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Stearns County has secret to long life

Also: Bemidji nurses ready to strike; Moorhead is steamy; Redwood Falls farmers want some regulatory relief

News from Greater Minnesota

Stearns County, that most central of Central Minnesota counties, has the highest life expectancy in Minnesota, the St. Cloud Daily Times reports. “A baby girl born in Stearns County in 2007 could be expected to live on average nearly 84 years, according to the study done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. That’s the 10th-highest life expectancy for females out of more than 3,000 counties in the country. A Stearns County baby boy born in 2007 could expect to live almost 79 years, the 38th-highest among counties in the nation.” The Times’ article points out that other counties with high life expectancies tend to be home to wealthy people. Not so in Stearns, where the median household income is about $48,000, or less than half of those in other long-lived counties. While Stearns in average in most categories, people there do have above average access to hospitals, and some have attributed a skewing of the figures to long-lived monks and nuns in the county. “But genetics and good health care probably play a factor, too, according to Dr. David Tilstra, medical director of CentraCare Clinic in St. Cloud. ‘It’s got to be a combination of a couple of things. There’s more to it than nuns and monks’ ” Pine County had the lowest life expectancy for women, averaging 80.1 years in 2007. Beltrami County had the lowest life expectancy for men in 2007, at 74.6 years.

Nurses at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center delivered to hospital officials Friday a formal 10-day informational picketing notice. According to the Bemidji Pioneer, the nurses are frustrated by administration’s refusal to meet in a timely fashion and they fear for the safety of their patients and each other. The picketing is scheduled to occur outside the hospital from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 17. “I can tell you, right now, the environment I’m working in is oftentimes not safe for our patients and our nurses,” Peter Danielson, RN, chair of the Minnesota Nurses Association bargaining team, told the newspaper. Sanford Bemidji officials told a federal mediator the hospital won’t come back to the bargaining table any earlier than Sept. 7, 2011. The current contract between the hospital and 230 nurses represented by MNA expired Feb. 28, 2011. Nurses voted overwhelmingly July 28 to reject Sanford’s contract offer. Major sticking points include staffing levels and the ability for nurses to have adequate resources for bedside patient care, according to Danielson. Other issues include management’s demand for concessions regarding nurses’ health care and pension plans.

Some have called Moorhead the armpit of Minnesota, and now the state climatologist is on their side. The Fargo Forum is reporting that an 88-degree dew point reading last month in Moorhead qualifies as a state record. The 88-degree dew point temperature was recorded from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 19 at Moorhead Municipal Airport, trouncing the previous state record of 86 degrees at Pipestone and St. James on July 23, 2005. But climatologists say there are a few extenuating circumstances, including a nearby watery ditch and local clover and sugar beets that were “actively transpiring,” or releasing water vapor into the air. Assistant State Climatologist Pete Boulay said that different terrain might lead to a lower dew point. “But we can’t control exposure at all the airport sites, so you take what you get, basically.”

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Farmers and livestock producers gave Matt Wohlman, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, an earful during last week’s Farmfest in Redwood Falls, according to Kylie Saari of the Fairmont Sentinel. Farmers told Wohlman they consider the government’s regulatory process to be among their biggest adversaries. While they understand that regulations help protect the environment, keep tabs on actions and level the playing field, farmers and livestock producers can get bogged down for years in the permitting process and find themselves so deep in paperwork that it threatens their livelihood, said Dave Pfarr, a Minnesota Corn Growers Association board member. He said requirements such as worker protection standards, manure regulations, pesticide applications regulation and labeling requirements are too aggressive. Don Schiefelbein, president of the Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association and Minnesota Pollution Control Citizen’s Board, told Wohlman that “it is not a specific rule. It is, are you there to serve us or are you there to fine us?” Bill Crawford, president of Minnesota Pork Board, and Warren Formo, executive director of Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition, agreed. “We don’t need more regulation, we need someone to enforce what is already on the books,” Crawford said. Wohlman defended the need for responsible regulation. “It is a small number of people pushing the envelope. Regulation provides stability and consumer confidence.” The panel did not come up with any solutions to the regulation problems.

