Monday, February 29, 2016

Arrest Made

Douglas Scott Collins was captured within hours after he was listed on the most wanted section of the Wise County Virginia Sheriff’s website. Wise County Deputies and Big Stone Gap Police Officers arrested him in the town of Big Stone Gap, VA. 

Collins was wanted for Assault and Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer and Attempt to Disarm a Law Enforcement Officer. 

Temporary Stoplight to be Installed on Mountain Parkway

A temporary traffic light will be installed on the Mountain Parkway near the KY 30 interchange, where work continues on the Mountain Parkway Expansion, beginning March 1.

The light, to be located about 500 feet west of the KY 30 interchange, will allow large trucks to haul excavation waste material from one side of the parkway to a dumping area on the opposite side of the roadway. Traffic stoppages will occur frequently, but will last only brief periods of time.

The light is expected to be in place for approximately four weeks. 

West Virginia kills bill allowing private property survey

(AP) — The West Virginia Senate has voted down a bill that would have let surveyors for natural gas pipelines enter people's private property without permission.

Senators voted 23-11 to kill a bill Monday that says letting surveyors for natural gas companies on people's property is in the public interest.

The legislation would have required trying to get consent to go on someone's property. 

Companies would also have to send a notice of their intent to perform studies on someone's property.

The bill would not have required or prevented landowners from being present when surveyors were on site.

The bill was one of several aiming to help natural gas companies in West Virginia.

Coal, natural gas to get tax break in West Virginia

(AP) — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has approved tax breaks for West Virginia's coal and natural gas industries.

The Democrat signed a bill Monday dropping additional severance taxes of 56 cents per ton of coal and 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas.

The surtaxes have helped pay a workers' compensation debt for years.

Tomblin proposed dropping the two levies, and the Republican-led Legislature passed Tomblin's bill.

They would disappear July 1. Tomblin also can eliminate them earlier.

The bill permits using the money until July 1 to help balance this year's $384 million budget gap.

Tomblin's administration expects it would cost $51.5 million in lost coal revenue and $58.1 million lost from natural gas in the 2017 budget year.

Standard severance taxes on coal and natural gas aren't affected.

Friday, February 26, 2016

January US mine inspections result in 138 citations

(AP) — Federal inspectors issued 138 citations and four orders at U.S. mine operations in January.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration says the inspections were conducted at 11 coal mines and six other mines in 12 states, including Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.

The impact inspections began in 2010 after the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29 coal miners. Since April 2010, MSHA has issued 15,833 citations and 1,303 orders.

Mines targeted by the inspections are those that have compliance concerns or poor compliance history.

Kentucky House passes unclaimed life insurance bill

(AP) — The Kentucky House has passed a bill to make sure life insurance companies make "good faith efforts" to track down beneficiaries, regardless when the policies were written.

The legislation seeks to clarify that the state's Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act applies to life insurance policies issued before the law passed in 2012, despite insurance companies' objections.

Under the law, insurers are required to check public death records to determine whether policyholders have died and try to find beneficiaries owed proceeds.

Several life insurance companies sued, saying the mandate could not be applied retroactively.

The measure is a response to a decision by Gov. Matt Bevin's administration to drop its defense of the law in a court case. The bill cleared the House on Friday and goes to the Senate.

Magoffin County officials accused of buying votes

(AP) — A federal indictment has accused three elected officials in Magoffin County of benefiting from a vote-buying scheme.

Media outlets report that the indictment, handed down Thursday, accuses several people of making payments in exchange for votes for Judge/Executive Charles "Doc" Hardin, County Clerk Renee Arnett Shepherd and Magistrate Gary "Rooster" Risner.

The indictment says that Risner; his wife, Tami Jo Risner; Mason Daniels; Shepherd and her husband, Larry Shepherd, conspired to offer people money to vote for Hardin, Renee Shepherd and Gary Risner. A fifth person, Scott Lynn McCarty, is also charged with aiding vote-buying.

Authorities say the scheme started in 2013 and lasted through the November 2014 election.

The Risners, Daniels and McCarty have pleaded not guilty. The Shepherds declined to comment, as did Hardin's attorney, James Deckard.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

KSP Investigates Fatal Accident in Pike County

Kentucky State Police, Pikeville Post, is investigating a fatal collision that occurred in Pike County during the evening hours of Wednesday, February 24, 2016.

