SummaCare has completed its big move down East Market Street to a new headquarters in the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. headquarters.

The Akron-based health insurance plan, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has moved from its home for the last 20 years at North Main and West Market streets.

SummaCare becomes the first office tenant — and the largest — in the renovated building that housed Goodyear until 2013, when the tire company built a new headquarters around the corner. A charter school, ICAN, also has been operating in the former headquarters.

The new SummaCare location also creates a “medical corridor” on Market Street with Summa’s Akron City Hospital campus nearby.

“We’re so excited to stay in Akron,” said Anne Armao, SummaCare vice president of marketing, Medicare and individual products. “We helped revitalize Main and Market. Just by moving a little farther east to East Market, we’re helping to revitalize [the] Middlebury [section of Akron], which the mayor is very interested in.”

Movers spent the last three weekends relocating groups of employees from the five-story building at 10 N. Main St. to the new location at 1200 E. Market St.

The previous location on the site of the former Portage Hotel served the insurer well, but was too big for its needs, said SummaCare President Dennis Pijor. The company is going from about 88,000 square feet to 65,000 square feet in The East End development.

“We are proud beyond words,” Pijor said of the company’s new home. “This is an incredible milestone for the company. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate SummaCare’s 25th anniversary than with our dedicated employees in a great new location in an area of town that is truly on an upswing.”

SummaCare celebrated the move with a ribbon-cutting event Wednesday morning, attended by executives from the insurance company, its parent Summa Health and city and county officials. SummaCare officials also unveiled a new logo for the wholly owned subsidiary, which complements a recently redesigned logo for Summa Health.

Carol Smith, senior vice president and director of development services for the East End’s developer, Industrial Realty Group, also known as IRG, said, “We are extremely grateful that a tenant with such a long standing history in Akron has chosen the East End Offices as their new home.”

Smith said there is about 400,000 square feet of space remaining in its East End office complex. “There are multiple other prospective tenants interested in the building. There have been over eight showings within the last two weeks,” she said.

The office complex also will have a cafe that will be available for the employees and their guests and a fitness facility available for office tenants’ use.

Across the street, the former Goodyear Hall has 105 apartment units, which are over 92 percent leased, and a theater with seating for 1,500 and a 20,000-square-foot gym that is being used by Rubber City Sports.

Smith said there also is a barbershop and “we are pursuing a micro brewery and other locally owned restaurants for our remaining space in the former Goodyear Hall complex.”

Employee groups

For SummaCare, going into a newly renovated space allowed the insurer to get all of its employees on one floor, instead of five, and group employees and departments that work together often near each other, Pijor said.

“Since we were just moving in, we put people close to their working relationships,” he said.

The company has 300 employees — about 250 are in the new headquarters and 40 customer service representatives work out of Summa Health’s Gorge Boulevard headquarters to combine operations with Summa’s call center. Additionally, during open enrollment season in the fall, when customers are signing up for their health-care benefits for the next year, SummaCare typically hires about 20 seasonal employees.

SummaCare serves about 73,000 members throughout Ohio, including 24,000 Medicare Advantage customers. The insurer has commercial plan members in about 20 counties in the state and 31 counties with Medicare.

The company is back on track to profitability for 2018 after some challenging years, said Pijor.

SummaCare was under sanctions in 2014 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for violations in the way it handled consumer appeals and grievances. The sanctions were lifted within six months, “but there have been some lingering effects of the sanctions,” Pijor said. The company was profitable in 2016, but in 2017 lost money because it still was paid as a 3.5 star-rated plan (out of 5) instead of a 4-star plan because Medicare reimbursements lag, he said.

The company is back to being a 4.5-star plan and has a strong balance sheet, he said.

“All of those things are behind us and we are looking forward to a real positive fall,” Pijor said.

Akron schools

Akron Public Schools purchased the former SummaCare building from owner Signet LLC and as part of a land swap between the city, the county and United Way of Summit County for several properties and parking downtown. The district will consolidate its two administrative buildings into the new location at Main and Market streets while keeping ownership of the administrative buildings.

SummaCare has been leasing the building from the schools since the purchase was completed in April and will completely vacate the property by the end of the month.

The school district plans to occupy its new home sometime between October and December after renovations are complete, said school spokesman Mark Williamson.

There are no plans yet for either of the school’s administrative buildings — the existing administration building, known as the Sylvester Small Administration Building at 70 N. Broadway, or the Conrad C. Ott Building at 65 Steiner Ave., Williamson said.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

The city of Massillon officially owns the property and equipment of the closed Affinity Medical Center.

The city has been working to acquire the hospital since its parent company, Quorum Health, announced in January that it was closing the hospital. At the time, the hospital cited declining revenues, increased operational costs and a competitive market. The hospital closed Feb. 12.

The agreement reached between Affinity Medical Center and the city of Massillon was successfully concluded Tuesday night and deeds were recorded to transfer ownership of the properties, and the equipment located at the main hospital property, to the city, said Massillon Mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry in a news release. The properties were formerly owned by DHSC LLC and Massillon Health System LLC.

The settlement agreement, approved unanimously by Massillon City Council on May 7, ends litigation that began in January.

“We are pleased we have been able to finalize the agreement that our team worked so hard on these past few months. My team will continue to work hard for the citizens of Massillon and other Western Stark County communities that depend upon the availability of a local hospital to provide health care services. We look forward to working with multiple interested groups to rapidly identify a long-term solution for the community,” Cata­zaro-Perry said.

According to the Massillon Independent, the mayor has said the city has marketed the hospital to four or five parties that are interested in running the hospital. City officials, however, declined to identify the parties.

The agreement enabled the city to pay $1 for about $25 million worth of Affinity property and assets, including medical equipment.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

If you’re near or at the Akron-Canton Airport tonight from 6 p.m. to midnight, don’t panic if you see a lot of emergency vehicles or flames.

It’s just a drill.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all commercial airports to prepare and conduct full-scale disaster drills every three years. This year’s drill is being coordinated by the Akron-Canton Airport and Stark County Emergency Management with multiple agencies from both Summit and Stark counties participating.

The orchestrated drill is a surprise scenario for all airport, airline, and emergency response teams, with around 90 volunteers involved in the scenario.

Whether he was behind the lens of a camera or mentoring a young Boy Scout, Paul Tople was always prepared.

Tople, 70, an award-winning photojournalist who was on the news teams for three Pulitzer Prizes during his 42 years at the Akron Beacon Journal, died on Friday after a battle with cancer.

A Boy Scout and Eagle Scout and Akron-area native, Tople mentored hundreds of Scouts to their Eagle Scout designation, including serving for decades as the chairman of the Old Portage District Advancement Committee. Tople continued his Scout leadership until recently when he had a surgery, said his eldest son, Edward Tople.

“He was just a man of character,” his son said.

Tople’s career at the Beacon included a Pulitzer Prize for his photojournalism work during the shootings on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University that left four students killed and nine others wounded at the hands of Ohio National Guard soldiers. He also was the photojournalist for countless stories and projects for the Beacon, including a series about Kelsey Minick, a little Russian girl whose first adoptive father in Akron severed her spine in a fit of rage. The series followed Kelsey and her dream to be a ballerina.

“Paul Tople was an excellent photojournalist who not only understood the community he covered but cared about it greatly,” said Bruce Winges, Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editor. “The photographs he took and the difference he made with those who saw his work and knew him personally will be remembered.”

Tople was so passionate and empathetic in his role as a photojournalist that people trusted him enough “to share with him their most intimate details of their lives,” said Kimberly Barth, who was Tople’s director of photography at the Beacon Journal. “He was able to deeply feel for the people he photographed.”

State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, said he was considered Tople’s third son, having grown up in Copley with the Toples.

“For him, mentoring young men through the Boy Scout program was truly a passion. … He loved telling stories through his photojournalism, loved his family and loved scouting,” said LaRose, who was in Tople’s Boy Scout Troop No. 380 and earned his Eagle Scout rank, along with Tople’s sons.

“Paul was somebody that really loved to focus on others. I think that’s why he enjoyed being behind the camera and not in front of it. He always thought about other people, and he viewed his work each day as telling stories that needed to be told,” LaRose said.

Tople probably wouldn’t have wanted any attention, his son Michael said, but “he had such a distinguished career.”

Tople’s love and dedication for scouting was evident in his lifelong commitment to the organization, from being an assistant troop leader when his sons were Scouts to serving for decades for the Great Trail Council, said Dennis Vargo, council field director, who was also Tople’s staff adviser for his volunteer work.

