Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2011

Tests Confirm Toxins Found in Boneyard Creek Site

A health care advocates group says the findings of environmental experts from a Boneyard Creek pipeline confirm their fears about contaminants.

Champaign County Health Care Consumers brought in the researchers to investigate the old pipe that extends from the site of a former manufactured gas plant at Champaign's 5th and Hill Streets owned by Ameren. Grant Antoline, an activist with the group, said lab results confirmed there was coal tar in the pipe, and it contained organic compounds like benzene, and hydrocarbons that exceed safety standards.

"We've always been concerned that there's been some sort of dumping into the Boneyard Creek from 3 years ago when we started this campaign," Antoline said. "It's just common practice for these plants to be set up next to a waterway. But to see results of one million, 300-thousand percent higher than they should be is outrageous, and there's no excuse for not investing in the pipe when it's this serious."

Residents in the 5th and Hill neighborhood have long complained over odors in their basements, and nagging health problems. The consumer group's 60-day notice of intent to sue the city of Champaign over cleaning up the pipe will expire April 11th. Its executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, says they simply want the line capped off.

"Their part of the action should be fairly simple and straightforward in terms of the notice of intent to sue," Lennhoff said. "All that we require of them under the Clean Water Act and that notice of intent to sue is to block off the discharge into the Boneyard."

Lennhoff said the city should make Ameren pay for sealing up the pipeline. EPA Spokeswoman Maggie Carson said it is testing results from the Boneyard site have yet to be released, and Champaign city attorney Fred Stavins says the city is waiting on those results, and to find who's responsible for cleaning up the pipe.

In February, the Champaign city council recommended repealing its groundwater ordinance on a case-by-case basis. Stavins said the issue will re-surface by mid-April at the earliest.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 16, 2011

New Apartment Bldg to Serve People With Physical Disabilities

An apartment building for people with physical disabilities is planned for downtown Champaign.

Eden Supportive Living plans to build the $15 million building at the corner of State and Park, across from Westside Park. The vacant building currently on the site served as a dormitory for Parkland College students, and before that a hotel. Champaign Deputy City Manager Craig Rost said the new nine story will house about 100 adults, aged 22 to 64.

"A supportive living environment is what they're calling it," Rost said. "It's for people that need some assistance --- and they have a physical handicap that requires some level of assistance. But it doesn't have other kinds of care facilities --- it's really a residential project."

Eden Supportive Living already operates two facilities in the Chicago area, with a third Chicago facility in the works. The Champaign project would be their first one downstate. Eden is buying the site from Robeson's Inc., a real estate firm operated by the family that ran Robeson's Department Store for many years in downtown Champaign. Rost said the location is a good one for Eden Supportive Living.

"It's an exciting project," Rost said. "We don't have very many big projects going on right now. So it's garnered a lot of attention. (Champaign is) a good sit-down town, and I think it'll be good for Eden to have that site."

Robeson's Inc. Chairman Eric Robeson says talks have gone on for some time, but his group took to the idea right away.

"From the very beginning, we loved the sound of the project," said Robeson. "We loved what the vision was and what they were going to do. We thought it was going to be a great reuse for the building. Of course, everything's still potential, and nothing's been finalized, but we're very excited that this building, that our family built back in the early 1970's. It's a great reuse for the building."

Eden officials couldn't be reached for contact Wednesday, but press reports indicate the company plans to raise the building, leaving only the foundation. Robeson says he wasn't aware of those plans.

Rost said the Champaign City Council will be asked to vote this spring on a development agreement to lease out parking for the new building --- but Eden is not asking for any financial assistance from the city. The company hopes to have the project open for residents in spring of 2012.

(Design courtesy of Eden Supportive Living)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 11, 2011

Carle and Hoopeston Look at Integrating Service

Carle Foundation Hospital and Hoopeston Regional Hospital are mulling over a plan to improve medical services by expanding their affiliation.

Under the proposal, Hoopeston - in addition to all of its primary-care facilities in Hoopeston, Cissna Park, and Rossville - would become an independent operating unit of Carle. Hospital officials say this effort would pave the way for better patient care between the two medical centers, especially with medical records, labs and imaging.

"We don't think people should be disadvantaged because they live in a small town 50 miles away about the health care that's delivered," Carle CEO James Leonard said. "This type of relationship allows that dream to become a reality."

Hoopeston CEO Harry Brockus said by teaming up with the larger Carle hospital, he believes the partnership will make it easier for his medical center to get loans to buy new equipment, bring on more staff, and start up medical departments.