The initial investigation indicates that Teresa Tooman, 52 years old of Virgie, Kentucky, was traveling west on KY 610 West in the Virgie community. Tooman lost control of her 2001 Ford F-150 and overturned her vehicle into a ditch.  Tooman was pronounced deceased at the scene by Pike County Coroner, Russell Roberts.  Evidence at the scene indicates Tooman was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the collision, and alcohol does not appear to be a factor.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by Post 09 Accident Reconstructionist, Detective Jason Merlo. 

Mingo County Drug Bust

A Williamson man in facing serious charges following a drug bust early Thursday morning.

Leo Curtis Childress, 34, was arrested after the Mingo County Sheriff's Department, U.S. 119 Task Force and West Virginia State Police conducted a search warrant at his residence at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

According to a news release from the Mingo County Sheriff's Department, police found 174 grams of crack cocaine, 32 grams of marijuana and $1,124 in cash. The release said the street value of the drugs is about $50,000.

Childress is charged with two counts of possession with the intent to deliver.

Mingo County Sheriff James Smith said in the release that he is extremely pleased with the efforts the different units put toward the arrest.

Officials: New $444M federal prison coming to Letcher County

(AP) — Officials say a new federal prison is coming to Letcher County.

Local media outlets report U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch confirmed on Wednesday funding to build the prison.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers' office says in a statement that the Bureau of Prisons plans to use $444 million in federal money to construct the prison on a 700-acre site in Roxana. The location was chosen after an environmental study.

Rogers says the prison could create hundreds of jobs as the region struggles to rebound from the loss of more than 10,000 coal mining jobs over the last eight years.

Officials say the prison could create about 300 full-time jobs.

Commission approves lower water rate increase than sought

(AP) — The Public Service Commission of West Virginia has granted West Virginia American Water Company a lower increase than it sought.

The commission said in a news release late Wednesday that it issued an order allowing a water rate increase of $18.17 million, or about 15.1 percent. The utility company had initially requested a rise of nearly twice that amount — $35.47 million.

The commission also granted a $151,000 increase in sewer rates, a 19.8 percent jump. 

That number is about $25,000 less than what the company had sought.

Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy says that many residents will struggle to afford the new rates. Hardy says Social Security hasn't gone up this year and wages have hardly budged.

WVAW spokeswoman Laura Jordan has said the rate increase would go toward updates for aging infrastructure.

W.Va. lawmakers OK bill to drop coal, natural gas surtax

(AP) — West Virginia is looking to drop surtaxes on coal mining and natural gas drilling.

The House voted 96-3 Thursday to approve dropping the additional severance tax of 56 cents per ton of coal and 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. The Senate previously passed the bill, and still would need to vote on House amendments.
The surtaxes have helped pay a workers' compensation debt for years.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed dropping the two levies.

The surtaxes would be effective July 1, leaving the governor the option to eliminate them earlier.

Tomblin's administration expects it would cost $51.5 million in lost coal revenue and $58.1 million lost from natural gas in the 2017 budget year.

Standard severance taxes on coal and natural gas wouldn't be affected.

Kentucky State Police partners with quilters to help vets

(AP) — Kentucky State Police in Hazard are partnering with a group of quilt makers to assist veterans.

A statement from police says troopers will pick up the finished quilts and deliver them to the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard.

The Kentucky River Area Quilt Makers have been making lap quilts for veterans, but many members are elderly, on a tight budget and dealing with health issues. Quilt maker Audrey Combs, who is also the mother of a state trooper, suggested that quilters call the KSP post when they finish a quilt.

Police Capt. Blake Sloan said the post is honored to help veterans and elderly residents in the area. He said it allows troopers to patrol areas they aren't usually in and to forge good relationships with the community.

Bill aims to spare teens from felony for sexting

(AP) — Teenagers caught sending nude photographs of themselves or their friends via cell phones or online would be spared a felony offense under a bill advancing in the Kentucky General Assembly.

