Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2011

Ruling Expected Monday in Cherry Orchard Case

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)



AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Second Insurer Protests IL HMO Switch

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.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 12, 2011

Clinton Landfill Hearing Will Be Informational Meeting Instead

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 12, 2011

Bill Requires Criminal Checks on Medical Workers

An Indiana House committee is taking up a bill that would require nurses, doctors, dentists and other medical workers to pay for a national criminal background check when applying for a state license.

Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Patricia Miller of Indianapolis says current policy relies on the honesty of health workers to accurately report convictions when applying for licenses. About 198,000 people are currently licensed or certified in one of the 20 professions specified in the bill.

An Indianapolis Star investigation last year found several instances in which nurses failed to report arrests or convictions on their license renewal applications without the nursing board knowing about the incidents. The bill allows boards to require people seeking license renewals to submit to a national background check.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 11, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords Present Their Defense in Court

The bench trial of two Champaign County landlords continued Monday morning.

Bernard and Eduardo Ramos run the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, located outside of Rantoul in an unincorporated part of Champaign County. Cherry Orchard has been under scrutiny for the last three and a half years ever since state health inspectors discovered raw sewage seeping into nearby farmland. Champaign County officials say six out of eight apartment buildings on the property are in violation of the local health ordinance.

Acting as his own attorney and speaking through a translator, Eduardo Ramos called one witness during Monday's hearing - his son, Bernard.

Eduardo asked Bernard if it is possible to re-open the affected apartment buildings without clearance from a government agency.

"We have to fix them first before we open them," Bernard replied.

Bernard said he will 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.

Bernard said he and his father shouldn't get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.

"We got blamed for things other people did," Ramos 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.

Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou says under the law, the Ramoses have a duty to maintain the property, which she says they have neglected to do.

"If you exercise possession or control," Papavasiliou explained. "Even as a landlord or in any capacity, you can be accountable under the ordinance."

Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment complex until the sewage problems are fixed. She is asking presiding Judge John Kennedy to fine the Ramoses $500 a day until the sewage and septic systems are fixed, and another $500 for everyday it takes them to vacate remaining tenants.

She says tenants are still living in buildings that are not up to code. 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.

During Monday's trial, the Ramoses requested a motion of continuance, saying they needed 14 days to subpoena an official with the Illinois Department of Public Health who works on issuing licenses to house migrant workers. Judge Kennedy rejected the motion, calling the testimony of the official "marginal at best."

Once the request was denied, Eduardo Ramos filed a motion of prejudice against Kennedy.

"I have been a lawyer for many, many years and have not seen this type of verbal violence before," Eduardo said.

Eduardo explained he had studied law in his native Bolivia, but not in the United States.

Another judge, Jeff Ford, was brought in to take up the prejudice claim, and that motion was also denied.

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 the trial. 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.

The prosecution rested its case last Wednesday. The trial will resume Friday, April 15 at 2:30 PM.

(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 11, 2011

State Panel Reviews New State Health Plans and Health Alliance Protest

Last week's news that the state was going to stop offering a popular health insurance plan to government employees is being met with a backlash. On Monday, a bipartisan legislative panel heard testimony surrounding the decision, but details remain sparse.

Severing Illinois' 30-year relationship with Urbana-based insurer Health Alliance would save the state money. So says the Department of Health Care and Family Services, which last week announced state workers can instead sign up with Blue Cross Blue Shield's managed care. Savings is pegged at about $100 million per year.

But Health Alliance C-E-O Jeff Ingrum says the decision will "disrupt doctor patient relationships for ten thousands of state employees and their families."

Ingrum disputes the projected savings. Health Alliance has filed a formal protest. That puts the bid process under review, which means little information is being released.

Thousands of downstate state employees are caught in the middle. They could be forced to pay more for coverage or change doctors. The review could also push back the annual open enrollment period.

Once the review is complete, a legislative commission will have the final say over the health insurance contracts.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 11, 2011

Other Routes to Coverage for Carle Doctors in New State Health Plans

The state's rejection of Health Alliance from its new menu of health plans for state employees has prompted the Urbana-based medical plan provider to mount a campaign in its own defense --- including the filing of a formal protest with the state.

Health Alliance officials note that they provide exclusive HMO coverage for several providers including Carle (Health Alliance and Carle Physicians Group are both owned by the Carle Foundation). Without a Health Alliance plan, state employees and retirees will have no access to those doctors under an HMO plan.