Northfield City Council members are trying to decide what to do about the pipes, bongs and hookahs for sale in the back of Rob Wazwaz’s shop, Tobacco Field. They say the items are drug paraphernalia and they’re considering banning the sale of such items, according to a story by Suzanne Rook of the Northfield News. Wazwaz’s wife owns the shop, and he says that if the items are banned, he’ll lose the business. Besides, there’s no law in Minnesota that bans anyone from selling such items, he says. “They’ll just go to Burnsville, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Faribault,” he said. “It gives (those shops) an unfair advantage,” he said. Public Safety Director Mark Taylor said pipes, bongs and hookahs are not considered drug paraphernalia unless they’ve been used to consume controlled substances or are found alongside them. He said Northfield has not experienced a spike in paraphernalia violations. Wazwaz has placed signs in his shop noting that the pipes and bongs are for use with tobacco only. “You can’t tell people when they buy a product what to do with (it),” he told the newspaper. “It’s unfortunate this debate even came up. Tobacco glass is sold in stores all over the state. I don’t see why Northfield has to be any different. All they are doing is losing business.”

(Wait for the part about the chainsaw.) A 19-year-old Adams man was airlifted to St. Marys Hospital and his father was taken to the hospital by ambulance Wednesday after they both fell into a whey tank, reports Amanda Lillie of the Austin Daily Herald. According to Sheriff Terese Amazi, Joey Gerard Smith Jr. was putting a gauge in a whey tank when he was overcome by noxious fumes and fell in the tank. His father, Joey Gerard Smith Sr., 42, went to the tank to help him but was also overcome by fumes and fell. Richard Smith, Smith Sr.’s brother, cut open the tank with a chainsaw to get the two out. They were out of the tank and breathing when rescuers arrived. Amazi said the tank was filled with as much as three feet of the whey mixture. Both drowning and suffocation are possible when a person falls into a whey tank. (The guy cut open the tank with a chainsaw to save his brother and nephew. How about that.)

Forty wild horses and burros culled from herds in western states will be auctioned at an adoption event Aug. 19-20 at High Island Arena in rural Henderson, reports Brian Ojanpa of the Mankato Free Press.  The Bureau of Land Management offers horses under 3 years old for $125 and those 3 and older for $25. The BLM estimates that 38,500 wild horses and burros live on federally managed rangelands in 10 western states. Thousands of wild horses must be removed to sustain the appropriate management level of about 26,600 animals, the agency says. Adoption events are one way to do so, and since 1971 more than 225,000 animals have been adopted nationwide. Applicants can preview horses from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 19. Adoption hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 20. For more information call 1-866-468-7826 or go here.

The Don and Dorothy Hodapp family have donated a Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible, valued at $145,000, to the Austin Public Library, according to the Austin Daily Herald. The Saint John’s Bible consists of seven volumes created using medieval techniques. It is the first handwritten illuminated edition of the Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey in 500 years. “It’s an amazing opportunity for the community,” Library Director Ann Hokanson told the newspaper. “When I saw the books in person, I was blown away. I have never seen a more beautiful book in my life.” The Bible text features calligraphy on vellum (a thin manuscript made from mammal skin) using quills, hand-made inks and hand-ground pigments. Artistic Director Donald Jackson started the project in 1998 and the edition was just recently finished. For the 299 Heritage Editions, Jackson uses paper made of 100 percent American Cotton designed specifically for the Saint John’s Bible. The ink was dried with new ultraviolet technology so it wouldn’t bleed or run. Each of the 299 Heritage sets is authenticated and initialed by Jackson, and no new copies will be made. The original Saint John’s Bible, which will be displayed at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, is very delicate, but the library’s Heritage Edition will be much hardier. Groups will be able to read and handle editions, but only by appointment and with library staff present. A Plexiglas display will be added to the library where one volume will be on display at a time.

John Fitzgerald is a longtime journalist and Minnesota resident. He lives in Buffalo.