“Servant leadership — that was Paul,” Vargo said of Tople, who was the recipient of the highest adult honor from the Scouts, the Silver Beaver Award.

Tople was a mentor to young men and adults alike, Vargo said.

Tople was preceded in death by his first wife of 35 years, Teresa, and his grandson, Michael. He is survived by his wife, Sally; two sons, Edward (Jennifer) and Michael (Jamie); sisters, Susan (Steve) Flener and Pat (Ron) Greenback; brothers, John (Julie) and Tom (Patty) Tople; sister-in-law, Connie Kyttler; and grandchildren.

Calling hours will be 2-8 p.m. Wednesday at Ciriello & Carr Funeral Home in Fairlawn. Mass of Christian Burial will be 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Hilary Catholic Church in Fairlawn, with private interment at Greenlawn Cemetery.

In lieu of other remembrances, the family suggests donations to Sharon Township Last Alarm Foundation or your favorite charity.

Staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has filed a lawsuit against the tour company that shut its doors last week and canceled dozens of prepaid school field trips.

The lawsuit against Mayfield Village-based Discovery Tours, a tour company accused of taking money for services it never provided to families and schools across Ohio, was filed Friday in Cuyahoga County.

The lawsuit accuses the company of violating Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act by failing to deliver promised services and operating in a precarious financial situation.

The company abruptly canceled trips, some the night before, for many Ohio schools to such places as Washington, D.C. Akron-area districts that had booked trips with the agency include Hudson, Twinsburg and Perry.

That sent school officials scrambling to make other arrangements for the end-of-the-school-year trips.

“We believe Discovery Tours violated consumer protection laws and must be held accountable,” DeWine said in a prepared statement. “Families and schools across the state trusted this company, and their trust was betrayed.”

Since May 2, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received more than 700 complaints about Discovery Tours, primarily from parents who said they had paid the company hundreds of dollars before the company canceled trips and shut down. In some cases, they said their kids had been looking forward to the trip for years or that they had held fundraisers to be able to travel to Washington, D.C., or another location.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section found that the company had continued to accept money from schools and parents when it knew (or should have known) consumers would not receive the promised services.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop any further violations of Ohio consumer protection laws and an order requiring the company to reimburse affected consumers.

Affected consumers who have not yet filed a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office may do so at http://www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.

The company earlier this week filed paperwork that it is seeking Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Consumer reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

The family leadership at Akron-based GOJO Industries is passing the mantle to the third generation and first female solo top leader.

On Wednesday, Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, a third-generation member of the Lippman-Kanfer family, became executive chair of the 72-year-old family business, maker and inventor of Purell. She has been vice chair since 2007 and has co-led the business with her father, Joe Kanfer and the GOJO leadership team.

In her new role, the 46-year-old Akron-area native and Revere High School graduate will focus on ensuring “that the conditions are in place for continued sustainable competitive advantage,” the company said in a prepared statement.

Joe Kanfer, 71, will move from CEO and board chair to the role of chair and venturer. In that role, “he will mentor, coach and help shape GOJO strategy in partnership with Kanfer Rolnick and other GOJO leaders,” the company said.

Mark Lerner, who has been with the company for 32 years, will remain president and chief operating officer in charge of the company’s day-to-day operations. There will be no CEO.

GOJO employs more than 2,500 employees worldwide, with more than 1,600 employees in Northeast Ohio.

Kanfer took over GOJO when he was 24 in the mid-1970s from his mentor and confidant, his late uncle Jerry Lippman.

Lippman started the company with his wife, Goldie, in 1946 after they invented a product to clean rubber factory workers’ hands.

In a phone interview, Kanfer Rolnick said she was “very honored, humbled and excited to take this mantle of responsibility.”

Joe Kanfer called the leadership change a “significant moment in GOJO history and for the Kanfer family.”

“I could not be more proud and excited to enter the next stage of our family’s leadership,” he said. “Just as I was a confidant and partner to my uncle Jerry Lippman, Marcella has been my confidant and partner for nearly her whole life. When she was a child, we talked business every evening around our family dinner table, and our partnership continued through daily phone calls when she was a student at Princeton University and later while earning an MBA at Stanford University. Over the last 10 years — in her expanded role as GOJO vice chair — Marcella has been my colleague and critical shaper of our strategic direction.”

Female leadership

Both Kanfer and Kanfer Rolnick said they believe GOJO has been gender blind for years and has emphasized employees’ abilities. “We’ve had female plant managers … including an LGBT woman who was our plant manager in the middle 1950s and not many can say that,” Kanfer said.

Still, Kanfer, who has touted the importance of Akron’s top leaders being diverse in gender and race, said having his daughter take over makes him proud.

“To have the next generation of family leadership be in the family and be a woman is absolutely great,” he said.

Kanfer Rolnick said “it’s exciting to be a female leader in our industry and it’s great to be a role model for other working moms.”

The mother of four said her 11-year-old son already has asked about the next generation of leadership. Her 13-year-old son regularly attends board and customer dinners.

Kanfer Rolnick is the eldest of Joe Kanfer’s four children. Her sister, Mamie Kanfer Stewart, along with running a consultancy business, regularly attends board meetings as a board observer. Other family members are involved in the Kanfer Family Enterprise and its businesses and philanthropies, of which GOJO is the largest piece.

Mayor’s reaction

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan called Kanfer “a model CEO” and said the move “will enable Joe to continue to devote his significant talents to the causes and opportunities that are most meaningful to him and most impactful to the public.”

Horrigan also said: “I’m confident that Marcella has the skills, experience and vision to lead GOJO into its next chapter. She shares the values and vision of the family business to not only create products that serve the needs of the public, but to invest in GOJO’s workforce and brand in ways that strengthen and grow the organization. I look forward to working closely with Marcella as she assumes this new role and am thrilled that GOJO will be joining the ranks of other esteemed female-led organizations in Akron.”

GAR Foundation President Christine Mayer, who was in Kanfer Rolnick’s Leadership Akron class 10 years ago, said she was thrilled to hear the news.

“Marcella in my experience is truly one of the brightest leaders I’ve ever met,” Mayer said.

Virginia Addicott, president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, who has often found the landscape lonesome for fellow women in local corporate leadership over the years, also welcomed the announcement.

“I am thrilled to hear that Marcella will be taking the lead at GOJO,” she said. “I look forward to working with her in the Akron community and seeing her continue Joe’s legacy of innovation.

Kanfer Rolnick helped launch the company’s Purell Hand Sanitizer in the consumer market and then established the company’s initial e-business capability and digital strategy in the late 1990s. She also worked outside the family enterprise at a strategy consulting firm, multimedia publisher and boutique investment company before returning to GOJO to take on an expanded role. In addition to her role at GOJO, Marcella oversees Walnut Ridge, a holding company that manages the Kanfer Family investments and philanthropic interests.

While Kanfer Rolnick and her family live in Brooklyn, N.Y., she travels to Akron at least once a month, is active with GOJO on a daily basis and has said she feels very connected to her Akron community.

Bill Considine, CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital, said the choice of Kanfer Rolnick shows GOJO’s commitments to its roots.

“GOJO Industries is a local company that understands the importance of leadership and the value of engaging in the community,” said Bill Considine, “Joe Kanfer has led his Akron-based, family-owned company to world-class status. We wish him well as he transitions into his new role and look forward to working with Marcella Kanfer Rolnick as she takes the helm of GOJO as executive chair.”

For Kanfer, retirement has never been a word he used.

In a 2011 interview, Kanfer said he was beginning to move away from day-to-day operations and Kanfer Rolnick would eventually succeed him as board chair. But retirement “is not a word that is meaningful to me. What I want to do is coach and enrich and mentor people,” he said at the time.

Staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Rosie, the tunnel boring machine making its way through underground Akron, has a 24-hour live cam.

No one probably watches that video feed more than Damariny Fulton of Eagle Mountain, Utah.

And on Monday, when Fulton was in Akron to see the tunnel boring machine in person, Mayor Dan Horrigan officially proclaimed her to be “Rosie’s Biggest Fan.”

Fulton, 24, is practically an expert on Rosie.

In October, the massive machine named after a local World War II-era female riveter began creating a tunnel that’s part of a $1.4 billion effort to upgrade Akron’s sewer system.

Since then, Fulton has been monitoring Rosie’s progress.

Fulton has a developmental disorder known as Williams syndrome. The genetic condition causes her to have a friendly, child-like personality and focus her interests very specifically.

