Low attendance may force WISD to cough up funds

By Valerie Reddell
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Weather events and an aggressive form of the flu have sent attendance rates at Woodville ISD below the 95 percent benchmark set by the Texas Education Agency, according to Woodville ISD Superintendent Glenn Conner.

"Attendance is as low as it's ever been," Conner said. "Between the flu and a stomach bug, it's been abysmal."

While campus facilities were empty during Christmas, Conner said contractors visited the campus and sanitized the building. Another treatment will be done around the winter break to help avoid further outbreaks of the flu and a stomach bug.
WISD's winter break is scheduled for Feb. 19 to 23.

The enrollment dropped by a few students from the prior six weeks, Conner told board members.

"We generally lose some in December and January and then (enrollment) comes back up," Conner added.

Overall, district attendance dropped below 95 percent, even though two campuses remained above the 95 percent mark.
Woodville's youngest students seem to be the hardest it by the highly contagious illnesses.

The elementary campus averaged 93.3 percent during the third six week, after beginning the year at 96.87 percent. At the intermediate level, 94.65 percent made it to class while 95.66 of the middle school answered roll call. Woodville High School had 95.56 attend.

Overall the district's average daily attendance was 94.94 for its student population of 1,324.

Trustees asked about the financial impact of the increased absences. Assistant Superintendent Cody Jarrot explained that the district receives $120,000 for each percentage point.

Trustee Richard Shaw Jr. asked whether TEA would take into consideration the impact this year's flu epidemic has been much more serious, but Trey Allison answered, "They don't care. They just don't give you any money."

Day Care Bus Route
Trustees also approved a measure last week that would add an afternoon-only bus route that would deliver an estimated 40 students to child care providers in Woodville.

"It would be a short route, but full," Conner said.

The provision was passed by the legislature three sessions ago, and local day care operators have asked the board to provide the service, citing increasing enrollment.

The modified regulation gives public schools the discretion of allowing students to ride a bus to their grandparent's home or a babysitter.

"Before we couldn't deliver a child anywhere but to their parent's home — except on a limited basis when a parent sent a note," Conner said.

Diggles files for bankruptcy after fraud conviction

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Walter Diggles, the former executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, and his wife Rosie Diggles, have filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in federal court following their convictions for fraud and theft after funds designated for hurricane recovery were diverted into personal accounts, according to the Beaumont Enterprise in a story published Jan. 12.

Prosecutors say Diggles over-billed the federal government between 2007 and 2012 for workers' wages, transportation and recreation services.

The Diggles and their daughter Anita Diggles face up to 30 years in prison but have not yet been sentenced.

In their petition, Walter and Rosie Diggles estimate their liabilities at between $500,000 and $1 million, with roughly equivalent assets.
The couple plans to pay off debts in installments, but are attempting to protect their home from foreclosure.

The conviction on federal charges came after Diggles funneled federal money into a non-profit he ran, Deep East Texas Foundation, and then into accounts owned by Lighthouse Church in Jasper, where Diggles was pastor.

The three defendants have obtained extensions to file objections to a motion asking the court to order Diggles to forfeit $521,059.81 and his wife and daughter to give up $225,041.88 each.

In November, the defendants' requests for acquittal and a new trial were denied.
Judge Ron Clark said there was substantial evidence to support the convictions.
Rosie Diggles has until Jan. 22 to file her objections.

The judge granted an extension for Walter and Anita Diggles to file objections because their attorneys are representing a capital murder suspect in Hardin County.

HED: Waiver extension provides $1M for Tyler County Hospital

By Valerie Reddell
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After months of negotiation, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Texas Health and Human Services Commission have reached an agreement to approve a new five-year Medicaid 1115 Transformation Waiver.
In 2016, the 1115 Waiver generated about $1 million in revenue for Tyler County Hospital, said Dr. Sandra Wright, CEO of Tyler County Hospital.

"Failure to approve the 1115 Waiver would have resulted in near catastrophic consequences for the state's most vulnerable populations," said Ted Shaw, president/CEO of the Texas Hospital Association. "The waiver has been absolutely critical for increasing access to quality health care. And it has done so with an efficiency that has saved Texas and the federal government more than $8 billion."

This is an extremely important part of the state's Medicaid program that provides funding to hospitals that treat and serve Texans who are in need of quality healthcare.

"Additionally, this $25 billion in Medicaid funding that will be distributed over the next five
years is tax money that hardworking Texans and Texas small businesses are already sending to
the federal government. This waiver will keep these tax dollars in Texas continuing efficient and
innovative approaches to providing healthcare to millions of Texas Medicaid clients," said Rep.
James White (R-Hillister).

The waiver funds uncompensated care for Texas hospitals and other Medicaid providers and
maintains level funding for Texas at $3.1 billion each year for the first and second year of the
five-year agreement.

"State leaders have worked together over the past two years to craft a waiver that works for all
Texans. HHSC and Commissioner Smith have done a remarkable job in obtaining the federal
funds needed," White said.

Here in Tyler County waiver funds help offset the cost of providing care to those who cannot afford it.
Waiver funds are used to put a nurse practitioner in the family health clinic and fund a diabetes educator, according to Wright. The diabetes educator program alone has helped reduce blood sugars across the county, she added.

Waiver funds help the hospital district meet expenses in the emergency room and help fund the hospitalists who direct care for patients admitted to the hospital, Wright said. "Those funds allow us to keep the clinic open later Monday through Thursday and on Saturdays."

