the household and the information provided on the application will be used for the purpose of determining eligibility and verification of data. Applications may be verified at any time during the school year by the school or other program officials. An application for free or reduced-price benefits cannot be approved unless it contains complete eligibility information as indicated on the application and instructions. In the operation of child feeding programs, no child will be discriminated against because of race, sex, color, national origin, age, or disability.

Families can apply for benefits at any time. If a household member becomes unemployed or if the household size increases, the household should contact the school. Such changes may make the children of the household eligible for benefits if the household’s income falls at or below the Federal Guidelines. Contact Meal Services at any time to request an application.

Under the provisions of the free and reduced-price policy, business specialists will review applications and determine eligibility. Parents or guardians dissatisfied with the ruling of the official may wish to discuss the decision with the determining official on an informal basis. Parents wishing to make a formal appeal for a hearing on the decision may make a request either orally or in writing to Emily Homans, 633 E Ray Road #132, Gilbert, AZ 85296, or calling 480-633-0414.

When known to Leading Edge Academy, households will be notified of their children’s eligibility for free meals if they are members of households receiving assistance from the:

· Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);

· Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR); or

· Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), if the state program meets federal standards.

An application is not required for free meal benefits for Assistance Program participants and all of the children in the household are eligible for free meal benefits. If any children were not listed on the notice of eligibility, or if a household does not receive a notice of eligibility, the household should contact the school to have free meal benefits extended to them. Participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals, but they will need to turn in an application including household size and total income.

When known to Leading Edge Academy households will also be notified of any child’s eligibility for free meals if the individual child is considered “Other Source Categorically Eligible,” because the child is categorized, as defined by law as:

· Foster

· Homeless

· Migrant

· Runaway

· Enrolled in an eligible Head Start, or

· Enrolled in an eligible pre-kindergarten class.

If any children were not listed on the notice of eligibility, the household should contact the school about their eligibility through the list above, or should submit an income application.

Households notified of their children’s eligibility must contact the school if the household chooses to decline the free meal benefits.

For information, you may call Emily Homans at 480-633-0414 or e-mail at lunches@leadingedgeacademy.com.

Exceptional Healthcare Hospital
A sign promoting a new "community hospital" appeared Monday morning at SR 347 and Honeycutt Avenue. Photo by Bob McGovern

When a signboard went up Monday on John Wayne Parkway announcing a “community hospital” coming soon, eyebrows were raised at City Hall.

Exceptional Healthcare posted signs on the northwest corner of State Route 347 and Honeycutt Avenue. The signs quickly became noticed as a collision stopped traffic near the intersection at midday.

Mayor Christian Price said his understanding is the plans are for a surgery center and emergency room. Exceptional Healthcare is based in Texas.

The company did not have a city permit to erect the sign, however. Neither has it submitted paperwork for the pre-application process let alone a building permit.

“We haven’t had any applications,” Community Development Director Nathan Steele said.

He added the City has now had a conversation with the company about the importance of following the process.

Price said he doesn’t think that pending project will interfere with any future plans for a full-service hospital, which is still “in the works.”

For several years, Dignity Health has owned more than 18 acres on the northeast corner of SR 347 and Smith-Enke Road, behind CVS and Freddy’s, but has not announced any plans to develop it.

Maricopa aerial
Maricopa is a city of neighbors. Photo by Kyle Norby (flight courtesy Desert Rat Aviation)

The City of Maricopa is strongly encouraging its residents to wear face masks to prevent the most vulnerable in the community.

“…The Maricopa Mayor and City Council, and the City of Maricopa strongly encourage & request residents to wear masks where social interaction takes place, while visiting businesses and other institutions outside of one’s close familial circle, and especially where social distancing is not possible in these given locations,” said a news release released by the city on Thursday afternoon.

While face masks are not mandated, Mayor Christian Price said he wants all people in the city to cover up.

Get free face masks from 10 a.m. to noon Friday

“Wearing a mask is a small thing each of us can do to protect those most vulnerable in our community,” Price said in the release. “The Governor said he would like to see every Arizonan wear a mask. I specifically, would like to see every Maricopan wear a mask, especially when unable to social distance from others around us. All of Arizona’s businesses, non-profits & institutions are now required to establish these new and updated guidelines for our well-being. So as we frequent these various entities let’s all do our part and show off how much we care about each other by masking up Maricopa!”

The City said its staff will follow requirements from Gov. Doug Ducey, including wearing face masks when they are within six feet of others and/or when interacting with the public.

“Thank you to all our caring residents who plan to do the same,” the release concluded.

On Wednesday, Ducey gave local governments in Arizona the authority to mandate masks in their cities. The governor’s move came amid public pressure for him to take action to address the surging number of new coronavirus cases in the state. On Thursday, state health officials reported 2,519 confirmed cases, eclipsing the previous single-day high of 2,392 cases reported on Tuesday. The number of deaths rose Thursday by 32 to a total of 2,519.

Ducey said Wednesday any mandate should rest with local authorities because the number of new cases varies greatly from city to city.

He also announced enhanced guidelines for businesses, organizations and professional offices, including that they must “require face coverings when physical distancing is not feasible.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Price referenced that new requirement: “The Governor now says that citizens of Arizona are requested – HIGHLY SUGGESTED even – to wear masks or face coverings when out and about from your own home …. It’s not necessarily “mandated”, per se, but we are requested to follow the most up to date CDC guidelines and in the Gov’s own words: “He would like to see every Arizonan wear a mask or face covering.” (Especially when unable to social distance).

Among the dozens of comments in response to the mayor’s post were expressions of support and pleas to make masks mandatory.

A petition posted created on MoveOn.org  urged Price to make masks mandatory.

A number of mayors in other Arizona cities – Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale and Tucson among them – have already moved to require face masks.

 

Dutch Bros COVID-19
The Dutch Bros coffee shop in Maricopa. By Kyle Norby

A worker at the Dutch Bros coffee shop in Maricopa has tested positive for coronavirus.

In letter to the community, posted on the Facebook page of the local store, the company confirmed an employee at its 20232 N. John Wayne Parkway location is in self-isolation for two weeks after getting a positive test result Thursday. The worker had the COVID-19 test on Monday.

Before the test results came back, the employee worked morning and afternoon shifts on Thursday, June 11, and Saturday, June 13, and morning shifts on Friday, June 12, and Sunday, June 14, the company said.

Upon learning of the positive result, closing procedures were initiated at the store, the company said.

“As an extra precaution, the shop will undergo a third-party deep clean before reopening,” the letter said. “We are also coordinating with public health officials to confirm our protocols not only meet, but exceed, expectations.”

The company noted it had already implemented a number of steps – increased handwashing and sanitizing, and face mask policies in line with recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example – to prevent the spread of the virus.

The letter did not specify when the shop would reopen.

Anyone with questions or concerns is encouraged to reach out to communitywellness@dutchbros.com.

People wear face masks while waiting in line to enter the Ross store in May. Photo by Bob McGovern

Use of face masks in Maricopa will not be mandatory, the city mayor has decided.

Mayor Christian Price announced on Facebook Wednesday afternoon that he would not force residents to wear face coverings in public.

He did echo the request of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for residents to wear face masks voluntarily.

Letter: Sheriff announces he has COVID-19

Get face masks from 10 a.m. to noon Friday

“The Governor now says that citizens of Arizona are requested – HIGHLY SUGGESTED even – to wear masks or face coverings when out and about from your own home…,” the post said. “It’s not necessarily “mandated”, per se, but we are requested to follow the most up to date CDC guidelines and in the Gov’s own words: “He would like to see every Arizonan wear a mask or face covering.” (Especially when unable to social distance).”

