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Remembering four Gretna teens killed in crash

Omaha area's last roller rink wants to sell alcohol. Some Bellevue officials are concerned

The marriage of alcohol and the entertainment industry has never been stronger.

Those wishing to imbibe can do so at local movie theaters, ax-throwing attractions and, every now and then, the Henry Doorly Zoo.

The Omaha area’s last standing roller skating rink in Bellevue wants to join that list. But some Bellevue City Council members are concerned about mixing alcohol around children.

Skate City owner David Frank appeared before the council this week as he seeks a liquor license for his rink, at 1220 Fort Crook Road South. When a business owner wants a liquor license, he or she first must go to the City Council, which votes to make a recommendation to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.

Three of the City Council’s six members wanted to restrict Frank’s license so that he could serve alcohol only during adult skating events. They cited the venue’s focus on children and the lack of a separate bar area as reasons for the restriction.

But a tied 3-3 vote to recommend the license without restrictions was broken by Mayor Rusty Hike, who voted in favor of the recommendation.

David Frank said his skating rink is no different from movies theaters, bowling alleys and restaurants, all businesses that attract children and allow adults to drink.

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“It’s just part of everyday life,” he said of adults choosing to have a beer or two while out with their families.

Public skating sessions at the rink, geared toward children, typically last two hours. Councilman Pat Shannon said he’s concerned about parents drinking during that time and then driving.

“We didn’t feel it was appropriate to have an adult sitting there for two hours while their children are skating, getting liquored up and then going into the parking lot impaired,” Shannon told The World-Herald on Wednesday.

In some ways, Frank and the council members who wanted a restricted license — Shannon, Paul Cook and Bob Stinson — were in agreement: Frank said he was planning all along to limit alcohol service to adult-only skating events for the first year. Then, if all went well, he would consider adding expanded alcohol service.

“I know we’re not going to have any issues, because we’re going to watch who we serve and how we serve and how much we serve,” Frank told The World-Herald.

The rink holds adult skating sessions Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Adult hockey programs are held Sunday, Monday and Wednesday nights.

Before casting his tie-breaking vote, Hike said the proposed restrictions may have been “overreach” by the city.

Council members Kathy Welch, Thomas Burns and Don Preister joined Hike with their yes votes.

Frank said introducing alcohol at the rink is keeping up with the industry. Many rinks have added alcohol service as a way to attract customers.

“It’s spreading like wildfire in the roller skating industry,” he said.

Also of concern was that alcohol will be served from the concession area, which can be staffed by teenagers and is frequented by children. Frank said the addition of a separate bar area is too costly right now, but it’s something he would consider, especially if his revenue increases once alcohol is served.

Shannon said he and the other council members don’t want to stand in the way of business development. They want to make sure kids are safe.

Shannon said he plans to protest the recommendation. To do so, he would have to submit the protestation as a private citizen.

Hobert Rupe, executive director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, said restrictions like the one proposed for Skate City aren’t common. Typical restrictions deal with the size of alcohol containers that can be sold or who can manage the liquor license.

A hearing about the Skate City license likely won’t happen until at least August, Rupe said.

Photos: The history of Skateland and SkateDaze in Omaha

Grace: Searching for Mr. Begley, discovering the immigrant origins of South Omaha

I went to South Omaha to find Mr. Begley.

I had heard that the likeness of the late Daniel Begley, my family’s beloved former neighbor and a fiercely proud former South Omahan of Irish descent, had been included in a new ethnic mural being formally dedicated at a 2 p.m. ceremony Saturday. The retired mailman and grandfather was not a mover and shaker per se. He wasn’t a Munnelly or a Cavanaugh or a Kennedy.

But Mr. Begley, as we called him until his death in 2014, was emblematic of the South Omaha Irish political machine, an affable storyteller and walking who’s who of Omaha history. And he wore his Irish DNA on his sleeve, literally, wearing a distinctive plaid blazer and bowler hat every St. Patrick’s Day. Every Saturday, he flew the Notre Dame flag.

