City fortunate to have SPD accreditation

Posted December 28, 2010 by slidellindependentnews
Categories: Editorial

Nationally accredited again.

That was the news Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith presented to the Slidell City Council just over a week ago.

The Slidell Police Department earned its first national accreditation under the direction of Chief Ben Morris in the 1990s. When Freddy Drennan took over the department eight years ago, he maintained that level of excellence.

So it was a pretty tough way to start as police chief this past July when Smith sat in the chair after winning the recent election, and immediately was faced with making sure the SPD maintained its accreditation.

The department must be re-certified every three years, and it just so happened that right as Smith took office in July, it was only two weeks from the review beginning.

As you can see by how long it takes to get the final word, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into the Slidell Police continuing its designation as “Nationally Accredited.”

Last week at a national conference in California, Smith was given the official report that the SPD had made it again.

The men and women in the department face a very stringent list of criteria to earn the honor, which reviews virtually every different aspect of running a police force.

The review is governed by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, a national organization that seeks the following goals from a local department:

–Strengthen crime prevention and control capabilities.

–Formalize essential management procedures.

–Establish fair and nondiscriminatory personnel practices.

–Improve service to the public.

–Solidify interagency cooperation.

–Increase community and staff confidence in the agency.

To earn the designation, a department is judged on well over 100 different categories, and once again, the Slidell Police Department scored well enough to keep its ranking as an elite force that is nationally accredited.

The men and women of the Slidell Police Department should be commended for their superior force, and the men and women of Slidell should be equally thankful for such a high level of service in our city.




So much for us to be thankful for

Posted December 28, 2010 by slidellindependentnews
Categories: Editorial

Another Christmas is almost here and I hope this will be a great one for you.

Most of us enjoy Christmas, even if it brings a variety of emotions. As we get older—like me now approaching my 57th Christmas—we think back to some wonderful times at Christmas, and sometimes some very trying times at Christmas.

Two years ago I had just decided to head out on my own with The Slidell Independent, leaving the security of a job I held for 35 years, with a large corporation that provided me all the great benefits that come with that kind of company.

What happened just as my employment was severed? I had a terrible bout with kidney stones that had me in-and-out of the emergency room five times, with two surgeries over the next two weeks.

I can barely remember Christmas morning. While the family was in the living room trying to enjoy the day, I was in the back trying to coax another stone to “come on down,” which it never did. I know my wife will always think of that as the Christmas from…well, you know where.

Here she was, trusting me to provide for the family, and not only had I just walked away from my secure job, but now I was totally incapacitated from working at all, with no paycheck coming in.

Fast forward to a couple of years later and we both think it was the best decision I ever made. Somehow—as always has been the case in our lives—God provided a way, and things all worked out.

Even though some of us have those occasional difficult Christmas memories, most of us have wonderful memories of Christmas.  They run the gamut from special occasions such as babies being born or proposals of marriage, and those things certainly bring great thoughts when the holiday season comes around.

Maybe you are newly married, and this is your first Christmas waking up next to the love of your life. I know that is a great feeling since I’ve been lucky enough to do it for 35 years with a girl I could only have dreamed of marrying.

So hopefully this Christmas is a great one for you.  Even though times are tough for a lot of people right now, the old adage of looking at life with the glass half-full or half-empty is so, so true. Life is what we make of it, that’s for sure.

I would guess that even for those of you who are facing challenging times, there is still a lot to be thankful for. So this Christmas, join me in focusing on the many blessings we have. As I know, and probably you do to, God truly does always provide what we need, doesn’t He?




There are several people I interviewed this week who, I know, are looking forward to a happy Christmas this year.

This past week I had a lengthy interview with former St. Tammany Parish Councilman Joe Impastato, who was just released from prison after serving 10 months. Joe is engaged and will soon be married, he told me, and will tell all about the way things went for him the past few years with our story to be carried in the Thursday, Dec. 30 edition of The Slidell Independent.