The measure dealing with so-called sexting cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The bill applies to youngsters under age 18. The proposal calls for a violation punishable by fines for a first offense. Subsequent offenses would be a misdemeanor that could lead to fines and time in juvenile detention.

Sen. Joe Bowen, the bill's lead sponsor, says prosecutors currently confronted by teen sexting cases have the option of filing felony charges or nothing. And convictions could result in registry as a sex offender.

Bowen says his bill aims to punish young offenders without saddling them with a felony.

Bill allowing companies to deny services to gays advances

(AP) — The Kentucky state Senate is advancing a bill that would allow businesses and churches to refuse services to gay, lesbian or transgender clients in the name of protecting religious beliefs.

The bill comes after the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ordered a Christian T-shirt company to get diversity training for refusing to print shirts for a gay pride festival. A state judge overturned the order, but an appeals court is reviewing the case.

The bill is the latest effort of lawmakers in some states to react to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. The Georgia legislature is considering similar legislation, and the Missouri legislature is considering amending its state constitution to protect businesses who decline to provide goods or services for same-sex marriage ceremonies or celebrations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

House passes lease protections for domestic violence victims

(AP) — The Kentucky House has passed legislation that would allow domestic-violence victims to break rental agreements without fear of penalty to get away from their abusers.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, the bill's lead sponsor, says it would remove barriers some victims face in leaving abusive relationships. The measure passed the House on a 90-3 vote Wednesday and now goes to the Senate.

To qualify for the lease-breaking protection, a victim would have to go to court and obtain a long-term protective order and then give 30 days' written notice to the landlord.

The bill also would protect people from being evicted solely because they were victims of domestic or dating violence and have obtained protective orders.

The legislation is House Bill 41.

KSP Investigates Robbery in Pike County

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, February 24, 2016, Post 9 Pikeville received a 911 call of a robbery at the Belfry 7-Eleven in Pike County. 

Troopers responded to the scene and determined that an unknown male entered the business. He threatened the clerk with a weapon, and demanded money.  The clerk retrieved an undisclosed amount of cash, and gave it to the male before he fled the service station on foot.

The male was described as wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with a black mask covering his face. 

The Kentucky State Police is asking the public for any information relating to this case, and can call the Kentucky State Police Post 09 at (606) 433-7711.  Callers can remain anonymous.

This incident remains under investigation by KSP Trooper Jason McLellan.

House Democrats advance unclaimed life insurance bill

(AP) — Kentucky House Democrats have advanced a bill aimed at helping people collect life insurance benefits owed them.

The bill cleared the House Banking and Insurance Committee on Wednesday.
It's in response to a decision by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's administration to drop its defense of a law designed to protect life insurance benefits.

The measure would amend the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act to have it apply to life insurance policies written before the law took effect.

The law requires insurance companies to check public death records to verify if policyholders have died, and to make "good faith efforts" to locate beneficiaries.

Several life insurance companies sued, saying the law could not be applied to policies written before the law passed. The companies prevailed at the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Kentucky's Medicaid program faces $611 million shortfall

(AP) — Kentucky's Medicaid program is facing a $125 million deficit this year and a $611 million deficit over the next two years as it struggles to keep up with a flood of new enrollees and the end of 100 percent federal funding for its expanded eligibility requirements.

Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson told House budget writers on Wednesday she worries about the sustainability of the program that provides health insurance for more than a quarter of Kentucky's population.

Democrats were frustrated Glisson could not tell them how she planned to make up the deficit. Glisson promised to have more details next week. House lawmakers will likely vote on the budget next week.

Glisson said she would not cut benefits, programs or employees.

Records show firm with Beshear ties won last-day contract

(AP) — Records have revealed that on its last day in office, Kentucky's Steve Beshear administration awarded a no-bid contract of about $3 million to a technology company that retains the husband of one of Beshear's top officials as a consultant and employs one of Beshear's former officials as a lobbyist.

Citing records it obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act, The Courier-Journal reports that on Dec. 7 the administration awarded a contract to SAS Institute of Cary, North Carolina to extend work that SAS was doing in analyzing data to detect fraud in billings made to Medicaid and other state programs.

The husband of Beshear's executive cabinet secretary, Mary Lassiter, has been a consultant for SAS Institute since 2012. Frank Lassiter says he didn't make any additional fees because of the contract.