So I was drawn to this corner of South Omaha, 33rd and L to be exact, out of a longing to see an old friend. I also felt a visceral pull from my own Irish roots. And, having seen photographs of the mural with popping color, solid design and interesting details, like an Irish lace altar cloth, I had to see for myself how something that delicate could be rendered on the side of a 107-year-old brick wall.

Plus, I suspected that there was a bigger story here that’s about more than the Begleys and the Irish.

Gary Kastrick, a retired South High history teacher and bona fide S.O.B. (shorthand for South Omaha Boy), and artist Rebecca Harrison were eager to tell it. The story is about you and me and the social fabric of America and one of the most fractious issues facing our country, immigration.

This Irish mural is the latest in a series of murals popping up on the backs of grocery stores and the sides of bars and bakeries in a part of town that has been Nebraska’s Ellis Island.

The murals tell stories about the people who built South Omaha, and giving credit where it’s due, Omaha and Nebraska. And those people were immigrants. Croats and Czechs. Poles and Mexicans. Lithuanians and the Irish. And, more recently, the Maya, or people indigenous to Central America.

The paintings feature real-live historical figures and events that are built around a singular place — South Omaha. Kastrick, whose grandparents were Polish immigrants, is the project’s historical consultant. Harrison, whose father Richard is leading this effort, served as lead artist on the Irish mural.

We met at Donohue’s, an Irish pub flanked by a taco truck and taqueria in what was historically a Polish neighborhood. So very, very South O.

Standing on that noisy corner, trucks heading to and from the meatpacking plants, still part of the lifeblood for this part of town, the pair explained the story depicted on the pub’s two-story south-facing wall.

It’s an Irish story, to be sure, beginning with the image in the far eastern corner of a tiny gold harp, showing the old country and a ship fleeing it. The ship is draped in rotted potato vines signifying the great famine of the 1840s that caused so many Irish to flee, including Mr. Begley’s ancestors.


A Midsummer's Mural owner, Richard Harrison, looks at the new Irish mural at Donohue's Irish Pub with his granddaughters. The South Omaha Mural Project depicts the ethnic and cultural diversity of South Omaha through 10 community-based murals.

But Kastrick wants you to know that above all, this is “a South Omaha history mural.” Here’s the South Omaha stockyards, which employed wave after wave after wave of immigrants, including a group of Irishmen who fled the country after the Easter Sunday Rebellion of 1916. They tried to form a meatpackers union and organized a labor strike in 1919. They were unsuccessful at first, but eventually meatpackers did unionize, and the meatpackers union symbol appears on the brick wall. It was but one of other labor-rights efforts the Irish helped.

The mural should be viewed right to left, or east to west. And its triangular shape symbolizes the upward climb that the Irish and other immigrant groups experience as well. First they flee hardships somewhere else. Then they come to South Omaha and take bottom-rung jobs, facing discrimination and fear. Then they gain footholds. Then they prosper.

One foothold for South Omaha Irish was politics. And the mural prominently features politicos like Thomas Hoctor, the last mayor of South Omaha before it got swallowed whole in a 1915 City of Omaha annexation.

The mural also shows the Nebraska State Capitol and U.S. Capitol, where Irish descendants went on to serve. And it features Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 visit to Christie Heights Park, which drew 6,500 people.

Another foothold was business, and here on the mural is Jimmie Murphy, who once was the top hog salesman in the United States and, Kastrick noted, the first man in South Omaha to have a Cadillac.

Murphy is depicted with his sleeves rolled up, showing that even when he became rich he still got his hands dirty, not above hopping in stockyard pens with the hogs.

The Catholic church provided footholds for immigrants of all stripes. The South Omaha Irish claimed four parishes: St. Bridget’s and St. Mary’s, which remain operational, and the old St. Agnes and St. Patrick’s, which do not.