But the new health plans for state employees offer other plans that include Carle. They are open access plans --- three-tier plans that work like HMO's at their lowest tier, but offer more expensive access to more doctors at their 2nd and third tiers. Two open access plans from PersonalCare and HealthLink would offer access to Carle doctors at their 2nd tier.

Without giving specific numbers, PersonalCare CEO Todd Petersen says the price difference between Tier One and Tier Two is not a big one.

"There is a difference in deductible and co-payment," Petersen said. "They (the 2nd tier prices) would be a little bit higher. But it's still --- compared to the general market --- it would still be one of the richest benefits on the market today."

Petersen predicts that Carle and and other providers with exclusive contracts with Health Alliance will make arrangements with other health plans --- but not until after Health Alliance's formal protest is heard.

"But then, I do expect that the market will adjust to the new realities and you're likely to see providers participating in products that they have historically not participated in," Petersen said.

In the meantime, Petersen notes the bottom tier of PersonalCare's open access plan includes several central Illinois medical groups and hospitals, including Christie Clinic, Provena, Sara Bush Lincoln and hospitals in Gibson City and Decatur.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 08, 2011

Senator Kirk Believes Shutdown Will Be Avoided

Illinois' Junior Senator remains optimistic that a deal will be struck just short of midnight and that Congress will avoid a government shutdown.

Republican Mark Kirk says in general, Democrats should give on spending proposals, and the GOP should give on 'extraneous' policy measures to avoid the shutdown.

"I think congressional negotiators typically work up to the last minute," said Kirk. "But my guess is because President Obama doesn't want a shutdown, Speaker (John) Boehner doesn't want a shutdown, and Senate Majority Leader (Harry) Reid doesn't want a shutdown, you have a succesful end to the negoations today."

Kirk says there was also discussion in the Senate late Friday about a short-term continuing resolution that could last as long as 4 days, that fully funds military troops.

During a separate conference call earlier, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said a budget deal hinged on funding for Planned Parenthood. Kirk says the program shouldn't be singled out for a 100-percent cut, but rather a broad-based, shared sacrifice.

Senator Kirk also says he won't keep his congressional pay if the government, instead giving it to charity.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 08, 2011

Blue Cross HMO Plans for State Workers Would Cover Only 27 Counties

The HMO plans that the Quinn administration wants to offer to state employees starting in July only covers 27 Illinois counties.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois' two HMO plans would serve the state's most populous counties, covering Chicago, Rockford, Springfield, Peoria and the Metro East. But the health plans have no health care providers signed up in most of east-central, southeast, southern and western Illinois would not be included.

Blue Cross spokesperson Mary Ann Schultz says in a press release that they're working to sign up more providers in other counties. In the meantime, she says state employees could use the other available plans. Those are the Quality Care preferred provider plan, which offers access, but a lower level of coverage; and two open access plans from HealthLink and PersonalCare. They offer HMO-level prices for physicians in their lowest tier, and higher prices if you want access to other doctors.

The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services says the new plans will save the state over $100 million a year. But State Representative Chapin Rose says the state's research erroneously projects Blue Cross' lower operating costs in urban areas onto the state of Illinois as a whole.

Rose's Illinois House district stretches from Charleston to Champaign, one of the areas not covered by the Blue Cross HMO plans. The Mahomet Republican says the alternatives have their flaws, too. He predicts how those in his region would use the new health plans.

"You have a bunch of people that either migrate on to (the) QualityCare plan, which will be incredibly expensive to the state taxpayers," Rose said. "Or they will dump into PersonalCare, and go to Christie Clinic. The problem is, Christie Clinic does not have the capacity to suddenly have 55-thousand people at its doors. Just can't do it."

Rose says many of those seeking care from Champaign-based Christie Clinic will be former patients of Urbana-based Carle. Health Alliance, which has an exclusive HMO arrangement with Carle, was turned down in the bidding for the new health plans. The open access plans would offer Carle at its more expensive tiers, and Christie Clinic at the lower-priced tier.

Health Alliance is filing a formal protest against the new health plans, and Rep. Rose says that should make documentation available that he believes will show the flaws in the health plan selection process. In the meantime, a legislative commission will review the plans on Monday, April 11th. The meeting of the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability is set for 10 AM at the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield. Rose says he's worried that the commission will vote to approve the plans before those documents are available.

The lawmaker says the best course of action would be for the commission to take its time on the matter. But he argues that an even better course would be for the Quinn administration to withdraw the health plans, and start over.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

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