Murray Energy idling West Virginia coal mine

(AP) — A large West Virginia underground coal mine owned by Murray Energy is halting production for nearly two weeks and possibly longer.

Murray Energy chairman and CEO Robert Murray said Wednesday that the Marion County mine would be idled until at least March 7 because of reduced demand for coal from electric utilities. The mine employs about 500 workers.

The Ohio-based company is one of the nation's largest coal producers. Murray said regulatory enforcement from President Barack Obama's administration and inexpensive natural gas are stifling the demand for coal. He says all of his mines in six states are running on reduced schedules, and the company's workforce has shrunk from 8,400 in May to 5,800 this month.

Murray bought the Marion County mine along with four others from Consol Energy in 2013.

Permitless concealed gun bill heads to W.Va. governor's desk

(AP) — A proposal to let people 21 years old and up carry hidden guns without permits or training is headed back to Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Senators passed the bill Wednesday by a 24-9 margin. It includes the House's $50.00 gun training tax credit, which could cost $3 million.

It's legal in West Virginia to carry a gun openly without a permit, like in a holster.

The bill would let people conceal guns in public without permits; for instance, by wearing a coat. People ages 18 through 20 would need a permit and training with live firing.

Tomblin vetoed a similar bill last year over law enforcement's safety concerns.

Only a handful of states don't require concealed carry permits.

The bill would increase penalties for felonies committed with a gun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Child Neglect Plea and Sentencing

Earlier today, Thelma Louise Thomas, age 43, entered a guilty plea to two counts of Child Neglect Creating Substantial Risk of Serious Bodily Injury or Death.  Thomas waived a pre-sentence investigation and requested to be immediately sentenced.  The Honorable Miki Thompson then sentenced Thomas to one to five years with regards to each count to run consecutively.  Thomas will not be eligible for parole until after she has served a minimum of two (2) years.  In addition, upon the completion of her sentence, Thomas will be required to register with the West Virginia State Police as a child abuser and participate in the intensive supervision program for a period of ten years.

During her plea hearing, Thomas acknowledged that she had not protected her teenage daughter from Maximo Ayala, Jr.  Ayala previously entered a plea to several sexual offenses.  During his plea hearing, Ayala acknowledged that while he was residing in the Thomas’ home he had an ongoing sexual relationship with Thomas’ daughter.  The relationship began when the victim was only thirteen and continued until the time of Ayala’s arrest last year.  The victim has since given birth to two children.  During the course of the relationship, Ayala, the victim, who only recently turned sixteen, and her family lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving several times including at least one move from Kentucky to West Virginia.  Thomas failed to intervene in the relationship and failed to take any steps to remove Ayala from the family residence.

“Being a parent comes with certain responsibilities including an obligation to protect your children from all manner of harm.  Most parents suffer from an attack of guilt when their child breaks an arm while climbing a tree or riding a bike.  It is difficult to imagine a parent being willfully blind to their child being repeatedly sexually assaulted in her own home.  Unfortunately, Thomas did just that.  Her lack of action is appalling, and her daughter and grandchildren will suffer irreparable harm as a result.  While this conviction cannot heal all wounds, I am hopeful that the victim will find some measure of peace knowing that justice has been served.”
Rodney Thomas, the father of the victim, was also originally charged.  However, the charges were dismissed following his death earlier this year.

Special Guest

FRANKFORT-Senate Democratic Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II (left), D-Pikeville, today honored Blake Edmonds on the floor of the Kentucky State Senate for his service on behalf of Kentuckians living with epilepsy.  Blake has been selected by the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana to join 40 other youth from across the United States as participants in the national Epilepsy Foundation’s 2016 Teen Speak Up! Program in Washington, D.C. in April 2016.  Blake was joined in Frankfort today by his mother, Diane Edmonds.  Photo by LRC Public Information Office

Open house planned for opening of Mine Training Facility

(AP) — The Kentucky Coal Academy is planning an event next month to mark the opening of its new Mine Training Facility in southeastern Kentucky.

An open house is set for March 10 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Harlan campus of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Kentucky Coal Academy executive director Gary Whisman says the new training facility will offer "near real-life training experiences" to prepare miners to respond to a variety of situations.

