Illinois Public Media News
Indiana is poised to become the first state to cut all government funding for Planned Parenthood.
The move would be a significant victory for anti-abortion activists but could pose a political predicament for Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels as he considers running for president.
The Indiana House voted 66-32 Wednesday to cut off the $3 million in federal money the state distributes to the organization for family planning and health programs. The Senate approved the measure earlier this month.
Indiana risks losing $4 million in federal family planning grants if Daniels signs the bill.
A veto could antagonize ardent conservatives wary of Daniels' calls for a truce on "social issues" to focus on the economy. But signing the bill also could provide the political cover he needs from critical social conservatives.
Almost half of African-American mothers in Illinois never breastfeed their newborns, according to a report by state and university researchers and a nonprofit group called HealthConnect One.
Among new black mothers in 2008, about 45 percent did not start breastfeeding their infants, according to the report, "Illinois Breastfeeding Blueprint: A Plan for Change." That figure compares to 21 percent for whites, 14 percent for Latinas and three percent for Asian-Americans.
The report also shows income disparities. The rate of low-income white mothers in the state who never started breastfeeding babies born in 2008 was 36 percent.
"Hospitals should be doing more to encourage breastfeeding," said University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist Deborah Rosenberg, who analyzed data for the report.
Looking at all new Illinois mothers, the report says the number who did start breastfeeding was almost 78 percent by 2008 - up about eight percent from 2000. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a national goal of almost 82 percent by 2020.
Starting breastfeeding does not mean keeping at it. Twelve weeks after giving birth, just 47 percent of Illinois mothers were breastfeeding, according to the report. Of those, almost half were not breastfeeding exclusively.
"Many women go back to work then," Rosenberg said. "It means that employers need to be supportive of breastfeeding."
Rosenberg said resources for lactation consultants and peer counselors are also falling short.
HealthConnect One, based in Chicago, published the report Monday in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Human Services and the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.
Next month the group and its partners plan to begin formulating a five-year action plan for hospitals, government agencies, employers, insurers and community groups.
Federal health officials say breastfeeding helps babies avoid obesity, infections and chronic diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
The Champaign County nursing home will begin repaying a $330,000 loan that it received from the county a few years ago.
The County Board unanimously approved a plan Thursday night requiring the nursing home to make monthly payments of $1,000 a month into its general revenue fund. County Board member Jan Anderson sits on the nursing home board, and she said the repayment plan may seem like a modest amount. But she said "it shows good faith in wanting to repay" the loan given the nursing home's current financial state.
Champaign County Board Member Alan Nudo is also part of the county's nursing home board. He said since the loan was given out, the nursing home has made a profit and seen an uptick in occupancy.
"The likelihood of us going back to the county for another loan is slight at this time, but you can't predict the future," Nudo said.
Nudo said the nursing home will start repaying the loan by the beginning of May or June.
In about a year, the Champaign County Board will review the repayment plan to determine if the $1,000 a month rate should be increased. But nursing home administrator Andrew Buffenbarger said he is not sure when the center will be in a position to pay a higher monthly fee.
"We'll just continue to evaluate it as time goes on," Buffenbarger said. "It's one of those things that we would like to get retired just as soon as possible, but naturally have to consider the needs of the home."
Buffenbarger said the nursing home is also paying off a $4 million construction loan.
The Illinois High School Association board revised a policy this week regarding high school athletes who sustain head injuries during a game.
IHSA executive Kurt Gibson said students in Illinois have traditionally not been required to seek medical care the day after a head injury. He said according to the new policy, athletes must get care in the days after an incident happens, and they can only take part in a game if given clearance to do so by a licensed health care provider.
"We know so much more about concussions now than we did even a decade ago," Gibson said. "We realize and can see the need to have clear return to play policies in place in order to protect the safety of student athletes."
The policy change follows months of reports about long-term injuries sustained by athletes. The Center for Injury Research and Policy reports that about 20 percent of injuries during high school athletic competitions last year were diagnosed as concussions.
Scott Hamilton, the athletic director at Unity High School in Tolono, said he hopes the guidelines bring to the light the seriousness of sports-related injuries.
"There are so many different degrees of a kid getting hit or a kid falling or a kid bumping his head or two kids running into each other," Tolono said. "I think the important thing that's happening with all this is just awareness.
The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give Indiana some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.
The Republican-ruled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding to organizations that provide abortion and cut off some federal money that the state distributes. It also would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
Opponents say the bill is "unconscionable'' and would keep low-income women from getting health screenings, birth control and other services Planned Parenthood provides.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bill is unconstitutional and vows to take the issue to court.
The bill now moves to the GOP-led House for consideration.
The landlords who operate the Cherry Orchard Village apartments have been found guilty of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings.
Champaign County Presiding Judge John Kennedy fined Bernard and Eduardo Ramos more than $54,000. They must pay $100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems.
The Ramoses have 180 days to pay the fines. They are also barred from accepting tenants until the sewage problems are addressed.
Cherry Orchard has traditionally been a destination for migrant workers who come to the area during warmer months. Julie Pryde, the administrator with the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, said the ruling couldn't have come at a better time.
"I was just getting extremely nervous that this was taking so long because summer was getting closer and closer," Pryde said. "We know from history that the place would be completely filled up by then."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County and have faced hundreds of code violations.
