Illinois Public Media News
The former head of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has been indicted on theft and official misconduct charges.
A Champaign County jury returned the seven-count felony indictment against 53-year-old Vito Palazzolo last week. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. It wasn't immediately clear whether he's been taken into custody.
Palazzolo is accused of using a health district credit card for personal use, including to buy a pickup truck and big-screen TVs.
The indictment includes charges of theft of governmental property, official misconduct and misapplication of funds. He was with the health district for 17 months until he was fired in August 2007.
No published telephone listing for Palazzolo could be located on Saturday.
A judge has issued a temporary restraining order delaying enforcement of a law requiring doctors to notify parents of teens seeking an abortion.
The order issued Wednesday was sought by the American Civil Liberties Union. It is to remain in effect until the judge can hear arguments on the group's opposition.
It came just hours after the state's Medical Disciplinary Board voted not to extend a 90-day grace period put into place in August.
The law requires doctors to notify the parents or guardians of girls 17 or younger 48 hours before a teens gets an abortion. There are provisions that allow girls to bypass parental notification.
Illinois' law was passed in 1995 but never enforced because of various court actions.
The recent announcement of a proposed merger between Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic has generated a lot of response.
But little of that was negative in a 2-hour state hearing in Urbana Wednesday morning. Support for the plan came from not only Carle administrators and physicians, but those who partner with the Clinic and hospital, like the United Way and Francis Nelson Health Center.
The $250 million merger would create a single not-for-profit organization with the intent of expanding charity care and more efficient operation. Claudia Lenhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, says the change in ownership could be one of the best things for the community. "Having Carle Clinic become a non-profit provider that abides by Carle Hospital's financial assistance policies as proposed in the application to the state will result in tremendous access for thousands of community members who are currently locked out of health care." said Lenhoff. Lenhoff's group is requesting some changes with the merger, including acceptance of all forms of health insurance, and for Carle to keep supporting its taxing districts that would lose revenue under the non-profit structure.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says she can't endorse the merger unless the new organization can shift those funds onto other taxing bodies. "They account for almost 10% of our total assessed valuation," said Prussing. "The loss of Carle's payment of its fair share of the cost of fire, police, and public works would be devastating, and would place an unfair burden on all other Urbana taxpayers." Prussing says an agreement is being discussed with Carle officials in which payments would be made to the city in lieu of property taxes for clinic properties, and to let the courts decide whether hospital-owned properties would be taxable. Illinois' Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the merger in March.
The union representing workers at the Champaign County Nursing Home says the county board needs to take account for the behavior of management at the facility.
Nurses and other home staff represented by AFSCME Local 900 have submitted a petition with the signatures of nearly 100 employees. They allege areas like nursing, dietary, and housekeeping are often short-staffed and reprimanded for not finishing work on time. The union also says managers have failed to honor a 2-year contract that the County and union agreed to in July to cut down on the number of agency nurses.
Tara McAuley, a staff representative with AFSCME, said,"Something needs to be done, and if nothing else maybe the voters need to understand that the county board which has overseen this nursing home has sat on its hands and not done enough to improve this situation. And if that's what it takes, to appeal to the voters and get a new county board, then that's what we're going to do."
AFSCME members are also calling for the removal of Nursing Home Administrator Andrew Buffenbarger. The union says grievances against nursing home management are being filed almost daily, many over nurses and other staff who have lost their jobs. AFSCME says many nurses and Certified Nurse Assistants have quit out of fear of being fired.
Champaign County Board member and Nursing Home Board member Alan Nudo says he can't comment until he studies the charges further.
Researchers at the University of Illinois are part of an international group of scientists that's decoded the DNA of the domestic pig.
Their research may one day prove useful in finding new treatments for both pigs and people, and perhaps aid in efforts for a new swine flu vaccine for pigs.
Larry Schook is the U of I biomedical science professor who led the project. He says the pig is the ideal animal to look at lifestyle and health issues in the United States. That's because pigs and humans are similar in size and makeup, and swine are often used in human research.
Researchers announced the results of their work today at a meeting in the United Kingdom. Schook says they'll spend the meeting discussing ways to use the new information.
A substance abuse treatment facility in Urbana is about to take clients for the first time in four years.
A federal grant will enable Prairie Center Health Systems to open the doors to its renovated Day Treatment Program, which had been closed in 2005 through cuts in state funds. CEO Bruce Suardini says the $476,000 will provide a year of therapy and related services to 100 clients. He says the money is not only for helping addicts recover but to help them rebuild lives and relationships:
"It affects the whole family. It affects the whole psyche of a person," Suardini said. "So part of the things we try to do is wrap around the other services because it might be finding a job for a person that really starts the catalyst of changing the alcohol abuse or the drug abuse. We look at education, getting people some credentials. We look at employment. We might be looking at housing."
