Illinois Public Media News
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson will serve a sixth term after besting Democrat David Gill for a third time.
The Republican Johnson says he'll continue to strive for a limited government, a free-market economy, and cutting through the bureaucracy of agencies like the Veterans Administration. He still wants to repeal the health care reform bill. But with the Democrats still in control in the US Senate, Johnson says it won't be an absolute repeal.
"But I think we can work to make some constructive changes and were funding is relevant, to limit funding to that," said Johnson. "So my hope is that we'll be able to bring some more sense to a health care system, or at least a health care bill that's out of control." Gill, an emergency room physician, calls that kind of talk 'politicking'. He likes parts of the package, but says it needs some re-crafting.
Johnson finished with 64-percent of the vote to Gill's 35-percent. Gill says this loss is disappointing for the people. He says elected winners on each side of the political aisle are failing to compromise, and that proves there's something wrong with our government. "Maybe eventually there will be enough pain for voters that they'll understand that they need to look beyond the 'D' and the 'R' and find out who's funding the different candidates," said Gill. "And maybe then they'll start supporting those who are interested in accomplishing good things for people."
Gill has described himself as an independent-minded Democrat, but says he may consider a true independent campaign for Congress in the future - calling it the fastest-growing part of the electorate.
A voter guide put out by a local health care advocacy group shows rough adherence to political party lines when it comes to health care issues and Illinois candidates.
Of the candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate, only Congressional candidate David Gill (D-Bloomington) responded to the survey from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, but state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) took part.
The group's director, Claudia Lennhoff, said even though this year's health care overhaul is a national undertaking, state lawmakers' views on health care play a big role.
"So much of the implementation of national health reform actually happens at the state level and requires state legislatures to pass laws in order to enact some of the health reform changes," said Lennhoff.
While Jakobsson supports implementing the health care bill, Reynolds opposes it. However, Reynolds and Jakobsson agree that the state should enact controls on rising health insurance premiums.
A central Illinois cheese-maker is voluntarily recalling some of its cheese products, because they may contain antibiotics.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the products from Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal were not properly tested, and could pose a danger for people who are allergic to antibiotics. But so far, Public Health officials say they haven't received any reports of adverse reactions.
The recall involves Ropp Jersey cheese products with various sell-by dates ranging from April through September of 2011:
* 4/17/11 through 4/19/11
* 6/8/11 through 6/11/11
* 6/17/11 through 6/27/11
* 7/4/11 through 7/10/11
* 7/16/11 through 7/28/11
* 8/4/11 through 8/7/11
* 8/14/11 through 8/28/11
* 9/5/11 through 9/10/11
The cheese products were sold at stores and wineries throughout in Illinois, including Schnucks and Friar Tucks. Public Health officials say the products can be returned to the place of purchase for replacement.
A five year plan to move the John and Mary E. Kirby Hospital in Monticello to a larger nearby site has entered the final stage in the planning process.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the hospital with a $31.2 million dollar mortgage loan.
The new hospital will include more surgical space and patient and procedure rooms. Inpatients will also have private suites, with a bathroom, shower and visiting space.
The current 16-bed hospital has undergone a series of renovations in the last several years, but hospital spokeswoman Michelle Rathman said the project will help the hospital address the community's changing health care needs.
"Family members will have accommodations in the rooms for them to stay with their loved ones in the hospital 24 hours," she explained. "Hospitals around the country have moved away from these things like 'visiting hours are over.' That's not the case because families are encouraged to be part of the healing process."
The loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program. By insuring the mortgage loan, FHA is enabling the hospital to obtain lower cost financing that is expected to save an estimated $4.6 million in interest expense over the life of the loan.
"FHA is helping to build state-of-the-art health care facilities like this all across the country," said FHA Commissioner David Stevens. "By helping to make these projects possible, FHA also contributes to the financial well-being of communities by creating jobs to stimulate local economies."
Rathman said the replacement hospital is expected to be an economic boom in Piatt County with a combination of construction jobs, more people shopping at local businesses, and new employment.
"Every new full-time employee equates to revenue spent in the community," she said. "Replacement hospital projects make a significant economic impact in so many ways."
Kirby Hospital currently employs about 200 people. Rathman said the new facility is expected to be completed by September 2011, and she projected that it will create up to 15 new full-time jobs over the next five years.
The 71,000-square-foot Kirby Medical Center will be built at the Market Street and I-72 exit northeast of Rick Ridings on a new street called Medical Center Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1pm.
