Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has given Carle Foundation Hospital the green light to build a nine-story patient bed tower that will house the hospital's Heart and Vascular institute.
The $200 million project has been on hold for more than a year because of the sluggish economy, but is now moving forward through the financial backing of bonds and private donations.
Included in the new tower will be work spaces for cardiovascular, neuroscience, and intensive care services to better address emergent, acute, and chronic conditions. The new tower will also include 136 single patient rooms that will replace inadequate rooms from older buildings on the hospital campus that date back to the 1960s and 1970s.
"There is dedicated family space in each of those rooms, and lots and lots of natural light coming in through," said Stephanie Beever, the hospital's vice president of Business Development. "There's lots of glass in this building that our research has shown will actually help patients improve, get better quicker, and hopefully get home quicker."
Revised construction costs for the patient bed tower are $17 million less than what was originally projected a couple of years ago. Officials from Carle estimate that the tower will have a $100 million impact on the local economy.
Up to 250 workers will be hired to work on the constrution of the new tower. ManorCare nursing home in Urbana will be torn down in January to make room for the new patient tower with construction set to begin in March. The project is scheduled to completed in June 2013. It will be located on Coler Street between Park and Church Streets.
Free mobile food pantries will be dispatched throughout Champaign County starting this weekend.
The United Way is teaming up with several labor groups to distribute nearly 40,000 pounds of food from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank to low-income families in Rantoul, Mahomet, Champaign and Urbana during the first three Saturdays of the month.
According to U.S. Census Bureau, more than 18 percent of people in Champaign County were living in poverty in 2008, which during that year was about six percent higher than the state's overall poverty level. Eric Westlund, the AFL-CIO Community Services Liason, said the poverty level in Champaign County has not changed substantially, but he said there is still a significant need to feed hungry families.
"You can't really tell by looking at somebody if they're in poverty or not," he said. "It's just not something that's visible, but believe me there's just so many people out there that can use a little help, especially at this time of the year."
Each mobile pantry can feed up to 150 families. Westlund said many children in low-income families are not getting enough protein, which is why the pantry will offer a lot of canned fruits and vegetables.
"We're looking to feed these kids so that they are healthy," he said. "There's a little peanut butter in there, and they'll get some cookies, but there will be fresh produce and other things to offset that too."
The food will be distributed Saturday at the First United Methodist Church, 200 S. Century Blvd., Rantoul at 10 a.m. and at the Mahomet United Methodist Church, 1302 E. South Mahomet Road at 12:30 p.m. On Dec. 11, the pantry will distribute goods at Stratton Elementary School, 902 N. Randolph St., C. Distribution at 10 a.m. On Dec. 18, the final pantry will be set up at Prairie Elementary School, 2102 E. Washington St., U. Distribution at 10 a.m.
An effort to allow medical use of marijuana fell short by a handful of votes in the Illinois House. Opponents argued it was less about health care and more about legalizing pot.
The tally was a setback for medical patients suffering from glaucoma, cancer and other diseases who say smoking marijuana helps ease pain and improve their quality of life. Former talk show host Montel Williams was among those who came to the capitol to lobby for the measure. Williams has multiple sclerosis and admitted he uses marijuana to deal with his symptoms.
"For me, it helps to lessen the neuropathic pain," Williams said. "It also helps me, no ifs, ands, or buts, with spasticity. I suffer from MS. I have leg tremors and have spasticity at night. This completely squashes that."
The House sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the medical contributions of the drug are a compelling argument to legalize it.
"How do you turn down people who are sick," Lang said. "People who are in pain, people who have not had the opportunity to have a quality of life without this health care product. And make no mistake my friends. This is not a bill about drugs. This is a bill about health care."
But critics say more testing should be done to determine if marijuana has benefits. Fifteen other states allow medical marijuana use.
Illinois' plan would have patients get a doctor's note that would then be submitted to the state department of public health. The agency would regulate who can buy from licensed dealers.
