Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois Department of Human Services suspended two employees without pay after an investigation found they had allowed improper expenditures in a state program of up to $100,000.
Agency spokeswoman Januari Smith says Pamela Clay-Wilson and Dawn Laga were suspended for 20 days and received additional training. A third employee implicated in the report by the Office of the Executive Inspector General _ Madesa Dickerson _ left her job a year ago.
The three oversaw 76 clients of an educational and vocational program for the disabled who qualify for state payment for some items like work uniforms.
But the report found $500 went for funeral expenses, $200 to meet a lawyer about child custody and more.
Laga declined comment. Attempts to reach Clay-Wilson and Dickerson were unsuccessful.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has given Illinois its highest rating for the state's efforts to combat impaired driving.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he's glad the organization has recognized Illinois "as a national leader in the fight against drunk driving.''
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, alcohol-related crash deaths have dropped by more than 38 percent since White took office.
IDOT reports there were 711 alcohol-related crash deaths in 1999, compared to 436 last year.
This marks the 5th year that MADD has released a national and state rankings report.
The group's rating system focused on efforts including sobriety checkpoints, enhanced penalties for people who drive drunk with children in the vehicle, among other measures.
The Champaign City Council is considering a four-cent a gallon motor fuel tax --- a level that would be higher than a similar tax in Urbana, but lower than one in Danville.
City officials say recent budget cuts have reduced spending on street maintenance, at the same time that a "complete streets" strategy is making the work more expensive. At Tuesday night's city council study session, Councilman Tom Bruno said Champaign needs the additional money to avoid the congested streets of big urban areas.
"One only needs to drive in the Chicago area, or the suburbs or southern California to appreciate how blessed we are to have a lack of traffic congestion in Champaign," Bruno said. "If we want to keep that, if we want to maintain that, we have to be able to fund our streets."
Bruno said motorists wouldn't see any change in gasoline prices, because gas station owners absorb the cost to keep customers coming to buy snacks, cigarettes and liquor. But Councilwoman Karen Foster was doubtful, saying the gas tax could hurt other Champaign businesses that use motor fuel in high quantities.
"That will have a huge impact on them by having to buy bulk fuel," Foster said. "It's in the thousands of dollars, it's not just when we go to the pump and you have another $1.20 or $5 on your pump. It's thousands of dollars to these businesses."
Mayor Don Gerard joined four other council members to endorse the motor fuel tax on a 5 to 4 vote. A final council vote is expected in December or January.
In other action at the Tuesday night session, the Champaign City Council voted to give the public an additional opportunity to speak during their meetings.
A city council study session grew raucous three weeks ago, when several people alleging excessive force by police in the arrest of Calvin Miller were not allowed to speak. The council eventually suspended the rules to allow public comments --- but public comment on issues not on the agenda is usually allowed only at regular council meetings only, not study session. Council members changed that rule Tuesday night, voting unanimously to allow public comment on any topic at study sessions as well. Councilman Tom Bruno said the important thing was to keep the rules consistent and clear.
"Because there were people who maybe wanted to speak that night, who stayed away because our rules were clear that there wasn't going to be any public participation that night," Bruno said. "So as long as our rules are clear, I think there's unanimity among us that we like public participation."
Also on Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council voted to approve a new council district map reflecting 2010 census results.
The U.S. Supreme Court may soon decide if it's constitutional to make Americans buy health insurance. Illinois' two U.S. Senators are both in favor of the Court taking up the issue, but for different reasons.
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk thinks President Obama's controversial health care bill should be overturned.
"In a limited government which defends our rights, I do not believe the federal government has the power to force you to buy anything, especially from a government-controlled entity," Kirk said in a press conference on Monday.
Kirk said he expects the decision to be five judges on one side, four on the other, but he isn't sure which way it'll go.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said he's glad the high court will rule, because messy state court battles can hopefully be avoided.
"I think it is part of individual responsibility in this country that you have health insurance so there is protection for you, your family and for the rest of us," Durbin said.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in March and a ruling is expected by late June.
Illinois' two U.S. senators are proposing federal legislation to protect students with severe allergies.
Earlier this year, the state of Illinois passed a law allowing school nurses to give epinephrine, or an epi-pen, to any student having an allergic attack. The drug quickly reduces symptoms in severe allergic reactions.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said the proposed law would apply nation-wide, and give any authorized adult the right to give medication.