Prairie Center Clinical director Mary Evans says without day treatment, clients for what services the facility could provide wound up on its waiting lists, in the court system, or hospitals.
The Day Treatment Program will open next month when staff has completed its training. Prairie Center will treat its clients five days a week and provide transportation.
A proposed combination of Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association may not settle ongoing tax issues surrounding health care facilities in Illinois - in fact, it may complicate them.
Carle Hospital - a not-for-profit company with tax exemptions - plans to purchase Carle Clinic Association, a separate, for-profit firm. The combination would be considered a not-for-profit company.
A University of Illinois law professor says the move makes good business sense. John Colombo says integrating the two organizations will help improve work flow, cost and the way patients get care. But he wonders what may happen if the combined Carle seeks tax exemptions for clinic buildings after paying taxes on them for years. Colombo says local governments will keep a very close eye on that.
"If I were the county assessor or on the county board of review, at this stage I'd demand a lot of evidence that there is serious charity care work going at these sites (Carle Clinic's facilities), and if couldn't get this evidence from Carle I'd recommend a denial of tax exemption and at this point let Carle litigate the issue, Colombo said.
Colombo says doctors who held an ownership stake in Carle Clinic would lose some autonomy under such a deal, but he says they may also get more job stability in return. Those doctors -- and state regulators -- still have to approve the deal. Carle is not granting interviews on the proposal.
Carle Hospital is challenging the loss of its tax-exempt status for property taxes. State and county officials ruled that Carle was not providing enough charity care to qualify.
A not-for-profit hospital and its sister organization, a for-profit clinic, propose integrating in to one not-for-profit group.
Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association have operated as separate entities, but now the Carle Foundation wants state approval for a 250 million dollar purchase of the clinic by the hospital organization. The deal would also involve Health Alliance Medical Plans, which would remain a for-profit organization.
Carle says in a press release that the merger would reduce costs and increase cooperation between the hospital and clinic. The physicians who have a piece of ownership in Carle Clinic would become Carle Foundation employees. They have yet to approve the merger, as do members of the state's Health Facilities and Services Review Board. They meet November 4th in Urbana to hear comments.
Additional doses of H1N1 or swine flu vaccine have allowed Champaign-Urbana's Public Health District to start turning its attention toward priority groups.
A clinic to treat the youngest of populations starts Tuesday at the district offices. Administrator Julie Pryde says the goal of vaccinating those six months to five years of age first is protecting those who are in day care or some other home care setting, where they're around many other young kids.
The initial doses last week were used to treat health care workers in the area. Pryde says now that those vaccinations are mostly done, pregnant women can get their shots through primary care physicians. And she says those facilities will also be treating those with infants six months or younger, with the goal of treating older children by next Monday.
"We're hoping to get everybody in the preschool population who wants it this week, assuming our vaccine holds out we'll get those done in the next week. Then, hopefully if we get the vaccine in we'll start in the schools. Everything is dependent on the vaccine that comes in," Pryde said.
The Public Health District has received a total of 14,500 doses of the vaccine. Pryde says that amount came in quicker than anticipated. The district has ordered a total of 100,000 doses.
The walk-in clinics for six months to 5 year-olds will run Tuesday through Friday at the CUPHD offices on West Kenyon Road from 10 to 7. Pryde says the district will likely hold one or two clinics for preschool age kids in rural Champaign County as well this week.
For quicker service, parents are advised to print and sign the consent forms available on the district's web site at c-uphd-dot-org.
The owners of a bar in Hoopeston will be the first to pay a fine for violating the Smoke-Free Illinois Act.
Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Steve Laker says there have been several complaints regarding Deano's on Main. But the $100 fine stems from one incident last March, when a health department worker found a customer smoking while on a routine inspection. An administrative law judge upheld the fine late last month.
Laker says it's become easier to seek out fines against bars and restaurants for smoking since March. Now the process is handled by administrative fines, rather than criminal penalties handed out by a state's attorney's office.
And Laker says he expects complaints to pick up. "These places that we've had multiple citations on, we're just going to randomly inspect them - we're not necessarily going to wait for complaints," says Laker. "Now this is the time of year that complaints start coming back in because it's cold outside, it's windy, it's wet. And so they want to smoke inside instead of outside, so we'll start getting more complaints." Illinois' first administrative hearings over violations of the smoking ban were recently held in Champaign. The Hoopeston bar must pay its $100 fine by December, or owners won't be able to renew food service permits.
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