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Two killed in Clairemont Avenue crash in Eau Claire
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EAU CLAIRE — Two women died Sunday as a result of a multi-vehicle crash in the westbound lanes of East Clairemont Avenue in Eau Claire.

Eau Claire police officers responding to the crash at about 1:20 p.m., at the intersection with University Drive near the entrance to Chippewa Valley Technical College and UW-Eau Claire’s upper campus, found two vehicles that had sustained severe damage.

Elaine Lambrecht, 81, of Eau Claire was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a report from the Eau Claire Police Department.

Police found a second person, Mary A. Socha, 61, was in another vehicle and had sustained severe injuries. Officers and emergency medical personnel performed life-saving measures as they extricated her from the vehicle. Socha was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where she later died, the report stated.

Other vehicles were damaged as a result of the crash , but no other injuries were reported.

The cause and circumstances of the crash are under investigation, and the Eau Claire Police Department indicated it is not immediately releasing any other information, including the total number of vehicles involved.

The Wisconsin State Patrol is assisting with crash reconstruction.

The crash closed all or part of the westbound lanes of East Clairemont Avenue for at least six hours, police said.

New Hy-Vee store features food hall, clothing line, nail salon, other atypical departments
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EAU CLAIRE — Chippewa Valley shoppers will find much more than just groceries when they visit the Hy-Vee supermarket that opens today in Eau Claire.

The 92,000-square-foot store, built on the site of a Kmart that closed six years ago at 2424 E. Clairemont Ave., is the second of Hy-Vee’s 286 locations in eight Midwestern states to follow what the Iowa-based retailer calls an “entirely reimagined grocery store” concept.

That means the store goes beyond grocery staples to include a food hall, restaurant and pub, walk-in humidor for cigars, DSW shoe outlet, W Nail Bar nail salon, Starbucks coffee shop, Candy Shoppe with a giant gumball machine, pharmacy with drive-up window, Bellissima health and beauty section and departments selling Joe Fresh clothing and Johnson Fitness & Wellness exercise equipment.

The store is also brimming with technology such as all-digital price labels on shelves, more than 100 TVs for marketing and digital kiosks where customers can take a hearing test or order customized cakes or fresh foods, including a salad served up in about 30 seconds. Customers even can use a new Hy-Vee Scan & Go payment technology to check out through their mobile phones.

“It’s just really optimizing the shopping experience and using it to help people as they go through the store,” Hy-Vee Chairman and CEO Randy Edeker said of the technology infused throughout the building.

The tech enables customers to choose how much interaction they want to have with other shoppers and employees as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, said Tina Potthoff, Hy-Vee’s senior vice president of communications.

The Eau Claire store, which opens to the public at 6 a.m. today, will greet shoppers and a tour by Gov. Tony Evers with stacks of colorful pumpkins and mums outside the front doors. It will be open from 5 a.m. to midnight seven days a week and will carry about 100,000 items.

The location also has an accompanying Hy-Vee Fast & Fresh convenience store in the parking lot that opened in May.

“We’re really excited to be in Eau Claire,” Potthoff said during a media tour of the new store on Monday.

The first Hy-Vee adopting the company’s latest prototype opened two weeks ago in Grimes, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines.

Edeker said Eau Claire was chosen as the second store to follow the new concept because it was the next one up.

“It’s a natural progression as we work this way,” he said, hinting that announcements of more Wisconsin locations will be forthcoming. The company currently operates three other stores in Wisconsin, two in Madison and one in Fitchburg.

While Edeker mentioned Woodman’s Markets and Festival Foods as quality grocers established in a competitive Chippewa Valley market, he expressed confidence that Hy-Vee will win over its share of customers with its unique offerings and cutting-edge concepts.

“I think we do a good job of studying what customers are into and moving there before they want us to so that we’re there and waiting for them to get there with us,” Edeker said.

The Eau Claire store successfully hired 150 full-time and 350 part-time workers without much difficulty despite the widely reported labor shortage, Potthoff said.

In an effort to satisfy Chippewa Valley customers and support the local economy, Hy-Vee officials ensured the Eau Claire location would carry a number of items from local producers as well as clothing items endorsing the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin Badgers, UW-Eau Claire Blugolds, North Huskies, Memorial Old Abes and Regis Ramblers.

The sit-down restaurant/pub also has large brick fireplace emblazoned with the words “Eau Claire, Wisconsin.”

The food hall, designed to look like a streetscape with a variety of restaurant fronts, offers a number of fast-casual dining options that can be carried out or eaten at tables and counters on the south end of the store. The eateries include Long Island Deli, Wahlburgers at Hy-Vee, Mia Italian, Nori Sushi, Market Grille Express and HyChi, which serves up Thai, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese entrees.