(Artist rendering courtesy of the Kirby Medical Center courtesy of Kirby Hospital)
Two environmental experts will continue to keep tabs on Ameren's efforts to clean up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
About 60 residents from the 5th and Hill Street neighborhood shared their concerns with Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko in a community forum Monday night. The experts were brought in by New York-based law firms to address long-standing concerns of illness and contaminated soil. Much of the discussion focused on Ameren's efforts to clean the site, and whether the EPA will respond to resident's calls for soil tests at resident's homes. Ameren started its remediation of the site last year, with completion slated for 2015.
Both the experts say the biggest immediate concern is for Champaign's city council to repeal its groundwater ordinance. Zeko, who's a hydrogeologist, said reworking it would allow more flexibility for residents to pursue legal action.
"If there was no ordinance in place, they could leave it like it is," said Zeko. "Right now, basically Ameren can say 'we're complying with the ordinance - leave us alone. If you appeal the ordinance, they can say 'well, our health-based effects show that this is a problem, you need to clean it up.'"
Zeko said Illinois' EPA should require Ameren to do additional testing. Zeko also said new studies are coming out on vapor intrusions of substances like benzine, and their possible health effects. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock said Ameren was irresponsible for doing a slow to moderate cleanup after 20 years of the site going unnoticed. He said the groundwater ordinance needs more teeth.
"It's a very generic ordinance, as was stated by the Illinois EPA," said Bowcock. "It's very general. It's been used in 200 jurisdictions throughout the state of Illinois. So it's not site specific, and as technology and science evolves, it's being misapplied."
Champaign City council member Tom Bruno, who spoke at an earlier forum Monday, said repealing the groundwater ordinance might be the only way that Ameren will properly re-mediate the 5th and Hill area.
"It acknowledges the reality that the danger from contaminated groundwater isn't just when you drink the groundwater, but it's dangerous also when you merely breathe the vapors that are coming from that groundwater" said Bruno. "And we need to get rid of that contaminated groundwater whether people are drinking it or not."
Magnolia Cook lives in the 5th and Hill neighborhood. Cook said she has dealt with strange smells and nagging health concerns for about 50 years, so much so that it seems natural.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility company considered all aspects of the environmental impacts at the site of every former manufactured gas plant. He said everything at 5th and Hill is being done within strict accordance of the Illinois EPA, and he added groundwater at the site does not pose a human health or environmental risk. He said the company was not invited to Monday's forums.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
On Saturday, October 25th, from 10 AM to 2 PM, enforcement agencies, pharmacies, and other sites will be accepting unwanted prescription drugs as part of a nationwide Drug Enforcement Administration take-back program.
Scott Collier of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in St. Louis says the initiative is part of a larger effort to combat prescription drug abuse.
"There are actually more prescription drug abusers than there are abusers of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs combined. It's second only to marijuana", says Collier.
In 2009, an estimated 7 million Americans used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.
Another goal of the initiative is to reduce water pollution. Medications flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain go straight to a waste-water treatment plant.
Research hydrologist Dana Kolpin of the U.S. Geological Survey says those plants were never designed to remove pharmaceuticals - and there's no law requiring them to do so. Kolpin says studies have found drugs in effluent and sludge - and trace levels in rivers and streams, where they're having effects on wildlife.
"They're not acute effects where it's causing say massive fish kills", says Kolpin, "but we're seeing say fish that have both male and female characteristics, and those kind of subtle effects that are certainly a concern as well."
Kolpin attributes most water contamination to the routine use of medications to treat people and livestock, but says improper disposal does contribute to the problem.
You can dispose of prescription drugs during the DEA's National Take Back Day, Saturday, September 25th, from 10 to 2, at the following east-central Illinois locations:
Arcola - Arcola Police Dept., 920 S. Washington St. Arthur - Arthur Visitors Center, 106 E. Progress Clinton - Clinton Police Dept., 118 W. Washington St. Danville - Sheriff Office at the Vermilion County Courthouse, 7 N. Vermilion St. Decatur - City-County Law Enforcement Center, 333 N. Franklin St. Normal - Normal Police Dept., 100 E. Phoenix Tuscola - Douglas County Sheriff's Dept., 920 S. Washington St.
A health advocacy group says benefits from the new health care reform law are just starting to come to Illinois residents.
It will be 2014 before one of the biggest benefits takes effect, but the group Families USA says more than a million people in Illinois will be eligible for some sort of tax credit from the legislation that passed this spring. Those tax credits are meant to offset the cost of insurance.
The slow introduction of the health care law coincides with political opposition to the law as election season nears. But Jim Duffett, who heads the Champaign-based Campaign for Better Health Care, says more and more Illinois residents will hear about the program's intended purpose in the weeks ahead, such as health insurance exchange programs aimed at offering lower-cost policies.
"I think as these programs start to kick in, and definitely as the focus at the state level is intensifying, those types of activities are going to start to generate much more interest and education so that the people in Illinois will be able to know exactly what they need to do to sign up," Duffett said.