For the last 10 years, she has been interested in boring machines. She followed Bertha, a machine in Seattle, and has even traveled to Germany to see boring machines at work after corresponding with company officials.

Since Rosie debuted in Akron, Fulton has been corresponding with Heather Bolestridge, communications manager for the Akron Waterways Renewed! Program via the project’s Facebook page.

“She is always keeping me on my toes. She’s watching the live cam and anytime Rosie is down, she’ll message me,” Bolestridge said.

Fulton’s cousin, Madison Kennedy, accompanied her on the Akron visit, which started over the weekend and continues through Tuesday.

Kennedy said her cousin will watch the Akron live feed at all times of the day and night.

“She’ll take a nap during the day because she stays up all night,” Kennedy said.

Akron’s Rosie is Fulton’s main interest right now, Kennedy said.

After her stop at City Hall on Monday to receive her proclamation, Fulton then took a city trolley to the Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel (OCIT) site No. 1, near the Mustill Store.

There, Mike Wytrzyszczewski, the city of Akron’s engineering projects coordinator, walked Fulton through the operations and Rosie’s work at the first overlook.

But Fulton knew most of it.

Rosie is the 2.2-million-pound, $12-million machine that is on pace to cross the finish line in early summer when she pokes through a 48-foot-wide shaft 173 feet below Exchange Street. Phase 2 of the project, which begins as soon as Rosie is hoisted out of the earth, will be completed by the end of the year, connecting the deep tunnel to new and existing sewer systems just below city streets.

The project is part of Akron’s response to a federal consent decree that the city update its sewer infrastructure and better control sanitary and storm sewer overflows. The tunnel will cost $184 million, and Rosie represents $12 million of that price.

When Fulton first arrived at the site, a conveyor belt was moving, bringing muck and other sediment out of the tunnel. But the belt stopped at times.

“Come on girl, activate your conveyor belt! Come on, girl!” Fulton called from behind the fence of the overlook ­and the view she normally sees on her computer screen from the live feed.

“Love you, Rosie! See you soon,” Fulton waved from the trolley as it headed away from the first site to the second site, close to where Rosie currently is digging, just beneath the Diamond Grille restaurant. Rosie is about one-third of the way through her first phase and about 2,100 feet, said Bolestridge.

When Wytrzyszczewski and Fulton’s cousin told her that Rosie was nearby, Fulton was ecstatic.

“Rosie! Rosie! Did you see what Rosie did?”

“She’s saying hello!” said Kennedy.

Similar public tours are also available by the Akron Waterways Renewed! Program of the progress. Information about the tours and the live cam can be found on the scrolling banners at http://www.akronwaterwaysrenewed.com

Staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Dominion Energy Ohio’s monthly natural gas price for residential customers who are on the Standard Choice Offer (SCO) is going up slightly for May, but is still 8 percent lower than the price a year ago.

Effective May 15, the SCO will be $2.89 per thousand cubic feet (mcf). That’s 13 cents or 4.7 percent higher than the April rate of $2.76/mcf, but 25 cents/mcf lower than the price of $3.14/mcf last May.

The average customer’s bill for the month of May will be $40.62, down 43 cents or or 1 percent, from $41.05 last May.

All customers pay a fixed $28.14 for the basic monthly charge, an increase from $27.71 because some components changed. . Customers also pay a usage-based charge to transport the gas to your home, and gross-receipts tax. That usage-based charge is going down in May to 33 cents/mcf from 40 cents/mcf.

Consumer columnist Betty Lin-Fisher continues to recommend the SCO. To read a step-by-step guide, go to http://www.ohio.com/betty

Consumer writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Amber Travaglio’s memory is a little foggy.

It was the middle of the night, on June 7, 2015. The Cavaliers were in

the playoffs and the South Euclid family had stayed up late watching

the game before falling asleep on the couch.

Amber remembers her 7-year-old, Melody Kashawlic, walking past her.

“I have to go potty and I might need my inhaler.”

There was a bang in the bathroom.

Amber sprinted to the bathroom, where she found Melody motionless on the floor in between the toilet and the bathroom wall.

Amber thought Melody had fallen asleep while going to the bathroom.

But the little girl didn’t respond when her mother picked her up.

Melody was first rushed to a local hospital and then transferred to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Melody, who had mild asthma and no other medical issues, had a fatal asphyxic asthma attack.

These rare asthma attacks completely close off the airways. When they do occur, they usually happen so quickly in early morning hours that medical personnel can’t respond in time.

At Rainbow, a doctor told Amber that Melody had no chance of survival, but they needed to do brain scans for 48 hours to evaluate if there was brain activity.

“What medicine can’t fix, God can,” Amber told the doctor. “I’m a mom. I’m never going to give up hope.”

The family showered Melody’s hospital room in bright colors and played music from the movie Frozen and her favorite pop artist, Pink.

There was no brain activity.

After 6 p.m. on June 9, 2015, the doctor came in to do a final evaluation. He told Amber she didn’t need to stay.

“You don’t get to just be a mom when it’s easy,” she told him. “You don’t walk away from your baby when it’s hard.”

Family and friends gathered around Melody’s bedside.

You are my sunshine. My only sunshine.

Some sang as others prayed.

The doctor pronounced Melody’s time of death.

Amber flung herself onto Melody’s bed, hyperventilating.

Gift of life

As heartbroken as Amber was at the death of Melody, she knew early on that she wanted to donate her daughter’s organs.

“I knew that her journey couldn’t end there,” she said. “Melody wanted to be a doctor in outer space and take care of sick astronauts and aliens and do ballet on the weekend. She’s the type of person who wants to help and save people. On her bucket list was saving people.

“Organ donation was a way she could fulfill something she wanted to — not in the venue any of us had planned on, but she wanted to save lives and she still got to fulfill that.”

When Melody’s doctors determined the little girl couldn’t survive, they alerted Lifebanc. Participating hospitals coordinate with the Northeast Ohio organ and tissue recovery organization whenever they have a patient who could be a candidate for organ donation.

Family support liaison Kelly Ellinger of Cuyahoga Falls was the first Lifebanc representative to meet with Melody’s family.

As she always does before meeting with a family coping with death, Kelly said a silent prayer.

“Please give me the words to say.”

Kelly went back to school to study social work and began working with Lifebanc in 2009 after her life was saved several years earlier with a donor heart. She rarely tells grieving families her own story, not wanting them to feel pressured to donate.

However, Kelly shared with Amber’s mom, Kimberley Janikovics, that she had been a transplant recipient herself, feeling it could help the family after they had made their decision.

“Kelly was just very sympathetic and very kind,” Amber recalled.

For three days after Melody was declared dead, she remained on machines while arrangements were made to match her organs. Each night as they waited for the organ recipients to be ready, Amber climbed into bed with her daughter to read bedtime stories and sleep.

“I believed her spirit was still in that room with us even if it wasn’t in her body,” her mother said.

On June 12, doctors and nurses lined the halls to salute Melody as she was wheeled to the operating room. Amber followed in a wheelchair, unable to walk on her own from grief.

Two girls, one heart

Melody died on June 9. That same day, Peyton Richardson turned 4.

Three days later, Melody’s heart would be flown to the Atlanta area to save Peyton’s young life.

Like Melody, Peyton was perfectly healthy until a cold virus attacked the then 3-year-old girl’s heart in January 2015, causing it to stop.

After performing CPR for 45 minutes, ER doctors got Peyton’s heart beating again, but it still was too weak. Peyton’s parents, Ashlyn and Sidney Richardson were told their little girl needed a heart transplant.

She was placed at the top of the transplant list while a machine kept her heart beating.

While she was waiting for an organ, Peyton suffered two strokes at the end of February. The second was massive. Peyton could not talk or move her hands or legs and her brain began to shut down.

A doctor told Peyton’s parents that the chances of recovery were slim and urged them to consider letting her go. The hospital would no longer accept a heart for her.

But at her parents’ insistence, the medical team agreed that if she could breathe on her own after her ventilator was removed, they would move her back to the top of the transplant list. If not, she would come off the list and never be put on again.

Peyton did breathe on her own. For several months, she improved in physical therapy, moving her hand to her mouth. But the therapists discovered she had a vision impairment.

On June 11, they were told there was a heart for Peyton.

Ashlyn went to Peyton’s bed and hugged and kissed her, so grateful that her baby would be able to live.

But almost immediately, Ashlyn’s elation turned to grief.

“Oh my gosh, somebody lost their child,” she thought. “Somebody is at home right now without their child.”