“We wanted to make it a place where people could just hang out if they want,” Potthoff said.

In the expansive bakery, cake decorators will put their skills on display in a booth equipped with a microphone and speaker for public demonstrations. The bakers sometimes will show techniques highlighted on “Cake this,” one of a number of Hy-Vee shows streamed on HSTV.com.

The liquor department, which includes a walk-in beer cooler, wine room and humidor, carries items with price tags ranging from $1 for individual servings of booze to $4,000 bottles of fine spirits for what Potthoff described as “that extra special occasion.”

“We try to create islands of interest — sections and departments that will just slow people down,” Edeker said.

Hy-Vee, with annual sales of $11 billion, is an employee-owned corporation that shares its profits with its 86,000 employees.

Hospitals fear staffing shortages as vaccine deadlines loom

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hospitals and nursing homes around the country are bracing for worsening staff shortages as state deadlines arrive for health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

With such ultimatums taking effect this week in states like New York, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the fear is that some employees will quit or let themselves be fired or suspended rather than get the vaccine.

“How this is going to play out, we don’t know. We are concerned about how it will exacerbate an already quite serious staffing problem,” said California Hospital Association spokesperson Jan Emerson-Shea, adding that the organization “absolutely” supports the state’s vaccination requirement.

New York health care employees had until the end of the day Monday to get at least one dose, but some hospitals had already begun suspending or otherwise taking action against holdouts.

Erie County Medical Center Corp. in Buffalo said about 5% of its hospital workforce has been put on unpaid leave for not being vaccinated, along with 20% of staff at its nursing home. And the state’s largest health care provider, Northwell Health, said it has begun removing unvaccinated workers from its system, though it said its workforce is nearly 100% vaccinated.

“To those who have not yet made that decision, please do the right thing,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

Some New York hospitals prepared contingency plans that included cutting back on noncritical services and limiting nursing home admissions. The governor also drew up plans to summon help from National Guard members with medical training, retirees or vaccinated workers from outside the state.

About a dozen states have vaccination mandates covering health care workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities or both. Some allow exemptions on medical or religious grounds, but those employees often must submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

States that have set such requirements tend to have high vaccination rates already. The highest rates are concentrated in the Northeast, the lowest ones in the South and the Midwest.

Many hospitals and nursing homes are already shorthanded amid the pandemic because many nurses and others have quit as a result of burnout or have left for lucrative jobs traveling from state to state.

In California, where health care workers have until Thursday to get fully vaccinated, some hospitals are anticipating firings, suspensions or the moving of people to other positions, Emerson-Shea said. She said many traveling nurses have declined assignments in California because of the state’s vaccine requirement.

In Rhode Island, where the vaccine mandate takes effect Friday, the state said hospitals can allow unvaccinated employees to keep working 30 days past the deadline in cases where firing them would compromise patient safety. The mandate is being challenged in court because it doesn’t allow religious exemptions.

In states that don’t have mandates, some hospitals are imposing their own.

Ginger Robertson, a registered nurse who works in a mental health clinic at a hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota, has requested a religious exemption from her hospital’s vaccination requirement. She said she will look for other work if she doesn’t get it.

“Honestly, I really love my job. I am good at it. I enjoy my patients. I enjoy where I am at,” she said. “So this is a really hard place, to have to choose between two things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to leave, and I don’t want to get the vaccine.”

She said other nurses are also considering leaving over what she called the “insulting” mandate.

“We feel demoralized, like as though we aren’t intelligent enough to make these choices for ourselves,” Robertson said.

Massachusetts’ mandate, issued by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, applies only to rest homes, assisted living facilities, hospice programs and home care programs. It allows for medical and religious exemptions but doesn’t require regular testing. The deadline is Oct. 31.

In Connecticut, a vaccine mandate for employees of state-run hospitals took effect on Monday. It does not apply to privately-run hospitals, some of which are imposing their own requirements. Medical and religious exemptions are possible, but anyone else who fails to get vaccinated will be barred from the workplace.

About 84% of more than 450,000 hospital workers in New York were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to state data. Nursing home data through Sunday showed about 89% of nursing home workers fully vaccinated.

New York City’s hospital system reported a 95% vaccination rate for nurses and a higher rate for doctors.

“I feel good, very good about our ability to have the staffing we need in the public hospitals,” said Mitchell Katz, head of the city’s public hospital system.

In Missouri, which became a severe COVID-19 hot spot over the summer, the Mercy hospital system is requiring vaccinations among staff at its hundreds of medical centers and clinics in Missouri and neighboring states by Thursday.

Anyone who doesn’t comply by then will be placed on a 30-day unpaid suspension, said Mercy spokeswoman Bethany Pope.