But law enforcement was opposed to the measure, and so were lawmakers like State Rep. Ron Stephens (R- Greenville), who is a licensed pharmacist.
"This is about possession of marijuana," Stephens said. "That's all it's about. It's not about medical treatment."
Stephens said more research is needed to determine any potential benefits marijuana might have. While the Illinois plan was defeated, the same proposal was kept alive through a legislative maneuver and could be called for another vote.
A federal commission made up of members of Congress and former lawmakers is trying to reduce the nation's federal deficit by $4 trillion dollars by 2020 with changes to government programs, including Medicare and Social Security services.
Based in Washington, DC, the 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is led by former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. Both leaders are backing a plan to make cuts to Medicare funding that would limit federal spending on Medicare recipients to one percent above the economy's gross domestic product. Anne Gargano Ahmed, who is with Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said under that plan, the cost for care would then be pushed onto Medicare beneficiaries with higher premiums.
"Medicare beneficiaries would then have to choose to pay higher premiums for traditional Medicare, or buying a private plan from a Medicare exchange of private insurance companies that would offer a plan as an alternative to Medicare," Ahmed explained. "These plans might have lower premiums, but they'd probably offer less coverage like many private insurance plans do now."
Illinois has two legislatures sitting on the panel: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). The healthcare advocacy group backs a proposal by Schakowsky calling for the creation of a Medicare-administered drug plan to compete with private plans. She also wants Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate for lower drug prices, a move that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will save the country $14 billion by 2015.
The financial commission is also considering a plan to increase the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 69 by 2075. According to the non-partisan group Social Security Works, boosting the retirement age by that amount would lead to a 21-percent cut in benefits from the current retirement age of 66.
Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said trimming any part of social security is the last thing the federal government should do to help cut the deficit. Lennhoff said because social security is supported by payroll deductions and not federal dollars, it does not add to the deficit.
"Social security does not contribute to the budget deficit," Lennhoff said. "So it's like trying to find an answer that wasn't part of the problem, and at great consequence to the American people, at great harm to the American people. It's simply not fair."
However, Lennhoff admitted that one area her group agrees with the commission's leaders on is raising the wage cap on the amount of money going to support Social Security. The cap is currently set at $106,800.00, and Lennhoff said increasing it would require people making more than that amount to pay more to support social security benefits.
The commission has until December 1st to finalize and vote on a plan. It must capture 14 of 18 votes among its members to adopt a budget recommendation, and send it onto Congress for consideration.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees unanimously approved changes to the U of I's administrative structure during its Thursday meeting in Chicago.
The Board of Trustees gave the university the green light to hire a new vice president who will oversee the health science departments at the Chicago and Urbana campuses as well as at training clinics in Chicago, Urbana, Rockford, and Peoria.
The board also voted to expand the role of the vice president for technology and economic development to include a $716 million research portfolio that includes research on the three campuses. The office will streamline research-related policies and processes, which according to the university will eliminate redundancies.
The third proposal that the board approved was a measure that adds the title of vice president to each of the campus chancellors, and specifies that the president of the university will be known as the president of each campus.
University spokesman Tom Hardy said the administrative changes will help the U of I cut costs by allowing University President Michael Hogan to "establish clear lines of authority to begin to consolidate operations."
"You need leadership at the top to drive that process," Hogan said. "Without it, reform doesn't get done or doesn't get done effectively."
Hogan added that a strong administration will ensure the three campuses work together, and advance research opportunities while maintaining distinctive qualities that make each campus unique.
The changes come more than two weeks after the Urbana Faculty Senate rejected the restructuring plan, citing the cost of hiring an additional vice president as one area of concern.
Joyce Tolliver, who chairs the senate's Executive Committee, said the faculty senate is still concerned about some of the administrative changes, but she said she is encouraged that before each meeting, the Board of Trustees will start holding conference calls with chairs of different faculty committees on each campus. This is a move that she said will create more transparency between the Board of Trustees and the rest of the U of I community.