The group cites a survey that suggests the biggest tax credits will affect people at the lowest income levels, with about 60% of the credits going to those who carry health insurance but are struggling to keep up with premiums.
September is Hunger Action Month. Coming up later this month is the 4th annual Hunger Symposium, organized by the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and WILL. Also underway this month is the SNAP Hunger Challenge. The challenge is to feed yourself on $4.50 a day. Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn spoke to Cheryl Precious of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, and Illinois Public Media's Kimberlie Kranich, who completed the SNAP Hunger Challenge.
The democrat running for President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat pledged to increased veterans benefits during a campaign stop in Urbana.
U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth.
Gulf War veteran Jason Wheeler of Champaign expressed his frustration to the that he cannot get proper medical care because of federal regulations.
Wheeler was preparing to ship out to Iraq in 2002, but just weeks before he was set to leave the U.S., he jumped out of a helicopter as part of a training exercise, and crash landed on a tarmac. His parachute did not work.
"I have no feeling from both of my knees down. From my hands to my elbows, they feel like they're on fire," he said.
Because Wheeler's injuries occurred on American soil, he said he does not get the same quality of federal care that veterans get when they are injured overseas. He can still get treated through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but since he was wounded on American soil, Wheeler is ineligible for TRICARE assistance, a program through the Department of Defense.
"I got injured, and I could use a lift for my vehicle," he said. "I could use these little things that can help you out, and a gentleman like myself can't get this help. So, we don't want to let that happen to the next guy."
Duckworth said historic progress has been made in the last few years by the democratically-led congress to raise veterans' benefits, but she stated that there just is not enough money to go around to provide the same level of care for all wounded veterans.
"It all goes back to the money," she said. "We've got to dedicate the money and resources to take care of all of our vets."
Wheeler spoke to Duckworth after the forum, and he said her office will look into his medical claims.
During the forum, Duckworth also touted the efforts of democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in pushing for Illinois veterans to have access to affordable mortgages, and helping start a scholarship program for children of soldiers killed in action. Giannoulias would not give a deadline of when he hopes American troops should begin to pull out of Afghanistan, but he said the attention in Washington should be on fixing the nation's economy, improving infrastructure projects, and bolstering education programs.
The state treasurer is in a tight race against Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who released a statement ahead of the forum in which he outlined his support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Kirk helped write the resolution authorizing the 2003 invasion into Iraq. After speaking with veterans, Giannoulias blasted Kirk for misleading the public leading up to the war. He noted Kirk's false statements that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Giannoulias said Kirk showed a lack of judgment for supporting a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.
The Kirk campaign pointed out members of congress in both parties made that claim.
A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed Kirk and Giannoulias neck-and-neck with 34 percent of support among voters, followed by the Green Party's LeAlan Jones with six percent, Libertarian Mike Labno with 3 percent, and 22 percent of voters stating that they are undecided.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
A proposal that will be introduced later this fall in the Illinois House of Representatives seeks to put an immigration law similar to the one passed in Arizona on the books.
State representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) is co-sponsoring the measure with Republican Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream). Mitchell said a centerpiece to the measure would cut Medicaid services to people who are not U.S. citizens by modifying the Illinois All Kids program, which provides health coverage for children regardless of immigration status.
"We're spending millions of dollars on health care for illegals," said Mitchell. "It's time to say enough is enough."
Illinois is just one of nine states that offers Medicaid to undocumented immigrants. According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 1.6 million children are covered under the All Kids program, and a little more than three percent of those covered are undocumented.
"If you're going to do something in which you specifically target children, and make it so that they're not eligible for certain services and accesses, that's not only cruel and heartless, it's just absolutely mind-boggling," said Linus Chan, a staff attorney at the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic at DePaul University. "That's not going to solve the problem of undocumented immigration."
Mitchell said with a $13 billion budget deficit, Illinois is in no shape to be offering health care services to people living in the country illegally. He said an influx of undocumented immigrants coming to the state are weighing down on the number of available jobs, and contributing to higher taxes going to support education and health care services.
He added that the legislation will also create more stringent regulations for employers who hire undocumented workers, and include language allowing law enforcement officials to ask for someone's paperwork when a "reasonable suspicion exists that a person is here illegally." Mitchell noted that the color of a person's skin would not qualify as a "reasonable suspicion."
Chan said he is worried pushing people out of the state could have dire consequences on Illinois' economy. He took note of a 2006 study released by the Texas comptroller's office, which indicates that eliminating illegal immigration could reduce that state's workforce, personal income, and gross state product.
Mitchell said the legislation will be introduced in November. Since Arizona passed its controversial law in April, other states have considered similar proposals, including Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
(Photo courtesy of mk30/flickr)
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