Irish women are not forgotten on this mural and they are shown making sausage. Women were a vital part of the South Omaha labor force. And women with some political and economic pull, like a pair of matriarchs: Kitty Gaughan and Anne Conroy Munnelly. Gaughan’s daughter Rosemary married architect Leo A. Daly. Her son, Jackie, became a Las Vegas casino owner. Anne was an Irish immigrant whose husband, children and grandchildren all played big roles in Omaha labor and political movements.

Kastrick said there were too many prominent South Omaha Irish people to feature, and it about killed him to leave out mayors, business owners and others. But one scene, meant to be inclusive and symbolic, occurs at the old Duffy’s pub at 37th and Q. Patrons include a boy playing pinball. That boy is Jim Cavanaugh, current Douglas County Board member and son of Jack Cavanaugh and Kathleen Munnelly, who are also pictured.

Donohue’s owner, Mike Donohue Jr., who grew up in South Omaha, graduated from Gross Catholic High and lives above his bar, gets a cameo on the mural.

It took no convincing for Donohue to agree to putting the Irish mural on the side of his pub. The mural was painted on special material and mounted to the brick wall. He liked that it told a real-life story instead of boiling the Irish-American experience into a banal cliché.

“They told me there would be no leprechauns sliding down a rainbow into a pot of gold,” he said. And he’s right. Donohue has appreciated that the mural offers a new reason to visit the pub, where inside he plans to showcase other South Omaha historical artifacts. He attended planning meetings that taught him about the Irish contributions to his native South Omaha.

And then there’s our Mr. Begley, appearing as he does in the photograph on his funeral card: bowler hat, blazer and big grin.

It’s all so familiar and so new at the same time.

This is a goal of the South Omaha Mural Project, a grant-funded effort produced by the company A Midsummer’s Mural that is based, you guessed it, in South Omaha. Richard Harrison, an artist, administrator, consultant and father of Rebecca, runs the company.

The murals grew out of frustration, curiosity and a desire to remind Omahans that one of the most divisive issues of our time is a large part of the city’s shared story.

Kastrick, who was born, raised and continues to live in South Omaha, said he gets irked by all the old former S.O.B.s who say their ethnic neighborhoods have changed too much for their liking. He sees the murals as a way to link people together and give those who have moved away a reason to come back. Plus, it helps on his South Omaha tours having visuals to explain who came when and why and what they did.

“I constantly have to explain that the Hispanics have been here since the 1860s,” he said of the Mexican mural at 25th and N.

Harrison said he’s driven by a desire to increase empathy and understanding and help people see how similar the immigrant experience is across ethnic lines. But he hasn’t shied away from hard truths. Among the images of the new Maya mural near 24th and N is a chain-link fence to symbolize the current controversial immigrant detention centers, housing Central Americans who include ethnic Maya, at the U.S. southern border.

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“These are human beings,” he said, “with the same amazing personalities, skills, talents and culture.”

The South Omaha Mural Project next is focusing on the contributions of African Americans.

You don’t have to be Irish to appreciate the immigrant story.

“What’s an old Bohemian like you think about this?” Kastrick asked Richard Benak, a Donohue’s patron and “full-blooded Czech.”

The full-blooded Czech said he could see his own family story reflected in the Irish one.

“Beautiful,” he called it.

Bar patron Ron Kopiasz, ethnically Polish, called the Irish mural, “Pretty impressive. It adds a lot to the neighborhood.”

That is Kastrick’s hope. He said Omaha, unlike bigger cities like Boston and Chicago, had a smaller geography for incoming immigrants. People in South Omaha couldn’t isolate themselves into nationalistic communities. They worked together, sharing the same dirty, demanding, dangerous meatpacking work. They often drank together at the same taverns. This doesn’t mean they were always best friends. There were culture and other clashes as more established groups had to make room for newcomers.

Yet in time, people have lived “so smushed together in such a small area” that they started identifying by what they shared, place. South Omaha.

Mr. Begley didn’t stay in South Omaha. But South Omaha stayed in him. And South Omaha is where I found him.