The next day, Peyton underwent a successful heart transplant.

Letter writing

Each organ transplant organization has its own different rules about how soon donors and recipients can write each other letters. Initial letters are reviewed and sent through the organization without direct contact or last names for identification, in case either party does not want to respond.

Ashlyn decided to wait until after Christmas to write her letter, thinking she wanted to be respectful of the family’s first Christmas without their loved one. But Amber had already written her letter to the recipient of Melody’s heart during Christmas. It arrived in late January.

In the letter, Amber wrote about Melody’s life and how she died.

Ashlyn cried as she read the words.

The two girls who shared a heart also shared a love of singing and dancing.

Ashlyn quickly wrote back.

A few months later, Ashlyn noticed a message via Facebook on a page she created about Peyton.

“I know I shouldn’t be messaging you, I apologize in advance. I only hope to share love and support for you, but if you don’t desire to have contact with Peyton’s donor family please stop reading.”

Amber went on to say she received Ashlyn’s return letter and wrote one back right away, but because of rules, her letter hadn’t been sent yet. So Amber went on Facebook to find Ashlyn instead.

“I have such love for Peyton, I know she is 100% her own person, but within her she carries the heart of my little girl and therefore I just so desperately want her to thrive and heal.”

“OH MY GOODNESS!!!” Ashlyn responded, telling Amber how she had unsuccessfully tried to look for her on Facebook as well.

“Words cannot express how this makes me feel. God bless you for your courageous decision to donate Melody’s organs. If it wasn’t for your decision, Peyton probably would not be here today. Thank you sooooo much!!!”

The two families continued to correspond and met in January 2017, when Amber flew to Atlanta to meet Peyton and her parents. Just days before, Ashlyn had mailed Amber a stuffed animal lamb with a recording of Peyton and Melody’s heart inside.

Amber often refers to the girls as “two beautiful girls, one perfect heart.”

Peyton continues to improve. She’s still too young to understand about Melody and her heart, but Ashlyn looks forward to telling her someday.

“We will always have a connection to Amber and Melody.”

A kidney from Melody

The day after Melody’s heart was placed in Peyton in Atlanta, on June 13, 2015, Melissa Garlej in Tucson, Ariz., found out there was a right kidney for her.

The 44-year-old who had diabetes since childhood had already had one failed left kidney and pancreas transplant in October 2014 after her body rejected it.

When Melissa found out that her donor was a child, she was heartbroken.

“I can’t do this,” she told a nurse.

“This is OK,” the nurse replied. “This is your turn and this was meant for you. You have to stay strong and you do it and you do it in honor of your donor.

“The family wants this to go to a good person and this is you.”

Melissa received Melody’s right kidney on June 15. She woke up and the kidney was already producing urine.

Almost immediately, Melissa began writing letters to her donor family and putting them in a drawer in anticipation of when she would be allowed to send them. She found out she could not send them for a year.

“We’re dealing with a pediatric case,” the counselor told Melissa. “Not all families want to find you.”

Meanwhile, Amber was told that adult recipients are less likely to respond to a letter since they have a hard time thinking that they’ve taken an organ from a child.

The two eventually found each other through Facebook.

“Amber, hi. This is Melissa. I believe I may be the recipient of your daughter’s kidney!”

Reunion

At a recent Lifebanc luncheon in Cleveland, Amber met the young Cleveland woman who received Melody’s left kidney and liver. She also recently discovered one of Melody’s corneas helped save the eyesight of an Illinois man.

Melissa and Peyton and her parents were at the event, too, with the mother whose daughter gave them organs. It was the first time Melissa and Amber met in person.

“I do believe a piece of Melody lives in each of them,” Amber said. “I think that Melody watches over her recipients and protects them.”

Kelly, the Lifebanc family liaison coordinator, watched proudly with tears in her eyes as she saw Amber with Melody’s organ recipients.

Hundreds of times over the past nine years, she’s helped grieving families in their worst moment donate life-saving organs.

This was the first time she was able to see that gift come full circle.

“It’s spectacular to see the actual benefits of what we do,” Kelly said. “…It makes it worth the long hours and the long drive home, the tears and the worry.”

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Kelly Ellinger looked up at the priest standing at her hospital bedside.

“Where’s my family? If this is it, I need to tell them I love them,” the Cuyahoga Falls woman thought to herself.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the otherwise healthy 35-year-old who played in three softball leagues drove herself to the Summa Health Akron City Hospital emergency room.

“There’s something wrong with me,” Kelly told her father, George Ellinger. “I can hardly breathe. My chest is killing me.”

Her flu-like symptoms from a few days ago had worsened and back pain had begun to radiate to the center of her chest and down her arm.

At the emergency room, a doctor whisked Kelly to the heart catheterization lab as she cried on the cold February day in 2003.

“M’aam, you’re having a heart attack.”

But it was not a heart attack.

Within 2½ hours, doctors alerted her waiting family she was in complete heart failure, though they couldn’t figure out why. No arteries were blocked.

“She needs a heart transplant,” a doctor concluded.

Kelly’s mom, Carol Hohman, fell to the floor.

Little did the family know that this was the beginning of a journey that would bring Kelly full circle after her own heart transplant to a new career helping grieving families who decide to donate their loved one’s organs.

Doctors and Kelly’s family initially agreed not to tell her she needed a heart transplant. Doctors placed a balloon pump in her heart to keep the blood flowing. The next morning it failed.

“We’re losing her,” a doctor told her parents outside her room while the priest was at Kelly’s bedside.

A decision was made to send Kelly to the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus for more intensive care. A large medical bus transported her ahead of a blizzard that made travel by helicopter too risky.

“The next 72 hours are critical,” a doctor warned her family. “We don’t know if she’s going to make it.”

For the next two weeks, teams of doctors came up with theories about what caused her heart to fail:

Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, often caused by an infection.

An infection from a rash, which developed after she had been to a tanning bed.

On the 14th day, pulmonologist Dr. Mani Kavuru diagnosed Kelly with Churg-Strauss syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that attacked her heart. Kavuru put her on large doses of steroids and told her she would need a transplant. Kelly was in denial.

Three weeks after she arrived at the clinic, Kelly was sent home, about mid-March. She temporarily moved in with her father, wearing an external heart defibrillator. She was so weak she couldn’t even lift her arms to wash her hair.

Kelly tried to return to her job as an interior designer part time. She was too tired.

She went for regular cardiologist appointments and visits to the emergency room to drain fluid out of her lungs since her heart was not strong enough to pump it out.

Seven months later, in October 2003, Kelly’s Clinic cardiologist, Dr. Randal Starling, told Kelly she needed to be put on the heart transplant list.

Again, Kelly was in denial.

“I’m not doing that,” she said. “I don’t need to play softball. I’m getting used to this.”

Starling replied, “Your heart is not going to last another year.”

Kelly and her father, George, left the appointment and burst into tears in the elevator.

In January 2004 and after 11 months in heart failure, Kelly started tests to prepare for the transplant list.

Getting on the list

On April Fool’s Day, her phone rang.

“You’re on the list.”

Kelly was told spring is commonly donor season, when motorcycle drivers tended to get into fatal accidents.

“It could be you,” she thought to herself as she sat on her front porch, watching motorcyclists flying down her street during the unusually warm spring.

Kelly struggled to sleep most nights, consumed by the thought that someone was going to die so she could live.

On May 1, 2004, Kelly was in a church meeting learning about a trip to the Holy Land that other church members were taking.

Her phone rang. It was a Cleveland number.

Her hand started shaking. She walked toward the back of the church.

The woman on the phone from the Clinic’s transplant program asked Kelly, “How are you feeling?”

Kelly knew why she was asked the question. If a patient on the transplant list is sick, even with the sniffles, they will get passed over.

“I’m fine. I’m at church.”

“We think we have a heart for you.”

Kelly was told to go home immediately and wait to hear within a couple hours whether the transplant was a go.

The organizer of the Bible Study stopped the discussion and turned to Kelly.

“Is everything OK?”

“It’s the clinic,” Kelly responded. “They think they have a heart for me.”

The fellow church-goers gathered around Kelly, laid their hands on her and prayed.

Within several hours, Kelly got another call at home, this time instructing her to come to the hospital to get her new heart.

Kelly and her father held hands and prayed as he drove to the clinic. They arrived by midnight.

The next morning at 9 a.m., the transplant team came for Kelly.

In the operating room, Kelly recited the Lord’s Prayer while the anesthesia took effect.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven…”

The two-hour surgery was a success.

