Challenges for business, social services, education and health care are among topics of discussion at the State of Saline County forum

Friday, April 27, 2007
From left, Mary Williams, chair of the education committee for the Mar-Saline NAACP and seventh-12th grade science teacher at Malta Bend; Melinda Beeler, director of business operations for Butterfield Youth Services; Derek Lark, director of Saline County High School; Virgie Simmerman, nurse at Southeast Elementary; and Jene Crook, Lions Club member, discuss the progress and problems in the Saline County education scope. (Photo by Rachel Harper/Democrat-News)

Editor's note: This is the final story in the current series on the 2007 State of Saline County forum.

Health care, corporate business and employment, social services, financial resources and education were among the group discussion topics at the State of Saline County forum Tuesday, April 24.

Jerry Kelly, a Marshall dentist, participated in the health care discussion group and was the spokesman for the group.

Terry Jordan, owner of Slater General Store, spoke on behalf of the small business at the State of Saline County forum on Tuesday, April 24. (Photo by Rachel Harper/Democrat-News)

He said the group noted progress in health care over the last year that includes the approval by voters of a county-wide enhanced 9-1-1 system, land acquisition for a new ambulance building, construction of a new health department building, hospital expansions at Fitzgibbon and I-70 Medical Services, and the expanded mental health care at the Fitzgibbon Professional Building.

The three most pressing problems the health care of Saline County faces are a shortage of dental care, reimbursement and public education about insurance costs and health care for the working poor.

Kelly said the youngest dentist in Marshall is 45 years old and there have been no new dentists in the city for more than 20 years.

The health care discussion group came up with three groups they thought could help with solving problems.

Employers can explain insurance plans in more detail, and work harder on measures to prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease through education. The group came to an agreement that expanded services at the Saline County Health Department would help as well.

A group of corporation leaders discussed the issues facing large businesses. The expansion of Fitzgibbon Hospital will increase employment in ambulatory surgery, MRI and out-patient specialties. The capital campaign for Community Cancer Center will bring in new physicians.

Among recent advances the group noted that MCH of Sweet Springs has signed a contract with TeleAtlas and works with federal government and Homeland Security, ConAgra of Marshall has acquired former Marshall Lumber Yard building for future expansion to the south and has put in a new pot pie line and spent $2.5 million in infrastructure improvements.

"We are now the capital of Banquet pot pies," said Chuck Hines of ConAgra. "On a good day, we make one million pot pies."

Cargill has done well the last nine months by making its goals, adding infrastructure, and selling products to Super Targets, HyVee and Aldi stores nationwide, the group reported.

"We like to bust rumors," said Matt Meyer, supply chain manager of Cargill. "Cargill is here to stay."

Three problems corporations see are postal rate increases, health care issues and insurance reimbursements, worker skill level shortage and too many people not wanting to work.

The group noted that multilingual employees help make corporations run smoother as Cargill is staffed by 65 percent Spanish speaking workers and ConAgra has 30 percent.

In the social services group, Pam Sebastian, of Habitat for Humanity and the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Marshall and Slater, noted that the county has strong volunteer participation in health and social service programs.

The most pressing problems facing social services include recruiting quality professionals to the area.

Sebastian noted that in addition to state and local governments, local colleges are great resources for addressing social service challenges.

"Missouri Valley College should not be a well-kept secret," Sebastian said.

The education group discovered areas of progress as well. The technological advances in public schools from the E-MINTS program, cooperation among schools and communities, the Comprehensive School Improvement Program and the emphasis on easing transitions from early childhood to school age and on through adulthood with ongoing learning opportunities, are just a few areas of progress in education.

"We are very lucky here because we have a lot of opportunities for students who have problems," said Derek Lark, director of Saline County High School, about alternative schools.

Lark said the Marshall area is at risk with almost 50 percent of students eligible for free or reduced priced meals. "Poverty is a problem."

Another pressing problem is the physical state of the facilities in the county, Lark said.

Terry Jordan, owner of Slater General Store, reported on the discussions of the small business group, which emphasized several areas of progress including more businesses finding a niche in the market, increased business on the Internet, increasing convenience to customers and better use of technology.

The most pressing problems that small businesses face are financing, finding ways to work together and the lack of available workforce.

A financial resource group said the three most pressing problems the county faces are over-regulation, identity theft and predatory lending.

Contact Rachel Harper at

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