“He was an S.O.B., through and through,” said Begley’s son, Jim. “He was incredibly proud of the fact he was from South Omaha.”

Photos: Thought-provoking murals enrich Omaha walls and buildings

Omaha-area health systems make progress in reducing opioid prescribing

Since alarms first began going off about a rising number of opioid-related deaths in the U.S., Nebraska has lowered opioid prescriptions by 32%. Local experts are calling the decline, between 2013 and 2018, a good start.

“Hospitals are listening and paying attention,” said Margaret Woeppel, the Nebraska Hospital Association’s vice president for quality initiatives.

Locally, individual health systems are also reporting signs of progress.

  • CHI Health has reduced or eliminated opioids from a number of surgical procedures. Although numbers vary from procedure to procedure, one official estimated that Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy has reduced the drugs for all surgeries by 50% or more.
  • Methodist Health System scaled back total prescribing across the organization, including inpatient and outpatient, by 750,000 pills from 2017 to 2018, a reduction of 12%. The bulk of reductions have come through its outpatient clinics.
  • At Nebraska Medicine, the number of opioid medication orders per 1,000 patient days decreased by 35% between July 1, 2016, and March 31.
  • Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk tallied reductions in inpatient opioid use of about a third from December through February after launching a new acute pain assessment and management strategy. It de-emphasizes the 1 to 10 pain score patients are familiar with and adds objective signs of pain such as heart and respiratory rates.

Nationally, the number of opioid prescriptions decreased by more than 80 million between 2013 and 2018, a 33% drop, according to a recent update by the American Medical Association. Every state, in fact, has seen a decrease over the past five years.

“The bottom line is everybody’s working on this,” said Dr. Chad Reade, an internal medicine doctor at Methodist Physicians Clinic. “This is an all-hands-on-deck kind of effort.”

To be sure, there’s still work to be done, particularly when it comes to take-home prescribing. Efforts to curb opioid prescribing were prompted by the recognition nationally that prescription drugs were contributing to overdose deaths. Many patients’ first exposure to opioids comes with a medical procedure.

“If we can reduce it or avoid it, we’re ahead of the game,” said Dr. Myles Gart, Faith Regional’s director of acute pain management.

When the push started, federal and state agencies issued guidance and limits, as did insurance companies and pharmacies. Last fall, the Nebraska Hospital Association followed with a toolkit for its members that also included recommendations.

Those efforts continue today as policymakers and clinicians seek a balance between adequately managing patients’ pain and overprescribing.

Dr. Ken Zoucha, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said the next step will be to reduce deaths due to overdose.

Local health systems are taking a variety of approaches in their efforts to cut back, including reducing the use of opioids before, during and after surgery, and revising and standardizing orders for pain medications. They are also emphasizing alternatives such as non-opioids and comfort measures, including icing and music therapy for pain relief, and educating patients about pain. Also expanding is the use of local and regional anesthesia.

Officials say such approaches are working.

“We saw that when we prescribe more appropriate regimens for pain, we can simultaneously decrease our use of opioids and improve our patients’ pain control,” Dr. Sarah Richards, medical director of patient experience at Nebraska Medicine, said in a statement.

Methodist Health System has also taken a multistep approach. One piece is a database that can be used to monitor prescribing and alert providers if a patient’s dosage is getting too high, said Dr. Ann Polich, vice president for quality and performance improvement.

Methodist, among other steps, has eliminated the use of ranges in prescribing, particularly with drugs for patients who are being discharged to go home, Polich said.

Two pills every four hours works out to 12 pills in 24 hours. One pill every four hours adds up to 6 pills during that time.

“We were able to cut that in half pretty easily,” Polich said.

But the largest share of reductions has come through the system’s clinics, where doctors deal primarily with chronic pain, Reade said.

“Opioids can’t in general get pain to zero when you’re talking chronic, non-cancer pain, so the goal is to get the pain to an acceptable level where they can achieve their functional goals,” he said.

