Illinois Public Media News
The third annual Champaign County Moonwalk begins next Friday, April 16th. The event is meant to inspire county residents to walk a combined total of 238,700 miles -- the distance from Earth to the moon - in 8 weeks.
Jamie Kleiss , of the U of I Extension, organizes the Moonwalk and brought the event to Champaign County, after it was launched in Peoria. (Another Moonwalk is held annually in the Quad Cities). Kleiss, who says she had just enjoyed a walk during her lunch hour, says there are many benefits from simple regular walking:
"Better sleep, better mood, your digestion is better, the benefits are endless", says Kleiss. "It helps regulate blood sugar. So even for anybody who doesn't have any chronic diseases, it still can be great. And it's a lot of fun --- and it's nice to get outside."
Kleiss says regular walking can also lead to weight loss, but that depends on the person's fitness and current activity levels. Anyone interested in weight loss through walking should speak to their physician first.
So far, Kleiss says, 93 teams and 50 individuals have signed up for the Champaign County Moonwalk, for a total of 839 participants. She's hoping to double that number by next Friday, which would be in line with last year's participation.
There will be a Moonwalk launch party on April 15th at the Parkland College Planetarium.
Faculty at the University of Illinois will head up a team working to place more medical records on line, and keep them out of the wrong hands.
A $15 million grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services was awarded to 20 researchers from 12 universities, led by the U of I's Information Trust Institute. Computer Science Professor Carl Gunter is the lead investigator for a project called Strategic Healthcare Information Technology Advanced Research Projects on Security, or 'SHARPS.' Gunter says moving from a paper record system to one that's electronically based offers a series of challenges. He says threats to privacy can exist inside a hospital or in the process of transferring records between medical facilities, which requires patient consent.
Gunter says a third challenge exists for patients wanting to relay medical information electronically from their home... accessing those records as they would a bank account. "Allowing someone who may have health problems to get a blood pressure reading at home once a day," says Gunter. ''...and then their physician can track their position more closely, like outpatient care, where it uses individual monitoring devices to allow people to use networks to transfer their data back." Gunter says the federal grant will support collaborative efforts. His work will integrate cyber security research at sites like the U of I and New York University with medical facilities like Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The grant will last four years. Three others totaling $45 million were awarded to other institutions in related areas.
The newly-combined Carle Foundation Hospital and former Carle Clinic may have a deal with local governments over property taxes.
Up to now, Carle Clinic Association had been an independent for-profit firm. But now that it's been bought out by the Carle Foundation, it's got not-for-profit status under the name Carle Physician Group. That means it's no longer liable for property taxes at its clinic buildings - and that could cost government entities in Champaign County at least $2.4 million a year.
When the merger was announced last November, Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard was quoted as saying Carle would make payments to those government in lieu of taxes. Thursday, he said they're getting close to an agreement.
"We're not done with the discussions yet," Leonard said. "In terms of of their needs, they're very concerned -- particularly with the recession we've been in -- about the resources going forward. It's been an active, positive discussion."
Leonard wouldn't say when a final agreement on tax payments would come out. Meanwhile, he says the Carle Foundation would continue to challenge the state's decision to strip it of its tax-exempt status for some hospital properties. The hospital has put money into an escrow account as the case is still being challenged in court.
The regulators have been satisfied, and today's the day that Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association become one entity.
The two firms had been related but not unified until now - but starting Thursday, the former Carle Clinic has turned from a for-profit company to a wing of the not-for-profit Carle Foundation. It'll now be known as Carle Physician Group.
Carle Foundation president Dr. James Leonard says the combination will make for more efficiency, streamlining a patient's care. "When a patient is moved from one venue to another, they're moving throughout a continuum of care that recognizes their needs, their care, their financing so that we're all thinking about this as a single episode," said Leonard.
Dr. Bruce Wellman headed Carle Clinic and is now the CEO of Carle Physician Group. He says some last-minute approvals meant that merging the two groups' paperwork was delayed until now. "Planning was okay (before the merger), (but) not doing any actual work in changing things, such as the computers, until we had all of the approvals because it would not be legal or appropriate to do that," Wellman said. "So we have timing issues of literally thousands and thousands of things that have to happen, and bills are an excellent example."
Carle says billing will be merged over the next few months. They're asking people who encounter any billing issues to be patient, and patients may be asked to verify their insurance.
It's been almost a year since the H1N1 flu strain appeared in the U-S --- but health officials are still urging the public to get vaccinated. The Illinois Department of Public Health has launched a new campaign urging people to get vaccinated, if they haven't done so already.
Julie Pryde of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District says less than a third of county residents have been vaccinated for H1N1, or swine flu. She wants more people vaccinated to protect against a possible resurgence of the virus this spring or fall.
"If you do not have a shot for H1N1, you are not protected", says Pryde. "And we are expecting H1N1 to come back. Right now, it really heating up in the southeast and the south. And there are starting to be more and more cases, which indicates to us that it's going to sweep across the country somewhat like it did in the fall."
Pryde says that outside of some flu-like illnesses reported at hospital emergency rooms, there don't seem to be any signs of H1N1 in Champaign County right now. But the Illinois Department of Public Health says 18 new cases were reported around the state last week, including one death.
In contrast, Pryde says the seasonal flu strain seen this past winter seems to have run its course in Champaign County.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is offering free H1N1 flu vaccinations, without an appointment. They're available weekdays from 8 to 4 at the agency's headquarters on West Kenyon Road in Champaign. Pryde reminds parents that children will need two shots, spaced a month apart.
