Illinois Public Media News
Champaign officials broke ground Wednesday on a new YMCA center in southwest Champaign.
Construction is set to begin on the $16-million facility in the next couple of weeks. The Y will include an eight lane pool, a child play center, and a gymnasium with an in-door track. Mark Johnson, a former University of Illinois wrestling coach who is now the Y's chief executive officer in Champaign County, said the center will be an excellent addition to the community.
"This is going to be a place that the rest of us can use on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We have problems with childhood obesity. We have problems with diabetics. We have problems with senior citizens. We have a problem with disabilities. This is going to be a welcoming place to everybody."
Talk about the project has been going on for about a decade, and up until a couple of years ago it never really took shape because of a lack of funding. However, that changed after Horizon Hobby Chairman Rick Stephens pledged $5 million to the $16-million project. Stephens said his contribution encouraged other people to step up and start donating.
"The reason we did this was for the community," Stephens said. "There was such a need for a new Y in this community. It's been a dream for a lot of people for a long time."
The project has raised about $12 million. Johnson said he is confident that it will be able to raise an additional $4 million by the time the project completed in early 2012. The new facility will replace the current McKinley Family Center and the Fitness & Family Center in Champaign.
The 75,000-square foot center will be located at 2501 Fields South Drive, which is just west of I-57. It will replace two current Champaign fitness center: McKinley Family Center at 500 W. Church St. and Fitness & Family Center at 707 N. Country Fair Drive.
(Design courtesy of the Champaign County YMCA)
The National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded $2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The grant will be used to create a new research center to study how exposure to common chemicals may affect childhood development.
Center director neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz said studies will focus on bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in plastics, and phthalates, which are components of many scented personal care products, like lotions and shampoos.
"We know from laboratory animal studies that both of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters," Schantz said, "so they can mess with certain hormonal systems in the body."
One study will involve pregnant women volunteers from local health clinics. "We're going to follow their health and take urine samples during their pregnancy so we can assess their exposure to the two chemicals, and then from the time their babies are born we're going to follow them developmentally," Schantz explained.
A related study at Harvard University will examine how exposure to BPA and phthalates relates to cognitive development in adolescents.
A health clinic for low-income families in Champaign will soon have a permanent site for dental care.
More than $600,000 in donations to start the clinic are the result of an initiative that started in 2008. The United Way of Champaign County spearheaded the fundraising for a new facility at Frances Nelson Health Center. Nancy Greenwalt is the director of Smile Healthy, a community-based initiative to provide dental care to the underserved. Currently, Smile Healthy conducts mobile dental clinics twice a month at Frances Nelson.
Greenwalt said they exposed the need for additional care, and prompted donations from groups like the United Way, Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation and Carle Foundation. She said the waiting list of low-income and uninsured dental patients exceeds 1,000, and that does not include those who use emergency rooms.
"At Provena, over 1,000, and at Carle (Foundation Hospital in Urbana) over 2,000 patients report to the emergency room each year with dental issues," Greenwalt said. "But a medical provider can't do and extraction, or a root canal, or some of the treatments that you would need to solve the problem. All they can do is get you through the crisis."
Barbara Dunn is CEO of the Community Health Improvement Center, the parent organization of Frances Nelson. Dunn said the funds present new opportunities the clinic didn't have before.
"It's four operatories, so we can probably accomodate one half-time or full time dentist," Dunn said. "So we may expand that - who knows. And certainly always there's a demand for more medical. So I think we can put a lot of plans together the next few years."
The dental clinic at Frances Nelson will serve not only referrals, but appointments from the general public. It is expected to open by next fall.
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson will serve a sixth term after besting Democrat David Gill for a third time.
The Republican Johnson says he'll continue to strive for a limited government, a free-market economy, and cutting through the bureaucracy of agencies like the Veterans Administration. He still wants to repeal the health care reform bill. But with the Democrats still in control in the US Senate, Johnson says it won't be an absolute repeal.
"But I think we can work to make some constructive changes and were funding is relevant, to limit funding to that," said Johnson. "So my hope is that we'll be able to bring some more sense to a health care system, or at least a health care bill that's out of control." Gill, an emergency room physician, calls that kind of talk 'politicking'. He likes parts of the package, but says it needs some re-crafting.
