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Many followed top stories on social media
Grizzly bear exhibit wows crowd
ivonne cruz.jpg
Ivonne Cruz

Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories recapping some of the top area news stories of 2018.

In 2018, readers often turned to the Great Bend Tribune’s website,, for breaking news. Those on social media often read the headlines on the Great Bend Tribune Facebook page, which also includes announcements of upcoming events, such as the Central Kansas Health and Wellness Expo that will be held Jan. 12 at the Great Bend Events Center. There are also opportunities for readers to share, like or comment – sometimes for a chance to win a prize.

The Tribune continues to be a subscriber-based business, so while Facebook may contain links to our stories, only paid subscribers have non-limited access to all of our content. Non-subscribers can view at least three stories each month. 

One still missing, one found

The Great Bend Tribune story on Facebook that received the most attention from readers in 2018 was that 15-year-old Ivonne Cruz had been missing since March 29. She was last seen in Great Bend. The post came from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and was shared in many states.

Cruz was in foster care in Great Bend in January when she first ran away and was later found. After she disappeared again, information was posted on the national website. She is now 16 years old. She is described as a Hispanic female with black hair and brown eyes. She is 5 feet 0 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds. Anyone with information can call the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, 620-793-1876, or 911 or 1-800-843-5678 (800-THE-LOST).

She is still listed as missing on the national database.

Number two on the Tribune’s Facebook hit list was another missing person story, this time with a happy ending. Mel Dreher had disappeared and people were being asked to help find him. A post said, “Please be on the lookout for Mel Dreher. He was last seen getting into a green Prius electric car (Toyota) at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Great Bend.” After listing the license plate, the text added, “He may have been confused.” Mel went missing on Oct. 13 after Saturday church.

On Oct. 14, a new post read, “Mel Dreher has been found in Colorado. Thank you for your help trying to find him.”

University of Kansas Health System buys GBRH

On Aug. 1, the University of Kansas Health System announced it had completed the purchase of Great Bend Regional Hospital and its affiliated clinics. The hospital became part of The University of Kansas Health System, which includes The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, HaysMed in Hays, St. Rose Health Center in Great Bend, Pawnee Valley Community Hospital in Larned and The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus in Topeka (in partnership with Ardent Health Services).

Great Bend Regional Hospital was renamed The University of Kansas Health System Great Bend Campus. 

One of the resulting changes was announced in December, when Convenient Care and Urgent Care consolidated at the St. Rose Medical Pavilion, 3515 Broadway Ave.

Convenient care hours at St. Rose Medical Pavilion are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The Emergency Room is located at the The University of Kansas Health System Great Bend Campus, 514 Cleveland St.

New grizzly bear exhibit

In June, the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo held a grand opening for the expanded grizzly bear exhibit. The line outside the zoo on the morning of Saturday, June 2, stretched to the swimming pool parking lot as people waited for the doors to open. The first 150 children received free stuffed bears, and everyone was invited to partake in free popcorn and snow cones, and to get a closer-than-usual look at some of the animals at the zoo.

The four grizzly bears were active that morning, as they squabbled over food and their favorite new amenities, which include a climbing area and a stream with swimming pools. People could get a view unobstructed by cage bars on the west side of the exhibit.

The bears stay inside most winter days but there are things to see at the zoo year round.

Bomb Threat hoaxes

An email blast sent to hundreds of schools, businesses and government agencies nationwide on December 13 threatened to set off bombs unless the sender was paid in Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

In Great Bend and Barton County, there were 13 threats made. Police Chief David Bailey and Sheriff Brian Bellendir said most of the local emails targeted properties connected with Sunflower Diversified Services or Rosewood Services, two agencies that serve people with developmental disabilities. Some of these properties were evacuated until the buildings could be searched.

Sunflower Diversified Services Executive Director Jon Prescott said sweeps by law enforcement turned up clean. “It was someone’s idea of a sick joke.” All of the clients were evacuated safely and taken to their residences.

There was speculation that the threats were emailed from Russia. 

It turned out similar threats were made across the nation, with banks, hospitals and universities among the targeted institutions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released this statement:

“We are aware of the recent bomb threats made in cities around the country, and we remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety.”

Jeffrey Rankin receives maximum sentence

In April, Jeffrey Allen Rankin received the maximum sentence on two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Judge Richard Smith sentenced Rankin a total of 13 and a half years in prison.

The sentencing hearing included emotional and graphic testimony from Rankin’s ex-wife and her daughters.

Each of the two guilty pleas was to a charge that Rankin had a digital image — thumbdata embedded jpgs — in which a person under 18 was shown engaging in sexually explicit conduct, on March 16, 2016. The original charges alleged crimes against two minors, dating from as early as July 1, 2011.

He was originally charged with 31 counts, including rape and aggravated indecent liberties with a child under 14 years old, sexual exploitation of a child, stalking and violation of protective orders.

Dr. Mark Fesen subject of federal Medicare fraud suit

Charges were filed in October against Dr. Mark Fesen and The Hutchinson Clinic for allegedly illegally billing Medicare and the insurance company Tricare for more than $30 million in unnecessary cancer, other medications and treatments. U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said the five-count complaint filed in the Wichita Federal Court is based on the False Claims Act.

According to the complaint, between 2008 and 2011, Frank Tra, a clinical pharmacist who worked in Hutchinson Clinic’s oncology department, repeatedly informed Hutchinson Clinic that Fesen was prescribing medically unnecessary and inappropriate chemotherapy, and that he continued to do so even after an outside review and Fesen was put on notice that he was improperly prescribing and administering cancer drugs. 

The 45-page filing outlined the charges and cited nine examples of patients who had received treatments. “Based on the information laid out above, these patient examples are not isolated examples, but instead representative examples of the medically unnecessary services Fesen and Hutchinson Clinic repeatedly billed to Medicare and Tricare. This is supported by the clinic’s own internal audits that found widespread problems with Fesen’s chemotherapy regimens, and particularly his use of Rituxan,” the document reads.

Great Bend: Better Than Great

A new community vision project with the theme “Great Bend: Better Than Great” got underway in 2018. The Great Bend Chamber of Commerce described its goal as “generating conversation and big ideas.”

A professional facilitator from Shockey Consulting is guiding a large steering committee looking at challenges and opportunities facing the community. The Barton County Young Professionals have a major role in creating an action plan that could be unveiled as early as the Great Bend Chamber Banquet in February.

Learn more about the Great Bend: Better than Great Bend project and get involved by visiting and taking a survey. There are surveys in English and Spanish for individuals and businesses. The surveys will be available through January. Participants who provide their contact information will be entered to win a $500 Chamber Gift Card.

For more information contact the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, 620-792-2401.