"It's not that there's anything that we asked about before that we're not concerned about now," Tolliver said. "All the questions are still there, but what I am confident about is that they will be answered going forward."
The Board of Trustees targeted a 2012 goal of reducing the university's administrative costs by five-to-ten percent.
Some of the recommendations for consolidating 'back-office' administrative functions throughout the University were outlined in a June report by the Administrative Review and Restructuring (ARR) working group, which made 43 recommendations for potentially $58 million in cost savings.
Champaign officials broke ground Wednesday on a new YMCA center in southwest Champaign.
Construction is set to begin on the $16-million facility in the next couple of weeks. The Y will include an eight lane pool, a child play center, and a gymnasium with an in-door track. Mark Johnson, a former University of Illinois wrestling coach who is now the Y's chief executive officer in Champaign County, said the center will be an excellent addition to the community.
"This is going to be a place that the rest of us can use on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We have problems with childhood obesity. We have problems with diabetics. We have problems with senior citizens. We have a problem with disabilities. This is going to be a welcoming place to everybody."
Talk about the project has been going on for about a decade, and up until a couple of years ago it never really took shape because of a lack of funding. However, that changed after Horizon Hobby Chairman Rick Stephens pledged $5 million to the $16-million project. Stephens said his contribution encouraged other people to step up and start donating.
"The reason we did this was for the community," Stephens said. "There was such a need for a new Y in this community. It's been a dream for a lot of people for a long time."
The project has raised about $12 million. Johnson said he is confident that it will be able to raise an additional $4 million by the time the project completed in early 2012. The new facility will replace the current McKinley Family Center and the Fitness & Family Center in Champaign.
The 75,000-square foot center will be located at 2501 Fields South Drive, which is just west of I-57. It will replace two current Champaign fitness center: McKinley Family Center at 500 W. Church St. and Fitness & Family Center at 707 N. Country Fair Drive.
(Design courtesy of the Champaign County YMCA)
The National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded $2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The grant will be used to create a new research center to study how exposure to common chemicals may affect childhood development.
Center director neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz said studies will focus on bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in plastics, and phthalates, which are components of many scented personal care products, like lotions and shampoos.
"We know from laboratory animal studies that both of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters," Schantz said, "so they can mess with certain hormonal systems in the body."
One study will involve pregnant women volunteers from local health clinics. "We're going to follow their health and take urine samples during their pregnancy so we can assess their exposure to the two chemicals, and then from the time their babies are born we're going to follow them developmentally," Schantz explained.
A related study at Harvard University will examine how exposure to BPA and phthalates relates to cognitive development in adolescents.
A health clinic for low-income families in Champaign will soon have a permanent site for dental care.
More than $600,000 in donations to start the clinic are the result of an initiative that started in 2008. The United Way of Champaign County spearheaded the fundraising for a new facility at Frances Nelson Health Center. Nancy Greenwalt is the director of Smile Healthy, a community-based initiative to provide dental care to the underserved. Currently, Smile Healthy conducts mobile dental clinics twice a month at Frances Nelson.
Greenwalt said they exposed the need for additional care, and prompted donations from groups like the United Way, Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation and Carle Foundation. She said the waiting list of low-income and uninsured dental patients exceeds 1,000, and that does not include those who use emergency rooms.
"At Provena, over 1,000, and at Carle (Foundation Hospital in Urbana) over 2,000 patients report to the emergency room each year with dental issues," Greenwalt said. "But a medical provider can't do and extraction, or a root canal, or some of the treatments that you would need to solve the problem. All they can do is get you through the crisis."
Barbara Dunn is CEO of the Community Health Improvement Center, the parent organization of Frances Nelson. Dunn said the funds present new opportunities the clinic didn't have before.
"It's four operatories, so we can probably accomodate one half-time or full time dentist," Dunn said. "So we may expand that - who knows. And certainly always there's a demand for more medical. So I think we can put a lot of plans together the next few years."
The dental clinic at Frances Nelson will serve not only referrals, but appointments from the general public. It is expected to open by next fall.
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.
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