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Tim Myers | 1953-2020
Cave Spring mourns loss of longtime boys basketball assistant coach

Tim Myers helped Cave Spring’s boys basketball program win four VHSL championships.

To the two Knights’ head coaches during Myers’ 24 years as an assistant, he simply had their back.

And to many, Myers was a backbone of the Cave Spring program.

Tuesday, his body gave out after a five-year battle with a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer. He died under hospice care in Richmond at the age of 67.

“He was the most loyal guy in America,” Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse said. “You don’t find a guy that’s more Cave Spring-basketball than him.

“You can’t put into words everything he’s done for the Cave Spring community.”

When Gruse succeeded Billy Hicks as Cave Spring’s head coach in 2014, Myers aided with the transition.

It culminated in 2019-20 when Cave Spring finished 28-2 with a Class 3 state semifinal victory over Central-Woodstock, earning a share of the state championship in a season shortened by COVID-19.

“He did so much for me,” Gruse said. “He told me the ins and outs of the program, the ins and outs of the community.”

Myers was a Cave Spring assistant when the Knights won the old Group AAA championship in future Duke University star and NBA player J.J. Redick’s senior year in 2002. He was on the bench when they took back-to-back Group AA Division III titles in 2009 and 2010.

However, before Hicks coached Cave Spring to three state titles in a nine-year period, he was a 29-year-old first-year head coach in 1996-97.

Myers, a Roanoke native who played basketball at Patrick Henry High School and served as a youth coach for the Heights Club, approached the young coach wanting to assist.

“He wanted to help and I needed people around me who were going to be hard-working, loyal and supportive,” Hicks said. “He was all that.

“He started as ninth-grade assistant coach all the way to my right-hand man when we were winning back-to-back state championships.”

While Hicks had assistants move onward and upward to head coaching positions, Myers stayed behind.

“He was one of those guys even after he had three state championship rings,” Hicks said. “He would stay with me and do the laundry after a game.

“He would mop the floor and pick up towels in the locker room, long past the time that I would ever have asked him to do any of that. I’d be thinking of things I needed to ask the assistants to do, and I’d turn around and he’d be doing it.”

Hicks said the last time he spoke with his former assistant was in May when members of Cave Spring’s 2010 team connected via a video conference call.

“He told everybody he was doing well,” Hicks said. “I think he was protecting the guys at the point. You know, ‘Hey,’ I’m good.’ He was very, very upbeat. He was smiling the whole time the guys were talking.”

Gruse said Myers made him laugh even not-so-funny moments.

A former head coach at Dan River High School and an ex-assistant at Averett University, Gruse took the Cave Spring job in 2014 and charged into the season opener at Roanoke County rival William Byrd.

Several hours later, Gruse and Myers boarded the bus after a disappointing loss.

“We didn’t play particularly well so I probably wasn’t in the best of moods,” Gruse said. “I go to sit down on my seat and I sit on a bag. I grab it because I’m mad like, ‘’What?’

“Coach Myers says, ‘It’s your goodie bag for the ride home.”

Gruse was not quite ready to accept any treats after losing a basketball game.

“I said, ‘Coach, you know why we lost? Because there’s Scooby Snacks in our bag,’ “ Gruse said.

“The next day at practice I go into the coaches office and the door is locked. I look through the window and Coach is kicked back with his feet on the desk. I walk in and right in front of him is an economy size box of Scooby Snacks. He says, ‘I’ve got enough Scooby snacks for the year for us.’ That was his personality.”

Myers’ health problems forced him to leave Cave Spring’s coaching staff for a period in recent years, but he rejoined the squad late in the 2018-19 season which ended with a state semifinal loss to Northside.

Then came Cave Spring’s dream season in 2019-20 with Myers next to Gruse on the Knights’ bench, at least while the highly charged head coach was seated.

Few high school coaches have been a part of four state championship teams.

“It’s elite company,” Gruse said. “He was in charge of setting all our team goals this year. He could still relate to high school kids, and our kids absolutely lit up every time Coach walked into the gym.

“For him to go out the way he did this year with a state championship, he deserved it.”

Gruse said he is considering fitting tributes.

“We might just leave a chair open on the bench,” the Cave Spring coach said.

Myers is survived by his wife, Teresa, and an adult daughter and son.

The family requests that donations be made to the Cave Spring High School basketball program.

“That was his thing,” Teresa Myers said. “Those bus trips were rough on him this last year, all that bouncing around.

“But those boys wanted him on that bus.”