Nationally and locally, more providers are also tapping state databases of drugs dispensed to people, known as prescription drug monitoring programs. Such systems help prevent doctor-shopping as well as accidental overprescribing in patients who see multiple doctors.

The American Medical Association report indicated that almost 2 million health professionals are registered to use state-based monitoring programs, a 290% increase from 2014.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, all prescriptions dispensed to Nebraskans must be entered into the state’s monitoring program. From January to May, Nebraska providers made more than 240,000 queries, more than double the number during the same period in 2018.

A change to Nebraska law that went into effect last month will allow health systems and pharmacies to embed the prescription drug monitoring program directly into their electronic medical record systems. It will also allow Nebraska to exchange data with other states.

In Iowa, the State Pharmacy Board in January began distributing quarterly report cards on prescribing to providers. “That’s great feedback for prescribers,” said Elizabeth Becker, director of performance improvement and quality at Jennie Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs.

Surgical patients have been a particular focus when it comes to reducing narcotic use, a trend that began before opioid overdose was recognized as an epidemic.

Hospitals are using protocols that involve multiple means of attacking pain in a growing list of surgeries. The protocols typically involve relying more heavily on non-opioids such as Tylenol, ibuprofen and the nerve drug gabapentin, often starting before the procedure begins.

Dr. Oleg Militsakh and fellow head and neck surgeons at Methodist began testing such protocols in 2015. Between 2015 and 2017, Militsakh saw the proportion of thyroid patients who went home after surgery with a prescription for opioid painkillers decrease from 40% to 2%.

Since July 2017, the Methodist group has offered the protocol to all head and neck surgical patients. Militsakh still prescribes opioids if patients need them. But he prescribes smaller doses for a shorter period of time.

Dr. Mark Reisbig, a CHI Health anesthesiologist, said CUMC-Bergan Mercy has reduced or eliminated opioids in a number of surgeries.

Moms who deliver by caesarean section, for instance, used to get Percocet as needed after surgery for pain. Now the hospital gives ibuprofen and Tylenol on schedule around the clock. Scheduling such drugs rather than waiting until patients request them is another increasingly common method of addressing pain.

Most moms now don’t require opioids after the procedure, he said. While the hospital doesn’t yet have official data, Reisbig said, obstetricians tell him that they’re sending 75% less opioids home with their patients. CHI Health is now expanding the protocol to other hospitals.

While opioids dull the pain of surgery, patients may awaken with grogginess, nausea and other side effects, all of which can keep them in hospitals longer and slow their recovery. They can also slow breathing, sometimes to dangerous levels. Pain teams also visit medical patients, following the same principles.

“It’s really exciting,” Reisbig said. “It’s really changed the recovery for our patients.”

Becker, the Jennie Edmundson official, said obstetricians there made similar changes last summer. Patient satisfaction stayed the same.

“The more media coverage we’ve had on this crisis, the more engaged and aware patients are, and they proactively want to protect their own health,” she said.

Nor are hospitals relying just on medication.

Jennie Edmundson has placed laminated comfort menus at the bedside, part of an initiative with other Iowa hospitals. The menu lists alternatives to medication — a different pillow, going for a walk, aromatherapy — that patients can request as alternatives to pain medication, Becker said.

With the changes has also come a need to educate patients about the value, safety and efficacy of such approaches.

Militsakh said the most important part is letting patients know that providers will be there to manage their pain.

Health systems are now providing that preparation beforehand.

“A big part of pain management is actually management of anxiety and of expectations,” Militsakh said.

Pulled in two directions on Iran, trump decides not to retaliate

President Donald Trump considered military strikes against Iran and then called them off at close to the last minute — but it's not clear he ever really wanted to go through with the attack.

The on-again, off-again airstrikes were perhaps the most visible sign yet of the tension between Trump's antipathy toward Iran, furthered by hawkish aides who have called Iran evil, and his own political instincts that favor a less interventionist approach to foreign policy.

