Illinois Public Media News
Property tax money owed by Provena Covenant Medical Center is now in the hands of Champaign County.
County Treasurer Dan Welch received the $8-point-8 million check Thursday morning. An appellate court last week sided with taxing bodies, meaning the hospital owes the funds for tax years 2002 thru 2008. But Welch notes Provena is still fighting the court's decision regarding 2004 onwards. In October, an administrative law judge will determine whether about $6-point-6 million can be released to taxing bodies. But Provena could still take the decision to appellate court.
Welch says that means taxing bodies will likely want to hold off on using that $6-point-6 millon, but they could use just over $2 million from years the hospital is not contesting for taxing bodies like Urbana's school District and Champaign County. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says those funds would come out of the city's tax increment financing district, which would first receive that money. "Smaller units really do need the money," said Prussing. "I don't think it would be right for the city to try to glom onto it. These are people that we work with continuously, so I think the fair thing to do is just give the money back as quickly as we can. And we have our legal council looking into exactly what is the proper way to do this." Prussing says it's 'unfortunate' that Provena is dragging this case out.
Meanwhile, Provena is planning to file for an exemption on its 2010 taxes. Spokeswoman Lisa Lagger issued a statement... noting the hospital provided over $25 million in charitable care in the Champaign Urbana area in the past year, saying those amounts 'clearly represent the value of charitable assets being returned to the community.
Shirley Hicks recently took over as the Public Health Administrator at the Vermilion County Health Department. Hicks has been with the health department for 25 years, and comes into her new role amid massive program and staff cuts. In the first six months of this year, the department cut more than half of its staff and eliminated eight programs. The state still owes the health department $600,000, which Hicks says could be paid back by December. She estimates that it could be at least a couple of years until her department can start thinking about adding to its services. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to her at the department's office in Danville.
The past six months have seen Vermilion County's Health Department reduced to providing just a handful of services.
The transition to a minimum federally-certified facility means the department now offers only immunizations, emergency planning, environmental health, and the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program. Wednesday was the last day for the retiring Administrator Steve Laker, who's seen his staff reduced from 74 to 30 since the start of the year due to dwindling state funds. The department is still owed $600,000, and still has to pay back Vermilion County for a $300,000 loan. It also started furlough days a month ago, operating Monday thru Thursday. Laker says walk-in clinics for sexually transmitted disease, and family planning programs will be missed the most. "That's going to have a devestating effect on people," said Laker. "As far as real economic effects and perhaps social and financial effects down the road, due to unwanted pregancies. I can't send out a memo saying 'folks, it's a good idea to cease your sexual activities because you no longer have access to family planning services. I know it's not going to work."
Laker says Aunt Martha's Health Center in Danville is expected to pick up about half of what his department provided for family planning. But the federally-funded facility's director of health operations, Alice Sartore, says no one should be turned away, despite the limits of federal grant dollars. "Because just as any other grant-funded services, we know that our grant never covers the cost of the services." said Sartore. "But our adminstration here at Aunt Martha's is really in tune with the needs of all of the communities in which we operate community health centers." Aunt Martha's is based in suburban Chicago, and operates 18 locations throughout the state. Laker says he's been frustrated that he can't find a phone number for the Danville office. Sartore says the facility offers a toll-free number for all its clients, and those appointments with new ones in Vermilion County will start up in about two weeks. That phone number is 1-877-692-8686.
Meanwhile, Vermilion County's Health Department has hired a new administrator to replace Laker. Shirley Hicks has been with the department since 1985.
A study of the spread of West Nile virus shows it has a new culprit.
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois says robins are unwittingly spreading the virus after being bitten by mosquitoes carrying it. Professor Jeff Brawn heads the U of I's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Unlike crows and jays, which die when they get the disease, he says some robins survive when bitten by an infected mosquito. And Brawn says that's a problem in urban environments. "They seem to be to amplify the virus in their bloodstream but they don't die from it at a real high rate," said Brawn. "So you've got a common bird that the mosquitoes prefer, and one that the virus seems to do very well in, too."
Brawn and a team of U of I researchers are tracking West Nile in Chicago's southwest suburbs. The group has been able to detect what mosquitoes have been feeding on through DNA samples. Brawn says if another mosquito bites a robin, the mosquito gets the virus and can then transmit it to another host, possibly another bird or human. He suggests wearing long sleeve shirts, minimizing outdoor time from dusk to dawn, and using insect repellent this summer to avoid the illness. "It's not like robins are the enemy, and if you see one, you're going to get West Nile virus," said Brawn. "It's just that robins are species that seems to be involved in kind of a epidemiology of the virus."
Brawn's study includes several institutions, including Michigan State and Emory University. It's funded by the National Science Foundation.
A former administrator and researcher at Carle Foundation Hospital has settled her lawsuit against the Urbana firm.
Suzanne Stratton was Carle's vice president for research and had worked on breast cancer at the hospital's Cancer Center before she was fired in November of 2008.
Stratton charged that Carle had violated federal whistleblower laws by retaliating against her. Stratton had brought up allegations that Carle violated laws protecting human research subjects in its cancer studies.
Last week a federal judge approved both sides' agreement to settle the lawsuit with prejudice - that means Stratton won't be able to file another case on the same claim.
