Illinois Public Media News
Sharp reductions in services and staff at the Vermilion County Health Department will start next week. The cutbacks were announced as the department adjusts to the latest round of budget cuts, due to delays in state funding.
Friday, May 21st, is the last day the Vermilion County Health department will offer three state-funded maternal and child healthcare programs. In fact, it's the last Friday the department will be open at all. Administrator Steve Laker says starting next week, the department will be closed on Fridays, at least until the new county fiscal year begins December 1st.
"We're doing that to minimize expenditures during the remainder of the fiscal year, just to make sure we survive", says Laker. "Really, what we're imposing is a mandatory furlough day on all employees --- all administrative staff, all employees. So it's going to cut their compensation by 20 percent, for real close to six months."
The Vermilion County Health Department will also phase out testing for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The cutbacks also mean that the Health Department's satellite office in Hoopeston will close. Laker says people who relied on that location will have to come to their Danville office instead. He says the Hoopeston site mainly served people living in the upper third of Vermilion County --- north of US Route 136 and Illinois Route 119.
"So we probably had about 400 clients up there", says Laker. "And they're all going to have to transfer down to (the Health Department's Danville) facility. And we're anticipating transportation difficulties for a number of them, but we don't have any choice."
The Hoopeston satellite facility is slated to close June 30th. By that date, the Vermilion County Health Department's staff will be down to around 30 --- compared to about 74 when the year began. Among those departing will be Laker himself, who's retiring as administrator. The Vermilion County Board of Health has chosen administrative services director Shirley Hicks to take his place.
In an effort to improve students' health, legislators want Illinois schools to share good ideas. The measure creates a database districts can access to learn about successful wellness programs offered at other schools statewide.
The legislation's sponsor, Plainfield Democratic Senator Linda Holmes, says many schools already have nutrition and physical education programs in place. But she says others don't even know where to start. "This gives you the ability to go to this database and it will have the best practices of other schools you can look and say 'wow look, we can incorporate this activity our school has this capability," Holmes said. "So it's everybody's best practices, leaving you as school coming not having to try and reinvent the wheel, but finding out what's working in others." Holmes adds that using the database would be voluntary.
Lawmakers also gave their seal of approval to creating a co-op-like relationship between farmers and schools, so local fresh foods can be incorporated into lunch programs. Both proposals now head to the Governor.
Vermilion County's financially struggling Health Department is cutting 16 more staff members by June 30th as it looks to maintain minimum state-certified status.
Adminstrator Steve Laker says even operating at that level will rely on another loan from the county - this one for $75,000. The Vermilion County Board will discuss the loan at its meeting Tuesday. The county is also being asked to pick up about 88-thousand dollars in buyouts for laid off employees. Laker says the health department will also implement a four-day work week later this month. "We're going to set a standard furlough day one day a week. The Fridays will be elimated," says Laker. "So our staff time will be elimated from 35 hours to 28 hours a week, and our operations will be a 4-day a week operation."
By July 1st, Laker says his department will only maintain three programs partially dependent on federal dollars. Those programs are communicable disease services, environmental health... and WIC, or the Women, Infants and Children program. Vermilion County's health department is owed more than $600,000 by the state. It started the year with 74 employees, and plans to have 31 when the next fiscal year begins.
Today, Friday, May 7th, is supposed to be the last day for Illinois legislators in Springfield, based on a self-imposed deadline. With an eye toward adjournment, the Illinois Senate approved a spending plan in the early morning hours. But there's still no final budget agreement.
Partisan differences over the best way to proceed given Illinois' $13 billion deficit are the main holdup. Whether the GOP will continue to remain opposed to Democrats' plan to borrow money remains uncertain.
Unless one or two House Republicans go along with borrowing ... Illinois will skip putting about $4 billion into the state's already underfunded pension systems.
Another central component of the budget gives the governor flexibility to make cuts, borrow from earmarked state funds, further put off paying state vendors, and institute furloughs.
State Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, says there's good reason to give Quinn emergency powers.
"As much as none of us like this, we're in very uncertain times and trying to paddle through uncharted waters," says Harris.
Republicans say the governor has a poor record of managing state finances and argue he can't be trusted with such flexibility.
As the House and Senate look to reconcile on a budget ... a cigarette tax hike, tax amnesty program and possibly allowing video gaming at horse racetracks ... are all options. Whatever the final budget, it's clear legislators won't go through with education cuts that teachers unions say could have led to 20 thousand layoffs at schools statewide.
The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.
"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.
He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.
"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."
But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.
He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.
Carle Foundation Hospital has been recognized for its ability to treat stroke victims - and achieving the best possible outcomes for those patients.
Physicians at the Urbana hospital say Advanced Certification from the Joint Commission shows that Carle has expanded its stroke program through personnel and the proper equipment. Neurosurgeon Dr. John Wang says a large part of the certification is the 24/7 coverage Carle provides in its emergency room, as well as specialized care the hospital offers from himself and Dr. Thomas Kim in the stroke center. "I have different things to bring on the table than a neuroradiologist, and likewise," said Wang. "So that combination you don't often find anywhere else actually - that I speak with all sincerity. Because of a lot of the stroke intervention team is composed of purely neuroradiologists, or purely neurosurgeons, or purely neurologists... this collaboration among two important subspecialities relevant to stroke care is very rare."
