Sunday, January 31, 2010

Earthquakes, Architecture, and Human Frailty

Tonight on CBS' 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney talked about his father's experience as a survivor of the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake in Tokyo. Rooney also showed some examples of photographs that his father took while in Japan, and made some comparisons of them to the recent calamity in Haiti.

Rooney also credited his father's staying in Tokyo's Imperial Hotel as a potential factor in his survival. In 1923 the Imperial had just been opened, and its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, had designed the structure with specific features that, while not preventing some major damage, left the building largely intact.

The building was demolished in 1968, but a good portion of the lobby is preserved in a Japanese architecture museum. As was his usual practice with many clients, Wright not only designed the structure, but many of the interior components such as furniture, right down to the place settings.

Rooney has the unique ability to impart significant messages into what might otherwise be considered whimsy or nostalgia. You'll see what I mean.

Have a good start to the week.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia (Hotel exterior and interior)
The AMICA Library (place setting)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sign O' The Times 4

I've seen this and similar messages adorning benches at bus stops around town in recent weeks. This particular one is on 5th Street Downtown, just north of Grand Avenue.

These messages are part of a national campaign coordinated by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, in cooperation with a nationally known designer of similar messages involving religious themes, paid for by an anonymous donor.

You can see examples of more of these messages here. Thanks to those involved for helping those of us in need of work or otherwise struggling to keep things in perspective.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Is Romantic?

A recent Mobile Junction post this week touted both skeptical and affirmative responses from some locals to the selection of Grand Junction as one of 12 finalists for the "Most Romantic City in America" in a contest sponsored by the makers of Korbel champagne.

As luck would have it, two of the finalists are the places where I have lived out all of my nearly 50 years on this earth; Grand Junction and Pittsburgh. Other locations nominated that I have been to are Gold Beach, Oregon, Kansas City, and Manhattan, Kansas. Gold Beach is a very pretty place, and perhaps could be romantic. I was only 8 the last time I was there.

Leslie and I had a lengthy discussion on the phone last night about what constitutes a romantic place. What is it that brings this out? She's been to Grand Junction, and dismissed it out of hand as a romantic destination. I'm inclined to side with her on that one. True, GJ can be a beautiful place, especially late at night during a snowfall, when the reflected ambient light maintains a sort of twilight, and muffles all of the ambient sound so that a peaceful silence prevails over the neighborhood. I feel a sense of awe and wonder with this and other sights, but not romance.

As the person that nominated GJ described, we're proximal to all manner of breathtaking destinations, with tall cliffs, abundant snow, pine forests and red rock deserts. We're a convenient way station while en route to places that seem to encourage a feeling of intimacy, like a cabin on Grand Mesa, a quiet dinner in Ouray, viewing a red sunset from an overlook at Arches, or sitting quietly in a gazebo on a summer evening admiring the vistas of Gateway Canyons.

I think that romance is in the heart of the beholder. The person that nominated Pittsburgh got to the 'heart' of the matter with her submission:
To me, Pittsburgh is the most romantic city in the world, for every time I stand at the top of Mount Washington which overlooks the city skyline, the rivers, the forests, and my old neighborhood, I am flooded with the memories of my first love, my daughters' first date, my sons' first kiss and the first time my parents took me to light up night downtown...The most romantic city? Pittsburgh, because HOME is and always will be, where the heart is.
Now obviously there is some bias on my part, because my love is there now and I miss her. Pittsburgh is a place where nostalgia and history play a big part in how people connect; where else would a traffic cop who gained fame in the 60's and again in the 80's be remembered so fondly on the local news, after his passing this week at age 92? Rest in peace, Vic Cianca...

I guess my point is this; there will be enough champagne, dozens of roses, and hot tubs for two as Valentine's Day approaches, but there are places in all of us that helped to connect us with someone else, just by the sharing of a quiet moment together. For me, those places are as varied as a hiking trail through a cedar swamp in Massachusetts to an Irish pub in Las Vegas.
It's less about the physical attributes of a certain place, and more about the way we felt when we were there.

