Illinois Public Media News
As the national debate over health care ensues, the Illinois Supreme Court is considering a case over a Urbana hospital's tax status. The outcome, claim hospital officials, could lead to reduced medical services and higher prices.
Justices will have to decide if Provena Covenant Medical Center provided enough free or discounted care to poor patients to qualify as tax exempt. The state in 2003 determined the answer was no and forced the Catholic-run hospital to pay property taxes.
Assistant Attorney General Evan Siegel defended the state's action before the court. He says the year before, only 300 of Provena's 110 thousand admissions received charity care, not enough to deserve tax breaks.
"It doesn't matter whether an organization itself is charitable," Siegel told the high court. "What matters is whether its using the property for a charitable purpose."
But Provena's attorney, Patrick Coffey, argues the hospital qualifies because it cared for any and all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
"It doesn't matter what amount of charity, here free care ... was given," Cofey said. "Free care was given without limit."
The court's decision has widespread ramifications statewide. If nonprofit hospitals have to pay taxes, there's speculation they would increase prices or cut back services. The high court is expected to issue an opinion in coming months.
If you hear about someone pursuing their wildest dreams with a monetary windfall, the first thing to come to mind might be a lottery winner. But as AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, the latest half-millionaire in Illinois has worked hard for the reward.
A two year old girl who came down with a suspected case of bacterial meningitis has died, two days after first displaying symptoms.
Carle Foundation Hospital confirms the death of Kyla Kinney. Health officials in Vermilion County say she was brought to the hospital in Hoopeston Tuesday with symptoms of the contagious disease, which inflames the membranes around the brain and spinal cord and can be fatal.
Vermilion County Public Health Administrator Steve Laker says the toddler's family has been given prophylaxis, or an oral medication against bacterial meningitis - so have people involved in the toddler's day care. He says it will take time to see if anything else needs to be done.
"It is a disease that can be sporadic, so it is hard to prevent", says Laker. "When you do have a case occur, one of the first considerations --- is there a necessity of doing prophylaxis?"
Laker says the particular bacteria suspected in this case can harbor themselves in some people without causing symptoms, only to infect someone else with the disease.
Two Carle Clinic psychiatrists are now seeing patients at Provena Covenant Medical Center, in a collaboration that the two health care providers say marks an expansion of adult psychiatric services in Champaign-Urbana.
Carle Clinic spokesman Sean Williams says Drs. Timothy Roberts and James Whisenand are moving to Provena Covenant from the Pavilion psychiatric hospital in Champaign.
"Provena did have psychiatric services", explains Williams. "They only had one full-time doctor, Dr. (Feiteng) Su, who oversaw the care plans for patients. So, adding Drs. Roberts and Whisenand to the Provena staff will help them be able to expand supervision of care of patients."
Provena Covenant Vice-President Bob Sarkar says there are certain advantages to receiving psychiatric treatment in a full-service hospital.
"We have a comprehensive program with ready access to clinical support services", says Sarkar, "like dietitians, physical therapists, etc. So, when a patient needs to be admitted to any acute care setting --- if there is a complication --- we do not have to transfer the patients across town, but transfer the patient to another floor."
Williams says the Pavilion can afford to lose Roberts and Whisenand, because it now has its own in-house psychiatrist, who works alongside four other Carle Clinic psychiatrists.
Now that they're at Provena Covenant, Doctors Roberts and Whisenhand will continue to accept all insurance plans currently accepted by Carle Clinic. And they can also be covered by Medicaid, which was not possible at the Pavilion.
A case of bacterial meningitis may have arisen in northern Vermilion County.
The Vermilion County Health Department says a toddler was taken to Hoopeston Community Memorial Hospital yesterday with symptoms of the sometimes-fatal brain infection - he was airlifted several hours late to Urbana's Carle Hospital. Health administrator Steve Laker won't release the toddler's name or condition.
Bacterial meningitis can be very contagious, spread by contact with nose or throat secretions. And Laker says this particular strain of meningitis bacteria is highly difficult to trace back to a source.
People can be colonized with that; just be carriers of it and don't know they are carriers," said Laker. "What happens is that you get a susceptible individual around somebody who's carrying the organism and there's a transmission, and you have individuals who don't even know they're colonized with it."