As far as restaurants, Price said if restaurateurs are already complying with earlier Phase 1 requests, then all is good. If not, he added, the Pinal County Health Department will be enforcing those guidelines.

“So please just be a good actor here and do your part,” he wrote.

Among the dozens of comments left on his Facebook post were sighs of relief and pleas to make masks mandatory.

Earlier Wednesday, Ducey gave local governments the authority to mandate masks in their cities. The governor’s move came amid public pressure for him to take action to address the surging number of new coronavirus cases in the state.

Ducey said any mandate should rest with local authorities because the number of new cases varies greatly from city to city.

A number of mayors in other Arizona cities – Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa, among them – have already moved to implement a face mask requirement for residents.

Officials in Chandler sent out a tweet on Wednesday saying the City Council will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday to “discuss & possibly take action regarding directives for residents relating to reducing the spread of COVID-19 including masks/social distancing.”

A vote will be taken Friday in Gilbert on the matter.

 

Ella Walter Maricopa
Ella Walter, 9, checks out the pool from outside the fence on Monday afternoon at The Villages of Rancho El Dorado. Photo by Merenzi Young / Eye of Odin Studios

Heather Walter and her husband, Ryan, have been working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic for months.

Both work at the same Phoenix-area hospital; she is a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit, and he is a respiratory therapist in the ICU. Their work requires them to be in close proximity with patients who have the virus.

The Walters have four children – aged 9, 7, 4 and 2 – and they work opposite shifts to ensure one of them is always home. One of the kids’ favorite summer activities is swimming in one of the community pools at The Villages at Rancho El Dorado, where the family lives. Typically, they are at the pool five days a week, including weekends, Heather said.

Not this summer.

The family finds itself on the outside looking in, locked out of the pool by the Villages HOA, because the couple has been exposed to coronavirus by providing care to ICU patients.

As a result, the HOA deactivated the keycard that admits the family to the pools, the splash pad, the clubhouse and other amenities.

Heather said the children are paying the price, especially after a trying few months with the COVID-19 stay at home order.

“Their lives have been turned upside down,” Heather, 37, said. “We’re basically stuck at home.”

NO WAIVER OR REDUCTION OF DUES

The issue came up when the HOA required all residents to complete a “Health Screening Confirmation and Waiver and Release of Liability for Access to Common Areas” as a requirement to access the clubhouse, pools and fitness center. All access cards were deactivated by the HOA until the form was signed, residents said.

The letter asked residents to acknowledge that no members of the household:

  • Had any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Were under quarantine after testing positive for the virus.
  • Had tested positive, had close contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus, or traveled internationally or on a cruise.

The letter asks residents to abide by social distancing rules, recommends face masks in common areas, and use of hand sanitizer and hand washing before and after using amenities.

Residents are then asked to accept a “Waiver and Release of Liability” that states: “I hereby assume all of the risks associated with COVID-19, including without limitation, related exposure, contamination, and infection in connection with any and all use within and around the common areas….”

It asks residents to “agree to indemnify and hold harmless the following entities or persons for all claims of liability arising out of or related to COVID-19 in consideration for being permitted to use/access the common areas: the association and its members, agents, directors, officers, employees, volunteers, vendors, representatives, or affiliated persons’ or entities (released persons.)”

And then, in bold: “Participant hereby requests the association to provide participant with access to the common areas regardless of the inherent risk of contracting COVID-19 within the common areas.”

If residents did not sign the document, their cards were not activated.

The Walters signed the document, answering truthfully that they had been exposed to the virus through their hospital work. Initially, their card was activated, but then subsequently deactivated after the HOA said they needed to go two weeks without further exposure.

“We cannot possibly be the only healthcare providers in the Villages, I just happen to be honest,” she said.

So, they inquired about a waiver or reduction of their $285 quarterly dues.

No waiving of the fee and no reduction, the HOA told her, according to Walter.

InMaricopa.com contacted the local HOA office for comment on the situation on Friday, but community manager Diane Zavala did not return the call. Associated Asset Management (AAM), a Tempe-based company, provides management services to the HOA at The Villages.

Heather Walter Family
Heather Walter is surrounded by her four children – from left, Ella, 9; Eden, 4; Ensley, 2; and Emilee, 7. Residents of The Villages at Rancho El Dorado, Heather and her husband, Ryan, are working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic at a Phoenix-area hospital. Photo by Merenzi Young / Eye of Odin Studios

VIOLATION OF HIPAA?

Walter said she called Zavala on Wednesday to ask about the family’s predicament. Zavala told her the HOA’s Board of Directors was planning to discuss the situation in executive session during its regular meeting the next day.

Early Friday morning, Walter emailed Zavala to ask what the board decided. In an emailed response, Zavala told her the board didn’t discuss the matter on Thursday but would “revisit your matter” at the next executive session set for June 24.

“In the meantime, can you please share more detail about yours and your husband’s frequency of the exposure to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19?” Zavala asked in the email.

“Because the waiver calls for within the past 2 weeks, if there is a period where you/husband have not been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19, with the necessary precautions and signed form you/husband can use the amenities,” Zaval continued. “I believe the association is relying on you as good citizen and responsible frontline worker to limit your visits and amenity activity when you/ husband see necessary based upon your exposure AND allow yourself a two week of rest time prior to reusing the amenities.”

The HOA board, which is led by Tony Crisostomo, thinks it can do whatever it wants, said another Villages resident and frontline worker who faces the same lockout situation.

An employee at a facility where he has been in contact with coronavirus, he was also asked to sign the waiver, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity because his employer forbids its workers from speaking to the media.

“The whole waiver thing is against HIPAA,” he said, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, a federal law protecting sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

“We’re expected to pay dues even though we can’t use the amenities,” he said.

Arizona ranks last in the country in its recovery rate from COVID-19.

The week’s death rate, positive testing rate and transmission number were gathered by WalletHub.com, which ranked the 50 states and District of Columbia. Each was rated on its improvement in each category, with a 1 noting most improved and a 25 being average. Arizona was 51st.

Arizona was 35th in its death rate, 51st in its testing rate and 42nd in estimated transmission number, which estimated the average number of people to whom an infected person will transmit COVID-19.

WalletHub typically tracks money-related data. It tracked the COVID-19 trends to see where it was safest to reopen the economy. Hawaii and Alaska showed the most improvement across 11 key metrics.

Since beginning the effort to reopen the economy while simultaneously having statewide testing blitzes, Arizona has seen sharp increases in positive tests. Today’s report from the Arizona Department of Health Services saw a single-day high of 1,556 new cases.

The Maricopa and Hidden Valley area have had more than 100 confirmed cases, according to AZDHS. There have been more than 1,000 cases in Pinal County, with 41 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to Pinal County Public Health Services Department.

The state is still not reporting a recovery-rate metric.

Of the state’s 1,095 deaths attributed to COVID-19, 77% of the patients were age 65 or older, many with previous underlying conditions.

Copper Sky program
Stephanie Murphy leads a group exercise class at Copper Sky. File photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Public Library will reopen Monday with restrictions in place as some member services return at Copper Sky.

Access to the library will be limited – at least initially – to 20 patrons, who will be required to follow social distancing guidelines during visits intended to be brief, the city announced. It will close periodically daily so staff can sanitize the facility.

Visitors will be able to browse collections as well as access computer printing services. Curbside service will continue to be available as well.