Johnson finished with 64-percent of the vote to Gill's 35-percent. Gill says this loss is disappointing for the people. He says elected winners on each side of the political aisle are failing to compromise, and that proves there's something wrong with our government. "Maybe eventually there will be enough pain for voters that they'll understand that they need to look beyond the 'D' and the 'R' and find out who's funding the different candidates," said Gill. "And maybe then they'll start supporting those who are interested in accomplishing good things for people."
Gill has described himself as an independent-minded Democrat, but says he may consider a true independent campaign for Congress in the future - calling it the fastest-growing part of the electorate.
A voter guide put out by a local health care advocacy group shows rough adherence to political party lines when it comes to health care issues and Illinois candidates.
Of the candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate, only Congressional candidate David Gill (D-Bloomington) responded to the survey from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, but state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) took part.
The group's director, Claudia Lennhoff, said even though this year's health care overhaul is a national undertaking, state lawmakers' views on health care play a big role.
"So much of the implementation of national health reform actually happens at the state level and requires state legislatures to pass laws in order to enact some of the health reform changes," said Lennhoff.
While Jakobsson supports implementing the health care bill, Reynolds opposes it. However, Reynolds and Jakobsson agree that the state should enact controls on rising health insurance premiums.
A central Illinois cheese-maker is voluntarily recalling some of its cheese products, because they may contain antibiotics.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the products from Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal were not properly tested, and could pose a danger for people who are allergic to antibiotics. But so far, Public Health officials say they haven't received any reports of adverse reactions.
The recall involves Ropp Jersey cheese products with various sell-by dates ranging from April through September of 2011:
* 4/17/11 through 4/19/11
* 6/8/11 through 6/11/11
* 6/17/11 through 6/27/11
* 7/4/11 through 7/10/11
* 7/16/11 through 7/28/11
* 8/4/11 through 8/7/11
* 8/14/11 through 8/28/11
* 9/5/11 through 9/10/11
The cheese products were sold at stores and wineries throughout in Illinois, including Schnucks and Friar Tucks. Public Health officials say the products can be returned to the place of purchase for replacement.
A five year plan to move the John and Mary E. Kirby Hospital in Monticello to a larger nearby site has entered the final stage in the planning process.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the hospital with a $31.2 million dollar mortgage loan.
The new hospital will include more surgical space and patient and procedure rooms. Inpatients will also have private suites, with a bathroom, shower and visiting space.
The current 16-bed hospital has undergone a series of renovations in the last several years, but hospital spokeswoman Michelle Rathman said the project will help the hospital address the community's changing health care needs.
"Family members will have accommodations in the rooms for them to stay with their loved ones in the hospital 24 hours," she explained. "Hospitals around the country have moved away from these things like 'visiting hours are over.' That's not the case because families are encouraged to be part of the healing process."
The loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program. By insuring the mortgage loan, FHA is enabling the hospital to obtain lower cost financing that is expected to save an estimated $4.6 million in interest expense over the life of the loan.
"FHA is helping to build state-of-the-art health care facilities like this all across the country," said FHA Commissioner David Stevens. "By helping to make these projects possible, FHA also contributes to the financial well-being of communities by creating jobs to stimulate local economies."
Rathman said the replacement hospital is expected to be an economic boom in Piatt County with a combination of construction jobs, more people shopping at local businesses, and new employment.
"Every new full-time employee equates to revenue spent in the community," she said. "Replacement hospital projects make a significant economic impact in so many ways."
Kirby Hospital currently employs about 200 people. Rathman said the new facility is expected to be completed by September 2011, and she projected that it will create up to 15 new full-time jobs over the next five years.
The 71,000-square-foot Kirby Medical Center will be built at the Market Street and I-72 exit northeast of Rick Ridings on a new street called Medical Center Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1pm.
(Artist rendering courtesy of the Kirby Medical Center courtesy of Kirby Hospital)
Two environmental experts will continue to keep tabs on Ameren's efforts to clean up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
About 60 residents from the 5th and Hill Street neighborhood shared their concerns with Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko in a community forum Monday night. The experts were brought in by New York-based law firms to address long-standing concerns of illness and contaminated soil. Much of the discussion focused on Ameren's efforts to clean the site, and whether the EPA will respond to resident's calls for soil tests at resident's homes. Ameren started its remediation of the site last year, with completion slated for 2015.
Both the experts say the biggest immediate concern is for Champaign's city council to repeal its groundwater ordinance. Zeko, who's a hydrogeologist, said reworking it would allow more flexibility for residents to pursue legal action.
"If there was no ordinance in place, they could leave it like it is," said Zeko. "Right now, basically Ameren can say 'we're complying with the ordinance - leave us alone. If you appeal the ordinance, they can say 'well, our health-based effects show that this is a problem, you need to clean it up.'"
Zeko said Illinois' EPA should require Ameren to do additional testing. Zeko also said new studies are coming out on vapor intrusions of substances like benzine, and their possible health effects. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock said Ameren was irresponsible for doing a slow to moderate cleanup after 20 years of the site going unnoticed. He said the groundwater ordinance needs more teeth.
"It's a very generic ordinance, as was stated by the Illinois EPA," said Bowcock. "It's very general. It's been used in 200 jurisdictions throughout the state of Illinois. So it's not site specific, and as technology and science evolves, it's being misapplied."
Champaign City council member Tom Bruno, who spoke at an earlier forum Monday, said repealing the groundwater ordinance might be the only way that Ameren will properly re-mediate the 5th and Hill area.
"It acknowledges the reality that the danger from contaminated groundwater isn't just when you drink the groundwater, but it's dangerous also when you merely breathe the vapors that are coming from that groundwater" said Bruno. "And we need to get rid of that contaminated groundwater whether people are drinking it or not."
Magnolia Cook lives in the 5th and Hill neighborhood. Cook said she has dealt with strange smells and nagging health concerns for about 50 years, so much so that it seems natural.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility company considered all aspects of the environmental impacts at the site of every former manufactured gas plant. He said everything at 5th and Hill is being done within strict accordance of the Illinois EPA, and he added groundwater at the site does not pose a human health or environmental risk. He said the company was not invited to Monday's forums.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
On Saturday, October 25th, from 10 AM to 2 PM, enforcement agencies, pharmacies, and other sites will be accepting unwanted prescription drugs as part of a nationwide Drug Enforcement Administration take-back program.
Scott Collier of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in St. Louis says the initiative is part of a larger effort to combat prescription drug abuse.
"There are actually more prescription drug abusers than there are abusers of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs combined. It's second only to marijuana", says Collier.
In 2009, an estimated 7 million Americans used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.
Another goal of the initiative is to reduce water pollution. Medications flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain go straight to a waste-water treatment plant.
Research hydrologist Dana Kolpin of the U.S. Geological Survey says those plants were never designed to remove pharmaceuticals - and there's no law requiring them to do so. Kolpin says studies have found drugs in effluent and sludge - and trace levels in rivers and streams, where they're having effects on wildlife.
"They're not acute effects where it's causing say massive fish kills", says Kolpin, "but we're seeing say fish that have both male and female characteristics, and those kind of subtle effects that are certainly a concern as well."
Kolpin attributes most water contamination to the routine use of medications to treat people and livestock, but says improper disposal does contribute to the problem.
You can dispose of prescription drugs during the DEA's National Take Back Day, Saturday, September 25th, from 10 to 2, at the following east-central Illinois locations:
Arcola - Arcola Police Dept., 920 S. Washington St. Arthur - Arthur Visitors Center, 106 E. Progress Clinton - Clinton Police Dept., 118 W. Washington St. Danville - Sheriff Office at the Vermilion County Courthouse, 7 N. Vermilion St. Decatur - City-County Law Enforcement Center, 333 N. Franklin St. Normal - Normal Police Dept., 100 E. Phoenix Tuscola - Douglas County Sheriff's Dept., 920 S. Washington St.
A health advocacy group says benefits from the new health care reform law are just starting to come to Illinois residents.
It will be 2014 before one of the biggest benefits takes effect, but the group Families USA says more than a million people in Illinois will be eligible for some sort of tax credit from the legislation that passed this spring. Those tax credits are meant to offset the cost of insurance.
The slow introduction of the health care law coincides with political opposition to the law as election season nears. But Jim Duffett, who heads the Champaign-based Campaign for Better Health Care, says more and more Illinois residents will hear about the program's intended purpose in the weeks ahead, such as health insurance exchange programs aimed at offering lower-cost policies.
"I think as these programs start to kick in, and definitely as the focus at the state level is intensifying, those types of activities are going to start to generate much more interest and education so that the people in Illinois will be able to know exactly what they need to do to sign up," Duffett said.
The group cites a survey that suggests the biggest tax credits will affect people at the lowest income levels, with about 60% of the credits going to those who carry health insurance but are struggling to keep up with premiums.
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