People attending the open house can tour the Mining Training Facility. Visitors can also test out the program's mining training simulators. Faculty and staff will be on hand to meet with visitors.

Tobacco tax hike cleared by West Virginia Senate

(AP) — West Virginia senators have voted for a bigger tobacco tax hike than Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed.

The Republican-led Senate's 26-6 vote Tuesday sends the bill to the House.

Tomblin's plan would have raised the cigarette tax by 45 cents to $1, raised a tax on other tobacco products and taxed e-cigarettes. It would have yielded $78 million additional annually and $18.9 million to help balance the 2016 budget.

A Senate committee approved a Democratic amendment for the larger cigarette tax increase, by $1 to $1.55. The money would go toward state employee and retiree health plans. It would yield about $115 million more annually, not just $78 million.

Senators said the change would aid health plans beyond 2017.

House GOP leadership has been more hesitant to raise taxes.

Chief justice warns House panel of Bevin's budget proposal

(AP) — Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. has told a legislative panel that the governor's proposed budget cuts would effectively shut down the courts temporarily.

Minton appeared before a House budget subcommittee on Tuesday and said budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin would cripple the court system.

Minton said the courts would likely have to shut down the court system for some three weeks just to enact the 4.5 percent cuts Bevin has proposed for the current fiscal year that ends June 30. He said other justice initiatives would be threatened "by a crippled court system."

Bevin has proposed cuts of 9 percent in each of the next two fiscal years.

Monday, February 22, 2016

KSP Investigates Fatal Accident in Magoffin County

Kentucky State Police, Pikeville Post, is investigating a fatal collision that occurred in Magoffin County during the afternoon hours of Monday, February 22, 2016.

The initial investigation indicates that Kelly Vanderpool, 44 years old of Gunlock, Kentucky, was traveling east on KY Route 542 in the Gunlock community. Vanderpool lost control of his vehicle, left the roadway and overturned into a creek. Vanderpool was pronounced deceased at the scene by Magoffin County Coroner, Mark Jenkins.  Evidence at the scene indicates Vanderpool was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the collision, and alcohol does not appear to be a factor.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by Trooper Paul Johnson. 

Fayette County judge-executive urges elimination of his job

(AP) — Fayette County Judge-Executive John Roberts has asked Kentucky lawmakers to put a measure on the statewide ballot to abolish his job. A House panel has taken the first step toward doing that.

The House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee approved a bill Monday that would put the Lexington issue on the statewide ballot.

Roberts says he has no staff and no government phone in which to carry out his limited duties. His office has a yearly budget of about $21,000 and his salary is less than $9,000.

In most counties, the judge-executive serves as CEO for county government. But the merger of Lexington and Fayette County decades ago left the Fayette County judge-executive with little power.

The bill won bipartisan backing.

The legislation is House Bill 198.

West Virginia Senate OKs permitless concealed gun bill

(AP) — The Republican-led West Virginia Senate has approved a proposal to let people 21 years old and up carry concealed guns without permits or training.

Senators passed the bill Monday by a 24-9 margin. It requires at least one additional House vote.

Currently, it's legal in West Virginia to carry a gun openly without a permit, like in a holster.

The bill would let people cover up guns in public without a permit; for instance, by wearing a coat. People ages 18 through 20 would need a permit and training with live firing.

Only a handful of states don't require concealed carry permits.

The bill would increase penalties for felonies committed with a gun.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a similar bill last year over safety concerns from law enforcement.

Kentucky chamber launches pension awareness campaign

(AP) — The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce says it will pay for billboards and newspaper ads to raise awareness about Kentucky's public pension debt.

Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson said Kentucky's $36 billion public pension debt would require every Kentuckian to pay $8,268 just to pay it off.
He said the campaign will call for an audit of all of Kentucky's public pension systems.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has proposed cutting state spending by $650 million over the next two years and putting the savings toward the pension debt. Adkisson said the campaign will not urge support of Bevin's budget proposal, which has caused controversy for its cuts to state colleges and universities among other programs.

The chamber's campaign also includes social media outreach and a website.