Wang says the certification itself serves as a validation of Carle's efforts, but the hospital does much more. The newer bi-planer x-ray equipment is capable of taking a 3-D image of a patient's head... resulting in a quicker diagnosis and treatment. Wang says the safety and the success of the procedure are both enhanced as a result. Carle Foundation Hospital partners with 16 other hospitals in the region to begin stroke patient care at those facilities before transferring them to Urbana.
A yearly ranking of cities and their air pollution problems lists Champaign-Urbana as relatively problem-free.
The area is listed as one of 25 cleanest when it comes to short-term pollution from particulate matter. The report covers the years 2006 through 2008 and compares metropolitan areas across the country.
Katie Lorenz is with the American Lung Association, which commissioned the study - she says Champaign-Urbana also fared well when it comes to ozone pollution over those three years.
"In Champaign there was one ozone day in the orange category, which means unhealthy levels of pollution for sensitive groups," Lorenz said. "And for that reading w gave them a B, which is actually pretty good comparatively across the state."
In comparison, McLean County had five days with orange-level ozone pollution two years ago, and Cook County had 25.
Lorenz says some long-term trends may be to credit for the improvement. "One of the reasons why we think that the quality has been better is due to reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants. (Also,) transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines and really the steps that individuals are taking every day to make sure the quality of our air is improved."
Still the Lung Association's "State of the Air" study found that the St. Louis and Indianapolis areas suffer significant year-round pollution despite year-by-year improvements.
Federal money will give health officials in Vermilion County the chance to inspect old industrial sites for contaminated waste and discuss their future.
Half the $400,000 grant from the US EPA will go towards identifying hazardous substances... while the other $200,000 is to identify petroleum as part of the agency's Brownfields assessment program.
Doug Toole is an environmental health specialist with the county's health department. He's identified 32 potential sites for inspection and possible cleanup... including old factories, gas stations, salvage yards, and dry cleaners. The sites are in Danville and nearby cities like Hoopeston and Westville.
Toole says the funds will let the county bring in an environmental consultant to help coordinate public hearings. He says the first hearings wouldn't be about specific sites, but serve more as an orientation:
When people are complaining about junk houses in their community and dump sites and things like that --- stuff that we handle on a routine basis --- and that's good", says Toole. "We can get those things cleaned up. But I want to be sure the public's aware of what we're talking about with a brownfield. Just because there's an empty business in the area doesn't mean that that it necessarily has contaminants in the soil or asbestos or lead-based paint."
The $400,000 from the EPA can't be used for salaries at the financially struggling health department. Toole says a separate grant will be required for cleanup of the sites, and other hearings will be held to look at potential uses. Danville failed in its bid to receive the same EPA grant, but plans on re-applying.
The Vermilion County Health Department is owed half a million dollars from the state, and has laid off more than 40 employees this year. Toole says it's hard to say what would happen if the department was to fold, but he would expect that someone else in the county would take over the work.
The University of Illinois and Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital have cooperated on research in the past - but a new agreement is meant to elevate that cooperation by a few notches.
The U of I and Carle have launched a biomedical research alliance, with the university sharing space with Carle researchers in the Mills Breast Cancer Institute. The joint agreement will focus on four research areas: cancer, cardiology, neurosciences and gastrointestinal health.
Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard says the agreement will foster new communication between doctors on both sides.
"That may sound like well, 'didn't that go on all the time before'. and the answer is no", says Leonard. "We're both big institutions and we both focused on what we did. and this allows us to meet not at that interface."
Leonard hopes the research alliance will bring new medical advancements closer to patients and help attract physicians who want to practice and do research at the same time.
The Vermilion County Health Department is cutting four more programs that rely on state grants and 20 additional jobs with it. Department Administrator Steve Laker says the County's Board Of Health was forced into this move after the Vermilion County Board this week rejected a request for an additional loan of $400,000. The state now owes the health department $500,000 - an amount expected to grow to $700,000 by June.
As of May 21st, the department's staff will be nearly half what it was the first of this year, with 32 total job cuts. The four programs being eliminated are Family Case Management, Healthworks Illinois, Healthy Child Care, and the Case Coordination Unit. Laker says that unit's nursing home pre-screenings will be among those areas missed the most. "We're going to work with anybody we can so that hopefully these services get picked up by someone else locally and facilitate that transition, "said Laker. "But we don't have any assurance of that yet."
Laker says his goal now is holding onto the Women, Infants, and Children - or WIC program, and Family Planning, which are federal programs. WIC is exclusively federally funded, while Family Planning relies partially on county money. Laker says both have been running in Vermilion County for about 40 years. "So these are long-standing practices and well-accepted pratices," said Laker. "However, right now, these are times we've never experienced. So we're being squeezed, they're (Vermilion County) being squeezed, and unfortunately, what's on the potential chopping block is these services." Cutting those federal programs would reduce the health department to minimum certified status, reducing its staff by about two-thirds, to about 20 employees. Laker says he's considering other options, including mandatory furlough days for employees. If the department does have to cut WIC and Family Planning, he notes it would have an obligation to pay those staff members their accrued benefits, as well as their unemployment, which is funded by the county.
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