May you find special places like that in your travels through life. Enjoy the snow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Media Myopia - The Exempla Transfer

As I wrote about earlier this week, it's been a busy month for St. Mary's Hospital and its parent organization, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System (SCLHS). The completion of a new facility, introducing it to the community, and preparing to move into it must be a daunting challenge for SMH management and staff.

Additionally, the Sisters of Charity has been very busy taking over two hospitals in the Denver metro area. This is locally significant on many fronts, most recently because SCLHS tapped Robert Ladenburger, the Chief Executive of St. Mary's, to head the newly reorganized Exempla Healthcare.

What hasn't been substantively reported anywhere in the Grand Junction media is that the Sisters of Charity, partners in Exempla since it's beginning, have just begun to assert operational control over the entire Exempla system, bringing to a seeming conclusion one of the most acrimonious and controversial transitions involving non-profits in recent memory.

Full disclosure: I was employed by St. Mary's from August 2008 to August 2009.

The arrangement that created Exempla is a complex one - SCLHS is now assuming a role similar to that of a managing general partner. Think George Steinbrenner and the Yankees. As a result, the Sisters will operate these hospitals under directives established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The proposed transition of Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette into hospitals following these directives brought out many cries of foul in the western suburbs of Denver, mainly because these facilities would cease to provide certain reproductive services and end-of-life care options.

I began following the controversy surrounding this transfer of control in late 2007. The bulk of the media coverage of the dispute came from both the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal. During this time several grassroots efforts were underway by community groups to attempt to block the transfer, which would have included a payment of $311 Million from SCLHS to its fellow sponsor of Exempla, the Community First Foundation. Some physician groups were opposed to the deal as well. Petitions and letters were sent to State Attorney General John Suthers urging him not to approve the transfer, which is required under state law when the assets of non-profit organizations are involved.

SCLHS claimed throughout the dispute that it needed operational control to be able to secure financing for extensive planned improvements to the involved hospitals.

During this time the local media in Grand Junction did not report on this developing issue involving one of Mesa County's largest employers. In December 2007, I sent an e-mail to the editors of both local papers with a copy of a November 30 Denver Business Journal story that led off as follows:
Executives from the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System and the Community First Foundation say that if a proposed sponsorship change for Exempla Healthcare is blocked, the hospital system will "break up" and the Sisters' $2.1 billion plan to improve facilities will be in jeopardy.
Given that St. Mary's had already begun construction of their new tower, I wondered out loud to these editors what else it would take for some local media to report on this issue. The Sentinel assigned a reporter that same day, and in their December 12, 2007 edition reported on the proposed transfer, but none of the challenges associated with it. This story included the following:
Dan Prinster, vice president of planning and business development at St. Mary's, said although the hospital is part of the Sisters of Charity Network it operates independently. "What takes place in Denver will have minimal impact here", he said.
Well, it just cost us one really good CEO.

In 2008, the board of directors of Exempla sued its two sponsors to prevent the transfer of assets and control. An arbitrator ruled this past summer that while control over the hospitals could be transferred, no money could change hands between the two sponsors. The Exempla board agreed to the transfer of control this past October.

SCLHS began taking over Exempla at the beginning of the year. Mr. Ladenburger will head up a team of executives to replace five that were recently fired as part of the transition process.

I really don't feel very strongly either way about the transfer. There have been equally persuasive arguments for the changes, and in an area as diverse as Metro Denver access to non-sectarian health care services is readily available within a reasonable distance.

An entirely different picture might emerge if such a transfer of control occurred in an area such as Mesa County. If, for example, SCLHS purchased the assets of Community Hospital and Family Health West, local health care consumers might have a problem with driving to Delta, Montrose, or Rifle for services that Catholic health care will not provide. As unlikely as such a scenario may be, it's still something to think about.

My primary concern remains the seeming blind eye that the local media turned toward a nearly 4-year long controversy involving a major player in the local economy. There was a chance for a redemption of sorts with the reporting of Mr. Ladenburger's departure, but all that was offered was one sentence in a sidebar. A tribute editorial in the Sentinel also deftly skirted the likely challenges facing Mr. Ladenburger as the head of Exempla. Coverage from the Free Press, or any local broadcast outlet, was no better.

