The Morning Press: PeaceHealth layoffs, Wal-Mart, CRC, diabetes, social media

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This week's top stories and news you may have missed:

PeaceHealth says it will slash 500 jobs amid budget challenges

photoRegional health care provider PeaceHealth, headquartered in Vancouver’s Columbia Tech Center, is eliminating 340 jobs — 177 through layoffs — in Southwest Washington due in part to declining patient volumes. It said it would cut about 500 jobs system-wide; it now employs about 16,000.

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PeaceHealth, the Vancouver-based health-care system with operations in three states, said Tuesday it will cut about 500 jobs across its system through a combination of layoffs, unfilled positions and reductions in employee hours as it struggles to slash this year’s budget by more than $130 million.

About 340 of those jobs will be eliminated from PeaceHealth’s Columbia Network, which encompasses Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver and St. John Medical Center in Longview. More than half of those positions, about 177, are layoffs. And Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver will bear the brunt of those layoffs, with 124 people losing their jobs.

PeaceHealth did not provide a date for the layoffs.

Read the full story here and employee reactions here.

State grain inspectors warn they'll leave port

The Washington state Department of Agriculture says it will soon stop providing grain inspection services at United Grain Corp.'s facility at the Port of Vancouver unless steps are taken to make it safer for its inspectors to cross picket lines to conduct their work.

Don Hover, director of the state Department of Agriculture, outlined his concerns in an Aug. 19 letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As the behavior of pickets from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union "escalates, more staff are feeling unsafe in crossing the picket lines and are opting not to do so," he wrote.

Hover's letter adds yet another twist to the continuing standoff between local longshore workers and United Grain. The feud, part of a larger conflict in the Northwest, has attracted a review by the National Labor Relations Board, prompted letters from government leaders urging the parties to return to the bargaining table and triggered concerns on the part of Eastern Washington grain growers who worry about getting their products to overseas markets.

Read the full story here.

Wal-Mart digs in at Freddie's site

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has begun to redevelop a long-vacant Fred Meyer site in the heart of Vancouver, at Fourth Plain and Grand boulevards.

The area's second Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store will anchor the site, rising out of the ground toward a March completion date, a spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer confirmed Tuesday. Its general contractor, Seattle-based Jackson Dean Construction, has pulled building permits, set up a job-site trailer and surrounded the 5.5-acre tract with a construction barrier of black visqueen. Heavy equipment has moved in to break up the old paved-over site.

Read the full story here.

Kitzhaber: New answers on CRC by Sept. 15

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has kicked his state’s review of an Oregon-led Columbia River Crossing into high gear, telling legislative leaders in a letter Wednesday that they’ll have answers on its feasibility by Sept. 15.

That turnaround would allow for “potential legislative action” by Sept. 30, when Oregon’s financial commitment to the CRC expires, according to the governor. But it’s unclear whether lawmakers will actually reconvene in an attempt to salvage at least some of the project, declared dead two months ago.

At the same time, Kitzhaber acknowledged the uphill climb he and other CRC backers face in their last-ditch effort to resurrect the beleaguered Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project.

“I am under no illusions about the weight of this lift,” Kitzhaber wrote to Senate President Peter Courtney, House Speaker Tina Kotek and others. “Perhaps we do not have the time, or the will, or a feasible pathway to get this project done. But the fact is, the need remains.”

Kitzhaber says he’s asking for an updated property acquisition schedule, a review of intergovernmental partnerships required to move the project forward, and a review of the finance plan for the phased CRC now on the table, among other evaluations.

Read the full story here and keep up with all of the CRC news at http://www.columbian.com/news/i5bridge/

Hockinson girl learns to manage Type 1 diabetes

In many ways, Allie Seekins is like any other 8-year-old.

She plays soccer. She enjoys eating cake at birthday parties. She spends summer afternoons playing with her 5-month-old puppy, Justice. She likes to cool off by swimming in the pond on her family's property in Hockinson.

But in many ways, Allie's life is much different than that of a typical third-grader.

Before playing soccer, Allie has to prick her finger for a blood test. And before she can eat a piece of cake, she has to make sure her blood-sugar levels aren't too high. And before she can jump into the pond, she has to remove the pump that delivers insulin 24 hours a day through a catheter under the skin on her back.

Three years ago, Allie was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Her life — and her parents' lives — haven't been the same since.

Read the full story here.

Officials learn new rules for chat on social media

On any given day, Washougal Mayor Sean Guard checks his Facebook account a handful of times.

His online compulsion, so to speak, draws him to the social media site to drop words of wisdom, offer shout outs to emerging businesses and occasionally throw some jagged elbows at his political opponents. By now his daily Facebook posts come as second nature, even though no one would confuse him for the second coming of Steve Jobs.

“I am one of the most computer illiterate people around,” Guard said. “I don’t think I know how to change my photo on Facebook.”

Still, since Guard started using the social network in 2009, the onetime computer neophyte has racked up 1,241 friends. Today, he views social media not just as an important tool — but a necessary and, at times, dangerous one.

And he’s not alone.

The prevalence of Facebook and micro-blogging sites such as Twitter and little-used Tumblr have created a Brave New World for politicians, even those with previously Luddite tendencies. For Guard, and other public officials, it’s a way of communicating directly with constituents.

Read the full story here.