The library will operate under normal business hours: Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed on Sunday.

Monday will also mark the return of some member services discontinued during the coronavirus lockdown, the city said.

Group Exercise classes, including Silver Sneakers classes will resume with limited capacity and formats. Classes will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Members must check in for the class at the front desk.

Child Watch and CW Leap services will resume on a first-come, first-served with limited capacity and reduced time per visit.

All exercise equipment types will be available – including free weights.

With the return of these services, all membership billing will resume during the month of June, according to the city’s announcement. Billing dates will be determined by the member’s initial join date. Members may choose to suspend their membership for up to three months at this time and will not be charged. Additional information regarding member services will be shared via email with members and on the Copper Sky Facebook page.

For information about the library reopening, contact library staff at (520) 568-2926 or visit them on Facebook here.

For information about Copper Sky services, contact staff at (520) 316-4600.

American Flag
Flags at Arizona state buildings will fly at half-staff through sunset Sunday.

Flags at all state buildings in Arizona will be lowered to half-staff until sunset Sunday to honor victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s order was done in conjunction with President Trump’s proclamation honoring the victims. Individuals, businesses and other organizations are encouraged to join in the tribute.

Through Friday morning, nearly 1.6 million Americans have contracted the virus, and more than 95,000 have died from it, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. More than 15,600 Arizonans have contracted the virus and 775 of those were fatal, according to the state Department of Health Services COVID-19 dashboard.

The presidential proclamation, issued Friday morning, read, in part:

“Our Nation mourns for every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic, and we share in the suffering of all those who endured pain and illness from the outbreak. Through our grief, America stands steadfast and united against the invisible enemy. May God be with the victims of this pandemic and bring aid and comfort to their families and friends.”

The proclamation calls the lowering of the flags “a mark of solemn respect” for the victims.

Copper Sky pool
A lifeguard watches over swimmers at the Copper Sky lap pool. File photo by Kyle Norby

This was updated May 14 with additional information from the city.

The competition pool at Copper Sky Multigenerational Center in Maricopa will reopen on Saturday with restrictions.

The pool will be open from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday and Sunday for lap swimming only, and then from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. starting Monday. An announcement will be made in the future about open swimming.

Also reopening Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., is the fitness floor and indoor track. Gym patrons can expect reduced capacity, fewer pieces of equipment and potential wait times for access due to compliance with social distancing and sanitization guidelines, the city said. If the facility reaches capacity, patrons will be admitted as others leave.

Public restrooms at Copper Sky (and Pacana) parks will be open. Gym restrooms will also be open, but showers and locker rooms will be unavailable, so patrons should be prepared to change offsite. Childwatch, group fitness and activity rooms not be unavailable.

Upon their first return visit, patrons will have to check in to Member Services to reactivate their membership and can utilize self check-in thereafter.

There is no evidence, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, that coronavirus can be spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.

But when Copper Sky and other public pools in Maricopa reopen, swimmers will be expected to stay at least 6 feet away from others, refrain from touching eyes, nose or mouth, and use hand sanitizer when getting out of the water. In addition, they should leave their face mask with their towel when in the pool so they have no problems breathing in the water.

People at higher risk for severe illness – including adults 65 and older and those with serious underlying medical conditions – should avoid visiting pools.

Patrons should also be prepared for the following modifications:

  • Patrons are required to comply with staff and posted signage, which will provide direction for social distancing and hygiene practices in accordance with state and federal guidance.
  • Patrons are required to thoroughly wipe down gym equipment prior to and after use with provided cleaning supplies.
  • Patrons at higher risk for severe illness are asked to stay home.
  • Upon leaving the gym, use hand sanitizer. When you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

If patron exhibits visible symptoms of COVID-19 listed below, they may be asked to leave facility. Persons displaying the following signs are asked not to enter the building:

  • A cough (defined as new onset of cough within previous 14 days)
  • Fever over 100.4°F
  • Shortness of breath
  • Contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 within the past 14 days
  • A household member with respiratory or fever symptoms

On Tuesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that gyms, pools spas and massage therapy can begin today with implementation of public health protections and CDC guidelines.

Ducey said Wednesday his stay-at-home order will expire Friday because pandemic data indicates declining symptoms, declining percentage of positive tests, adequate hospital capacity and expanded testing.

It will be replaced by a new executive order (pdf), “Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger,” that focuses on vulnerable individuals, he said.

Copper Sky Swim Girl
Copper Sky lifeguard Rebecca Montes plays with Emilia Perez. The city expects to announced Wednesday its reopening plan for the pool at gym at the complex. File photo by Victor Moreno

Gyms and pools can reopen on Wednesday with implementation of public health protections and CDC guidelines, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced in a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Arizona is headed in the right direction, Ducey said.

“This is a green light for the way to move forward to being out of the pandemic,” he said. “We are going to proceed with caution.

“The objective is to return stronger as a state,” he added, noting that the idea of social distancing is not going away.

City of Maricopa officials are working Tuesday afternoon on evaluating guidelines for a reopening plan of the gym and pool at the Copper Sky Multigenerational Center, according to Ellen Buddington, communications and events manager in the city’s Community Services Department.

The city plans to announce Wednesday a response and timeline for reopening of the recreational complex and aquatic center, she said.

Lee Feiles, owner of ATA Martial Arts Studio, said while he wasn’t completely surprised at the announcement, he said gyms “were given no warning ahead of time.”

He had already set a goal of May 25 but may accelerate his game plan by a week or so to prepare his gym to meet all guidelines. That means limiting the number of clients to 10 at a time and maximizing social distancing. He said they will also be sanitizing before and after each group training.

Feiles said about half of his clientele continued to participate through his online program on a temporary basis. However, some have been without jobs, and he’s uncertain when they will be able to take classes again. Others, he said, “fell off the face of the earth.”

So, he does not know how much of his clientele he will have to rebuild.

Though he can open his doors tomorrow and knows some gyms in town are ready to do so, he wants to be measured and cautious. That is an echo of an approach espoused by the governor.

“This is a green light to continue going forward on the way out of this pandemic,” Ducey said. “It is not a green light to speed. This is a green light to proceed, and we’re going to proceed with caution.”

Spas and massage therapists can also reopen starting Wednesday.

There is no evidence, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, that coronavirus can be spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.

But when Copper Sky and other public pools in Maricopa open, patrons will be expected to stay at least 6 feet away from others, refrain from touching eyes, nose or mouth, and use hand sanitizer when getting out of the water. In addition, they should leave their face mask with their towel when in the pool so they have no problems breathing in the water.

People at higher risk for severe illness – including adults 65 and older and those with serious underlying medical conditions – should avoid visiting pools.

Pool operators are required to maintain physical distancing, to the extent possible, and provide additional space between pool chairs at community pools to promote distancing. They also most provide access to soap and water for handwashing or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at stations around the pool for use by employees and clients. Pools should require lifeguards and other employees to regularly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.

Ducey said his stay-at-home order will expire Friday because the data indicates declining symptoms, declining percentage of positive tests, adequate hospital capacity and expanded testing.

It will be replaced by a new executive order (pdf), “Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger,” that focuses on vulnerable individuals, he said.

After Friday, there will be a limited reopening of major league sports, but without fans, again with the implementation of public health protections and CDC guidelines, the governor indicated.

With a hint at how future economic data may play out, Ducey said there has been a “complete crush on the system” in unemployment claims and said the state was trying to fix the system to get out from under being overwhelmed. At the same time, he said 80% of Arizona’s workforce did not suffer job loss or a decrease in pay.