In contrast, the corporate restructuring of an energy company based in Oklahoma, that may result in increased exploration for natural gas on the West Slope, was a Page One story in yesterday's Sentinel. Yet a lengthy dispute involving the parent of a major economic and service sector player in our area went unreported for years, and received short shrift even as a major community leader is thrust into the middle of it.

I'm hoping for a better job of relevant reporting on these types of issues by our local media in the future.

Best wishes to Mr. Ladenburger in his new position.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

KREX - Two Years Later

Yesterday afternoon I visited KREX's new facility in the Hillcrest Manor section of Grand Junction. They've been in the new quarters since this past June, but yesterday marked two years since their old building burned to the ground on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning.

The post I wrote that day sought to illustrate the power of the Internet, especially the mobile Web, to capture, annotate, edit, and distribute content around the world in a very short period of time. News of the fire was online on local media outlet websites less than an hour after the fire was reported, and plans to restore CBS and Fox programming to at least cable viewers was underway before the fire was completely out.

Since that day, we've seen how the media industry has adapted (or not) to this instant availability of inform
ation, and we were also able to watch KREX adapt to the immediate adversity placed before them.

Contingencies were established across station boundaries in what is normally a very competitive environment. T
emporary quarters were established at the local PBS affiliate, while plans were developed and construction of a new facility, in the same somewhat historic location, began in earnest.

I met yesterday with General Manager Randy Stone and News Director Keira Bresnahan. There was no special notation or commemoration of the day, not even a story that I could find online. Keira put it simply; "We're moving forward".

The facility is very complimentary to its surroundings, and includes some curved glass block near the main entry as a form of remembrance to the building it replaced. One challenge that the station needed to consider during construction was designing the facility around the 300-foot tower and guy wires that couldn't be moved to accommodate construction activity.

A large new set, ample and state-of-the-art production and editing facilities, and a big newsroom with four dedicated editing rooms are some of the highlights of the interior.

The news division and account/sales departments are on opposite sides of the building, connected by a common breakroom area. The station is completely "tapeless", using digital media exclusively for its operations.

The new KREX is a testament to the commitment and dedication of its parent company and staff to look past their adversity, and come out of it better prepared to meet both their mission and the service expectations of the community.

Thanks to Randy and Keira for letting me have a look around.

Photo Credits: KUSA-TV (fire),
KREX-TV (new set)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The 'Streisand Effect'

There was a rather interesting blog post today from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, touting the latest additions to their Takedown Hall of Shame. This site lists those who in the opinion of the EFF have attempted to use false trademark or copyright claims to suppress online speech, criticism, or parody.

The EFF relates these attempts at shutting down freedom of expression to what has come to be known as the Streisand Effect, defined as "the phenomenon by which an attempt to suppress information results in faster, broader dissemination of that information."

The phenomenon gets its name from attempts in 2003 by the actress and singer Barbra Streisand to have aerial photographs documenting coastal erosion that included her seaside residence removed from public access on the Web. To quote Wikipedia's account, "
as a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially and it became popular on the Internet, with more than 420,000 people visiting the site over the next month".

Not surprisingly, those enshrined in the Hall of Shame represent those with perceived political philosophies and alignments that traverse the ideological spectrum. Where else might you see a diamond cartel and an energy company listed along with NPR?

The EFF has done some genuinely great work over the last several years, preserving fair use and online speech rights in several cases around the country and the world. The campaign that they are using to identify and promote their efforts in this area is called No Downtime for Free Speech. Indeed..

For those of you interested in a current example of such a dispute in progress, a certain outerwear manufacturer has taken exception to an anti-consumerist college freshman's take on the popularity of their brand. Click here to find out more.

Of course, there's not much that can be done when a private organization chooses to censor itself, or put blinders on that prevent the complete observation and/or reporting of certain events, for whatever reason. More about that soon...

There is a glimpse of the sun and some (perhaps fleeting) warmth in the air.