Not just COVID: Nursing home neglect deaths surge

As more than 90,000 of the nation’s long-term care residents have died in the coronavirus pandemic, advocates for the elderly say a tandem wave of fatalities is quietly claiming tens of thousands more who are succumbing not to the virus but to neglect by overwhelmed staffs and slow declines from isolation.

Nursing home watchdogs are being flooded with reports of residents kept in soiled diapers so long their skin peeled off, left with bedsores that cut to the bone, and allowed to wither away in starvation or thirst.

Beyond that are swelling numbers of less clear-cut deaths that doctors believe have been fueled by despair and desperation from being cut off from loved ones — listed on some death certificates as “failure to thrive.”

“What the pandemic did was uncover what was really going on in these facilities,” said June Linnertz, whose father died in June after she found him in what she said were putrid conditions at his Plymouth, Minnesota, assisted living facility. “It was bad before, but it got exponentially worse.”

Nursing home expert Stephen Kaye, a professor at the Institute on Health and Aging at the University of California-San Francisco, analyzed data from 15,000 facilities for The Associated Press, finding that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those “excess deaths” beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March.

The more the virus spread through a home, Kaye found, the greater the level of deaths recorded for other reasons, suggesting care suffered as workers were consumed with attending to COVID-19 patients or were left short-handed as the pandemic infected employees themselves.

“The healthcare system operates kind of on the edge, just on the margin, so that if there’s a crisis, we can’t cope,” Kaye said. “There are not enough people to look after the nursing home residents.”

Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, disputed that there has been a widespread inability of staff to care for residents and dismissed estimates of tens of thousands of non-COVID-19 deaths as “speculation.”

“There have been some really sad and disturbing stories that have come out,” Gifford said, “but we’ve not seen that widespread.”

Families around the country, though, say their loved ones didn’t have to die.

In Birmingham, Alabama, Donald Wallace was one of the lucky few to avoid infection as COVID-19 tore through West Hill Health and Rehab.

But the 75-year-old retired truck driver became so malnourished and dehydrated that he dropped to 98 pounds and looked to his son like he’d been in a concentration camp. Septic shock suggested an untreated urinary infection, E. coli in his body from his own feces hinted at poor hygiene, and aspiration pneumonia indicated Wallace, who needed help with meals, had likely choked on his food.

“They stopped taking care of him,” said his son, Kevin Amerson, who provided medical files documenting the conditions he described. “They abandoned him.”

West Hill Health said Wallace was “cared for with the utmost compassion, dedication and respect.”

Cheryl Hennen, Minnesota’s long-term care ombudsman, is among the advocates who’ve seen complaints pour in for bedsores, dehydration, and other examples of neglect, such as a man who choked to death while unsupervised during mealtime. She fears many more stories of abuse and neglect will emerge as her staff and families are able to return to homes.

“If we can’t get in there, how do we know what’s really happening?” she asked.

When the lockdown began at Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home on New York’s Long Island, Dawn Best was confident her 83-year-old mother would continue receiving the doting care she’d grown used to. But as the virus spread, Best sensed the staff couldn’t handle the hand it had been dealt.

Her mother never contracted COVID-19 but died after suffering dehydration, Best said, providing medical documents detailing the diagnosis.

“My mom went from being unbelievably cared for to dead in three weeks,” said Best. “They were in over their head more than anyone could imagine.”

Representatives for Gurwin said they could not comment on Best’s case but that its staff “has been doing heroic work.”

“Failure to thrive” was among the causes listed for Maxine Schwartz, a 92-year-old former cake decorator who lived at Absolut Care of Aurora Park in upstate New York.

Schwartz’s daughter, Dorothy Ann Carlone, paid daily visits to her mother in which she’d coax her to eat, a routine that was halted in March by the facility’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Carlone, as her daughter feared, stopped eating and within weeks was dead.

Dawn Harsch, a spokeswoman for the company that owns Absolut Care, noted a state investigation found no wrongdoing and that “the natural progression of a patient like Mrs. Schwartz experiencing advanced dementia is a refusal to eat.”

But Carlone is unconvinced and wonders what her mother thought when she no longer appeared each day to see her: “That I didn’t love her anymore? That I abandoned her? That I was dead?”

She thinks the pain of it all played a role in her mother’s death.

“I think she gave up,” she said.

Montgomery County School Board approves reduced stipends for employees

CHRISTIANSBURG — Current Montgomery County Public School employees who were employed by the district last school year will get one-time bonuses of $1,750, for now.

The Montgomery County School Board, during a Zoom meeting this week, passed the merit stipend amounts on a narrow 4-3 vote.