Castigated on the subject in a previous news conference, the governor and Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state’s health department, said there is a focus on long-term care facilities and prisons.

After a “testing blitz,” which started slowly three weeks ago, the state has watched the percentage of positive cases decrease the last two weeks. The blitz had aimed for 20,000 tests per weekend but had only about 5,400 the first weekend. Christ said that was followed by 20,000 and then 30,000 when the previous weekly average had been about 11,000.

In Arizona, 562 people have died as a result of COVID-19.

Raquel Hendrickson contributed to this report.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey coronavirus update
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announces Wednesday the extension of his stay-at-home order through May 15. (Source: Arizona Department of Health Services, via YouTube)

The state is urging retail stores to test their employees for coronavirus symptoms before the shift as non-essential retail stores get ready to resume partial operations next week.

On Wednesday Gov. Doug Ducey extended his stay-at-home order for the coronavirus pandemic through May 15. On Friday, his office issued guidelines for businesses and their customers as they are permitted to begin reopening on May 8.

Customers are advised to follow the recommendations on social distancing and hygiene of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and urged to stay home if sick and order online or use curbside pickup, if possible. In addition:

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others while shopping and waiting in line
  • Wear a cloth covering over the mouth and nose when out in public
  • When you do have to shop in-store, go during hours when fewer people will be there (early morning or late night, for example)
  • Those at higher risk for severe illness should ask if the store has special hours for shoppers at higher risk
  • Disinfect the shopping cart, with disinfecting wipes, if possible
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth
  • If possible, use touchless payment (without touching money, a card or keypad). If you must, use hand sanitizer right after
  • Use hand sanitizer when leaving a store. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home

The state Department of Health Services recommends that retail stores implement employee screening for coronavirus symptoms before their shifts start. In addition, they are asked to:

  • Maintain physical distancing
  • Operate with reduced occupancy and capacity based on the size of the store, with special emphasis on limiting places where employees and customers can congregate
  • Implement comprehensive sanitation protocols
  • Continue providing options for delivery or curbside service even if customers are allowed inside a store
  • Close fitting rooms at clothing stores, meeting rooms and other enclosed spaces accessible to customers
  • Consider making face coverings available to employees and visitors to wear in-store

On Wednesday, Ducey announced a goal to resume dine-in services at restaurants in May. Additional guidance being developed in coordination with public health officials will be issued in the coming days, his office said. The City of Maricopa is reopening select parks and recreational facilities beginning Friday.

To continue to grow our local coverage of COVID-19’s impact on Maricopa in the difficult weeks to come while continuing our day-to-day newsgathering, we are partnering with the Local Media Association’s foundation to ask our readers to help with a tax-deductible donation at InMaricopa.com/LocalCoverage.

The Medicaid agency in Arizona will help sustain health care providers during the coronavirus pandemic by advancing more than $41 million in scheduled payments.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which administers Medicaid for the state, will make the payments to hospitals, primary care providers, behavioral health outpatient providers and justice clinic providers who participate in its Targeted Investments (TI) program, according to the office of Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Arizona’s hospitals, doctors and behavioral health professionals have supported those in need during the COVID-19 health emergency and well before,” Ducey said in a statement. “AHCCCS is providing these payments ahead of schedule so we can ensure these health care providers and professionals can continue to serve Arizonans without interruption. My thanks to frontline workers and health care professionals across the state working around the clock to protect public health and safety.”

More than 100 providers were scheduled to receive previously allocated funds in the fall. They will get a portion of that funding – expected in early May – for demonstrating enhanced care coordination as part of the five-year TI initiative supporting the integration of physical and behavioral health services.

More than 106 provider organizations will receive a portion of the funds they were scheduled to receive in the fall of 2020 as a part of their successful participation in the five-year Targeted Investments initiative, which supports providers as they integrate physical and behavioral health services. The program rewards participants for meeting certain quality metrics demonstrating enhanced care coordination within and across providers and clinic settings.

As of January, more than 1.6 million Arizona residents received Medicaid, according to Medicaid.gov. As of this month, 79,781 Pinal County residents qualified for the medical assistance, according to healthinsurance.org.

The agency has taken other steps to lend financial support to health care providers in the state, including $5.3 million in additional payments to critical access hospitals.

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Kristina Donnay FNP-C and Bill Day

By Kristina Donnay, FNP-C

Staying well is of utmost importance, particularly during flu and cold season.

Our immune system plays a key role in optimal health. When we have an ineffective or compromised immune system, we are at a greater risk of developing infections and other health conditions.

In our daily lives we are continually exposed to organisms that are inhaled, swallowed or inhabit our skin and mucous membranes. Whether or not these organisms lead to disease is decided by the integrity of our body’s defense mechanisms, or immune system.

This is an optimal time to be proactive in boosting our bodies defenses and immunities.

Below are some ways to do just that. (Note: These recommendations must be administered by licensed clinical professionals, such as Maricopa Wellness Center, which offer options including IVs for improving and boosting your immune system.)

The Myers Cocktail IV is a very fast way to get critical hydration, minerals and vitamins into your body. It includes magnesium, B12, B6, B5, B complex and vitamin C,
decreasing the symptoms of a cold, flu or hangover while boosting the immune system.

The Lipotropic MIC B12 is another option. This is a combination of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids administered through an injection. It increases energy, metabolization of fat, weight loss, liver detoxification, and helps boost the body’s immune system. It can also improve mood and sleep.

Vitamin ADK — precisely balanced combination of vitamin A and D3 with K2 — is another option. Vitamin A supports immune health. Vitamin D3 plays an important part
in protecting against bacterial and respiratory infections. A deficiency of vitamin D3 is associated with increased susceptibility to infections and autoimmunity. The amount of vitamin D3 needed to boost the immune system varies from person to person and normally ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 IU daily.

High doses of vitamin D3 should always be paired with vitamin K2 as it plays a key role in facilitating the absorption of calcium in the body, which is essential for teeth, bone building and heart health. It also helps prevent kidney stones, plaque build-up and supports a healthy immune system.

Community health affects us all. In addition to following the latest CDC precautions there are many different options available to enhance your health. Call or stop in to discuss how you can achieve optimal health with our licensed staff of professionals.

LIVE WELL BE WELL.
520-464-6193
MaricopaWellnessCenter.com
41600 W. Smith-Enke Road
Building 14, Suite 3

by -

In county food inspections Feb. 16-March 15, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit had an issue with its “hot-holding.” All hot foods were above the required minimum of 135 degrees F except the brisket and ribs, which were 131 degrees. Both were discarded.

The deli at Fry’s Marketplace was cited for hot-holding and cold-hold violations. Warm chicken was found to be at 119 degrees instead of 135, which was blamed on a door being left ajar. Seafood salad and tuna salad were found to be at 43 degrees instead of the required cold-holding maximum of 41. Maintenance was called to fix the problem.