Within three days, Kelly was walking on a treadmill. Within nine days, she was home.

New purpose

Once she was well enough, Kelly started volunteering by telling the story of her transplant for Lifebanc, the Northeast Ohio organ and tissue recovery organization and part of the nationwide network that coordinates organ transplants.

She realized she wanted to make organ donation her life’s work. Kelly went back to school and earned her social work degree with honors from Malone University in 2009. She volunteered and interned for Lifebanc.

After graduating, she started working full-time as a family support liaison for Lifebanc at Akron City Hospital, the place where her own transplant journey began.

She now works on a Lifebanc team that covers 80 hospitals throughout northern Ohio.

In her role, she meets with families who are facing a loved one’s death and asks if they want to give the gift of life. A liaison comes to see a family after the loved one has been declared dead and stays until the final goodbyes take place and organs are procured.

“Everybody I meet every day is losing someone,” she said. “I’m meeting them at the worst days of their lives. Every day is not a very good day for me.

“But you know what? There was a family that did this for me.”

In nine years as a family support liaison for Lifebanc, Kelly has only told a handful of families about her own transplant. She only shares her story if asked or when she feels it would help a family.

In the past four years alone, she’s likely helped to save the lives of more than 400 people by working with 159 donor families, according to estimates from Lifebanc. Each donor provides an average of three organs.

But the work has taken its toll on Kelly.

“It’s hard because you know they’re losing somebody. I’m driving home and my face is streaming with tears. And I worry about them and I pray for them.”

Heroin overdoses and the young children left behind are the hardest for Kelly. She has walked into hospital rooms to find someone she knows personally.

New life

Kelly does not know anything about the donor of her heart. While some organ transplant programs are able to coordinate families who want to connect, not all efforts are successful.

She wrote a letter to her donor’s family in the summer of 2005, a little more than a year after her transplant.

Kelly wanted to tell the family that she had gone on that trip to the Holy Land, where she was baptized in the Jordan River, and that she was going to school to become a social worker.

The donor’s family received the letter and Kelly was told they received a lot of comfort. But they never wrote back. She wrote a second letter five years later and it never got delivered. The family had moved.

Kelly thinks it’s better for her not to know who gave her a heart.

“It would tear me up to know it was somebody young — somebody who had their whole life ahead of them… The Lord probably figured I couldn’t handle it and said, ‘You don’t need to know who it was, just know that I took care of you.’ ”

“I figure when I’m done, that person will come and meet me at the door.”

With every heartbeat, Kelly carries a tremendous responsibility to make the most of the life she’s been given by someone whose own ended too soon.

“Every day,” she said, “I have to do something worthwhile.”

Despite being constantly surrounded by sadness and loss, Kelly knows she is helping those grieving families let a part of their loved ones live on through organ donation.

On June 9, 2015, Kelly was called to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

Seven-year-old Melody Kashawlic had just been declared dead after an asphyxic asthma attack.

She can still picture Melody in the hospital bed, looking like a little angel.

“She had nothing physically wrong with her body. She was as perfect and beautiful as could be.”

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Akron Children’s Hospital is receiving a $1 million grant to support its efforts to diversify its nursing workforce.

The award from KeyBank Foundation over five years will go to the hospital’s Assuring Success with a Commitment to Enhance Nurse Diversity (ASCEND) program.

The ASCEND Program works to improve nursing diversity. A recent study from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found that 93 percent of registered nurses are female and 83 percent are Caucasian, according to a hospital news release.

Since ASCEND began in 2015, 60 nursing students have completed the program.

The percentage of male nurses among the entire nursing staff at Children’s hospitals and outpatient facilities has increased from 3.9 percent in 2013 to 5.4 percent in 2017. African-American nurses have increased from 1.3 percent in 2013 to 1.8 percent in 2017, and Hispanic nurses have increased from 0.6 percent in 2013 to 0.9 percent in 2017.

Children’s Hospital CEO Bill Considine said nursing diversity is “vital to ensuring a positive experience for our patients.

“Not only does this program provide a valuable educational experience, it also helps Akron Children’s recruit more prepared nurses and helps our workforce reflect the diversity of the patients, families and communities we serve,” he said in a news release.

KeyBank previously supported the program with a $20,000 grant.

“We recognize that the success of students entering the workforce depends not only on the quality of their education but the resources and support services available,” KeyBank Market President Tim Burke said in a prepared statement.

The $1 million will be used to provide summer stipends to 25 nursing students each year, an increase of five students a year, and to provide support during the students’ senior year of college, in addition to covering some program supplies/learning materials.

Children’s officials said it is the hope that after graduation the program participants will return to Akron Children’s Hospital to begin their nursing career.

The hospital has hired 53 percent of the first-year participants and 62 percent the second year. Officials are estimating hiring 75 percent of the third-year participants.

Philip Burt, a registered nurse on the hospital’s transitional care unit on the main campus in Akron, was an ASCEND participant during the summer of 2016.

The Uniontown resident said being a male nurse in a female-dominated field does get him some comments from patients.

“Families will comment, ‘Oh wow, we have a male nurse,’ ” Burt said Tuesday.

Burt said while male nurses are still in the minority, he is seeing more join the nursing ranks.

During Burt’s participation in the ASCEND program, he received a $5,000 stipend during the summer internship, which helped with his nursing school bills, he said. After the internship, he and many of his classmates received job offers to become nurse techs. He accepted that position and worked as a nurse tech during his last year of nursing school at Walsh University. He then accepted a job as a full-time registered nurse at Children’s after graduation.

“It’s a perfect stepping stone,” he said.

Students who participate in the ASCEND Program must be from a minority group or first-generation college student, both of which are underrepresented groups in nursing.

The program is a 10-week summer internship at Akron Children’s. The program is for nursing students earning a bachelor’s degree who will be entering their senior year and are pursuing their degree through one of the program’s partner nursing schools: Ashland University, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Hiram College, Kent State University, Malone University, Notre Dame College, University of Akron, University of Mount Union, Ursuline College, Walsh University and Youngstown State University.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

A community effort is underway to establish a hospice center to care for dying patients who don’t have a home or caregivers at the end of their life.

Grace House Akron, a nonprofit organization of community members and hospice professionals, wants to build a six-bed home near downtown Akron to provide free care.

The idea of Grace House Akron came about when hospice professionals saw homeless patients and those without the financial means or relationships to have caregivers falling through the cracks, said Dr. Steven “Skip” Radwany, a longtime Summa hospice and palliative medicine physician, researcher and educator.

“Nobody should be alone at the end of their life,” Radwany said. “Everybody deserves to be treated like we would want our own family to be treated.”

Hospice care often is paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. Some patients stay at inpatient facilities, such as those run by Summa Health or Cleveland Clinic Akron General.

But under federal Medicare guidelines, only the most seriously ill patients or those who are days or hours from death and are in severe pain are usually in those facilities, Radwany said.

Home hospice benefits don’t cover basic caregiver services, such as 24-hour care or feeding.

Radwany, a board member for Grace House Akron, and his wife, Dr. Julia Radwany, a Summa internal medicine physician, and the board of trustees are hosting a launch event this Thursday at the Akron Civic Theatre to introduce the Grace House Akron idea to the community and gather support.

‘Place of acceptance’

The name Grace House was chosen because the word grace “in many languages means favor or gift,” said Holly Klein, a hospice nurse for 20 years. Klein, the volunteer executive director for the group, will become the paid executive director once the house is up and running.

“It’s a gift and a place of acceptance where somebody can just come and be,” Klein said. “They don’t have to worry about anything. It’s just a good place.”

Klein and others have been working on the effort for about three years and specifically since the fall, when the organization received its tax-exempt status.

“You’re just seeing these people and you know they’re having deaths that are just not dignified,” she said. “They’re alone. There’s no one to care for them.

“We’ve found patients who were alone when they passed and who knows what that death was like. It was just really for me a sense of purpose and desire to help those who aren’t able to help themselves.”

Organizers are modeling Grace House after a similar charity called Malachi House in Cleveland.

Klein said Grace House Akron is looking for a location for the new hospice that’s close to downtown Akron with access to bus lines for patients and employees.

Six-bedroom house

The goal is to have a six-bedroom, single-level house with about 5,500 square feet and a bathroom in each bedroom.

The hospice would house as many as six patients at a time, each in private bedrooms.

The group is finding that rehabbing an existing house or structure would likely cost more than building a new home. A 1.5- to 2-acre lot within the city ­— either vacant or with a building that could be razed — would be ideal, Klein said. The group has been working with the Summit Land Bank and county and city officials.