"One of the things that this integration will bring about for us is to be able to work with Carle to access those markets because they're so much larger than us," Brockus said. "Hoopeston Hospital struggled for several years prior to this and only became financially solvent within the past two years."

Carle providers have teamed with Hoopeston Regional Center since November 2009 in areas including cardiology, psychiatry, and surgery. Carle previously loaned Hoopeston Regional Hospital $4 million to expand its emergency room and surgical area...that project is expected to start in April.

In order for this latest partnership to be finalized, board members from both hospitals and the Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board have to approve the agreement. If all approvals are met, then by October 2012, Hoopeston's hospital and clinics would be part of Urbana's Carle system.

Categories: Business, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2011

Health Care Advocacy Group Files Complaint Against its Own Insurance Carrier

A Champaign group committed to fair and reasonably priced health care has filed a complaint against its own insurance carrier.

Champaign County Health Care Consumers says premiums for its five staff members have gone up about 25-percent on average over the last 4 years. Executive Director Claudia Lenhoff said the group's complaint before the Illinois Department of Insurance against PersonalCare also contends the provider is discriminating based on age and gender. Lenhoff said when contacting the company, she's told that the higher premiums are based on usage.

"You see the higher charges for females compared to males, and they usually say that that's because women are going to have more medical expenses, if they're going to have babies and so on," Lenhoff said. "All the women on staff have never had any children. That doesn't effect our usage. And so, we think that these are pricing schemes that PersonalCare has been able to get away with."

Lenhoff said the higher rates have put her organization in financial jeopardy. The group's Allison Jones says her employer is now paying more than $520 month for her coverage.

"I really feel like they're destabilizing my job," she said. "They're putting my job at risk. I see the numbers and I know how much the salary is for someone who works in a non-profit. I feel really greatly that 100% of my insurance premium is paid for. But I know that's just a ticking time bomb. It's not going to last forever."

Meawhile, Lenhoff said her staff is getting a number of calls from others in the community also using PersonalCare whose rates have gone up considerably. She says this and other complaints will prompt the Department of Insurance to contact insurance companies, and let them know they're monitoring their rate increases. And a bill going before an Illinois House committee next week would give that department review authority over rates. Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson is a co-sponsor.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 02, 2011

Illinois Governor Still Backs Obama’s Health Law

Illinois is pushing ahead with implementing the nation's new health care law with support from its Democratic governor.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday started reviewing a plan to roll out the law from a council he appointed. The plan proposes new reins on health insurance companies and an online marketplace where people could shop for insurance.

Quinn calls the health care law "a vital part of economic recovery'' rather than a distraction from the urgent need for jobs. The governor's remarks came in written testimony to a congressional committee Tuesday.

Republican governors, in contrast, are worried about added costs to state budgets.

The law was enacted last March and has been lucrative for Illinois, bringing in nearly $290 million to state agencies, non-profits, nursing schools and hospitals.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 01, 2011

Carle to Open Surgical Residency Program

Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital will add a new educational component to its surgery department over the next few months.

Carle is accepting about a half-dozen surgical residents - the program is being set up in cooperation with the University of Illinois' College of Medicine, but it's attracting new surgeons from across the country.

Dr. John Aucar is the director of the residency program. He says it will mean more work for Carle's medical staff, but the end result will be a benefit for everyone. "It also carries a responsibility to spend time and effort teaching and preparing the residents for independent practice in the future. Like always, teaching is an activity that takes some time and attention," said Aucar. "The benefit is that the residents can also help you get your work done and take care of patients."

Aucar says Carle will also follow a higher set of standards for clinical care quality under its new educational role.

Carle already offers residencies in its Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and oral/facial surgery departments. Aucar says as many as 12 surgical residents could be in the general surgery program in the next three years.

Categories: Education, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 14, 2011

Team of Carle Doctors, Other Health Care Professionals Plan for Haiti

Teams of American health care workers are still heading to Haiti, more than a year after an earthquake left much of the heart of that country in ruins.

Amanda Frye is leading a team called "Field of Dreams for Haiti" - it's a team of 17 nurses, doctors and other volunteer health professionals from Carle Foundation Hospital. They're raising funds to help them buy supplies and complete their trip, which begins next month.

Frye hopes her group will be able to perform hundreds of surgeries during their one-week stay -- she says it will be packed with work but well worth the effort. "We love what we do up here, but it's a nice break to go down there and to be able to treat people who are grateful and need us and know that we're just practicing simple medicine -- no politics, just good people who have a lot of love to share," Frye told WILL's Celeste Quinn on Monday's Afternoon Magazine.