EXCELLENT [No violations found]
Bashas’
Bashas’ – AFC sushi
Bashas’ – bakery
Bashas’ – deli
Bashas’ – Starbucks
The Box Meat Shop
Central Arizona College – Ace Vending
Central Arizona College – café
Central Arizona College – culinary
Circle K (east)
Circle K (east) – Made to Go
Culver’s
Francisco’s Mexican Food
Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
Fry’s Marketplace
Fry’s Marketplace – bakery
Fry’s Marketplace – Starbucks
Fry’s Marketplace – sushi
Jersey Mike’s Subs
Papa John’s Pizza
QuickTrip
Rosati’s Pizza
Walmart
Walmart – bakery
Walmart – deli
Wendy’s

SATISFACTORY [Violations corrected during inspections]
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Fry’s Marketplace – deli

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT [Critical items noted during inspection cannot be corrected immediately requiring follow-up inspection]
None

UNACCEPTABLE [Gross, unsanitary conditions necessitating the discontinuation of service]
None


This item appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Victor and Robin Jones. Photo by Kyle Norby

 

Back in October, the Jones family had their lives changed forever. Last time we met with Victor “Grandpa” Jones, he had gone through surgery to remove his failing heart and replace it with a temporary TAH (total artificial heart) until a donor could be found.

Fast forward to now, and the wait is still ongoing for a new heart. With the TAH doing its job and being home from the long hospital stay, Victor still requires 24/7 care that his wife Robin is currently providing.

“Well, I’m out now and mostly mobile. I have a walker. Basically my life consists of going from appointment to appointment now,” Victor Jones said. “Between prescriptions, gas money, things like that and living off just a limited budget, it’s been a little bit of a struggle.”

With such a unique condition, Victor must travel to a dialysis center in Tempe multiple times a week. The facility is the only one certified to accommodate this type of machine in Arizona. Robin has since become certified to operate the machine and perform maintenance to take care of her husband along with some help from their grandsons Darian and Jaylin. The local Maricopa fire department is also trained on the TAH unit if anything happens. Because of this condition, chest compressions are not an option, as they are rendered useless without a heart and with key arteries missing.

“As you can see, I have my stack of bags in the corner because tomorrow we are back on the road again.” – Robin Jones. The pack includes extra batteries, back-up unit, paperwork and medication.

Robin has been unable to go back to work as a health professional at Saddleback Elementary due to taking care of Victor. Being told they make too much from Victor’s social security check of $2,400, the Jones are unable to get in-home care from Medicaid agencies like AHCCCS.

“We have tried different agencies to come in and help, but they are afraid of this (machine),” Robin said.“We did have a nurse come in here. She came in, then she actually quit. After she found out about this device, she said, ‘I can’t handle that.’”

Many agencies do not provide this type of care due to the high-risk nature of Victor’s condition. Robin said if he becomes unplugged, he will die.

Aside from in-home care issues, prices for victor’s medication have also taken a toll on them financially. One of the prescriptions Victor must take three times a day costs $230 after insurance for a 30 day supply. Robin said they use the app ‘GoodRx’ to search for discounts, helping them get the price down to $190 for the prescription.

“First and foremost, again, I would like to thank everybody. It has been a little rough but I don’t want to sit here in a begging type situation,” Victor said. “Getting past all that, I really want to thank everybody for the support.”

“This is my suitcase that I take every day wherever I go. I have a battery pack.” – Victor Jones. Photo by Kyle Norby

Victor’s artificial heart comes in the form of a suitcase-type casing strapped inside a backpack that runs plastic tubes up into his body, doing the work of a heart.  There are four batteries for the machine that provide about three hours of battery life if the unit is not plugged into an outlet. It takes approximately four to six hours to charge batteries. He is able to carry it on his walker and attend social events now, if he is feeling up to it.

“My free time, I’m going to say, is me resting. With appointments, it’s a lot of running around, you get very tired. I try to get as much rest as possible,” Victor said.

While the struggles are overwhelming and money is tight, the Joneses plan to keep moving forward as they have been.

“You have to start over. But I’m better where am I now compared to rehab, where I had to learn to walk again. Basically, like a baby,” Victor said.

The Banner medical team that has been with Victor since the beginning of his journey has been very receptive and accommodating to the couple’s needs, Robin said. If something is abnormal, they can send photos to the team and get immediate responses.

Still searching for a heart, “Grandpa” Jones’s story is far from over.


Want to help?

CDC

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the Pinal County Public Health Department confirmed today that two Pinal County residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Both cases are from the same household as the current Pinal County case.

State and local public health are currently investigating the cases.

ADHS expects additional cases of COVID-19 in Arizona and is advising residents to follow infection prevention guidelines. The best way to prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases is to:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are thought to appear within two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and consist of fever, cough, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Those considered at risk for contracting the virus are individuals with travel to an area where COVID-19 is spreading or individuals in close contact with a person under investigation for COVID-19.

If you recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 is spreading and have developed fever with cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of your travel or have had contact with someone who is suspected to have COVID-19, stay home and call your healthcare provider. If you do not have a healthcare provider, you may need to be seen at your local hospital emergency room/urgent care center. Please call the emergency room/urgent care center to get instructions before going in.

For the latest information about COVID-19, visit azhealth.gov/COVID19

CDC


HIGHLIGHTS from today’s press conference with Pinal County Health Services Director Dr. Shauna McIsaac and Maricopa County Medical Director for Disease Control Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine regarding COVID-19 in Arizona:

— The latest (third) Arizona patient with  COVID-19 is a Pinal County resident who is a healthcare worker in Maricopa County.

— State lab confirmed the diagnosis of presumptive positive Thursday night.

— The patient is hospitalized in Maricopa County in stable condition.

— The patient stayed home while she was sick and “did not expose very many people at all” because she was vigilant about staying home.

— The patient has not traveled to any coronavirus hot spots, and investigators have not yet found contact with a person who had traveled to those areas.

— The third patient with COVID-19 is the first sign of community spread, a fact that changes public health response. Now, “we all need to do our part to slow the spread” – keep sick people away from others.

— Close contacts have been interviewed and are being monitored for signs of symptoms.

— If you have not been contacted by public health, you are not a close contact.

— “Per CDC recommendations, we are no longer going to keep healthcare workers home after they are exposed to COVID-19.” They are required to monitor themselves for symptoms and stay home if those symptoms develop.

— People are infectious to others when they actually show the symptoms of COVID-19.

— If you have symptoms of anything, go home.

— To control the spread:
>>Wash hands frequently and for 20 seconds, using soap.
>>Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, which are the way the germs enter your body.
>>If you are sick, please stay home.

— Only share accurate information, such as from state and county health departments and Center for Disease Control (CDC.gov)

— It’s a little more contagious than the flu, and there is no treatment or a vaccine.

— Kids have milder illness and do not seem to be at risk of severe disease.

— Older adults have higher risk of complications.

— The worst symptoms tend to appear in the second week of illness.

— The vast majority of those who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and completely recover without any treatment.

— Public health authorities are obligated to maintain absolute confidentiality and will not share information that can be used to identify a patient unless it’s important to the public’s health.

— Arizona’s healthcare systems have resource limitations.

 

 

CDC

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) announced today a third person has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the so-called coronavirus. This is the second presumptive positive case identified by the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory.

The case is a female in her 40s who is currently hospitalized.

At this time, the patient’s exposure is still under investigation, including whether transmission of the virus is the result of community spread or of contact with another known person with COVID-19. Community spread refers to the spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is rapidly evolving and based on events in other states, we expect additional cases and community spread in Arizona,” said Dr. Cara Christ, ADHS director. “Keeping Arizonans safe and healthy is our number one priority and we are confident the public health system in Arizona is well prepared to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

State and local public health are currently investigating to identify any close contacts that may have been exposed. Identified individuals will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms. COVID-19 spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms are thought to appear within two to 14 days after exposure and consist of fever, cough, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Those considered at risk for contracting the virus are individuals with travel to an area where COVID-19 is spreading or individuals in close contact with a person under investigation for the COVID-19.

