Illinois Public Media News
A yearly ranking of cities and their air pollution problems lists Champaign-Urbana as relatively problem-free.
The area is listed as one of 25 cleanest when it comes to short-term pollution from particulate matter. The report covers the years 2006 through 2008 and compares metropolitan areas across the country.
Katie Lorenz is with the American Lung Association, which commissioned the study - she says Champaign-Urbana also fared well when it comes to ozone pollution over those three years.
"In Champaign there was one ozone day in the orange category, which means unhealthy levels of pollution for sensitive groups," Lorenz said. "And for that reading w gave them a B, which is actually pretty good comparatively across the state."
In comparison, McLean County had five days with orange-level ozone pollution two years ago, and Cook County had 25.
Lorenz says some long-term trends may be to credit for the improvement. "One of the reasons why we think that the quality has been better is due to reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants. (Also,) transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines and really the steps that individuals are taking every day to make sure the quality of our air is improved."
Still the Lung Association's "State of the Air" study found that the St. Louis and Indianapolis areas suffer significant year-round pollution despite year-by-year improvements.
Federal money will give health officials in Vermilion County the chance to inspect old industrial sites for contaminated waste and discuss their future.
Half the $400,000 grant from the US EPA will go towards identifying hazardous substances... while the other $200,000 is to identify petroleum as part of the agency's Brownfields assessment program.
Doug Toole is an environmental health specialist with the county's health department. He's identified 32 potential sites for inspection and possible cleanup... including old factories, gas stations, salvage yards, and dry cleaners. The sites are in Danville and nearby cities like Hoopeston and Westville.
Toole says the funds will let the county bring in an environmental consultant to help coordinate public hearings. He says the first hearings wouldn't be about specific sites, but serve more as an orientation:
When people are complaining about junk houses in their community and dump sites and things like that --- stuff that we handle on a routine basis --- and that's good", says Toole. "We can get those things cleaned up. But I want to be sure the public's aware of what we're talking about with a brownfield. Just because there's an empty business in the area doesn't mean that that it necessarily has contaminants in the soil or asbestos or lead-based paint."
The $400,000 from the EPA can't be used for salaries at the financially struggling health department. Toole says a separate grant will be required for cleanup of the sites, and other hearings will be held to look at potential uses. Danville failed in its bid to receive the same EPA grant, but plans on re-applying.
The Vermilion County Health Department is owed half a million dollars from the state, and has laid off more than 40 employees this year. Toole says it's hard to say what would happen if the department was to fold, but he would expect that someone else in the county would take over the work.
The University of Illinois and Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital have cooperated on research in the past - but a new agreement is meant to elevate that cooperation by a few notches.
The U of I and Carle have launched a biomedical research alliance, with the university sharing space with Carle researchers in the Mills Breast Cancer Institute. The joint agreement will focus on four research areas: cancer, cardiology, neurosciences and gastrointestinal health.
Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard says the agreement will foster new communication between doctors on both sides.
"That may sound like well, 'didn't that go on all the time before'. and the answer is no", says Leonard. "We're both big institutions and we both focused on what we did. and this allows us to meet not at that interface."
Leonard hopes the research alliance will bring new medical advancements closer to patients and help attract physicians who want to practice and do research at the same time.
The Vermilion County Health Department is cutting four more programs that rely on state grants and 20 additional jobs with it. Department Administrator Steve Laker says the County's Board Of Health was forced into this move after the Vermilion County Board this week rejected a request for an additional loan of $400,000. The state now owes the health department $500,000 - an amount expected to grow to $700,000 by June.
As of May 21st, the department's staff will be nearly half what it was the first of this year, with 32 total job cuts. The four programs being eliminated are Family Case Management, Healthworks Illinois, Healthy Child Care, and the Case Coordination Unit. Laker says that unit's nursing home pre-screenings will be among those areas missed the most. "We're going to work with anybody we can so that hopefully these services get picked up by someone else locally and facilitate that transition, "said Laker. "But we don't have any assurance of that yet."