Kentucky's auto sector delivered more growth in 2015

(AP) — Kentucky's automotive industry produced more vehicles and increased its employment in 2015.

The Kentucky Automotive Industry Association says the state maintained its status as the nation's third-largest producer of cars and light trucks. The group says new statistics show production of passenger vehicles rose by 2.4 percent in Kentucky last year to more than 1.3 million cars and trucks.

It says the auto industry employed nearly 90,000 people statewide last year, up from 85,552 in 2014.

In another sign of growth, it says the industry announced 79 new projects last year totaling $2.8 billion in investments.

The growth spread to the state's suppliers of automotive parts, services and technologies. That sector announced 75 investments in new or expanding locations last year, which are projected to create 2,593 jobs.

Kentucky dismisses Hatcher after arrest on marijuana charge

(AP) — Kentucky has dismissed senior defensive end/linebacker Jason Hatcher from the team following his arrest early Monday for marijuana possession and speeding in Franklin County.

The arrest report states a sheriff's deputy clocked Hatcher's Chevrolet going 81 mph in a 70 mph zone on eastbound Interstate 64 and pulled him over at 12:55 a.m. Monday just west of Frankfort. The report added that the deputy noticed a strong odor of marijuana and that Hatcher tried to conceal some of the drug in his pants. A search found a "large quantity" of marijuana in Hatcher's car.

Hatcher was booked and later released from the Franklin County Regional Jail for trafficking in less than five pounds of marijuana, tampering with evidence and speeding. Coach Mark Stoops dismissed the Wildcats' seventh-leading tackler (39) Monday.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Vote puts McAuliffe in tight spot on coal tax credits

(AP) — Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have now approved extended coal-related tax credits by veto proof margins, putting Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a tight spot.

The House approved the measure by a wide margin Friday.

The governor vetoed similar legislation last year and Democrats in the General Assembly helped sustain the veto. He has also spoken out this year against extending the credits.

But with significant Democratic support for extending coal tax credits this year, McAuliffe potentially faces a tough choice: sign a bill he doesn't like or risk his perfect record on having vetoes sustained.

Republican supporters of the measure said it was necessary to help southwest Virginia's hard-hit coal industry. But McAuliffe and environmental groups say the credits don't work as intended.

West Virginia House approves voter ID bill

(AP) — The West Virginia House has approved a proposal to require voters to show ID at the polls.

With a 64-34 vote Friday, the House sent the bill to the Senate.

The bill would require a state or federally issued ID featuring a name and photo, ranging from driver's licenses to valid in-state high school IDs.

Voters could also produce Medicare or Social Security cards without photos.

The ID can be six months expired on Election Day.

Instead of presenting ID, a voter could be accompanied to the polls by an adult who has known the voter at least six months, including poll workers.

They would sign affidavits and show IDs with their name, address and photo.
Otherwise, voters would cast provisional ballots.

The requirements would be effective January 2018.

UK College of Medicine expanding due to physician shortage

(AP) — The University of Kentucky College of Medicine says it is expanding educational opportunities to address a shortage of physicians in the state.

UK says in a statement that it is developing a four-year satellite program in Bowling Green and will expand its Rural Physician Leadership Program in Morehead.

The initiative partners UK, Morehead State and Western Kentucky with local hospitals. The statement says UK is at capacity at its Lexington campus and it can't increase enrollment without collaborating with other institutions.

Details of the arrangement are still being worked out, but UK officials say they have signed memorandums of understanding with the other schools and hospitals.

There are 521 students enrolled in UK's College of Medicine. The partnership will allow that number to increase by about 30 percent.

Floyd County aunt sentenced in toddler's 2011 death

(AP) — A Floyd County woman has been given a recommended 15-year prison sentence for her role in the death of her 2-year-old nephew in 2011.

Gladys Dickerson was sentenced Thursday in Floyd County court after having pleaded guilty to criminal abuse charges last month.

Watson Adkins was found unresponsive at his aunt and uncle's home in Prestonsburg in September 2011.

Dickerson's husband, Jason Dickerson, was found guilty of murder in 2014 in connection with the toddler's death and is serving a life sentence.

Prosecutors said that while Gladys Dickerson did not commit the specific acts of abuse, she should have done more to stop them.