The best way to prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases is to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

If you have recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 is spreading and have developed fever with cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of your travel or have had contact with someone who is suspected to have COVID-19, stay home and call your healthcare provider. If you do not have a healthcare provider, you may need to be seen at your local hospital emergency room/urgent care center. Please call the emergency room/urgent care center to get instructions before going in.

For the latest information about COVID-19, go online to azhealth.gov/COVID19

Ron Smith

By Ron Smith

Ron Smith

In February, InMaricopa provided an introduction to the topic of aging-in-place. We will continue the topic to help provide insight into many of the facets of aging-in-place. Whether you’re just approaching retirement, already in retirement or are trying to help a relative who is currently facing aging issues, there should be many topics of interest to you.

Planning is not the typical strength of most people approaching retirement. Per a 2018 study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Northwestern Mutual, one-third of Baby Boomers have less than $25,000 in retirement savings. In addition, many approaching retirement have their eyes focused on an active-adult lifestyle. The notion of aging and all the things that potentially accompany it are often not high on the new retiree’s planning sheet.

Aging-in-place considerations should be factored into retirement decisions as early as possible. We often don’t think about access problems caused by entry steps, staircases, narrow doors and hallways until that first knee or hip operation.

Having to move to another house because your initial “forever” home can’t accommodate your needs can be both costly and disruptive.

What you want is an “adaptable” home, i.e. one that can change to meet changing needs caused by growing old. The more adaptable the home is, the less costly it will be to make those necessary accommodations in the future. Better yet, it might help avoid a costly move due to the high cost of a retrofit needed to remain in your own home.

Keep in mind, accessibility is not the only consideration because other issues, like the need for skilled nursing care or dementia safety, may demand another solution.

As part of your planning, considerations for the availability of other senior-support services in the area are helpful to maintain support networks, social connections and in-home medical assistance when needed.

It is probably unwise to assume aging won’t happen. Planning for aging-in-place is a personally responsible way of coping with unexpected changes that can be life-altering events and potentially lead to institutionalized long-term care.

Aging-in-place planning can help a person live in their own home longer. There are many excellent resources available through AARP and the National Institute on Aging to aid in your planning.

Ron Smith is an aging-in-place advocate. He is also a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee and a member of the Maricopa Senior Coalition.


This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

Joan Koczor
Joan Koczor

By Joan Koczor

Many of you have heard or read about Freon R-22 and how the oils in R-22 destroy the ozone. According to the Clean Air Act of 1990, R-22 is a harmful refrigerant and currently being phased out of use. Homeowners are now recommended to use Puron, or 410A, refrigerant to maintain indoor comfort.

In 2004, there was a 35% reduction in R-22 production the quantities available have diminished over the years. Now in 2020 a 99.5 % reduction in the production of R-22. Simply put, the law of supply and demand will prevail with the price of each pound of refrigerant increasing dramatically. Prices have risen from $100 to $300 a pound.

My concern is if R-22 becomes unavailable – or unaffordable – and we have to use 410A, does that mean we need to replace the air conditioning unit? So, I asked an expert in the A/C field – my son Dan. Information he provided is based on his years of experience in the heating and air conditioning business.

He said R-22 can be replaced. To do so, you would need to replace the unit; the A coil inside and the condenser outside. Lines could be cleaned, but it is best to replace.

Dan also said there is no need to panic. Many units in Maricopa and cities in Arizona may already be using 410A. Each A/C unit has a label that lists the type of freon being used. It’s easy to check what type of Freon is in your A/C unit.

If your current A/C service person suggests changes that are expensive, get a second opinion. If you question the repairs they are suggesting, get a second opinion. Disreputable service persons target seniors. They are the most vulnerable. Seniors know there is a need for a properly working A/C unit, especially in the Arizona heat.

Dan advises to always question a service person who cleans your A/C unit and tells you they had to add freon because of a leak. An A/C system is sealed so there is no need to replace freon unless a noticeable leak is present. Just a practice some A/C service persons use, especially targeting seniors, to increase the cost of the service call.

Joan Koczor is a senior advocate and a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee.


This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

Remy Nieves (right, with brother Rayden) suffered a medical emergency when he was 3, a difficulty for his self-employed father. Submitted photo

Health insurance has been a hot topic in the nation for a long time. With programs such as the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” being inconsistent even when available, the healthcare hurdles and the ramifications of an unexpected medical problem are an everyday struggle for many Maricopans.

Ray Nieves, owner/operator of 911 Air Repair, recounted his battle with an insurance company after his oldest son was attacked by their dog. In July 2018, Nieves was on a job in Gilbert when he began receiving calls from his wife McKenzie.

“When I’m with a customer I usually don’t answer the phone. Obviously, we’re trying to maintain professionalism,” Nieves said. “So, I kind of just hit ‘ignore.’”

When a third call came in, Ray answered and received horrifying news — their German shepherd had bitten the head of their 3-year-old son Remy.

“The first responders and everybody showed up before I got there,” Nieves said. “They got him wrapped up, wrapped his head and put him in the ambulance. They were taking him to the children’s hospital in Mesa.”

Remy never lost consciousness, but the doctors determined his skull was fractured.

“They were really concerned with any skull fragments getting into his brain,” Ray recalled. “So, they had to go and do surgery. They brought a pediatric neurosurgeon who went ahead and ensured that there wasn’t anything in there.”

After a few days of monitoring in the hospital and 19 staples, Remy was back to a happy kid, albeit with a shaved head from surgery. Ray and McKenzie decided to shave their youngest son Rayden’s head as well.

“We tried to help him be a little bit more comfortable,” Nieves said with a smile.

Then the medical bills began rolling in.

“[It was] $10,000 for this, $2,000 for that, $15,000 here. It added up very, very, very quickly,” he said.

Nieves described the difficulty in acquiring and providing affordable health insurance as a self-employed, small-business owner.

In a 2019 survey published by The Kaiser Family Foundation, small businesses in the United States that do not provide health-care
benefits to their employees still cite the cost as the central reason. The survey reported the average annual premiums as $7,188 for single coverage and $20,576 for families.

“When you are self-employed it’s very difficult to get health insurance,” Nieves said. “It’s kind of like a pay-to-play thing. I’m paying more than my mortgage to have insurance for my family. You know, 1,500 bucks a month to carry insurance that isn’t even the best insurance available.”

“There needs to be reform when it comes to stuff like that, and I just don’t think that anybody’s coming forth with long-term solutions,” Nieves said. “I mean, it’s always been a really touchy subject as far as health insurance and stuff go. To me, it seems that it’s a really bad industry because there’s a lot of money involved. You see what the CEOs and stuff are making, and I’m not against them making money. I mean, that is capitalism, but it’s also a human right.”

Medicaid programs such as Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) aim to provide care for low-income households that otherwise would not have insurance. The Census Bureau estimated 4,000 Maricopans — 7.8% of its population of 50,000-plus — were without health insurance in 2018.

U.S. Department of Health data shows 17.4% of children in Pinal County are not covered by health insurance.

Nieves is not hopeful the status of U.S. health care will change anytime soon: “There’s just a lot of stuff that comes into play, and that just goes to show you why it’s such a difficult problem to solve.”

Dr. Philip Wazny, NMD, believes no one knows how to solve the health-care problem, at least not yet.

“Looking at the medical literature, wages and income have not kept up with deductibles,” Wazny said. “It is at the point where patients are not coming in for what may seem like just a cough, now it’s bronchitis or pneumonia.”