Joe was bunkmates at Oakdale with former La. Governor Edwin Edwards, so believe me, there is a lot of very interesting things he has to say. I appreciate the fact he trusted me enough to tell the story and you don’t want to miss our paper next week to hear that.

Speaking of another family that feels thankful beyond belief—I interviewed Rob and Lisa Braniff this past Saturday to talk about their second adopted Chinese girl, who recently was brought to the United States.

Rob and Lisa are an inspirational couple. They already had children who are now grown and out of the house, so what did they feel led to do? Not only did they say God impressed on them to adopt children from another continent, but they were drawn to special needs children.

Their second little girl, Marianna, was born with one leg missing from the knee down, one hand that is missing, and a second hand with only two small nubs for fingers. I got to see her this past week, now getting used to walking for the first time with a prosthetic leg, and it was clear that everyone she comes in contact with is touched emotionally in a big way.

The story is on page 1A in today’s paper so I hope you read it, and I hope it helps you feel thankful for your life, and thankful for people like Lisa and Rob, who sacrificed so much to help these two little girls.




Another opportunity for me to realize how many good people we have in Slidell was a week ago when I visited with Pastor Ronell Williams, who heads the men’s homeless shelter on Browns Village Road.

Williams is also pastor of the Trumpet of Truth Ministries at the same spot, a church that has its base in New Orleans. I visited with the pastor when my friend Dudley Smith told me they needed more space heaters for the men there, during the recent cold snaps we have had.

When I visited the shelter, I was very impressed with how much they have improved this facility that had been there from years ago, and also the way they operate on such faith. They receive no government funding, and trust God to bring them all they need. Pastor Williams made it clear that they have never been let down.

It was yet another place in Slidell that I have seen so many people willing to do good, and help others in need. It is truly uplifting and I encourage you to offer any help you can to the ministry there. The group of men and women working with Pastor Williams have helped a lot of men overcome substance abuse, and other problems, and return to society as productive citizens.

You can call them at 639-9882 or visit the shelter at 36479 Browns Village Road.

Have a very Merry Christmas!




Ochsner going smoke free on Slidell campus

Posted December 28, 2010 by slidellindependentnews
Categories: News

As smokers across the country pledge to kick the habit for today’s 35th annual Great American Smokeout, Ochsner Health System proudly announces its Living the Legacy initiative in which all Ochsner facilities and property will officially become tobacco-free on April 1, 2011.  Ochsner campuses will no longer provide designated smoking areas or ashtrays.


In 1939, Dr. Alton Ochsner, one of Ochsner’s founders, discovered the link between tobacco use and lung cancer.  He then dedicated the rest of his life to educating the world on the dangerous effects of smoking.  “Living the Legacy, as we call it, will be a reflection of Dr. Ochsner’s life’s work and his breakthrough research,” says Dr. Patrick Quinlan, CEO of Ochsner Health System.  “By prohibiting tobacco use at and around our facilities, we are not only living that legacy but also ensuring that our patients have the most healing, safe environment possible.”


“Over the next five months we will begin the education process for implementing our tobacco-free initiative at all eight Ochsner medical centers and our area health centers,” says Joan Mollohan, Ochsner Health System Senior Vice President of Human Resources.  On April 1st, the use of all tobacco products will be prohibited on any Ochsner Health System campus by all employees, patients and visitors. The initiative will prohibit the use of all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and all other tobacco-related products while on Ochsner property.  “We care about our employees’ health and the impact to the health of the community,” says Mollohan.


“We encourage other healthcare organizations to join us in becoming tobacco-free,” says Quinlan.  “As a healthcare organization, it is our responsibility to lead by example on issues that impact public health.”  Research has shown that smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body and accounts for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths.  In addition, 75 percent of the disease in the country is due to lifestyle choices.


Ochsner recognizes that quitting is never easy. As a result, a plan will be put into place to help those employees interested in quitting succeed.  Ochsner will also offer free smoking cessation classes for the public.