Have a great day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The New St. Mary's - Grand Junction Grows Upward

Yesterday the Grand Junction community was introduced to the centerpiece of the St. Mary's Hospital Century Project - a new 12-story tower, along with expansion of the existing facility. From the looks of it, the open house was very well attended, and the attendees got to see what is truly a great advancement in the technological and physical capabilities of the region's largest health care provider.
What many that attended seemed most interested in was the view from the top of what is now the tallest building in GJ, and it didn't disappoint. While many were looking around the rooftop hangar and crew quarters, many were trying to pinpoint local landmarks from the windows.

This view is from the window of the pilot's quarters, one floor above the hangar level. In the upper left is 5th Street, with Grand Junction High School visible and in the distance, the Alpine Bank Building and Downtown. One thing that struck me is how much snow has yet to melt off in the valley after nearly a month and a half on the ground.

The new operating rooms on the 1st level were very impressive to me. The robust imaging, video, and networking capabilities in these surgical suites was really something to watch. The cameras can zoom in on something very small to aid the surgeon in visualizing it, and the lighting and equipment assembly, all suspended from ceiling-mounted booms, gave me the impression that the facility can more than adequately support the needs and talents of the professionals saving lives at St. Mary's every day.

Between the top of the building and the bottom are lots of patient rooms, including 4 whole floors that aren't going to be used right away. I did stop on the orthopedic floor to get an idea of what a typical patient room looked like. All rooms are private rooms, and have the above impressive view. There are other amenities like flat screen TV's and a desk area that you can't see here, but the other aspects of these floors are adequate space, privacy, and comfort for both patients and staff. At least you can watch the inversion haze burn off (we hope).

The hospital added a 5th floor to their existing building, linked it with the new tower, and created a brand new Saccomanno Education Center. The facility boasts at least 3 conference / meeting areas that can be merged into one, as well as a robust computer training lab. Videoconferencing, full Internet access, and the power of the hospital's network made me start thinking this would be one potential place to put an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for a major health emergency, such as pandemic illness or a mass casualty incident.

The remainder of my focus was on the public areas of the new building on the lower levels. The entire building seems to focus as much as possible on the use of natural light - windows abound in just about every space they possibly could, but especially in the main lobby and waiting areas, a new reflection room with some beautiful stained glass, and the new hospital Cafeteria and dining area. The new cafe features a wood-fired oven for pizza and the like, and a Mongolian-style grill.

It's quite possible that this new facility will attract the public for reasons other than just health care services. It's a beautiful space, one that has the potential to renew and bring peace just from being there.

The staff and leadership of St. Mary's and its parent organization, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, deserve the thanks of the community for planning and executing a facility that brings so many possibilities for the enhancement of care to the forefront for this area.

By combining this magnificent new infrastructure with dedicated personnel and efficient, compassionate operating processes, St. Mary's is poised to make great things happen for health care consumers across Western Colorado.

Have a good week ahead.

Photo credit (top): St. Mary's Hospital and Regional Medical Center

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prayers For Michaela and Haiti - The Sum Of Light

Dialogue Between:
Billy Kwan, seasoned freelance photo-journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia
Guy Hamilton, Journalist, neophyte, foreign correspondent from Australia

BILLY: And the people asked him, saying, what shall we do then?

GUY: What's that?

BILLY: It's from Luke, chapter three, verse ten. What then must we do? Tolstoy asked the same question. He wrote a book with that title. He got so upset about the poverty in Moscow that he went one night into the poorest section and just gave away all his money. You could do that now. Five American dollars would be a fortune to one of these people.

GUY: Wouldn't do any good, just be a drop in the ocean.

BILLY: Ahh, that's the same conclusion Tolstoy came to. I disagree.

GUY: Oh, what's your solution?

BILLY: Well, I support the view that you just don't think about the major issues. You do whatever you can about the misery that's in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light. You think that's naive, don't you?

GUY: Yep.

BILLY: It's alright, most journalists do.

GUY: We can't afford to get involved.

- I was here to bask in the 50-degree heat before returning to the Grand Icebox, I mean Valley, tonight. I had a good interview today, but was kind of dismayed when on the way here the temperature in Vail was higher than it was in Grand Junction.