A Cook County judge has lifted a temporary restraining order on a never-enforced Illinois law requiring that a girl's guardians be notified before she has an abortion, but that doesn't mean the law goes into effect right away.
Judge Daniel Riley on Monday also approved a stay, or grace period, to let appeals be worked through in the case.
The law requires doctors to notify the guardians of a girl 17 or younger 48 hours before the girl gets an abortion.
Earlier this month, Riley heard arguments from the Illinois attorney general's office and the American Civil Liberties Union on the 1995 Parental Notice of Abortion Act.
ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell says the group is exploring legal options, including filing an appeal.
With a major healthcare reform about to become law......many Illinoisans are left wondering what's in it for them. The Illinois Department of Insurance has put together a list of changes directly affecting people in the state.
Most provisions won't take effect until 2014, but residents could start seeing changes to their policies within the year. The state Department of Insurance expects health insurance rates to stabilize. The agency points out those seeking coverage won't be discriminated against because of a pre-existing illnesses.
The department's Director Michael McRaith says those changes will reduce trepidation on the part of Illinois consumers. "No longer will people be denied an application for insurance, be denied a claim that they filed with their insurance company, will be charged more because they've been sick or they might become sick in the future," McRaith said.
A major provision of the package is an insurance exchange system. McRaith says that will let Illinoisans shop around and pick from state approved policies. He adds that preventative services like mammograms will also be included. The changes will expand Illinois' Medicaid system, but there are no official cost estimates. One study found one third of Illinois residents have no health coverage.
A University of Illinois professor says it may take until November's elections to discover the real winners and losers in the US House passage of health care reform.
Institute of Government and Public Affairs Director Robert Rich says the first assumption is that President Obama is a winner for pushing through legislation that many didn't expect to pass. But Rich says he fully expects Republicans to campaign on the repeal of the legislation until the fall. He points to the fact that no Republicans voted for it in House, and Rich says he fully expects the same result in Senate when votes are taken on the final measure. "I think what that is... and Senator (John) McCain already said that the Democrats will pay a price for this... and I don't take that as him being necessarily correct," says Rich. "What I take that to be is the gauntlet has been let down, and to say that we're now on March 22nd, elections coming up this this fall, and this is going to be a major issue in the campaign."
Rich says children are immediate winners of the measure, since they can't be denied insurance for pre-existing conditions. He also says small businesses should benefit since they can form alliances to negotiate better insurance rates. The Executive Director of the Illinois-based Campaign for Better Health Care, Jim Duffet, says the first sign of the measure's passage is that people won't be turned down by their insurance company for having an illness. Duffett also credits lawmakers for including language that encourages entrepreneurism.
"There's so many people that would love to start a new business,' says Duffett. "So many people that would love to use their creativity and their minds to be able to create different jobs, take this idea and run with it. So many people have not been able to do that because they're fearful they cannot get health insurance for themselves or their family because they have a pre-existing condition. So that is going to be off people's backs." Duffet also commends the bill's authors for letting young people stay on their parents' insurance longer, until the age of 26.
Rich says everyone should keep in mind that what he considers the heart of the legislation, coverage of the uninsured, doesn't go into effect until 2014. Rich says that presents opportunities for a repeal both this year and in 2012. But Rich says that's unlikely... with a two-thirds vote required and President Obama still in office.
The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that Urbana's Provena Covenant Medical Center will have to pay property taxes to Champaign County dating back to 2002.
Justices determined Thursday that the hospital did not provide enough charity care to qualify for its tax exemption, upholding an appellate court ruling. That amount in taxes is expected to be around $8 million.
The Champaign County Board of Review initially recommended to the Illinois Department of Revenue that the hospital be denied the exemption. Chair Laura Standefur says after reviewing financial statements that her board found a few reasons for turning the hospital down, but it started with the amount of charity care. Sandefur says it's hard to define, but the board knows when it's not at the appropriate level.
"Charity, I think, is kind of that same way," Sandefur said. "Less than one percent, is that exclusive use? What defines exclusive or even majority use? None of us on the board could really look at those numbers and think that that was used exclusively for charitable purposes."
Champaign County treasurer Dan Welch says it's still not clear how the roughly $8 million in property taxes should be collected. He says the majority of the funds would be earmarked for Urbana's Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. But he says Urbana city leaders may be able to change how those funds are divided. Mayor Laurel Prussing has already suggested breaking down those funds among taxing bodies, including more than $4 million for schools, $1.2 million for the city, and $720,000 for Champaign County.
Provena officials released a written statement on the Supreme Court decision. Local Hospital Board Chairman Cody Sokolski says he's deeply disappointed in the ruling, noting that the hospital provided more than $38 million in free care and other community benefits in 2008. Provena Covenant CEO David Bertauski says he hopes the ruling prompts a dialogue among elected officials and hospitals over how charity care should be defined.
Six years ago Provena's tax exempt status for 2002 was revoked after the state department of revenue sided with Champaign County officials. A circuit court judge overturned the ruling, but an appeals court later reversed it again in the state and county's favor. In the meantime, Provena has been putting contested tax money - more than a million dollars a year -- into a fund that remained tied up pending the Supreme Court ruling.
The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling Thursday in a taxation case that could affect dozens of not-for-profit hospitals in Illinois.
The case involves Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. In 2004 it lost its property tax exempt status because county officials determined the hospital did not provide enough charitable care. State revenue officials agreed, but an appeals court reversed the lower court's decision against Provena. At issue is whether Provena still owes local governments more than a million dollars in property taxes a year since the initial decision. The case is on the high court's list of decisions to be released Thursday - both sides argued before the justices last September.
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