Slidell sales tax showing positive signs for local economy

Posted December 28, 2010 by slidellindependentnews
Categories: News


Slidell news bureau


SLIDELL — For the third month in a row, the City of Slidell sales tax revenue report is giving reason for optimism on the local economic front.

Slidell reported a 1.63 percent decline in sales tax revenue in October, 2010, compared to the total for October, 2009.

The city took in $1.36 million in October, compared to $1.38 million in October of last year.

While that may initially look like a negative report, it is actually better than the 3 percent decline in sales tax revenue city officials projected.

It is the second month in a row the city beat its budgeted amount by a substantial number, after showing a 1.05 decline in September.

The October report is the most recent numbers in for the city, as it takes approximately two months to get those totals compiled.

The city started the new fiscal year, which runs from July to June, with a bad month, as they posted a 6.2 percent decline in sales tax revenue for the 2011 budget.

But since then, things are improving as they were down 2.15 percent in August, followed by the 1.05 and 1.63 numbers in September and October, respectively.

For the year, the city is down 2.76 percent in sales tax revenue, compared to a year ago, putting them a little ahead of its projected 3 percent decline for the year.

City officials will anxiously await the November and December numbers, since that will reflect holiday shopping, and give a good indication about consumer confidence heading into the new year.



Odd behavior brings arrest for Pearl River man

Posted December 28, 2010 by slidellindependentnews
Categories: News


Slidell news bureau


SLIDELL — A Pearl River man was booked with a variety of charges over a three day period, after unusual behavior led Slidell Police to put him in jail, then arrest him two other times for continuing odd behavior, Slidell Police Spokesman Asst. Chief Kevin Foltz reported.

City police were first informed of the situation on Saturday, Dec. 18 when the front desk clerk at the LaQuinta Inn called and said a man had just hit a room cleaning crew member with a TV remote.

About the same time, police got a call from the hearby AT&T phone store that a man was at the store, brandishing a handgun, and saying that someone was trying to kill him.

Trent Celestine, age 39 of Pearl River, was taken into custody when police found him crossing Gause Boulevard. He was booked with simple battery, disturbing the peace and illegal carrying of a weapon.

On Sunday, Dec. 19, Celestine was being booked out of the jail, but refused to cooperate with officers there as he was signing his paperwork. He reportedly punched a computer monitor and broke it, and after continuing to refuse to cooperate, was taken back into custoday and booked with criminal damage to property.

A day later, on Dec. 20, he was again being released, but refused to sign the paperwork and ran out of the jail. He was apprehended again on Sixth Street and booked a final time on resisting an officer.

Foltz said that Celestine admitted taking the over-the-counter drug “Cloud 9.”



Slidell hospitals face severe state cuts

Posted December 28, 2010 by slidellindependentnews
Categories: News


Slidell news bureau


SLIDELL — Much has been made about the Louisiana budget cuts to health care and higher education. Current projections are that the state faces up to a $1.5 billion deficit in the coming year.

Both Slidell-area hospitals are facing millions in funding reductions in the coming year, cuts that could ultimately cost jobs here, or affect the medical care provided.

Slidell Memorial Hospital CEO Bob Hawley and Ochsner-North Shore CEO Scott Boudreaux now find themselves teaming up to make the public aware of a way to greatly lessen the impact on the local providers.

Hawley has been making the rounds to clubs and organizations who will listen to him talk about the expected $3 million cut in Medicaid funding for the coming year—the latest round in cuts that now total 16 percent since 2007.

The area of concern is in the daily pay hospitals like SMH and Ochsner receive when they have a Medicaid patient, who can’t pay at all for staying in the hospital. The Slidell hospitals currently get approximately $836 a day, while many other hospitals get as much as $3,000 per day.

Hawley’s concern with the cuts is that there is such disparity across the board with different state hospitals, and he is doing what he can to get the Louisiana Legislature to reconsider the matter.

“We understand there is a budget problem in the state, and we are not asking to be left out of the solution,” he said. “We just want to take our fair share of the cuts, not such a large amount.”