"If we have a good samaritan law, no one will hesitate because of liability concerns to deliver the epi-pen," Kirk said.
Chicago doctors at Children's Memorial Hospital said at Monday's press conference that mistakenly giving an epi-pen to a child without allergies isn't dangerous, and for the one in 25 kids with severe food allergies, it can save their life.
As for who will pay for the medication, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "My guess is PTA's will have no problem with a little bake sale to pay for them if necessary."
Kirk and Durbin said they'll introduce the legislation in the Senate this week and they expect it to have wide bi-partisan support.
Different health care groups that recently formed a coalition determined to fight diabetes in Champaign County met Monday as part of a diabetes expo.
Coalition member Martha Paap said about seven percent of 18-to-64 year olds in Champaign County have type 2 diabetes. That translates to more than 11,000 people. Paap, who heads Provena's Center for Healthy Aging, said while that is slightly lower than the national average, she worries that number will rise.
"The kind of consequences to diabetes can be very, very serious such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, lower limb amputations, kidney problems," Paap said. "It can be a very devastating disease that we really need to prevent."
Theresa Truelove, a nurse with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said many of these cases represent African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics, who moved to the United States from another country, and are adjusting to changes in their lifestyle.
"They go from potentially field work to office work or no work," Truelove said. "You've got the whole change of the activity levels of people as they come into our society, and that is in a way deadly for diabetes."
Some of the preventative measures to reduce the chances of diabetes include changes in diet and more physical activity. According to the International Diabetes Federation, at least one in 10 adults could have diabetes by 2030.
Champaign-based Christie Clinic and health insurance provider PersonalCare have agreed to a contract that ends a dispute that went public six weeks ago. But the agreement still requires most customers to find another insurer --- or other doctors --- beginning Jan. 1, 2012.
The new contract will cover Christie patients covered by PersonalCare's Medicare Advantage plan, and its self-funded payor insurance products. But it will not cover any plans for state employees or retirees. And the new contract leaves out any of PersonalCare's HMO, Preferred Provider or Point-of-Sale plans for other Christie patients.
The new contract comes after a dispute in which PersonalCare told Christie Clinic in September it was ending its contract with the medical clinic. The health insurer later said the move was only a step towards new contract negotiations. But Christie officials didn't see it that way, and announced their contract with PersonalCare was over, for most purposes. The dispute added to the confusion already caused by the state's reshuffling of state employee health care packages.
(Editor's note: CU-CitizenAccess.org is taking an in-depth look at nursing homes in Central Illinois. Earlier this week, we sat down with Chuck Schuette, the new administrator for the Champaign County Nursing Home to discuss his plans to tackle the challenges facing the county's nursing home (see interview below). For more on this project and interactive tools you can use to evaluate nursing homes in your area, tune in to Illinois Public Media or visit CU-CitizenAccess.org on Monday, Dec. 5. Want to be part of the project or have a story to share about a nursing home experience in East Central Illinois? Contact reporters Dan Petrella or Pam G. Dempsey)
For Effingham native Chuck Schuette, running a nursing home has always been the plan.
So when he saw the chance to oversee a nursing home, he took it.
Schuette, the new Champaign County Nursing Home administrator, started his new job Oct. 31. He replaced Andrew Buffenbarger, who served as the County Nursing Home administrator since 2004.
Schuette, 59, worked as the chief nursing officer for 24 years at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Effingham.
"Coming from an acute-care background, I did get some experience, because at the hospital we developed a skilled-care unit and in regards to that, I went and got my long-term care nursing home license (in 1995)," he said. "I kept it all these years with the idea that one day I would go into long-term care."
Schuette has his work cut out for him.
Like other nursing homes in the area, the Champaign County Nursing Home has faced several challenges in recent years: late payments from the state, numerous complaint investigations by the Illinois Department of Public Health and difficulty in managing staff retention.
The nursing home is also rated overall two out of five stars on a federal Medicare compare site (see http://www.medicare.gov/NHCompare). The overall federal rating is a combination of the health inspection rating, the staffing rating, and the quality measures rating.
A little more than three years ago, the Champaign County Board contracted with Management Performance Associates, a St. Louis-based firm, to provide day-to-day management oversight for the operation of the nursing home, said Deb Busey, Champaign County administrator.