Wazny described this lull in people going to doctors in fear of being charged as an “unfortunate rebound” because people could end up with a far more severe ailment if left untreated, oftentimes high blood pressure or diabetes. He said people should be able to choose how they are treated, but with so many big companies involved, it could be quite a while before the nation sees a shift.

“I really think the doctors get paid through the pharmacies, and I really personally do not like doctors,” said Manny Chavez, owner of Prestige Landscaping. “It went from healthcare to a money gold mine.”

He is not in a position to offer health insurance to employees and said they are covered by liability insurance if they are injured on the job. “If the employee gets hurt or not, I’m still paying so much for how many hours they work,” he said. “I still get charged from unemployment insurance, and that’s like the biggest killer to me.”

Health insurance and even healthcare was not a priority when he was growing up, just the work.

“As a Mexican, you were never going to the doctor, and you couldn’t afford it anyway,” Chavez said. “Personally, we were never really supposed to retire. We were supposed to work until our body just quit.”

He said the U.S. healthcare system isn’t necessarily rigged on purpose, “it just happened the way it happened, and everybody’s in each other’s pocket.”

With the Affordable Care Act turning 10 years old, new steps are being made to further solve problems presented to patients in the medical industry. In December, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions and bipartisan House leaders approved the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

According to a summary of the proposed legislation by the House Committee on Ways & Means, included in this agreement is the protection of patients and families from surprise billing with a system for “independent dispute resolution often called arbitration.”

These proposals could protect millions of Americans just like the Nieves family who happen to fall victim to the expensive and intimidating health-care system.


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

Shamrock Farms was among food facilities getting an excellent health inspection.

All Maricopa food facilities inspected by Pinal County health inspectors from Oct. 16 to Nov. 15 were given excellent scores.

EXCELLENT [No violations found]
Aliberto’s
Domino’s Pizza
Bashas’ – AFC Sushi
Bashas’ – Bakery
Bashas’ – Starbucks
Fry’s Marketplace
Fry’s Marketplace – Bakery
Fry’s Marketplace – Deli
Fry’s Marketplace – Starbucks
Fry’s Marketplace – Sushi
IHOP
Jack in the Box
JB Farmer’s Convenience Store
Maricopa Head Start
Province Community Association Clubhouse
Shamrock Farms
Walmart
Walmart – Deli

SATISFACTORY [Violations corrected during inspections]
None

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT [Critical items noted during inspection cannot be corrected immediately requiring follow-up inspection]
None

UNACCEPTABLE [Gross, unsanitary conditions necessitating the discontinuation of service]
None

Victor Jones received an artificial heart in October. Submitted photo

A Maricopa man is fighting for his life.

Victor Jones, 54, and his wife Robin have had a stressful few months, to say the least. At the end of September, a routine hospital visit to check Victor’s levels on a blood pressure medication uncovered inevitable heart failure.

“Victor has a history of high blood pressure and that started in 2015,” Robin said. “He also has the hereditary factor, because his father also had a heart transplant, at the age of 48.”

Robin recalled their experience going to Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix to speak with Victor’s doctor about his medication no longer being efficient enough for him. After doctors took a few tests, Victor was placed under observation. They found his blood pressure was dropping drastically.

Doctors determined Victor’s heart had become enlarged from his high blood pressure, resulting in what could become heart failure. The heart team determined immediate surgery was necessary.

With a long waiting list for hearts, doctors needed to install a TAH (total artificial heart). This temporary heart is used as a replacement and can last four years, depending on the circumstances. TAH takes over the work the failed heart could not perform, keeping Jones alive and functioning until a permanent heart becomes available for full transplantation.

The artificial heart was placed Oct. 5, with Victor being put into a medical coma due to the nature of the surgery and for the healing of a collapsed lung.

Robin Jones expressed her exhaustion with the long days and nights at the hospital on top of juggling personal responsibilities like driving her grandsons to and from school and getting enough sleep. She is also working for MUSD in the health office of Saddleback Elementary.

“I’m traveling constantly,” Robin said. “I’m here almost 24/7, so I am just functioning from day to day. It’s been a roller coaster.”

Robin and Victor Jones. Submitted photo

Even with the stress and worry, a weight was lifted when Victor woke up from his coma about a month later.

“He’s been doing well, he’s progressing,” Robin Jones said. “He’s in high spirits. He was a little confused because he had been asleep so long.”

Robin said she was happy with Victor’s strength and resilience during the process.

“Victor was a veteran. He served in the Army and was also a merchant marine for 15 years,” she said.

In November, Victor Jones sat up on his own and took a few steps for the first time in over a month with help from hospital staff.

Victor and Robin Jones have received unwavering support from friends and family, including special support from their teenage grandsons Darian and Jaylin Abercrombie, who live with them. The boys created an e-sports company called Team Radius and plan on selling custom merchandise to their fans, donating the proceeds toward their grandfather’s medical bills. Victor Jones loves playing videogames with his grandsons, and they often game together in their free time.

Local radio host and vlogger Marc Montgomery had Jaylin, 15, on his radio show to speak about his grandparents and how people can help.

“We’re just selling stuff, like stickers and stuff,” Jaylin said. “You can just buy that, and it’ll help us a lot, to pay off some of the bills we have.”

Montgomery has been a close friend of Victor and the Jones family for several years and wanted to help as well. This came in the form of a GoFundMe.com page for people to donate to “Grandpa Jones” medical expenses and the heart transplant.

“A very good friend of mine, a close friend of mine, almost died last week,” Montgomery said in October. “Victor was the first person I met a long time ago at Pacana park.”

Despite all the hardships and sleepless nights that have come with Jones’s heart failure, the Jones family and friends remain optimistic and hopeful.

“We’ve got the boys and Marc,” Robin Jones said with a laugh. “And Victor’s doing great right now.”

 

GoFundMe.com/f/grandpa-jones

 

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Two eateries in Maricopa were cited by health inspectors in Sept. 16 through Oct. 15 inspections, mainly for having refrigerators not working properly. Twenty-three other establishments, including most pizza joints in town, received excellent marks.

McDonald’s on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway had a reach-in, two-door refrigerator that was not holding food at the required 41 degrees or below. The inspector found tomatoes, corn and lettuce at temperatures ranging from 59 to 61 degrees. In a glass-door refrigerator, yogurt and burritos were at 58 degrees. Food items were embargoed to be discarded. The inspector also noted at least one employee multi-tasking with the same gloves.

The Circle K at 21212 N. John Wayne Parkway was marked down for having a self-serve display refrigeration unit holding sandwiches at 45-51 degrees. The manager took action at the time of inspection, and the food was embargoed.

EXCELLENT [No violations found]
Ace Vending at Central Arizona College
Barro’s Pizza
The Box Meat Shop
Circle K (east)
Circle K (east) – Made to Go
Circle K (north)
CVS Pharmacy
Dollar Tree
Good 2 Go Store
Helen’s at Copper Sky
Helen’s at Pacana Park
Helen’s Kitchen
Honeycutt Coffee
KFC/Long John Silvers
Little Caesar’s Pizza
Papa John’s Pizza
Papa Murphy’s Pizza
Pizza Hut
QuikTrip
QuikTrip – Kitchen
Taco Bell
Walgreens
Water and Ice

SATISFACTORY [Violations corrected during inspection]
Circle K (south), McDonald’s (Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway)

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT [Critical items noted during inspection cannot be corrected immediately requiring follow-up inspection]
None

UNACCEPTABLE [Gross, unsanitary conditions necessitating the discontinuation of service]
None


This item appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

County attorney says opioid makers 'lining their pockets'

Pinal County is taking pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmacies and doctors to court over addiction and overdoses.