“I would really love to be in the Middlebury area,” said Klein, of the area east of downtown Akron. “It’s central to the population we would be serving.”

But Klein said she is “open to anything that is workable.”

The group still is determining how much money it needs to raise to acquire property and build the house. Klein estimates operational costs to be $500,000 per year.

Klein said individual hospice organizations would be able to bring their qualifying patients to the Grace House and provide care for them at the facility while Grace House employees would offer other round-the-clock caregiving.

Hospice services could be covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The many organizations working together on the hospice effort have a shared goal, said Karen Mullen, president of Cleveland Clinic Akron General Visiting Nurse Service, which operates a home care hospice division and the Justin T. Rogers Hospice Care Center in Fairlawn.

“There’s a lot of passion involved in this and wanting to care for folks in a dignified manner,” said Mullen, a Grace House board member.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty.

The head of Canton-based U.S. Acute Care Solutions (USACS), which runs emergency rooms across the country — including those at Summa Health — is moving to a new role and bringing in a new CEO.

Dr. Dominic Bagnoli, effective Monday, will move from CEO to the position of executive chairman of the board. The company has named James Frary as its new CEO.

In his role as executive chairman, Bagnoli will, in partnership with Frary, focus on strategic planning, business development and hospital partner relationships, the company said.

USACS runs 210 emergency rooms in 22 states. It was also the emergency physician group that took over on New Year’s Day in 2017, replacing Summa’s longtime emergency room physician group following failed negotiations. The switch resulted in upheaval at Summa, including the resignation of the CEO after hundreds of doctors voted no confidence. Summa also later in the year lost its accreditation to train emergency medicine doctors and is in the process of applying to re-establish the program.

In an interview, Bagnoli said the leadership change was his decision as part of long-term planning and has nothing to do with the Summa issues.

“I think it’s a perfect time with the transition,” said Bagnoli, who founded the predecessor to USACS and has been building the company for 25 years.

Bagnoli, 55, said he is not retiring nor slowing down. The new position will allow him to build on the physician-ownership model.

“The first three months of 2017 were very difficult with all of the things going on and the rumors,” Bagnoli said of Summa. “But we have made significant progress in the last nine months of the year. I get it. Summa is a big issue here in Northeast Ohio. But it’s five of our more than 200 [emergency rooms]. The organization is doing just fine, and there is no truth to the rumor that the board pushed me out or this is about performance.”

Frary was most recently president of Ameri­sourceBergen Specialty Group, a company that works with providers to improve specialty care delivery to patients. In his role, Frary partnered with hospitals, oncologists, urologists and other specialists to increase access, affordability and outcomes of specialty medications.

Said Frary: “USACS has emerged as the destination for physicians seeking to preserve ownership in their practice and is the leader among acute care provider groups in quality and innovation.”

The headquarters of USACS will remain in Canton with about 400 employees, but Frary will live and work out of his home in the Dallas area. Frary and Bagnoli said he would be spending a lot of time in Canton and across the country at different sites for the company, which employs about 4,000.

Frary holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Dr. Peter Hudson, founding chairman of the board and a director since 2015, will remain on the USACS board as a director.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ

FirstEnergy Corp. Monday announced what it’s calling a significant step toward its subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, emerging from its bankruptcy filing.

The Akron-based utility said it had reached an agreement in principle with two groups of key creditors in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings of FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), its related entities and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. The agreement is a proposed settlement of all potential claims among the groups.

“Collectively, the creditors in this agreement represent a majority of the outstanding unsecured and secured debt obligations of FES and its related entities, including the majority of Bruce Mansfield certificate holders,” the company said in a statement.

In an earnings conference call with analysts, FirstEnergy President and Chief Executive Officer Charles E. Jones said, “This agreement is a significant step toward FES ultimately emerging from bankruptcy and would settle a key issue in the FES bankruptcy, so that the creditors may focus their efforts on a restructuring plan.”

FirstEnergy Solutions filed for bankruptcy protection in Akron on March 31, which allows it to continue operating while undergoing a court-supervised reorganization.

The FirstEnergy subsidiary operates two nuclear power plants in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania, as well as coal-fired power plants.

FirstEnergy and its distribution, transmission, regulated generation and Allegheny Energy Supply (AE Supply) subsidiaries were not part of the filing.

The bankruptcy filing was hinted as coming as far back as November 2016, when parent FirstEnergy Corp. said it planned to become a fully regulated utility and was looking to sell off power plants and debt-laden FirstEnergy Solutions.

In a prepared statement, the company said “the settlement is intended to fully release FirstEnergy and related parties from all claims. It provides FES, its subsidiaries, and FENOC with assistance from FirstEnergy on key business matters during the restructuring process.

The agreement also affirms FirstEnergy’s previously announced guarantees and assurances of certain FES employee-related obligations, which include unfunded pension obligations and other employee benefits, and provides for the waiver of certain inter-company claims held by FirstEnergy.

The agreement is subject to approval by several boards of directors of those involved, as well as the approval of the bankruptcy court.

The creditor groups also agreed to try to get other key remaining creditors to join the settlement by June 15.

In other news, FirstEnergy Corp.’s profit swelled for the first quarter of the year, reflecting the company’s bankruptcy filing last month and its first time it reported earnings without its FirstEnergy Solutions subsidiary.

FirstEnergy on Monday reported first-quarter earnings of $1.2 billion, or $2.55 per share, on revenue of $3 billion. That compares to earnings of $205 million, or 46 cents per share on $2.9 billion revenue from the same period last year.

“Eighteen months ago, we announced our plan to move away from commodity-exposed generation, so our company could fully focus on the tremendous opportunities in our regulated businesses,” Jones said. “Today, we are pleased to report strong earnings that represent FirstEnergy as a fully regulated company, and to reaffirm our guidance and growth projections.”

Staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ

Ronald McDonald House Akron, which serves as a home away from home for patients and their families at Akron Children’s Hospital, had to turn away 4,000 people last year because there wasn’t enough room.

People shouldn’t be turned away anymore now that a new $14.2 million house is ready to open with more than double the space — and room to grow.

The original 20-room house, built in 1985, is being replaced with a 42-room facility attached to the existing house on Locust Street next to the hospital. The bigger house was made possible after the city of Akron agreed to vacate a portion of Locust Street and the hospital gave land that once was a park.

“We no longer will have to say no 4,000 times a year to families we don’t have room for,” Executive Director Anne Collins said. “It’s a vast improvement over what we’ve been able to offer to our families.”

After two years of construction, the charity is holding a private ribbon-cutting and grand opening celebration for the new house on Thursday.

Then on Monday, when current families move to the new space, the existing house will be shut down for a few years. Plans are to renovate the old house to eventually offer a total of 60 rooms for guests, Collins said.

Talk of expanding the house, which is a separate entity from Children’s Hospital but has direct ties to it, began shortly after Collins arrived 10 years ago. Studies showed the house could handle 52 to 72 rooms.

A place to call home

The house offers lodging for children or their loved ones when they are patients at Children’s Hospital and don’t have the ability to travel back and forth for their inpatient or outpatient care.

“We support everyone,” said Collins. “Literally people can come here with the clothes on their back and we can help them.”

Some families arrive in emergency medical situations, while others come for planned procedures, she said.

As the hospital has expanded throughout eastern Ohio, demand to stay at the house has increased over the years, Collins said.

Rooms at the Ronald McDonald House usually are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Some families coming from out of state with more complicated procedures may be able to make reservations. There is no time cap on how long a family can stay.

A $10 per night donation is suggested, but only about 24 percent of families last year were able to pay, said Aristea Tzouloufis, director of development for Ronald McDonald House Akron.

Patients and their families have stayed at the house from 43 counties in Ohio, 12 states and four countries.

Last year, 10,000 people representing more than 500 families stayed at the house, Tzouloufis said.

Collins knows the bigger house will allow for more families to stay, but “we really foresee a waiting list happening soon.”

Adding employees

By the end of the year, Collins wants to hire four more employees to total 12 in the home. But the house would not run without the 170 dedicated volunteers, she said.

Ronald McDonald House Akron funded the $14.2 million project with a combination of a fundraising campaign in conjunction with Children’s Hospital and some tax credits, Collins said.

Collins credits John Zoilo, a former house board member and also former president of the Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation, for getting the new house on solid financial funding.