Carle spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks Kauffman would not disclose any other terms of the agreement - in the suit, Stratton had sought to be reinstated and receive financial damages. Neither Stratton nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
A researcher at Mayo Clinic says a new collaboration with the University of Illinois will enable his facility to interpret the school's research.
The alliance impacting clinical research, bioengineering, and diagnostics has been in the works for about 18 months. Eric Wieben is Director of Mayo's Advanced Genomics Technology Center. He says the two entities complement one another well. For Wieben's line of work, he says DNA sequencing instruments are turning out more data each time they're used. Wieben says an institution like the U of I will improve care for patients by reading more than a billion letters of DNA code in one hour. "Mayo has a lot of patient information and samples that are in the queue for DNA sequencing," says Wieben. "The University of Illinois has world-renowned computing resources and the people who know how to use those to effectively make knowledge out of large amounts of data."
A Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U of I, Rashid Bashir, says the goal of an alliance between the two is improving individualized medicine. The partnership will focus on computer-based skills, like tissue engineering. Bashir says this partnership could result in facilities that detect different markers of disease by feeding data through a digital network. He says the two parties have already received about 30 requests from researchers to work on the project, but that number could be growing. "We really hope that it will be open to any and all researchers from the University of Illinois and any researchers and physicians from Mayo Clinic," said Bashir. "Some partnerships have already initiated and we hope many more will come. So it's really kind of an umbrella agreement that gets the two institutions to work together towards these grant challenges for health care."
Both the U of I and Mayo Clinic are placing some seed money into the alliance, but Bashir says the majority of the work will rely on federal grant applications. The U of I and Mayo Clinic will each put some seed funds for the project, but the collaborators will seek out federal grants for most of their research. Mayo Clinic has three campuses, operating in Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona.
Preliminary tests of a liquid spill near a railroad track in Danville show that residents there aren't at any health risk. Illinois' Environmental Protection Agency hopes to have more information at a public meeting in the city on Wednesday. But agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson says the first samples prove that the smell of the fatty acids used in industrial settings are the only problem so far. "We're fully aware that there are odors and the neighbors have experienced them, and this is a problem," says Carson. "Even though there's not a hazardous chemical involved, the odors affect the quality of life of the neigbhors."
The substance appeared to have come from Double-S Liquid Feed Service on North Bowman Avenue. Carson says some of it spilled as it was being off-loaded, and rain waters carried it into a ditch. She says the area isn't heavily populated, but enough people were adversely affected to call for the meeting. Carson says it's also not yet known how much of the liquid had spilled, but she says inspections of site show small quantities of the substance may have spilled before there. The EPA is working with Double-S and the city of Danville to clean up the site. Carson says if the problem proves to be severe, the EPA could call the Attorney General's office over possible fines or other penalties. The EPA's public meeting over the spill is Wednesday at 12:15 at the Danville Boys and Girls Club.
The Subway restaurant chain has issued an apology for a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 80 people across 26 Illinois counties.
As state health investigators continue working to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak, Subway corporate spokesman Kevin Kane said Wednesday the company was sorry for the problems.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says people began getting sick after eating in Subway restaurants beginning May 11.
Kane noted that all the cases cited by the health department are in people who ate at the restaurants before June 3. He said that since then, the chain has discarded and replaced lettuce, green peppers, red onion and tomatoes.
The 26 Illinois counties that were affected includes Champaign, Vermilion, DeWitt, McLean, Macon, Coles and Moultrie.
Officials investigating an outbreak of salmonella illness linked with Subway restaurants now report 48 cases in 18 Illinois counties, including Champaign, Macon, and Coles Counties. The Illinois Department of Public Health says everyone who got sick is recovering. Seventeen people were hospitalized. The department urges people who got sick after eating at Subway restaurants on or after May 10 to contact their health care provider or local health department. Last week, officials said illness had struck 34 people and involved restaurants in 14 counties.
The Carle Foundation is bringing more defendants into a lawsuit over the hospital's property tax status.
Carle has had to pay property taxes for several hospital buildings since 2002, when Champaign County and Cunningham Township officials ruled that Carle didn't provide enough charity care to be considered tax-exempt. The hospital appealed - that case is awaiting a ruling from state revenue officials. In the meantime, Carle sued the state, the county and the township claiming they improperly revoked Carle's tax exemption.
Now Carle's senior vice president for legal affairs, L.J. Fallon, says they've added the city of Urbana, the Urbana school district and the Urbana park district to the suit. He claims they should pay back their share of nearly $800,000 Carle agreed to put up in lieu of paying property taxes if Carle won its suit.
Fallon acknowledges this will put a crimp in talks over the tax exemption of several former Carle Clinic buildings - property that could also be taken off the tax rolls now that they're part of Carle Hospital under this year's merger.
"I can't imagine that the filing of this lawsuit -- although we tried to give them advance notice and prepare them -- I can't gauge whether or not they'll still want to have discussions about payment in lieu of taxes," said Fallon. "They, like us, probably want to see how this is going to resolve so that we can have some really meaningful discussions."
Earlier this year the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that another Urbana hospital, Provena Covenant Medical Center, was liable for property taxes. A Champaign County judge is set to hear Carle's latest motion Tuesday.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she was disappointed by Carle's decision to add defendants. Prussing contends that Carle never mentioned the concerns it outlined in the suit.
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