Laker says his goal now is holding onto the Women, Infants, and Children - or WIC program, and Family Planning, which are federal programs. WIC is exclusively federally funded, while Family Planning relies partially on county money. Laker says both have been running in Vermilion County for about 40 years. "So these are long-standing practices and well-accepted pratices," said Laker. "However, right now, these are times we've never experienced. So we're being squeezed, they're (Vermilion County) being squeezed, and unfortunately, what's on the potential chopping block is these services." Cutting those federal programs would reduce the health department to minimum certified status, reducing its staff by about two-thirds, to about 20 employees. Laker says he's considering other options, including mandatory furlough days for employees. If the department does have to cut WIC and Family Planning, he notes it would have an obligation to pay those staff members their accrued benefits, as well as their unemployment, which is funded by the county.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon vows that the county will maintain its health department, but it may become something residents don't recognize.
By late this year, the department could go without a number of state-grant funded programs, and cut more jobs in addition to the 12 it lost in January. Tuesday night. Vermilion County Board members approved extending a $300,000 loan that it gave to the health department last year. The action gives the health department until mid-July to pay it back. But the board voted down an additional loan of $400,000. McMahon says the department has to assume that it won't receive the $700,000 dollars that it's owed from the state by July. He says that means running a stripped down health department. "Our goal is to maintain a certified health department in addition to restaurant inspections and also a sanitation-sewer division," said McMahon. "Those would automatically stay. We would to whatever it takes to keep those. Any other program that isn't in that immediate program may have to be on hold the state of Illinois straightens out their act."
The Vermilion County Board's options for health program cuts and the additional loan also called for a property tax hike in Vermilion County of around 16-percent. The increase would have paid for not only the health department's shortfall, but additional county offices like the state's attorney and juvenile detention center. "If we hadn't taken the action to eliminate 12 jobs and three programs, the state would have owed us $1.2 million at the end of June," said Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Steve Laker. "Now we're projecting (a deficit of) only $700,000, only the state isn't reimbursing the county for state's attorney's salary, public defender's salary, juvenile detention staff, and probation services staff. And all that adds up to about another $1.2 million. The state owes the county about $1.9 million."
The Vermilion County Board of Health will put forth a new proposal for potential program cuts. It meets at 7 Wednesday night. The Board of Health proposals will be passed on to the Vermilion County Board, which will vote on them May 11th.
Legislation that would let teachers and other school staff assist students with diabetes won't see any support from school nurses in Danville.
The Care of Students with Diabetes Act has already passed the House, and Senate vote could come this week. A community activist from Chicago says insulin shots, counting carbohydrates, and other care is a simple process nowadays. Suzanne Elder says her diabetic daughter was handling those duties herself by the time she was 8. Elder says caring for a diabetic person has become much easier over the past 20 years. "Most kids don't use syringes anymore," says Elder. "Most kids use pens, most kids use pumps. So they even speak with a nomanclature that outs them as out of date and untrained. And yet, we still are not about undoing nurses or taking them out of school. We just want everybody trained in the basics."
Danville school nurse Judy Pendleton contends teachers, secretaries, and other school staff should not be handling duties like monitoring a child's carbohydrates in addition to their regular jobs. "That person would be responsible for doing a blood sugar," says Pendleton. "That person would be responsible for drawing up and adminstering insulin, and that person would also be taking orders from the parent. Having been through nursing school, sometimes, even at that you have to make snap decisions." The legislation saw overwhelming support in the House. Danville Republican Bill Black says the measure was drafted by House GOP Leader Tom Cross, who also has a diabetic daughter, and carefully researched the bill before proposing it. Black estimates that a few thousand children in Illinois schools attend one without a nurse, forcing the child to attend elsewhere or for the district to call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. He says the bill isn't intended to replace nurses - just to give districts another option.
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.
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