Since the contract began in 2008, the nursing home's finances improved, as had its patient count, county officials said. The County Board renewed its contract with the management firm in June.
Buffenbarger is moving to a new position within Management Performance Associates.
Schuette (pronounced shoot-y) said that while this is his first job heading a nursing home, "I am excited, enthused and happy to be here."
"The big difference in acute care is you only see the patients three or four days max," he said," and here people are here for the rest of their lives, for many cases. That is really an advantage. You really get to know the people and know the families and it's kind of a community."
In the transition from acute care to long-term care, Schuette said the largest "culture shock" comes from the delay in state reimbursement payments.
"It should be fine, but it's scary," Schuette said. "I think about it constantly, 'Are you going to have enough money?' "
But with other nursing homes facing similar pressure, "somehow they get through it, and I'm going to learn how they get through it over the next few months."
His to-do list is long. One of his priorities includes bolstering the nursing staff.
"Nurses just aren't being valued for what they really are and what they can offer people, and I want to try and make sure that is sensed here and the nurses feel that here and hopefully nurses will say, 'This is where we want to work,' " Schuette said.
The staffing level at the nursing home is "higher than what is required for regulatory compliance," he said, and he hopes to keep it that way.
"We're maintaining that and keeping it at a higher level of staffing," Schuette said. "Will we then be forced to go down to minimum regulatory standards? I'm getting the sense we won't have to go in that direction. ... We'll probably never drop down to minimum staffing levels."
Resident safety is another priority.
"We want to make sure we endeavor to be regulatory compliant," he said. "This is a heavily regulated industry and for good reason, it needs to be that way. We're talking about the safety of our residents. I want to really work on that, to make sure that each and every time we are surveyed, that we are actually reducing the number of tags and that we are really spending a lot of time making sure we are in compliance and our residents are safe."
Schuette has spent the past 10 days settling into the job and says he'll develop more goals and strategies over the next three months.
"I think we have the things here to do it and do it well," he said. "It's going to take leadership ... my real job is trying to be a leader and motivate people to a higher performance. That's what I hope to do."
(Produced by Sean Powers/WILL)
A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Tuesday in Champaign to mark the opening of a new dental clinic for low-income, uninsured, and Medicaid eligible patients.
Located at the Francis Nelson Health Center, the 1,000 square-foot clinic seeks to treat about 2,500 people within the next year. Nancy Greenwalt is the director of Smile Healthy, a community-based initiative to provide dental care to the undeserved. She said in addition to having a dentist, three full-time dental assistants, and two part-time hygienists on staff, the clinic also has volunteer translators who speak both Spanish and English.
"Dental care is a procedure, and the patients need to understand what's going on - payment, contact information," said Greenwalt, who noted that up to 40 percent of the patients at the Francis Nelson Health Center speak Spanish. "It's just not possible without the translation services."
Smile Healthy operates another program that provides dental care for children. According to the United Way of Champaign County, that program has over 200 additional children waiting for care. All are 200 percent of the poverty level or below, and most are on Medicaid.
United Way President Lyn Jones said the clinic is needed more than ever.
"There are people who are missing work because of dental problems, causing extreme pain," Jones said. "This really will improve the overall health of citizens in Champaign County."
According to the United Way, at the time when the Francis Nelson dental clinic opened on Oct. 17, about a thousand people were on a waiting list for cavity fillings, teeth extraction, and other dental care.
More than half a million dollars in donations were used to start up the clinic, and the United Way of Champaign County hopes to raise approximately $50,000 to sustain dental services.
The cost of using the clinic's services will be determined on a sliding scale based on a person's income. Medicare does not cover dental costs.
The clinic is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 819 Bloomington Road in Champaign.
Other Champaign County groups offering dental service to low-income people include the Champaign County Christian Health Center, Champaign County Healthcare Consumers, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, and the Parkland College Dental Hygiene Program.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Like other nursing homes, the Champaign County Nursing Home has faced delays in state payments, numerous complaint investigations and trouble with staff retention. The Champaign County board hired a management firm to address these problems in 2008, and a week ago a new administrator stepped in at the nursing home. Effingham native Chuck Schuette replaced former administrator Andrew Buffenbarger, who took another position within the management firm. Schuette spoke with CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey about his plans for the job.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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