The school board had originally agreed to give employees $2,000 stipends, but was required to rework its plan after the county Board of Supervisors last week decided to provide just half of the additional money requested to help with the bonuses.

The school board asked supervisors for $1 million in federal CARES Act funding, but only received $500,000.

Due to the strict CARES Act guidelines, the $500,000 isn’t directly going toward school employees’ pay. County officials said the money reimburses the schools for coronavirus-related expenses, which in turns frees up operational funds that can be applied to the stipends.

Several supervisors over the past few weeks said they didn’t want to send the wrong message to their non-school, county part-timers, who were granted smaller bonuses than many of the school district’s own part-time employees. Supervisors and other county officials also raised concerns about depleting their CARES funding and having to dip into their own purses to cover expenses that could otherwise be paid with the federal money.

Weeks ago, supervisors approved using carryover funds from the previous fiscal year to give one-time pay supplements of $2,000 and $1,000, respectively to the county’s full- and part-time employees—a group of workers that does not include school employees.

Some school board members this week still voiced disappointment over the move by supervisors.

“Our employees have gone so far, above and beyond what their job descriptions are that it’s just unbelievable,” board member Penny Franklin said. “They’re putting their lives on the line by doing their jobs and going above and beyond with this virus. Two-thousand dollars, I think, is the minimum that we should be able to do.”

Franklin, who voted against the $1,750 stipend, said the original amount sought would have also made up for the fact that employees aren’t set to get as much money as initially planned from another upcoming raise.

In addition to the stipends, the school district is looking to grant its employees an average 3% raise that was initially slated to go into effect earlier this year but was pushed back due to financial uncertainties caused by the pandemic. The raise would now go into effect Jan. 1, but won’t be retroactive due to declined enrollment, which affects state funding.

Supervisors still need to approve the release of the deferred funds for the 3% raise.

School officials’ chief reason for giving part-timers equal stipends to full-timers is the work part-time workers have put in since the pandemic began. School officials cited tasks such as efforts from food service workers and bus drivers to, respectively, prepare and deliver meals for students during the summer and when schools were closed in the spring.

“I am more than happy to give them the same amount as everybody else because what they have done as part-time is nothing short of full-time,” Franklin said. “And I thank them. I thank all of our employees.”

School board member Marti Graham, who also voted against the $1,750, stressed the importance of keeping local children fed amid the current crisis.

“It was very disappointing to watch the board of supervisors nitpick our part-timers because their part-timers weren’t getting the same amount,” Graham said. “I’m sorry, it doesn’t even come close to equaling out what our part-timers have been doing during this whole pandemic.”

In addition to meals, the district delivered library books to the students, the latter of which Graham described as extremely meaningful for many children.

Graham, Franklin and board member Sue Kass each pushed for the $2,000 amount after hearing figures from administrators suggesting that the district’s finances could still allow for the original amount.

Along with the additional $500,000 from the county, the district is covering the stipends with help from another $1.3 million in coronavirus relief funds and approximately $1 million in money carried over from the previous fiscal year.

The district has another $1.7 million available that it intends to use to shore up any future loss in state funding due to drops in enrollment. MCPS enrollment fell by approximately 300 this year due to the pandemic, with much of that drop tied to families choosing to either homeschool their children or send them to private school, Superintendent Mark Miear said in a recent interview.

District officials, however, are confident the state in the spring will pass a so-called “hold harmless” provision to protect the schools against the financial impacts of lower enrollment. The passage of hold harmless, they said, would free up the district’s $1.7 million, some of which could be used to give employees the full $2,000 stipends.

Of the $1.7 million, $1 million is carryover from the previous fiscal year and $700,000 is money that was initially budgeted for 10 new jobs that the district never filled because of the pandemic.

MCPS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Tommy Kranz raised the possibility of using all but $200,000 of the money saved from the unfilled jobs.

“Everything I’m hearing indicates that we’re solid through the end of March and it will extend beyond, until June 30,” Kranz said of the expected hold harmless provision.

“Mr. Kranz feels comfortable. I trust his judgement,” Kass said.

Kass also raised concerns about school staff being overworked and the possibility of them choosing to leave the district out of frustration.

Other board members, however, said there’s still no guarantee the hold harmless provision will pass.

“But that’s still an if, correct?” board member Jamie Bond said, to which Kranz responded with “Ms. Jamie, it is an if.”

Board member Mark Cherbaka said it would be wiser to grant employees $1,750 for now and provide the remaining $250 later in the school year, assuming the hold harmless provision happens.

“This COVID situation is an ever changing situation,” he said.