The house expects its annual budget to increase from $1.2 million to $2.1 million with the expansion. The nonprofit is funded with donations and grants.

The house was built by Thomarios Construction.

The benefit of designing a brand new house was the ability to cater it to the needs of families.

A portion of one living room area is cozy with no television since there are many Amish families who stay at the house, Collins said.

“This is communal living,” she said. Some families choose to stay in their rooms while others like to relax with other families going through similar experiences when they are not at the hospital, she said.

The bedrooms are all on the second and third floor of the residence, creating some distance from gathering areas downstairs.

In the current house, the common area is within ear shot of some of the rooms, said Collins.

“We may have had a family playing cards and being loud and a room above them getting ready for a 5 a.m. surgery,” she said

The new house also features 10 long-term stay rooms, which have a separate living area with a mini fridge and microwave.

“Before, Mom would be in a room and would be stuck in the room after the child went to sleep,” Collins said. With a separate living area attached to the bedroom in a long-term stay room, “she can come and relax.”

Feeding families

A family pantry area off the expanded dining room provides families with an area to store their own perishable and nonperishable food in lockers. Food is provided at the house for families — simple meals for breakfast and lunch are available and a sit-down dinner is cooked by volunteers every night.

Another new feature of the house is a family kitchen with four stove areas — separate from the commercial kitchen — to allow families who want to prepare their own meals the ability to do so. In the current house, there is one small kitchen for families and the larger house meals.

The dining room went from three to four tables to an area able to seat 150 people.

The house also offers a large community meeting room, which the nonprofit wants to make available to other nonprofits and businesses for meetings.

“We did without one for years. We know what it’s like,” said Tzouloufis.

Artwork around the house has been donated or purchased at steep discounts from local artists such as Don Drumm, Zeber-Martell galleries and Harris Stanton galleries. Lazy-Boy of Northeast Ohio also donated or provided at a discount 60 percent of the living-room furniture. The Amish-made headboards and dressers and nightstands were ordered from a father of a former transplant resident of the house. The owner-operators of Northeast Ohio McDonalds also donated $1 million to the building of the house.

The old house served its purpose, said Collins.

“People loved this house, but it just wasn’t fitting our families’ needs anymore. The rooms are tired,” she said.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Dominion Energy Ohio’s monthly natural gas price for residential customers who are on the Standard Choice Offer (SCO) is going up slightly for April, but is still 13 percent lower than the price a year ago.

Effective April 16, the SCO will be $2.76 per thousand cubic feet (mcf). That’s 12 cents or 4.5 percent higher than the March rate of $2.64/mcf, but its 42 cents or 13.2 percent lower than the price of $3.18/mcf last April.

The average customer’s bill for the month of April would be $54.02, down $2.24, or 4 percent, from $56.26 a year ago.

All customers pay a fixed $27.71 for the basic monthly charge, a usage-based charge, to transport the gas to your home, and gross-receipts tax. That usage-based charge is currently 40 cents/mcf.

Consumer columnist Betty Lin-Fisher continues to recommend the SCO. Go to http://www.ohio.com/betty to see a step-by-step guide.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

Summa Health’s Emergency Department, which lost its ability to train resident doctors last July, will soon be submitting its application to re-establish the program by July 2019.

“Things are going really well,” said Dr. David Seaberg, chairman of the emergency department. “We are exactly on schedule.”

Seaberg was brought in last fall to rebuild the emergency medicine teaching program after it was stripped of national accreditation earlier in the year. The hospital system was also placed on probation to start new programs.

The probation was lifted in October, clearing the first hurdle for Summa to re-apply for its emergency medicine program.

The Akron-based hospital system lost its accreditation to train emergency medicine doctors from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) after an abrupt changeover of Summa’s longtime emergency room physician group on New Year’s Day 2017 following failed negotiations. The switch resulted in upheaval at Summa, including the resignation of the CEO after hundreds of doctors voted no confidence.

The demise of the emergency medicine residency program, effective July 1, 2017, meant 21 existing resident doctors had to find new programs. Most left the area, with a few going to cross-town rival Cleveland Clinic Akron General. Nine residents graduated from the program as it closed.

Seaberg said he’s hired 22 new doctors and has about 11 to 14 more doctors starting in July.

“We’re just about to the point where we’ve replaced all the doctors that left in January 2017. I won’t say it’s been an easy process hiring 30-some doctors to Akron,” he said. “I’m bringing in really outstanding doctors.”

The 326-page application to re-establish the program has been completed and internally reviewed, said Seaberg. It is pending approval by the internal committee of residency directors and will then be submitted, he said.

A site visit needs to be scheduled before the end of June to be included in the yearly September review by the national committee to approve the application. If Summa gets that approval, it could be included in the match for emergency medicine residents for July 2019, Seaberg said.

Mum on specifics

Summa officials declined to share details of the application or discuss the new faculty or their qualifications.

In response to questions from the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com, Summa Interim CEO Dr. Cliff Deveny said: “We have moved on from the events of last year and I am extremely pleased with the progress we are making toward the re-establishment of our Emergency Medicine Residency Program. We are early in the application process and, out of respect for the ACGME, it is premature to discuss specifics. We do look forward to sharing additional details regarding the program and faculty at the appropriate time.”

Meanwhile, the emergency room at Akron City Hospital reduced its overnight staffing of doctors during limited hours several times a week, effective April 1.

Seaberg said the reduction, which goes from two doctors and two physician assistants or nurse practitioners to one doctor and two physician assistants or nurse practitioners from 3 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, was made after reviewing the number of patients seeking treatment in the ER.

The ER is busy at all times on Mondays through Wednesdays, but patient visits drop from Thursday through Saturday, Seaberg said.

The change is going to be re-evaluated monthly and can be adjusted in the next quarterly work schedule, if needed, he said. Seaberg said he and the hospital’s medical director are serving as the backup, if volume were to surge.

“Can I say that four heart attacks won’t occur at 5 a.m. on a Saturday? No, that’s pretty rare. I can’t staff for that occasional very rare event. It doesn’t make financial sense in any type of business. We do have the ability to flex up when needed,” Seaberg said. “If I was a restaurant, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It’d be irresponsible for me to have a full staff if I don’t have customers.”

Seaberg said ER visits in January and February were up from previous years, especially due to the flu season, but the March ER numbers at City Hospital dropped 6 percent from the previous year. Seaberg said he’s unsure of the exact reason, but said it could be a combination of the increase of retail urgent care sites and some national insurers who started new policies Jan. 1 that discourage patients from going to the emergency room, saying they may not pay for the visit if it is not a true emergency.

Seaberg said such policies are dangerous.

“You may come in with chest pain and it ends up being GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). But you still came in with chest pains,” he said.

A spokesman for Akron General said the health system would not disclose staffing levels at its emergency rooms. The spokesman said March volume was not down, but the Akron General ERs similarly see fewer patients Thursday through Sunday.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

“We’re just about to the point where we’ve replaced all the doctors that left in January 2017. I won’t say it’s been an easy process hiring 30-some doctors to Akron. I’m bringing in really outstanding doctors.”

Dr. David Seaberg

emergency department chairman

Dr. Colleen Kraft hadn’t been back to the Akron area in about 30 to 35 years.

But on her first visit back, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics made sure she did a mini tour of her hometown.

Born at Akron City Hospital, Kraft on Thursday drove by the white Cape Cod home on Caleb Street in Cuyahoga Falls where her family lived for seven years before leaving for Virginia.

She drove past Lincoln Elementary School and looked for a little building where she was in one of the first Head Start classes. The building wasn’t there, but she remembers her Head Start teacher telling her she was so smart she could maybe someday be a doctor. Kraft spent most of her pediatric career in Virginia and in Cincinnati before taking on her national role.

She drove by the Stricklands on Bailey Road and had a vanilla custard.

Then she drove to the University of Akron and had an impromptu tour of a chemical lab when she peeked her head in. The chemists said they knew of her father, James McGrath. He was a chemist for Goodyear who then earned his Ph.D. at the University of Akron in 1967 before starting the Polymer and Macromolecular Institute at Virginia Tech.

“I have some very fond memories of Akron,” said Kraft, who began her term as the president of the group representing 66,000 pediatricians on Jan. 1, and was at Akron Children’s Hospital to talk to the hospital medical staff.

Health concerns

Among other topics covered during her hour-long Grand Rounds presentation, Kraft discussed gun safety and injury prevention, the increase of e-cigarette and vaporizer use among adolescents and telehealth, where parents can call or link to a remote doctor on call in lieu of physically seeing a doctor.