Last year, the County amended its nuisance ordinance because of the severity of conditions at Cherry Orchard. The modified ordinance includes a dozen criteria that a building must follow to be considered safe, including access to clean drinking water, plumbing that meets state health codes, and not using extension cords to provide power to a dwelling unit.
Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said many of the conditions outlined in the amended ordinance exist at Cherry Orchard. Hall said his department submitted a complaint with the Champaign County State's Attorney's office under the amended nuisance ordinance to take aim at structural problems that he says exist at Cherry Orchard.
"Well, if there aren't any people living there now, there will someday," Hall said. "And at that point, I would imagine the situation would be even worse by then. If no one lives in a building, it only continues to deteriorate more. It doesn't stop deteriorating just because no one lives there.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou said her office would only move forward with the nuisance complaint if the buildings on the Cherry Orchard property aren't repaired and tenants continue living there.
"If people do occupy the premises again, we have another complaint to file," Papavasiliou said.
The Ramoses immediately filed an appeal following Monday's court ruling.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
The bench trial of Cherry Orchard Village landlords Bernard and Eduardo Ramos continued Friday afternoon in Champaign County Court.
The Ramoses are accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property, located right outside of Rantoul. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The landlords have pledged to take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer.
There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.
Champaign County prosecutor Christina Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment buildings until the sewage problems are fixed.
"The injunction would be a cautionary measure," Papavasiliou explained during Friday's hearing. "It would do no harm to the defendants."
The prosecution is seeking $550 in restitution for expenses incurred by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on this case.
Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings. Papavasiliou said she wants the Ramoses to be fined for making the property available to tenants during the ongoing violation, but she said she is not sure that count will hold up in court.
"It's just so hard to prove that people were living there," she said. "Because these are all migrant workers...I just didn't get a hold of anyone willing to come forward."
Earlier in the week, Bernard said he and his father should not get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when state health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.
"We got blamed for things other people did," Bernard said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."
The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.
Bernard and Eduardo could each face a one-time fine of $1,000 for attempting to repair the septic systems without proper permits and licenses. Taking the stand Friday and acting as his own attorney, Eduardo defended his actions and the actions of his son, Bernard, for trying to fix the property in 2007 when they first noticed sewage seeping from a septic system.
"I do not own any license," Eduardo admitted. "When we have a case of an emergency like that, we can't just wait and proceed. Every good citizen should take care of the people around us."
Papavasiliou stated that the Ramoses could have caused more damage by trying to fix the property without proper training.
During the trial, the Ramoses have tried to distance themselves as managers and owners of Cherry Orchard. Papavasiliou said under the law, they are obligated to maintain the property, which she said they have neglected to do.
"The defendants have based a large part of their testimony that they're not owners of the property," Papavasiliou said. "There's no grandfather clause for septic systems, regardless of how they found the property when they became owners."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.
The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after Friday's hearing. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.
Presiding Judge John Kennedy said he will issue a ruling Monday, April 18 at 11:00 AM.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
Illinois House Votes to Ban Trans Fats
Trans fats could soon be illegal in Illinois.
A second insurer is now protesting a state decision to hire a new HMO with a limited downstate network of doctors to provide health plans for tens of thousands of state employees and retirees.
Humana has joined Urbana-based Health Alliance in protesting the state's decision to contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.
Chief State Procurement Officer Matt Brown told the News-Gazette in Champaign that reviewing the protests could take weeks. That could delay the scheduled May 1 start of enrollment for the new Blue Cross HMO plans.
The state says Blue Cross will save it money. But Humana and Health Alliance argue that many of the more than 100,000 people in their plans would have to travel to see primary care doctors or else pay higher rates by using preferred provider or open access plans.
There will still be an event Wednesday night in Clinton to discuss a plan to store toxic substances in the city's landfill.
But the purpose of the event has shifted from an environmental hearing to an informational meeting hosted by a concerned citizens' group. The U.S. EPA had postponed the hearing Friday night out of concerns that the federal government would shut down, and has yet to reschedule.
The owners of Clinton Landfill are seeking a permit to allow for the storage of toxic substances called PCB's. A group called WATCH, or We Are Against Toxic Chemicals, is afraid they could eventually leak from the landfill, threatening the Mahomet Aquifer.
Group President George Wissmiller said he has had his share of questions over the proposal the past few years.
"There apparently is no agency that can react to the idea that this is just a bad idea," he said. "It's irresponsible to dump PCB's on top of the water supply for 750,000 people. But if the U.S. EPA regulations and the Illinois EPA regs and everybody else's regs allow it, they're going to do it in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any sense."
Wissmiller said members had already promoted the hearing, and didn't want residents showing up, only to find that Clinton High School was locked. He said Wednesday night's main function will be to tell the public that there are ways to block the plan locally.
"If local government has an ordinance or a regulation that limits dumping of this particular type of waste, the federal government can't permit the hauler to violate that ordinance," he said. "So they are, in fact, restricted by local ordinances."
Wissmiller said the group could also enact a DeWitt County ordinance that stipulates how landfills are set up. The informational meeting runs from 6 to 8 Wednesday night at Clinton High School, with an open house starting at 5 PM.
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