There have been 308 reported opioid overdoses in Pinal County in the past two and a half years.

Pinal County is taking on big pharmaceutical companies over opioid addiction. The law firms of Fennemore Craig and Theodora Oringher filed suit for the county in Superior Court Sept. 25.

“We know how many pills were forced into our county,” County Attorney Kent Volkmer said. “Every pill is tracked by the federal government. Needless to say, it falls far outside of appropriate norms.”

In suing many large drug manufacturers and all pharmacies that do business in Pinal County, Volkmer said his office is not as interested in getting a monetary award from the case as it is the opportunity to litigate it in the public forum.

Among the 50 defendants named in Pinal County vs. Actavis LLC, et al. are American Drug Company, Costco, Walgreens, Osco Drug, Walmart, Bashas’, Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt LLC, Safeway, Par Pharmaceuticals, Smith’s Food & Drug, Sun Life Family Health Center and Watson Laboratories. The suit also names eight members of the Sackler family, who Bloomberg estimates to be worth $13 billion collectively.

By filing suit at the county level rather than joining the many federal-level lawsuits, Volkmer said, there is a better chance of getting the evidence known. Ongoing suits against the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, brought by states and other levels of government, will likely be filed into a national settlement. At the federal level, a U.S. bankruptcy judge paused those lawsuits against Purdue Pharma in October.

But Purdue and the Sacklers are only part of the Pinal County suit.

“We are prepared to litigate it. We want a jury to hear what they did and to determine a remedy,” Volkmer said. “We’re confident they acted badly. We want the public to know. The best way to get that is to try the case.”

The complaint does not cite a number for the monetary damages the county is seeking from the 50 defendants named. It seeks “to recover all measure of damages permissible under the statutes identified herein and under common law, in an amount to be proven at trial.”

“We’re confident they acted badly. We want the public to know. The best way to get that is to try the case.” – County Attorney Kent Volkmer

Volkmer said opioid addiction has cost the county manpower in law enforcement and health. And it is removing once-productive people from the economy because they can no longer work, shrinking the tax base that helps pay for the services impacted by opioid addiction.

Patients who could no longer afford an opioid prescription sometimes turned to heroin, causing more impact on law enforcement, the medical examiner’s office and county health resources. “And all of this cost was foisted on the county,” Volkmer said.

“Janssen fully recognizes the opioid crisis that exists in this country. But one thing is clear: Janssen’s medications did not cause or contribute to that crisis.” – Janssen Pharmaceuticals

The county complaint opens with the statement, “Opiates are killing people every day in this country and Arizonans have not been spared. Each of the [d]efendants in this action engaged in an industry-wide effort to downplay the dangerous and deadly potential effects of the misuse of prescription opioids. The opioid epidemic has hit every community in Arizona hard, including Pinal County.”

One of the defendants, Beverly Sackler, died Oct. 15 at the age of 95. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain gave Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers and the government entities suing them until Nov. 6 to reach a disclosure plan that would show how much the company earned from OxyContin sales.

Fennemore Craig was hired by Pinal County this summer specifically for this case against Big Pharma. Its attorneys claimed the actions of opioid manufacturers were “a sophisticated, manipulative scheme” particularly designed to be effective in places like Pinal County because it “is home to a multitude of economically and medically vulnerable populations that defendants knew were uniquely predisposed to opioid addiction, including the elderly.”

Big Pharma companies, Volkmer said, are “lining their pockets” as a result of front-end and back-end domination of a field they created. Some of the same companies that make the opioids also make the overdose antidote naloxone, he said.

Those companies include Hospira (acquired by Pfizer) and Mylan, both named in the suit, which describes both as “a top manufacturer of fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine and codeine in Pinal County.” Mylan is further accused of withholding ingredients to treat “opioid-use disorder and opioid addiction” from its competitors.

Pinal County also accuses Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, of pushing “bogus research” to promote opioids.

It is similar to claims made in other cases against Janssen in Oklahoma and Ohio, where Janssen denied wrongdoing, stating in court papers: “Janssen fully recognizes the opioid crisis that exists in this country. But one thing is clear: Janssen’s medications did not cause or contribute to that crisis… Janssen will prove that its marketing was and remains supported by scientific medical evidence, offered in good-faith and without a scintilla of fraudulent intent.”

In the mid- to late-1990s, physicians started classifying pain as a “fifth vital sign.” That was allegedly pushed by the American Pain Society and resulted in pharmaceutical companies putting more attention on creating and marketing pain medication. Recent lawsuits from 23 states, as well as Pinal County’s suit, characterize the pharmaceutical companies as “pushing” drugs and turning up the heat on doctors to prescribe more.

Prescribed opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone became commonplace.

“They said opioids addressed and alleviated pain. It was a miracle cure, supposedly,” Volkmer said.

He said, despite a lack of public research, opioids were marketed as addiction-free. Doctors who did not prescribe opioids to help their patients overcome perpetual pain virtually were “accused of malpractice.”

In Massachusetts’ claim against the Sacklers, they were accused of hiring hundreds more sales representatives to pressure doctors. “They directed reps to encourage doctors to prescribe more of the highest doses of opioids. They studied unlawful tactics to keep patients on opioids longer and then ordered staff to use them,” the Massachusetts’ complaint reads.

After the medical community started to acknowledge people were becoming addicted around 2010, the number of prescriptions began to decrease but the amount prescribed increased.

Harinder Takyar is the only physician named in the suit while other local doctors are grouped as so-called “John Does.” Takyar was a Florence-based doctor who was charged with 42 counts of prescribing opioids to his patients without medical need in 2014.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a statewide emergency in 2017 after a health report found 790 Arizonans died of opioid overdoses the previous year. State tracking showed 431 million opioid pills were prescribed in 2016, “enough for every Arizonan to have a 2.5-week supply.”

Since the emergency declaration, between June 15, 2017, and Oct. 10, 2019, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,633 deaths that were suspected of being opioid overdoses.

Volkmer said while the Pinal case is “very, very similar to Big Tobacco,” immediacy is the difference.

“If you smoke, in 20 or 30 years, you could get cancer,” he said. “Opioids have an immediate impact. It renders people unable to work. If one of my employees goes outside for a smoke break, they can come back to work. If they go out to pop a Percocet, they won’t be able to do that.”

Volkmer said he is “fairly optimistic” the case can be in court in 18-24 months.


This story appears in the the November issue of InMaricopa.

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Thirteen of 14 food establishments in the Maricopa area inspected by Pinal County health personnel from Aug. 16 to Sept. 15 received top marks.

The exception was a slight markdown for Rob’s Convenience, a store on Papago Road that did not have adequate hot water pressure in the hand-washing sink or its three-compartment sink.

EXCELLENT [No violations found]
Central Arizona College – Café
Central Arizona College – Culinary
Dollar General
F.O.R. Maricopa
Gyro Grill
Legacy Traditional School
Maricopa Elementary
Sequoia Pathway Academy – K-6
Sequoia Pathway Academy – Secondary
Shell – Dairy Queen
Shell – Food Mart
Sonic Drive-In
Wendy’s

SATISFACTORY [Violations corrected during inspection]
Rob’s Convenience

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT [Critical items noted during inspection cannot be corrected immediately requiring follow-up inspection]
None

UNACCEPTABLE [Gross, unsanitary conditions necessitating the discontinuation of service]
None