Much of the advocacy work that the academy is undergoing now is on highly politicized topics, she said, including immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“We come down for the kids and where the kids and families are,” Kraft said. “Do not separate parents and kids at the border or anywhere else. It’s really bad for child health.”

Kraft said there are about 100 medical students nationally who are DACA students.

The academy has recently launched a Gun Safety and Injury Prevention Research Initiative to bring together experts around the country to study and implement evidence-based interventions.

“The mass shootings bring all the media attention, but the majority of our kids who are killed or hurt with firearms happen through suicide, through homicide and through unintentional injury. This is a topic that is so politically divisive. Where do we come down to the point for our kids? Where’s our role? It’s at looking at gun safety. And research that has not been funded for so long. And in what we tell our families while we’re in exam rooms with them,” Kraft said.

The Itasca, Ill.-based American Academy of Pediatrics has also sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over what Kraft called its irresponsibility in cigarettes and not putting teeth into e-cigarette regulations.

“The whole plethora of electronic nicotine device systems out there: e-cigarettes, vaping and juuls (pronounced “jewels”) — those are the things that look like flash drives that kids are smoking in between classes — are really turning around a lot of the success we’ve had in keeping young teenagers from smoking,” she said.

“With these devices, kids are beginning to get addicted to nicotine again. And why not, if you’ve got something in flavors like cherry or bubble gum or cotton candy, are you really marketing to adults? Let’s take the flavors out of there. Let’s put some teeth into not selling these things to kids under 21 years of age,” Kraft said.

Telehealth medicine

Kraft also touched on the academy’s concerns about the growth in telehealth medicine.

Kraft said telehealth has great potential, and she’s seen programs that work such as a program in Dallas schools, where a telehealth machine is linked to a Bluetooth stethoscope and connected otoscope to look in ears.

But most telehealth programs don’t have a way for the physician to examine the patient, which can be dangerous, Kraft said.

“There’s some things like rashes you could diagnose on the phone, but it’s hard to diagnose an ear infection without actually looking in the ear. That’s being done in programs. That to me is bad medicine.”

“Telehealth can be the great connector, but we’re not seeing that right now,” she said.

Before Kraft’s presentation to the medical staff, she also met with Akron Children’s CEO Bill Considine, whom she knew of from his state and national advocacy, but had not met in person.

“I like his sense of humility and sense of community,” said Kraft. “[Akron] Children’s has a national profile. The thing I like best about Akron Children’s is they really are responsive to their community and care about what’s going on in the community. So many hospitals are ‘We’re looking for you to come to us.’ Akron is always thinking about ‘How do we come to you.’ ”

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

An unknown number of job applicants to a division of Summa Health at the former Barberton Citizens Hospital are part of a national data breach of some sensitive personal information.

FastHealth Corporation, a Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based company which provides health care clients with operational and website services, has reported that an unauthorized third-party may have accessed or acquired information from FastHealth databases, including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers.

FastHealth was a contracted vendor for a Summa Health division called LabCare Plus. In 2005, the then-Barberton Citizens Hospital had contracted with FastHealth to provide website services for the hospital relating to LabCare Plus job applications.

It is unclear how many potential local LabCare Plus job applicants’ data was breached. Summa spokesman Jim Gosky said since the breach is part of a “very large breach with multiple databases and multiple organizations impacted, we don’t have a specific number that we can give you with 100 percent certainty.”

Affected job applicants whose personal information was contained in the database should be notified by FastHealth and provided credit monitoring as a precaution, he said. No patient information was part of the breach, Gosky said.

Gosky referred questions seeking more details to FastHealth. Gosky said he could not disclose whether FastHealth is still a contractor for the health system.

Multiple calls to FastHealth’s corporate offices were not returned for more information.

Gosky said even though the data breach was for a time before Summa acquired the operations of LabCare Plus, “Summa Health takes the security and confidentiality of any personal data very seriously, and as such, we felt the notifications and credit monitoring were necessary.”

FastHealth can be reached at 833-215-3730 for more information on the breach.

John Simms of Akron received a letter about the breach. Simms, who does information technology work for the Beacon Journal, said he applied to LabCorp in 2006 before he was hired at the Beacon Journal.

When he phoned FastHealth about the breach, he was told 356 hospitals nationwide had their information compromised.

“I’m angry that they have my information from 12 years ago still in their server,” he said.

Simms is also unhappy that, according to the letter he received from FastHealth, the company was notified of the breach in November of last year. An investigation was complete by January and it still took two months for FastHealth to notify victims.

Simms said he was never called for an interview for the job.

Simms said he is leery of sharing his Social Security number to the company providing free credit monitoring.

He does not have a credit freeze, but said he would consider placing one with the major credit bureaus.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty

AxessPointe Community Health Center, a federally funded community health center with five area locations, has doubled the size of its Arlington site in Akron.

The site, the organization’s original location at 1400 S. Arlington St., Suite 38, has gone from 7,500 square feet to 18,000 square feet. The expansion allowed AxessPointe to consolidate its administrative offices into one location and have 16,000 square-feet of space for patients.

The new waiting room is bright, large and modern.

“One of the stigmas of a federally qualified health center is they get knocked for looking run-down because we serve a vulnerable population,” said Chris Richardson, AxessPointe’s CEO. “Our facilities are met with the highest of qualities and make sure our patients feel the value. Its not based on what you look like, its not based on your socioeconomic status. We want them to be treated like we want to be treated.”

Larry Peters was sitting in the waiting room while his wife was seeing her physician for a cold.

Peters said he liked the improvements and said the changes were dramatic from their previous visits during the year-long renovation.

Federally qualified health centers receive operating grants from the federal government and provide primary medical and dental care to medically underserved areas.

Beyond the check-in area at the newly expanded clinic, available exam rooms went from 9 to 15, and dental chairs went from three to four.

The organization, which sees patients regardless of their ability to pay, treats patients on Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and no insurance. There is a sliding-fee scale for qualifying patients.

At the Arlington location, adult and children can see a primary care physician, dentist and now a behavioral health specialist in a dedicated room. The pharmacy and area for pharmacists to consult with patients has also expanded. At other facilities, similar services as well as additional services such as a women’s clinic are also available.

The renovated and expanded Arlington location will celebrate a ribbon cutting Thursday evening with guests, including Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and other elected officials.

The project, which cost $1.23 million, was made possible by a $1 million federal grant, said Richardson.

“It affords us not only the ability to increase in size, but [provide] more patient access and [serve] more patients in our community,” he said.

The clinic grew on both sides of its original location in the Arlington Plaza shopping strip, including expanding into some vacant space and working with landlord LRC Realty, which relocated the Rent-A-Center to another part of the plaza. Richardson said the agency was also grateful that the landlord invested in some upgrades to the facade of the center and greenery.

The South Arlington Street location is an important one, said AxessPointe Board President Dr. Jay Williamson, a Summa family physician. It is right on a bus line and is near “the original population of people we want to serve.” Sixty to 65 percent of the patients are on Medicaid.

The location is the busiest and largest and “we want it to be busier,” he said. “We’ve tried to combine the medical, dental, pharmacy and behavioral health in one place realizing patients may have difficulty getting” to multiple locations for various services, he said.

AxessPointe has five sites in Northeast Ohio, including three in Akron — South Arlington Street and two on Broadway near downtown Akron — and one each in Kent and Barberton.

The agency also has a mini clinic two days a week in the North Hill area of Akron. Williamson said the agency, which sees a lot of the immigrant population in North Hill, wants to look into a permanent site with a physician.

“We’re very pleased about Arlington. We’re not done. We’re looking actively at North Hill for a presence there and we are encouraged by the federal government to expand our sites,” he said.

The clinics also employ technology to serve its patients, including video-remote translation services for various foreign languages and sign language, a tele-health option for patients to check in with a pharmacist for routine check-ins for Warfarin (blood-thinner) management and a robotic machine in the Arlington location’s pharmacy, which collates and labels monthly and mail-order medications for AxessPointe patients.

In the works within the next two months is a free prescription home-delivery service several days a week to AxessPointe’s high-impact areas around its clinic, said LaTrice Snodgrass, chief operating officer. The agency believes it will save money incorporating the home-delivery service since the agency now spends $6,000 a month in postage for its mail-order patients, she said.

The agency employs 115 at all of its locations, including 40 at the Arlington clinic. The organization added 12 employees because of the expansion. Last year, AxessPointe saw 19,000 individual patients who accumulated a total of 58,015 visits.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty