Illinois Public Media News
Officials with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) are scrambling to find homes for a dozen displaced Rantoul residents who left the Cherry Orchard apartments last week after reports of poor living conditions.
Even though most of the Cherry Orchard tenants have left the apartment complex, CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde said one family continues to live there, but will move out once they have a permanent place to live.
"They have heat and water now, so they are safe in that regard," Pryde said.
The rest of the tenants have temporarily moved into hotel rooms. The CUPHD is trying to secure residential leases for those individuals with area landlords. Jennifer Valade, the social services director with the Salvation Army of Champaign County, said her agency's waiting for the public health district to help set up the lease agreements, so that the Salvation Army can work with people who need help with rent.
"It's obvious that they're going to need agencies to help them out, and unfortunately they were put in a situation that they didn't deserve," Valade said.
Problems with Cherry Orchard apartments stemmed from a Sept. 2007 review by health inspectors who discovered a broken septic system leaking sewage into nearby farmland. Since then, tenants have complained about inadequate heating, mold, and power outages.
Pryde said CUPHD has hit a snag in securing a lease for each individual. She said she is close to finding one family a permanent home, but still struggling to find homes for everyone else.
The Cherry Orchard apartments have traditionally housed many migrant workers, who live in Rantoul for part of the year while working for a large agricultural company, like Pioneer, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Some of them may not have a strong credit history, which can make it difficult to get a residential lease agreement worked out.
"The issue is some of these folks don't have a very good rental history, if any," said Andy Kulczycki, executive director of the Community Service Center of Northern Champaign County. "A lot of landlords screen their potential tenants."
Cherry Orchard's landlords, Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo, are schedule to appear before a judge during a Jan. 24 bench trial for failing to move their tenants and fix their sewer and septic systems as they originally promised.
Illinois lawmakers are considering a major overhaul of the program that provides medical care to the poor, part of an effort to control costs during a budget crisis and build support for a tax increase.
The legislation would emphasize HMO-style "managed care" and reduce the use of costly institutions for people with physical and mental disabilities. It would require the state to pay Medicaid bills sooner, reducing late-payment penalties. It also would take steps to ensure ineligible people don't sign up for medical care.
The lawmakers who negotiated the changes predict they'll save at least $800 million over the next five years. That would amount to roughly 2 percent in a program that costs about $7.6 billion a year.
But with the state budget in a shambles, legislators are searching desperately for any place to save money. In addition, Democratic leaders trying to pass an income tax increase could point to the Medicaid changes as evidence that they're cutting back and not simply grabbing for taxpayers' wallets.
Gov. Pat Quinn met repeatedly with legislative leaders Wednesday, searching for some version of a tax increase that could attract enough support to pass. There were no indications of a breakthrough that might generate the mix of Republican and Democratic votes that would almost certainly be needed to pass such a touchy measure.
Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan want to pass something before the current General Assembly formally ends Jan. 12. After that, they lose some of their Democratic majority and the outgoing "lame-duck" legislators who might be persuaded to support a tax increase as they leave office.
The state's budget deficit could hit $15 billion this year.
The Medicaid legislation passed in the Illinois Senate 58-0 and now goes to the Illinois House.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, acknowledged the changes would save relatively little money. But she and others portrayed it as an important first step toward streamlining Medicaid.
"This is turning an enormous ship. It's hard and it's going to take a lot of work," Steans said.
The bill would require at least half of Medicaid clients to be placed in HMO-style managed care by 2015. It also would make it easier to transfer money to help move disabled people from expensive institutions into cheaper residential care.
Another change would end a policy that allows Medicaid bills to go unpaid for months. That practice costs the state late-payment penalties and disguises the depths of Illinois' financial problems.
Other changes would help ensure that only eligible people enroll in Medicaid. Clients would have to provide additional evidence that they meet income requirements, live in Illinois and, for continuing clients, that they're still eligible.
Health officials are moving forward with a plan to transfer residents living in Rantoul's Cherry Orchard apartments to new homes.
This is in response to health concerns that have marred the apartment complex for nearly two and a half years. Health inspectors learned in Sep. 2007 that there was something wrong with the Cherry Orchard apartments after discovering sewage seeping from a septic system into nearby farmland. Since then, there have been reports of mold, inadequate heating, and power outages.
The landlords of the property, Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo, promised that by late last year they would address the septic tank issue by moving tenants into housing units that were up to code. Ramos told health officials that he would vacate two of the apartment buildings (#7 and #8) by Dec. 3. Then two other complexes (#2, #3, and #4) were supposed to be unoccupied by Dec. 20. Jim Roberts is the Director of Environmental Health with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD). Roberts said there is only one building known to have a fully functioning septic system (#6).
"Ramos agreed to move people from occupied buildings to maybe another building that would have a properly treated sewage, and he failed to do so," Roberts explained. "What we're trying to do is we're trying to eliminate the people from the places that we know have raw, untreated sewage."
By Wednesday afternoon, there were still around a dozen residents living in the apartments. The landlords of the Cherry Orchard apartments are scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 24 for failing to move their tenants and fix their sewer and septic systems as originally promised.
"I don't have enough money to move to another apartment," said one tenant who has lived at Cherry Orchard with her four children for the last year and a half. "It's not good for someone to live there."
The Cherry Orchard apartments are home to many migrant workers who spend part of the year in Rantoul working for one of the large agricultural companies, like Pioneer, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Many of those workers move to Rantoul in the summer to work during the harvest season, and leave before the winter.
"We need to prevent people from moving in there until this (health) issue is addressed," CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde said.
After a meeting Wednesday night between health officials and the tenants, the Salvation Army agreed to temporarily move Cherry Orchard's current residents into hotels. The CUPHD is now trying to move those individuals into permanent homes with assistance from other human service agencies, like the United Way and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
The Cherry Orchard apartments, located on U.S. 45, are in an unincorporated part of Rantoul, making it difficult for health officials to enforce zoning ordinances. Pryde said her department is pushing to tighten the county's housing codes.
"It's not a problem that does not have a solution," she said.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)
Police departments in nine states - Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas and Utah - have adopted an initiative to crack down on drunken driving.
The "No Refusal" program gives law enforcement officials the right to obtain a warrant from a judge to test someone's blood if the driver refuses a breathalyzer test. Macon County has used the program for the last couple of years on nights when there is expected to be an uptick in DUI cases, like on New Year's Eve.
Macon County sheriff's lieutenant Jonathan Butts said he hopes the increased enforcement will convince some people Friday night to think twice before getting behind the wheel.
"You could refuse, but if you're caught and we have reason to believe that you are under the influence and you refuse," Butts explained. "We're going to have a judge give us the paperwork to take your blood from you."
Duane Deters, an assistant state's attorney with the Macon County State's Attorney's office, said agreeing to the test will not prevent someone from being prosecuted, but he said it can help people avoid a steeper punishment.
"It's something that we'd certainly take into consideration in any offer that we would extend to them as far as to try to work the case out short of a trial," Deters said.
Deters said the policy's been in effect since 2009, and he said in that time only one search warrant has been issued for someone who did not agree to a breath test.
Other counties in Illinois using the program include Peoria, Sangamon, and Adams. The Illinois Department of Transportation declined to comment on whether the state should push to make the "No Refusal" program a statewide policy.
There will be other efforts to limit drunken driving in Macon County on New Year's Eve. The Decatur Police Department and the country's Sheriff's Office will beef up traffic enforcement, and AOK Taxi service will provide free rides from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. taking people from local bars to homes and motels. The taxi service can be reached at 217-330-7771 or 217-330-8331 for scheduled pickups.
The owner of Tiny Greens Organic Farm in Urbana is recalling alfalfa sprouts that are suspected of being tainted with salmonella after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Monday advising the public to stay away from the sprouts.
"If I have a problem, I want to fix it," Tiny Greens' CEO Bill Bagby said. "If it's not, I want it to be known."
Bagby alerted his customers about the recall early Tuesday morning. His client list includes grocery stores and restaurants across the Midwest.
The FDA warning came a week after one of the company's clients, the Jimmy John's restaurant chain, stopped serving the sprouts in Illinois. The sprouts are linked to dozens of salmonella outbreaks in 12 counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook. Bagby said if his farm is the source of the outbreak, he questioned why there were no other reported cases of people becoming ill after eating food with salmonella from other companies that also get sprouts from the Urbana farm.
Efforts by the FDA and the Illinois Department of Public Health to identify contaminated sprouts at the farm have led to no positive results of salmonella. But Don Kraemer, the acting deputy director with the FDA's Center for Food Safety, said a preliminary review shows there was enough evidence to issue the warning.
"We traced back from the patients to the restaurants that they ate at and determined who supplied them with the sprouts, and virtually all of them were supplied by Tiny Greens," Kraemer said.
The sprouts in question were distributed to farmers' markets, restaurants and grocery stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and possibly other Midwestern states. Bagby said it was premature for the FDA to issue the warning based on statistical evidence.
"They've got nothing," Bagby said. "And now they're swabbing the terrarium in the office. They found a bird's nest outside of the facility, and found bird droppings. I mean they're doing everything. They're going to for sure find salmonella this time. It's not going to be related to this."
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from Nov. 1 to Dec. 21, around 90 people across the country became sick with a matching strain of salmonella. More than half of those cases were in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health's Kelly Jakubek said the last case of someone in Illinois getting sick with salmonella after eating a sprout was on Dec. 7, but she said an investigation is ongoing.
"We'll continue to look at sprout producers and distributors," Jakubek said. "It's very important that anyone who becomes ill after eating alfalfa sprouts, it's very important that they contact their health provider."
Bagby said he will cooperate with the investigation. He said his mandatory recall has had a significant impact on his business going from distributing around 10,000 pounds of alfalfa sprouts a week to a thousand pounds.
"It's already hurt my business," he said.
Products subject to this recall include: 4 oz. Spicy Sprouts and our 4oz., 1lb., 2lb., & 5lb., Alfalfa Sprouts (all package sizes) with lot codes 348, 350, or 354 or having a "sell by" date of 12/29/10, 12/31/10 and 1/04/11. Additionally, any product containing alfalfa sprouts that remain on the market with the following lot numbers 305 thru 348 or "sell by" dates from 12/16/10 thru 12/29/10 will also be recalled.
The warning issued Monday includes a mix called Spicy Sprouts, which contain radish and clover sprouts.
Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection, according to the CDC. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.
Type 2 diabetes - the kind related to obesity and an unhealthy diet - gets a lot of attention these days. But there's another, less common, form of the disease - type 1 - that can also lead to life-threatening complications. Reporter Véronique LaCapra went behind the scenes at a St. Louis hospital, for the transplant operation that got one woman off dialysis, and made her diabetes-free.
(Photo by Véronique LaCapra)
There has been a sharp increase in the number of whooping cough cases in Illinois this year.
The majority of them are in and around Chicago, but Macon County's Health Department currently has five confirmed cases and four probable ones. Director of Nursing Debby Durbin said the greatest concern is that babies will contract pertussis from adults, who may not show as violent a cough as young people.
"Our concern is with Christmas coming and people having these coughs -with an adult, they may not be all that bad," Durbin said. "But then if they go around a new baby and transmit it, that's very, very dangerous."
Infants cannot receive a shot for the disease until they are two months old, and Brandon Meline with Champaign-Urbana's Public Health Department says lots of viruses will cause a cough, so pertussis is hard to detect in adults. He said some shots have been updated since 2005, so lots of adults likely have not received it.
"New pertussis vaccines that have been out on the market for several years now that are included in the tenanus that we typically get every ten years - there's a tetanus vaccine with the pertussis in it for adults to help prevent that transmission to the little ones," Meline said. "The majority of cases that you see in infants and kids are ususally passed on from a parent or a day care provider."
Meline said contracting whooping cough likely has more to do with many people staying indoors than the conditions outside, but he said the disease is passed on more easily in the winter. An Illinois public health spokeswoman said statewide, there have been 925 cases of pertussis in 2010, compared to about 650 last year. In California last year, 10 children died from the illness.
Outside Macon County, there are no reported cases currently in east central Illinois. Champaign County has had 11 cases this year, McLean County has had 11 cases, while Vermilion County has reported six of them.
Jimmy John's restaurants in Illinois are pulling a key ingredient from their sandwiches.
The company announced Tuesday that it will temporarily discontinue alfalfa sprouts, which are linked to dozens of salmonella outbreaks in nine counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook.
"As a good faith and good will gesture, I am asking Illinois stores to pull sprouts until the state can give us some better direction," restaurant owner Jimmy John said in a statement.
The company said its main supplier of sprouts was tested for salmonella last week, and came up negative. There have been no reported cases in recent weeks of people in Illinois becoming ill after eating the sprouts, but the state's Public Health Department is investigating the restaurant's food suppliers and producers. The reported incidents took place between November and early December.
People who eat alfalfa sprouts and become ill with diarrhea and a fever should contact a physician. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is investigating nearly four dozen cases in which people became sick with salmonella after eating at Jimmy John's restaurants in nine counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook.
The reported incidents took place between November and early December. No new cases of salmonella have been reported in the last couple of weeks, according to the IDPH. However, the agency is continuing to investigate the outbreak.
"Right now the Department of Public Health is investigating the producers and suppliers of alfalfa to determine where the potential beginning of this problem is," said Tom Green, a spokesperson with the health department. "While the investigation is ongoing, there's no reason for people to stop going to Jimmy John's because of something that happened in November and early December."
Green said not all of Jimmy John's restaurants get their sprouts from the same vendor. A company spokesperson said it closely monitors its food suppliers, and will remove the sprouts from its sandwiches if there is a health warning.
People who eat alfalfa sprouts and become ill with diarrhea and a fever should contact a physician, said Green. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.
A new $5.5 million federal grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to tackle childhood hunger.
The program will solicit research projects from across the country to study reasons people go hungry, and the effectiveness of food assistance programs.
Craig Gundersen, a consumer economics professor with the University of Illinois, will work with the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research to identify studies eligible for funding. Gundersen said he hopes this program will unlock some of the mysteries surrounding childhood hunger.
"We don't understand why some children are suffering from hunger and others are not," he said. "There really hasn't been any research on that. We're also trying to find out what causes all of a sudden a child to be in a household not suffering from hunger. Then all of a sudden, he or she is a household where they do suffer from hunger."
According to U.S. Census Data, within a four year period, the number of households in Illinois on food stamps went up by more than a hundred thousand. Around 60-percent of those households had children under the age of 18.
Local efforts to address childhood hunger with groups like the Eastern Illinois Food Bank have been successful, according to Gundersen. In 2009, the USDA devoted more than $60 billion to fight childhood hunger. This new grant seeks to help put an end to it by 2015, a deadline set by the Obama administration. However, Gundersen raised doubt over whether that is a realistic timetable.
The deadline to submit research proposals for the grant program is March 10.
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