Combined with the inversion-induced haze largely obscuring Grand Mesa from town, the current weather in GJ reminds me of the surroundings at a structure fire on a cold winter evening. All of the snow and ice that collectively refuses to melt on the yards and streets seem to serve the same purpose as the output of hoses that freezes and accumulates on the sides of buildings, overhead wires and poles, dropping the temperature in the immediate area of the scene by at least 15 degrees. Now there's a possible reason for the City and County to get the ice off of the side streets; maybe it'll help warm things up.

Considering the futility of complaining about the weather, I want to start reflecting on some past blog topics by revisiting the struggle of my fiancee Leslie's youngest daughter, Michaela. Nearly two years ago I wrote about Michaela's fight with neuroblastoma, described in medical literature as "the most common extracranial solid cancer in children".

In February 2008, Michaela had surgery to remove a tumor in her chest cavity. Since that surgery, oncologists at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh have used different standard combinations of chemotherapy and other drugs to try to keep the spread of tumor cells at bay. This included, most recently, enrolling Michaela in a clinical trial for an experimental medication that held promise in reducing the spread of these cells.

Monitoring the presence of neuroblastoma cells is aided by the use of what is called an MIBG scan. MIBG is a substance that binds to these cancer cells, and when combined with radioactive iodine will make them light up on a nuclear medicine scan.

Recently, additional small tumors were discovered again in Michaela's chest. This return of 'active disease' disqualified her from the clinical trial, and the doctors at CHP stated they had no other viable treatment options available at their facility. Leslie began searching for different appropriate treatments, and found one being done at only a few hospitals around the country.

This type of therapy involves using the same MIBG used to track the growth of neuroblastoma, but instead of just serving as a marker a different radioactive iodine is used to essentially deliver radiation treatments directly to the cancer cells.

Michaela had this procedure done today at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She and Leslie will be in the oncology wing there until at least next Monday. Leslie was detailing to me today all of the protocols and precautions being taken for a patient treated with this type of radiation. This includes an isolation-type environment; Leslie must wear a dosimeter badge when in the room, to measure how much radiation she is being exposed to while caring for Michaela.
Michaela will go back home, and have follow-up care in March. It is hoped that all of this will slow or stop the tumor growth.

Michaela has been in the loop for all of the discussions about her care; Leslie makes sure that she is as informed as an 8-year-old can be. While we're all hopeful for some measure of success, the somber realization of what happens if it isn't has an unspoken presence in the lives of Michaela and those around her. Leslie has only been able to work sporadically while caring for Michaela; tangible support in many forms has come from neighbors, loved ones, Michaela's school classmates, and the community at large.

One day at a time, moving forward, keeping fear at bay.

The photo of Michaela above was taken this past October. She's a vibrant, curious child who deserves every chance she can possibly have at survival. Your addition to the sum of light in the form of prayers for success in her treatment are most appreciated.

Strip away the ignoble and miniscule scale of complaints about how cold it is in Grand Junction. Those of us who have had cancer in our lives know the personal pain and tragedy involved not only with addressing the needs of an ill loved one, but trying to maintain a stable existence in the meantime.

Superimpose over these personal trials the mass suffering in Haiti, and it's easy to see how one's heartstrings are tugged upon at varying and sundry degrees and amounts on a daily basis.

The snippet of screenplay at the top of this post is from one of my all-time favorite films. I have a hard time with those who have leveled complaints about the non-stop media coverage of the carnage in Haiti, as well as the comments made by the likes of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. A fair question here; if you aren't adding to the sum of light, are you contributing to the darkness?

Last night I added my tangible light to that gathering for Haiti, directly through the Red Cross website. I'll add those intangible thoughts and prayers as I make my way back to the Western Slope tonight, while I'm talking with Leslie when she takes a break. She can't use a cell phone when she's wearing her dosimeter - it affects the accuracy of the instrument. Isn't that special..

I hope that all of you reading this have some light to share, in whatever way you can.