Frye says her group is headed to the only critical-care hospital currently operating in Haiti, though there are a number of small regional clinics.

Oral/maxillofacial surgeon Cole Anderson says more than a year after the earthquake that ravaged Haiti's largest city, the country is still struggling to provide basic emergency care. He says it's hard for an American to imagine the need: "For someone who's uninsured and doesn't have health care (in the United States), there's urgent and emergent health care available in the emergency room and people won't be turned away. Down in Haiti, that's not true. There just aren't people to provide the care."

Among the fundraising projects is an effort by area hair salons to donate a portion of their proceeds this weekend to the trip, but people can also make a donation online through the Carle Development Foundation's website: http://www.carle.org. They've also set up a Facebook page for people to follow their activities while they're in Haiti.

Categories: Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Corn Reserves Hit Over-15-Year Low, Could Raise Prices for Food, Ethanol

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reporting that reserves of corn have hit their lowest level in over 15 years.

The high demand for corn could put upward pressure on food prices in 2011.

Demand for corn in the ethanol industry is up 50 million bushels after record-high production in December and January, according to the USDA.

That has left the United States with the lowest surplus of corn since 1996.

Scott Gerlt, a crop analyst with the University of Missouri, said high corn prices could increase the cost on everything from ethanol to food and feed.

"The corn market is definitely a changing market," Gerlt said. "With ethanol policy we have a lot more demand and so we are going to have a lot more pressure on prices. Because even though we have a lot of supply there's just so much demand a lot of that supply is getting used up and we're just not left with much at the end of the day."

Corn prices have already doubled in the last six months, rising from $3.50 a bushel to more than $7 a bushel.

(Photo courtesy of Artotem/Flickr)

Categories: Business, Economics, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

State Farm Retirees Losing Some Medical Coverage

State Farm Insurance Cos. will stop providing supplemental medical coverage for its Medicare-eligible retirees next year in a cost-cutting move.

The Bloomington-based company says it will instead help them find supplemental Medicare coverage and provide them with $200 a month to help. It wasn't immediately clear how many of the company's 28,700 retirees the move will affect.

State Farm also will make changes in the availability of retirement health care for current and future employees. People hired after this year, for instance, will have to pay for all of their own retirement medical insurance.

State Farm spokesman Phil Supple told The Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington that growing medical claims have driven up the company's health care costs.

Many companies have announced similar changes in recent years.

Categories: Economics, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 07, 2011

Experts Say New Findings Prove Contaminants Remain in Neighborhood of Old Gas Plant

Further tests from two environmental experts confirm that contaminants remain in the soil near the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.

Residents of the 5th and Hill neighborhood say evidence uncovered Monday from an old pipeline at Boneyard Creek proves that Ameren has failed to properly address the remnants of the site. The residents say if the city repealed its Groundwater Restriction Ordinance, it would force Illinois' EPA to require the utility company to do the necessary groundwater extraction. Environmental investigator Bob Bowcock said when he told the agency about the pipeline, the EPA chose to ignore it.

"They had conducted an environmental investigation," he said. "They said there was no evidence of a pipeline, they denied its existence, and basically said they wanted nothing further to do with environmentally investigating it. We call on the Illinois EPA to do the right thing, to conduct a proper environmental investigation, and get their butts out there and do the job right, and do it now."

Members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers say the groundwater ordinance offers no protections for human health or the environment, and only protects corporations by exempting them from the costs of cleaning up the pollution for which they're responsible. Bowcock said vapors from chemicals like benzene are exposing residents to levels that can cause blood-borne cancers.

5th and Hill neighborhood resident Magnolia Cook said she was hopeful as Ameren started its cleanup on the former plant site, but her opinion changed quickly.

"I was outraged and heartbroken when I learned that Ameren is planning to leave the toxic groundwater in place in this neighborhood - a site surrounded by a day care, woman's shelter, and people's homes," Cook said. "This is not a toxic site miles away from anything surrounded by cornfields. This is a site with toxic chemicals in the soil and groundwater in a residential neighborhood."

If the city of Champaign doesn't repeal the groundwater ordinance, Bowcock said lawsuits against Ameren are likely. He said the utility did the bare minimum of cleanup by only removing soil on its own property. Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the gas plant site is in line with Illinois EPA standards, and does not pose a threat to human health or safety. Morris also said there is no evidence of a pipeline coming into the old gas plant site, and that the utility's remediation of the gas plant site will be completed next year.

The Champaign City Council will discuss the groundwater ordinance in Tuesday's study session, which begins at 7 p.m.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


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