Boudreaux is taking the same position for the Ochsner facilities, which also handle a huge amount of Medicaid patients.

Ochsner had over 550 Neo-Natal ICU deliveries last year, and had 500 Pediatric ICU patients last year. Out of all those baby or child cases, Boudreaux said 70 percent were Medicaid cases, who did not pay.

“Ochsner is trying to support and recruit more sub-specialists so we can maintain this level of care on the North Shore, but these state cuts can affect keeping those specialists,” he said. “We need the funds to return to previous levels or any of this care could be threatened.”

Boudreaux said that Ochsner has endured $25 million in cuts to Medicaid funding since 2007, and expects $11 million more in reductions for the new fiscal year.

“We need the Legislature to review this situation and realize how serious it is going to affect hospitals like ours,” he said.

State hospitals are divided into three different kinds: State, rural and others.

Slidell Memorial, Ochsner-North Shore and the other hospitals on the North Shore are all in the “other” category, and are looking at the most severe Medicaid cuts in the new year.

Hawley is asking the Louisiana Legislature to revisit the issue, and rebalance things across the board, going back to 2007.

“While we are one of 42 hospitals in the state that is scheduled to be cut again, some state hospitals are getting increases up to 59 percent,” Hawley said. “It’s out of balance and all we’re saying is that if you cut us 10 percent, then cut everyone 10 percent.”

Hawley has a second way the state hospitals could get some help in the continuing budget cuts. The Legislature passed a law several years ago that some people are calling the “Provider Grant Match Program.”

It is a plan offered by the federal government, and already funded, where the state can assess hospitals an amount of money, then the feds will match it 4-to-1.

“That means if we assess ourselves $1 million, then the feds will give us $4 million,” Hawley said. “It’s as simple as that. Many other states have taken advantage of it, but Louisiana is leaving the money on the table in Washington.”

Hawley said the Legislature backed off instituting the plan since Gov. Bobby Jindal views the assessment as a tax.

“There is no tax burden on anyone for doing this,” the Slidell Memorial head explained.

SMH is in a growth mode on several fronts, particularly the opening of the SMH Regional Cancer Center, currently aiming for January. A budget of $125 million for Slidell Memorial is expected in the coming year, and even if the $3 million Medicaid cuts go into effect, Hawley said they will manage somehow.

“We have about a thousand employees here and they have not had raises in the past year or so. We are trying to protect those jobs, but if we keep facing these cuts, it could have an effect on jobs here,” he said. “Right now there is no plan to cut jobs, but any CEO would tell you he always has to watch patient volumes and adjust accordingly, so the hospital remains financially healthy.”

Hawley also noted that only full-service hospitals like his own and Ochsner-North Shore must take Medicaid patients, and he pointed out that Medicaid rolls have increased by 10 percent in the past year, thereby putting more burden on both local hospitals with the latest round of cuts.

He is urging local residents to e-mail their legislators and the governor to ask for help on this matter, either by adjusting the cuts to be equal across the board, or by putting the “Provider Grant Match Program” into effect.



Amazing Christmas

Posted December 28, 2010 by slidellindependentnews
Categories: News

Slidell family adopts girl facing incredible disabilities


Slidell news bureau

SLIDELL — Amazing, amazing, amazing.

That was the word Lisa Braniff kept using as she talked about 4-year-old Marianna, the second adopted Chinese child that she and husband Rob have now brought to the United States.

“Amazing” is easy to understand when you see the little girl run and play like any other child, but then notice that little “Mary” was born with half of her left leg missing, all of her left hand missing, and most of her right hand missing.

Rob and Lisa, both in their 40s, never envisioned their lives taking such a crazy detour, after both had raised their own children in first marriages.

But prompted in part by a change spiritually that has them living a Christian lifestyle, they said God put it in their hearts in 2004 to begin parenthood all over again, and consider adopting children.