Have a good evening.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Evan and I made it through the snow in Illinois last Thursday. We elected to divert south to St. Louis, and then on to Kansas City, where the cold temperature and brutal wind were a reminder of the ferocity of the storm that closed our intended travel route through Iowa and Nebraska for a time, and played havoc with the same Amtrak train that we had such a good ride on from Chicago last year. Friday's drive was uneventful and on dry roads, so we pushed through all the way back to Grand Junction, about 850 miles in 13 hours.

The trip over the New Year's holiday was the second year we did this, albeit with a different destination. Our visit to the Pittsburgh area was quiet and uneventful. This isn't to say that there's a lot of thinking and emotion in the background. I did take Evan to a Pennsylvania ski resort for a day, but for most of the trip he stayed with his grandmother, and I with my fiancee. Whether the twain shall meet sometime before a wedding happens remains to be seen. I'm hopeful that we can all figure out a way to get along.

Leslie and I took her two girls to dinner and to see Avatar on New Years Eve, in a theater with a floor-to-ceiling screen that seriously enhanced the 3-D experience, especially when sitting about three rows from the front. I've got more to say later about the film and its message. We watched the fireworks in Downtown Pittsburgh at midnight. Later on in the week we took in the annual holiday festival of lights put on by Allegheny County at Hartwood Acres.
This was the firs
t time any of us had seen it. It's quite elaborate and well done.

In the aftermath of our visit and the somewhat difficult drive back, I find that I've got similar upper respiratory issues as when I returned from Chicago last year. I detailed these in a post back then, especially when whatever I had migrated to both ears after a trip to the front range. As luck would have it, I have an appointment in Denver on Thursday, and am hoping that a repeat performance can be avoided.

As it happens, this has been a tough bug to shake, and it has kept me in the house for the last three days. While I've been able to do a lot of stuff that needed done, my sleep patterns are kind of haywire from afternoon naps that have lasted too long. Tonight, I'm just not tired. Leslie needs a wake-up call in a little bit anyway. She and her daughter Michaela are in Philadelphia for a week. I'll detail that over the next couple of days.

Over the next few weeks I'll be exploring some issues that I have visited here in the past. I'm finding some relevant use for some of the writing I've done before, and hope that what I have to offer serves to further illuminate the subjects and people for those
of you who have been kind enough to consistently follow this site over the last three years.

Have a great rest of the week.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snowstorm Short Takes

Joliet, Illinois - Happy New Year, one week delayed.

After a week in the Pittsburgh area, Evan and I are driving back to Colorado, and are in the midst of a snowstorm that will make driving interesting later on this morning. We're checking the weather to try and decide on the better route west, south to St. Louis and then I-70, or continuing through Iowa and Nebraska on I-80. Should be oodles of fun either way.

Pittsburgh was an interesting trip, insofar as the area and what I was doing there had me thinking introspectively. Visiting with Leslie was very nice, despite continued challenges in her life related to her youngest daughter's health. Our relationship continues to grow and change, but not without challenges from within and without. I've got a fair amount on my mind about this and other issues. I need to have the time to put it together in a way that respects the significance of it to my life.

I've also got notes for other things to write about when I get back to Grand Junction. I did see a few things while I was away that were noteworthy for their candor and timeliness, and are worth your attention in the meantime.

Local blogger and friend Cynthia Transmeier led off the new year with a very interesting post. It's basically 9 years of her life encapsulated into several revealing and honest paragraphs. I was very impressed with Cynthia's story, and how she has persevered and maintained a positive attitude and a sense of humor amidst a lot of stuff going on. Faith is a large part of her equation, as is family. Cynthia's post is definitely worth the time to read it.

The ACLU's Colorado chapter has had a busy week, first with the announcement that the city of Englewood will not appeal a court decision allowing a mural on the side of a building housing a smoking accessories store. I've written about this previously. Nice to see that cooler heads are prevailing there.

Yesterday the chapter announced a settlement agreement with Jefferson County's school district and Sheriff's department for an incident that occurred just before the 2008 presidential election. It seems that there may be more than a few police agencies and school officials out there who need training on what is protected by the First Amendment and what isn't. This relates in context to a series of posts here this past summer.

The plows are working hard outside, and it's time to get moving. Praying for a deliberate and uneventful passage through this weather, and a safe return by the end of the week.

Stay safe out there.