Laker says several people in the toddler's family and at a day care facility have been given oral medications to help prevent another meningitis case.
More than 400 cases of suspected H1N1 flu have been reported on the University of Illinois' campus in Urbana-Champaign so far this semester and more are expected.
Dr. Robert Palinkas of the McKinley Health Center says most of the cases have been relatively mild.
University officials have been asking students with suspected cases of the illness to go home until they're no longer contagious or isolate themselves in their residences. Palinkas says most families of undergraduate students have been heeding that advice, as have many students living independently. "We do trust them to comply, and generally we get pretty good cooperation from an individual when they understand the public health aspect of this," Palinkas said.
Palinkas says students and others who suspect they have the flu should come to the university's health center. He also says they're standing by for word on an H1N1 flu vaccine, which he hopes to make available to students and others in October or November.
(help from The Associated Press)
Health officials say a 50-something person in southwestern Illinois is the state's first human case of West Nile virus for 2009.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the St. Clair County Health Department reported the case recently. Last year, there were 20 human cases of the mosquito-borne virus statewide, with one death.
Public Health Director Damon Arnold says cooler temperatures this summer have blunted the frequency of the virus, but he says Illinois' first human case should remind residents that the threat remains.
So far this year, two dozen Illinois counties have reported mosquito batches or birds testing positive for the virus.
Only about 20 percent of people bitten by an infected mosquito will get sick. The illness is usually mild but can be serious or fatal.
Health officials in Champaign County saw only a handful of H1N1 or swine flu cases over the summer. But now that students are back at the University of Illinois Urbana campus, they're bringing a steady flow of suspected flu cases with them.
Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of the McKinley Health Center on campus, says suspected H1N1 cases have been coming in at the rate of 5 or 6 a day. He says most of the students are sent home to their parents, where they can be relatively isolated until they are no longer contagious. But for those who can't go home --- or who already live in the area --- Palinkas says they've been finding ways to keep infected students away from other people as much as possible.
"Sometimes, it means having a roommate change a room", says Palinkas. "Sometimes, it means a housing entity --- not necessarily University Housing --- find temporary accomodations for five to seven days. So far, each of those arrangements has been, really, pretty successful."
There is no definitive diagnosis of H1N1 flu virus in most of these cases, because state officials are limiting how many cases they test. McKinley Health Center doctors are basing their diagnosis on a rapid flu test plus their own clinical judgment.
Palinkas says he expects suspected H1N1 flu cases to continue among U of I students --- and even increase, as the virus spreads throughout the campus. He says common-sense prevention methods can limit the flu's increase. Those methods include frequent handwashing, covering coughs with a sleeve, and not sharing materials from one mouth to another.
The water utility for the city of Danville takes issue with an advocacy group's report that consumers may be subject to higher-than-allowable traces of a farm chemical.
The report from the Natural Resources Defense Council cited government figures suggesting Danville's water supply had exceeded standards for the herbicide atrazine.
But Kevin Culver, a compliance officer with Aqua Illinois, says the NRDC's numbers are from 2004, and since then, recent EPA tests found no detectable levels of atrazine. However, Culver says atrazine is a concern since Danville's drinking water source, Lake Vermilion, includes lots of farm runoff. He says the utility filters out the chemical with a simple process.
"It's actually the same component in your home water systems that they say to use, and one of the recommendations is activated carbon to remove it at home," Culver said. So it's the same type stuff, although we use a lot more of it during the growing season."
Chemicals like atrazine have been linked to birth defects and hormone disruptions in animals, though the federal Centers for Disease Control has not found the same effects on humans.
Illinois' top education and health officials have issued a "Dear Parent'' letter recommending seasonal flu vaccinations for all school children in the state. The letter also urges parents to get their kids vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus when that vaccine becomes available this fall.
It's aimed at parents of children in the state's nearly 4,000 public K-through-12 schools, plus private schools. The letter is posted online in English and Spanish, signed by state Education Superintendent Christopher Koch and Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon Arnold. They're urging schools to include it in back-to-school materials for parents.
The letter urges parents to talk to their doctors or local health department about where to obtain flu shots or nasal spray vaccines, although many schools eventually will offer them.
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