They were led to not only adopt children, but special-needs children, which is just what happened in May, 2008 when they brought home 4-year-old Isabella “Izzy” Braniff . Izzy had been born with a hole in her heart, but is now living a normal life after surgery repaired the problem.

They were introduced to Mary on the trip to pick up Izzy, and since then, have been raising money so they would be ready when it was approved to bring Mary home from an American foster home in China.

That trip happened just three months ago when they made another trip to China, and added Mary to the family.

Mary had never walked in her life, since her left leg was missing from the knee down.

“She always got around on her knees,” Lisa said.

But that changed several weeks ago when she was fitted for a prosthetic leg at Children’s Hospital, and is now running around like any other 4-year-old.

“Amazing, that’s all we keep saying about this little girl,” Lisa said. “We keep watching what she does, and it’s so amazing.”

The rapid progress with the leg was enough, but relatives are equally amazed at how well Mary functions  with her hands.

With one hand completely missing, and the other hand having only two nubs as fingers, Lisa said that Mary can still perform virtually any task.

“She writes, cuts with scissors, flosses her teeth—you name it and she can do it. We are so amazed at how she learned to adapt so she could be just like the other kids,” Lisa added.

“Amazing” is also a word Lisa and Rob use when considering the way God has provided financially for the two little girls.

The Braniffs raised money through raffles, yard sales and donations to get the $25,000 it took to adopt Izzy, then they began the process again the second time to get Mary, and again, the money just seemed to materialize.

“This entire journey has shown us over-and-over how much God is in control,” Lisa said. “We knew we needed $25,000 to bring Mary home, but it has floored us to see where the money has come from. We even had a stranger from Illinois call us from an organization there, who had heard about our story, and sent us $6,000. God has provided everything we needed just because we were willing to adopt these two beautiful girls.”

Yet the latest miracle of sorts has now come from the Inner Wheel organization, a branch of Rotary International. The Braniffs said they were recently informed that Inner Wheel picks one child nationally each year who has special needs for prosthetic assistance, and adopts that child from then, until the child is 18.

“We were told that Mary has been adopted, so from now on, all her prosthetic legs and hands are going to be paid for,” she said. “It’s so amazing to see what God has done.”

The prosthetic leg Mary just got from Children’s Hospital cost $15,000, of which 80 percent was paid for through Rob’s own insurance. But then Children’s Hospital agreed to pick up the 20 percent share.

The leg Mary is starting with, which will have to be changed as she grows, is a very basic version that is made to allow her to get around. As she gets older, the leg will be more expensive since it will offer more mobility.

The prosthetic hands can cost nearly $100,000 each since they now have myo-electric prosthetics that are attached to her own nerves. The hands are so incredible that they will work as Mary just thinks about what she wants to do.

“Right now they don’t want to start her with a hand since she isn’t going to use it in a great way until she gets older,” Lisa explained.

The only problem with the prosthetic leg is that Mary is still a very small girl, weighing only 28-pounds even though she is 4 years old, which doesn’t give her enough weight to make the leg operate as efficiently as it could. But watching her run from one side of the room to the other, it is obvious the little girl could care less.

“When we first showed her the leg, she was kind of scared,” Lisa remarked. “But once they put it on her, and she saw she could stand, she kept trying to run around the room. We have had to try and slow her down a little.”

Lisa said that she is the one with the biggest problem, since “I keep wanting to do things for her, and that isn’t helping her. But I’m seeing how capable she is and trying to let her figure out how to do things.”

Rob said that Mary continues to astound the physicians at Children’s Hospital, since she scored over six months ahead of her age mentally, and finished a 10-day physical therapy course in just three days, when she began to work with the new leg.

The family will have an extra special Christmas this year, with much more than ever to be thankful for.

“Mary never had a birthday celebration before, and never had a Christmas,” Lisa said. “So we expect this to be an incredible Christmas. I quit trying to look at the future and figure out what is going to happen next in our lives, since God has shown us that His plan is much better than anything we can think of.”