Dickerson will be credited for more than four years of time served in prison.

Bevin taps Rodney Ballard as new corrections commissioner

(AP) — Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has appointed Rodney Ballard as the new commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Ballard takes over for LaDonna Thompson, the current commissioner who will retire March 1. His first day will be March 14.

Since 2012, Ballard has been in charge of the Fayette County Detention Center, which has 1,300 beds and an annual budget of $33.5 million. Before that, he spent four years overseeing the Division of Probation and Parole and the Division of Local Facilities, which includes jail inspectors. He will take over a department that houses nearly 23,000 inmates across 13 facilities.

Thompson has been with the department since 1989. She made history in 2008 when former Gov. Steve Beshear appointed her as the first female corrections commissioner in state history.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pikeville Medical Center now 300-bed hospital

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has granted Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) a Certificate of Need (CON) for additional acute beds, which will expand PMC to a 300-bed facility.

A CON is a legal document required in many states, including Kentucky, before proposed acquisitions, expansion or creations of facilities are permitted. Its purpose is aimed at keeping health care costs low while allowing new services and construction.

The State Health Plan sets standards for services and takes public policy concerns into account, which licensure alone does not accomplish.

PMC’s additional beds were approved by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services following a three-day public hearing in Frankfort. The final order approving PMC’s CON application was issued by Brian C. Baugh, administrative law judge. Judge Baugh’s opinion contained his findings as well as the ruling.

Twenty-nine beds will be utilized for a new Intensive Care Unit (ICU) which will be built on the ninth floor of the May Tower. PMC has been forced to turn away critically ill patients because it did not have enough available beds. This means patients must travel for at least an hour and a half to receive critical care services that should be available closer to home.

“It’s not a good plan to put trauma victims or people having heart attacks in an ambulance or in a helicopter and ship them off when they ought to be treated within the first hour, which we call the ‘golden hour,’” said PMC President/CEO Walter E. May.

The remaining beds will be designated for medical patients on the eight floor of the Elliott Building after renovation. Those beds will be able to be converted to ICU beds if necessary in the future. Renovation of the eighth floor is scheduled to begin in July and should be completed by May 2017.

Drawings for the new ICU floor have already been submitted to the state for approval. Construction should begin shortly.

 “When this work is completed, we’ll be a 300-bed hospital,” said May.

The CON approval came despite strong opposition from a number of area hospitals, including Tug Valley Appalachian Regional Hospital (ARH), Whitesburg ARH and Highlands Regional Medical Center.

The University of Kentucky, UK Healthcare also opposed PMC’s plans for growth.

Tug Valley ARH and Whitesburg ARH presented testimony from ARH’s Director of Capital Projects Trena Hall, CEO Tim A. Hatfield and CEO Dena Sparkman. Jim Zembrodt, associate vice president for strategy for UK Healthcare testified to deny PMC’s request. Highlands presented testimony from CEO Harold C. Warman Jr. The opposing hospitals jointly presented Richard A. Baehr, an expert in healthcare planning, healthcare policy and healthcare finance, as a witness.

ARH was represented by Michael D. Baker of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs and Mathew R. Klein Jr. of Dressman, Benzinger & LaVelle represented Highlands.

“They said we didn’t have the need for these additional beds and we’re not as busy as we think we are, but the numbers speak for themselves,” May said.

In addition to May, those who appeared and testified on behalf of PMC included Chief Financial Officer Michelle Hagy, Chief Nursing Officer and Assistant COO Debra Parsons, Chief of Cardiology Dr. Bill Harris, Chief Medical Officer and OB/GYN Dr. Aaron W. Crum, Medical Director of Infection Control Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass and Daniel J. Sullivan, president of Sullivan Consulting Group.

PMC was represented by Pamela T. May and Toney Robinette of East Kentucky Law Group and Janet A. Craig and K. Kelly White Bryant of Stites & Harbison, PLLC.

The 56-page decision states that PMC’s growth has increased since being designated as Kentucky’s only Level II Trauma Center last year. The hospital has seen a 24 percent increase in trauma patients and a 21 percent increase in ICU admissions.

The report notes that the number of patients being transferred to PMC from other facilities has also increased significantly since receiving Level II Trauma status. The findings show that PMC receives a high number of transfers from many hospitals throughout its service region, including the hospitals that opposed PMC’s request for more beds.

From Jan. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2015, Whitesburg ARH transferred 296 patients to PMC, Highlands Regional Medical Center transferred 278 patients to PMC and Tug Valley ARH transferred 223 patients to PMC.

According to the hearing officer, the number of patients transferred to PMC from Highlands Regional Medical Center grew from 47 in 2007 to 391 in 2014.

“The numbers clearly show our need for additional beds,” said Walter E. May. “This finding will now allow us to move forward with building our new 29-bed Intensive Care Unit as well as another patient floor. The judge held that while there are various hospitals in PMC’s proposed service area, including the opposing hospitals [ARH and Highlands], PMC is different in the sense that it serves as a regional referral center that provides a broader scope of services. Eastern Kentucky is relatively isolated geographically and it is important for people to have access to both community hospitals and the more specialized services provided at PMC.”

The judge’s ruling showed PMC proved that its application met the State Health Plan criteria.

PMC established that the conversion of special care acute care beds, including Neonatal Intensive Care Unit beds, ICU beds and Obstetrics beds, is not feasible because each of these bed categories are already highly utilized.

PMC performed an analysis projection of patient-day trends over a five-year timeframe using the past five years as a predictor of future trends. The projection demonstrated a need for 84 more beds by 2020, substantially more beds than the 39 which were requested.

The quality of services PMC provides as well as its numerous accreditations and awards were also considered in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ decision to grant the CON. The judge found that PMC is continually recognized as a healthcare leader in its region.

An overwhelming number of letters of support were submitted for PMC’s request, many of which were written by physicians on medical staffs of the hospitals that opposed PMC’s growth.

“As the judge found, where community hospitals do not have coverage for whatever reason, PMC is there as a resource to meet the needs of those patients,” said Walter E. May.

PMC established that the addition of 39 beds was the most effective and economical way to meet the healthcare needs of the residents and that it is prepared to and capable of carrying out the responsibilities involved with operating the 39 beds.

PMC physicians and staff stressed how everyone will benefit from the additional beds.

“The approval of additional beds at PMC is important for the region,” said Dr. Crum. “We currently operate close to full capacity every day due to our ability to provide highly specialized care close to home. The addition of these beds means we can keep more patients at our hospital instead of transferring them to facilities over 100 miles away, which adds undue expense and hardship on patients and families. I am very proud of our ability to serve the needs of our community and grow as the demand grows.”

Dr. Bill Harris said, “There is a tremendous need for additional ICU beds as well as regular beds at PMC due to our growth in several areas, two of those being our heart and stroke center and our trauma center. We’re the only hospital in the region that offers these services. With regard to both of these services, the first hour is the golden hour if you want to reduce death. We need the capability to not turn patients away and have the appropriate beds and services available. These beds will go a long way in addressing those needs.”

The judge noted in his opinion that even Zembrodt from UK Healthcare who opposed PMC’s request acknowledged that if a Tug Valley ARH patient has a heart attack and needs to be transferred to another facility, the patient is going to be better served if he or she is transferred to PMC as opposed to Hazard ARH, which is two hours away, or UK, which is even further away.

“PMC serves as the referral center for our entire region,” said Dr. Al Akhrass. “We’re fully staffed with a wide variety of specialists who provide a high level of care and are available 24/7. Other hospitals in the area do not offer the level of specialty services or the advanced equipment we offer. With the high number of patients transferred to our hospital, we actually need more than 39 additional beds.”

Parsons said, “The addition of licensed beds at our facility will permit patients in the community to receive advanced care while remaining close to their loved ones. This increased bed capacity enables PMC to accept and treat a greater number of patients from hospitals that cannot provide the level of medical and nursing care we offer.”

Over the past 91 years, PMC has grown from a rural 50-bed hospital into a 300-bed regional referral center encompassing more than one million square feet on its main campus.

“We’re pleased to receive approval for these additional beds so that we can continue to grow and keep up with the patient demand,” said Walter E. May. “The future is bright for PMC and for our patients.”

A full copy of the opinion is available for viewing at