"All of those services help improve access to primary care for Tyler County residents and improve patient satisfaction at the hospital," Wright added. "Thirty percent of our patients have no insurance."

The agreement reflects months of negotiation and advocacy to ensure that Texas hospitals and other health care providers can continue to provide the highest quality of care to publicly insured and low-income Texans. With the agreement, Texas Medicaid beneficiaries will continue receiving health care services through managed care plans, and Texas hospitals and other health care providers will continue receiving vital supplemental payments.
Details on the exact terms and conditions of the new waiver are forthcoming.

"Texas hospitals extend their sincerest thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott, THHSC Executive Commissioner Charles Smith, CMS Administrator Seema Verma, the Texas Congressional delegation and all their staffs for their hard work and commitment to securing this agreement," said Shaw. "The importance of the Waiver to Texas health care providers and the patients we are privileged to care for cannot be overstated."

Low natural gas prices leave plant in mothballs


By Valerie Reddell
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Operations remain on hold at the Hilton Lively Renewable Power Project in Woodville, a consequence of a massive drop in natural gas prices.

East Texas Electric Cooperative (ETEC) — a group obtained a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May 2012. ETEC contracted with Gemma Power Systems to build and operate the 50-megawatt biomass power plant for three years — a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2017. EthosEnergy now handles operations at Lively as well as ETEC's other generating facilities.

When ETEC was engaged in the planning and permitting stages for the Lively Plant and the hydroelectric plant currently under construction at the Lake Livingston dam, natural gas was selling for $4.17 to $5.97 per BTU.
Gas prices plummeted from 2014 through 2016, bottoming out at $1.77.

When trading ended Tuesday, gas futures were selling for $2.835 a BTU — still a substantially lower cost than producing it at Lively.

"Our job is to provide reliable economic power in East Texas," said Ryan Thomas, General Manager and Chief Financial Officer for ETEC.

With natural gas remaining below $3 per BTU, the biomass generator just isn't cost effective.

For 2018, ETEC is focused on bringing the hydroelectric plan online by 2019. The co-op has had limited conversations about retooling the Lively plant to produce electric with natural gas.

"We don't anticipate operating the Lively plant any time soon. Unless there's a fundamental change in the power market, I don't see us bringing it online," Thomas said. "Right now, we have more capacity than we need," he added. "It's absolutely an operation if we need additional power."

They currently operate peaking plants in Hardin County and San Jacinto County. During the recent spate of freezing weather, ETEC was operating three out of the four peaking plants at all times.

EthosEnergy operates two 75 megawat turbines at each of those facilities that went into operation in 2009 and 2010. Their role is to produce additional electricity during periods of extreme cold or extreme heat. With EthosEnergy now maintaining the plant in Woodville, ETEC can achieve some economies of scale, Thomas said.

At its peak, the Lively plant employed 29 workers. Currently three full time staff members are assigned to the Woodville site.

Construction at the Lake Livingston plant is now back on track after losing about three weeks of work due to the flooding that followed Hurricane Harvey.

Thomas and L.A. Williams, project manager for the R.C. Thomas Hydroelectric Project at Livingston, applauded construction crews for how quickly they were able to get back on track after the record flooding.

That facility is on schedule to begin generating electricity in June 2019.

Texas is the hardest hit state in the U.S. with the flu

By Valerie Reddell
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Tyler County finds itself in the middle of the area of the U.S. hardest hit by the flu epidemic, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The Tyler County Hospital has had 76 positive flu tests since Dec. 1, according to CEO Dr. Sandra Wright.
"We have had 64 positives for Flu A and 12 for Flu B just in the hospital — that's not counting the clinic," Wright said Jan. 2.
"That's a lot for us, and our inpatient volume is running higher," Wright said.
In a report issued Dec. 29, the Texas Department of State Health Services said that the numbers of positive tests reported from hospitals and clinics are continuing to climb.
Just over 84 percent of the tests for flu are coming back positive.
Texas is the hardest hit state in the U.S., and all but two of the top 10 regional markets for the number of flu cases are in Texas. The other two are in Arkansas. The Tyler-Longview area is No. 1.
Nationally, nine deaths from flu and related illnesses have been reported. Five of those were apparently in Dallas County.
"It's just one of those years where the CDC is seeing that this strain of flu is only somewhat covered by the vaccine that was given this year," said Jennifer Radtke, manager for infection prevention at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. "They're seeing that it's anywhere from 10p percent to 33 percent effective, so any time there's a mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating strain of the flu, you're going to see more cases."
Texas is currently home to the largest flu outbreaks in the country, according to data collected by Walgreens.
Not only is it the state with the most "flu activity," but 8 of the top 10 regional markets with the highest number of flu cases are in Texas (the other two are in Arkansas). At the moment, the San Antonio area ranks ninth in the country. The Tyler and Longeview region ranks number one.

Texas' cases are at odds with most of the country. According to Walgreens' data, the majority of states have a relatively low number of flu cases — just one look at this map makes this painfully obvious.

This rate isn't normal for Texas. According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, state hospital labs reported 59 positive flu tests for the week of Dec. 18-26 in 2016. For the same week this year (Dec. 17-23), that number grew to a whopping 777 — that's a 1,216 percent increase.

If this trend continues, Texas is expected to see the worst flu season in recent history. According to public health experts, this could be due to the certain mutated strain of influenza spreading across the country that's made this year's flu vaccine being about 10 percent effective.

The number of flu cases typically peaks in February.