In a set of Friday tweets, Trump sought to project an air of toughness toward Iran, calling it a "much weakened nation today" thanks to increased sanctions and his ending of the nuclear deal with Tehran, while explaining why he decided, against the advice of some of his advisers and allies, to call off a military strike responding to Iran's downing of a U.S. drone.

"We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General," he wrote. "10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone."

Trump's tweets appeared to gloss over the fact that he was the one, as commander in chief, who had ordered the retaliation against Iran in the first place.

Trump administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss national security decisions, said the president approved the strikes after Iran's military earlier Thursday had shot down the Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk, a move Trump described as a "very big mistake." He was told how many casualties could occur, the officials said.

But he changed his mind late Thursday, the officials said. The decision was first reported by the New York Times.

Hours after he tweeted out the account of his decision, he provided a less dramatic version in an interview with NBC News, saying that he had never given final approval for an attack and no planes were in the air.

All of it illustrated the chief conflict within Trump's foreign policy approach: He wants to look as if he's taking a tough approach toward one of the world's bad actors, but he is reluctant to involve the U.S. in conflicts abroad.

Like past presidents, Trump had to weigh the value of projecting American military strength as a warning to hostile powers against the risk of tit-for-tat escalation toward war and the possibility of casualties. But unlike his most recent predecessors, Trump's political brand was built partly on rejecting conventional ideas about war and diplomacy.

Trump campaigned on the conviction that the Iraq War was "the dumbest war ever fought," and as recently as his reelection announcement on Tuesday he took credit for reordering American priorities.

"Great nations do not want to fight endless wars. They've been going on forever. Starting to remove a lot of troops," he told an enthusiastic crowd in Orlando, Florida. "We're finally putting America first."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday that members of Congress who met with Trump at the White House on Thursday had delivered a bipartisan message favoring "de-escalating."

"We left with the impression that the president was going to consider some options," Pelosi said, adding that she was not informed of his decision either to go forward or to reverse course. She said she was pleased with the eventual choice.

But Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official under President George W. Bush and president of the conservative Jewish Institute for National Security of America, accused Trump of backing down.

"President Trump's handling of rising Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf is undermining American global credibility, which is the currency for foreign policy and the bedrock of deterrence," Makovsky wrote on Twitter. "Trump has given the impression he lost his nerve."

Adding to the confusion Friday over U.S. actions was another Trump tweet: "Sanctions are biting &more added last night," he wrote. "Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!"

But reporters could find no evidence that such sanctions were imposed.

Trump has appeared torn in recent days over how to handle Iran's provocations.

Speaking Thursday, hours before the then-secret operation was to begin, Trump sent mixed signals. He suggested that U.S. retaliation was a real possibility, but also seemed to bend backward to give Iran the benefit of the doubt about the intent and severity of the attack.

"I think, probably, Iran made a mistake. I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down," Trump said, adding later that he didn't think the strike was "intentional" despite the conclusions of his own government. Iran said it had fired on the jetliner-sized drone after issuing warnings. Iran claims it was flying over Iranian territory, which Trump rejected as false. His administration maintains the aircraft was flying over international waters.

The Trump administration also blames Iran for attacks on two tankers last week near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran denies it. But the tankers do not belong to the United States. The strike on theU.S. drone Thursday could represent a significant escalation on Iran's part, and one aimed squarely at Washington.

Several international airlines said Friday that they had begun diverting flights to avoid some of the airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, where Iran shot down the drone.

Any U.S. show of force could set off a chain reaction, and potentially drag the United States into a deeper conflict. Before this series of events, Trump had gone out of his way to say that he did not favor "regime change" in Iran.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

Trump to nominate Esper as next U.S. defense secretary

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he will nominate Mark Esper to be the next U.S. defense secretary.

Esper, who is currently Army secretary, is scheduled to take over as acting defense secretary Sunday.

His predecessor as acting secretary, Patrick Shanahan, left the Pentagon on Friday.— AP