Illinois Public Media News
Local health care advocates hope a plan to create Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system results in greater financial assistance for the low-income.
There was little opposition in a state hearing in Urbana Wednesday, and another held the same day in Danville, over the planned merger between Provena hospitals and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.
Those who backed the move during Urbana's 90-minute hearing included Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, and members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said its partnership with Provena Covenant Medical Center has helped low-income patients with medical expenses, and that a new charity care program would emerge, based on the best of both hospital systems, if the merger is approved.
But John Hilty of Urbana was concerned that a larger hospital system makes it less responsive to a community's needs.
"It seems to me that smaller organizations are easier to manage and tend to be more responsive to local communities, rather than large organizations, where the decision making is less personal and less attuned to a particular city or location," he said.
Hilty also said a larger hospital system doesn't necessarily result in less costly medical bills.
Provena Covenant Medical Center lost its property tax exemption in 2004, when the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled the hospital didn't provide enough charity care. The President and CEO of its hospitals in Urbana and Danville, Michael Brown, said Provena Covenant has proved many times since then that the hospital is a community partner. He said the level of charity care should improve with the merger. Brown said the move will produce savings from controlling purchasing prices to office functions.
"When you look at the tsunami that's in front of us as being able to take care of people with the 10,000 people a day eligible to join the Medicare ranks," he said. "There are not enough people in the following two generations to pay for that. So we have to do this a different way. And being able to merge these together and to leverage the resources gives us an opportunity to at least meet that need."
The proposed merger also got letters of endorsement from Champaign State Senator Mike Frerichs and Champaign Mayor Don Gerard.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the merger in October.
IBM has returned $30 million to the University of Illinois that was meant to be used for the Blue Waters supercomputer project.
The technology company announced last week that it would withdraw from the project because of apparent cost and technical concerns. The University of Illinois will give the $30 million back to the National Science Foundation, which is supporting the project. John Melchi, the senior associate director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, said that money will continue to be used as part of the Blue Waters project.
"We believe that this machine will be one of the first of its kind, and by that I mean one of the first to provide sustained-petascale performance on a broad range of applications," Melchi said.
Melchi said NCSA is searching for a new vendor, but he wouldn't say when that search is expected to wrap up. He said the Blue Waters supercomputer should be operational by fall 2012.
President Barack Obama says it likely will be another year to 18 months before home prices start rising again and sales start to pick up.
But he says the federal government can't accomplish that alone, and will need support from the banking industry and others to make sure the market pulls out of its slump.
Obama provided no support for his prediction. His comments Wednesday came in response to questioner at a town hall in Atkinson, Ill.
The president ventured from Iowa into politically familiar territory as he wrapped up a three-state tour through the cornfields, towns and cities of the Midwest. He was holding a second town hall meeing Wednesday afternoon in Alpha, Illinois and was scheduled to meet with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn later in the day.
Dozens of people lined up early Wednesday morning to see President Barack Obama at the first of two town hall-style meetings in rural Henry County.
Supporters Jean Causemaker and Mary Kay Franks were determined to see President Obama when they found out he'd be in town Wednesday. A handful of people without tickets gathered across the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama's bus.
The three-day bus tour is part of an effort by Obama to command attention just after Republican presidential candidates dominated the news with a debate and straw poll in Iowa. He has used the trip to criticize his presidential and congressional opponents and to outline modest economic proposals in advance of Congress' return to Washington next month.
After his stop in Illinois, President Obama will return to Washington to begin a 10-day vacation.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The operator of Champaign-Urbana's only movie theater specializing in art and foreign films says he's gotten a positive response from his proposal to convert the business into a co-op.
Sanford Hess hosted a public meeting about his plans at the Art Theater in downtown Champaign on Aug. 14. He said the 40 people attending were receptive to the co-op concept --- largely due to its successful use by the Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana.
"So people have latched on," Hess said. "Many people were very nervous that I was going to stand up there and say, 'OK I'm leaving and the Art's going to shut down.' And I think that people, sort of in a sigh of relief, are lining up to support the cooperative, because I think they understand that this is the best-case scenario for having the Art continue to be in business.
Hess said that with guidance from Common Ground board chairman Ben Galewsky, he hopes to form a board of directors to oversee the conversion of the Art Theater to a co-op. He said he believes raising money from co-op members is the best way to ensure the Art's long-term survival --- plus the short-term expense of industry-mandated digital projection upgrades costing at least $70,000.
"Like in the next couple of months, some specific decisions need to be made," Hess said. "The whole point of the cooperative is that it would not necessarily be me, Sanford Hess, making these decisions. It would be the cooperative making these decisions. So we need to form it as an entity, have a board appointed, so we can start actually locking stuff down and making plans."
The Art Theater opened in downtown Champaign as the Park Theater in 1913. In 1958, it became the Art Theater, specializing in foreign and art films. It's continued that policy since then, except for a period in the 1970s and '80s when it ran X-rated movies. Hess says he's committed to operating the theater at least through 2012, when his lease expires.
The League of Women Voters of Illinois is asking a federal court to order a big change in the highly political, once-a-decade redistricting process. It's the latest suit tied to Illinois' new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.
The League last year tried to change how Illinois draws the boundaries, but its petition drive to get a proposal on the ballot came up short. Now the group is asking the courts to get involved.
In its lawsuit, the League claims its members' First Amendment rights were violated when Democratic leaders took into account party identification while drawing the maps. The lawsuit says this "unlawfully attempt[s] to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear or receive."
Illinois Republicans, who have a lot to lose if the Democratic-drawn maps stand, have also asked the courts to get involved.
But the League's lawsuit notes both parties have engaged in partisan gerrymandering in the past and wants the court to order a new process driven by "impartial" decision-makers.
But the League's president, Jan Dorner, acknowledged on that such a change may not be possible before next year's election.
The body of a 29-year-old Chicagoan killed at the Indiana State Fair when a stage collapsed last Saturday night will be released to a family member and buried later this week in New York City.
An official with the Marion County, Indiana coroner's office said an aunt of Christina Santiago will be given the body.
Santiago had been at the state fair to watch a concert put on by the country band, Sugarland. Santiago was accompanied by her domestic partner, Alisha Brennon.
A fierce storm with strong winds reaching 70 mph toppled the stage just moments before Sugarland walked on stage.
Santiago was among the five victims who died following the stage's collapse. Brennon, who was critically injured during the incident, was listed in fair condition in the intensive care unit at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis as of Tuesday afternoon, according to a hospital spokesman. Dozens more people were also injured Saturday. Several remain in hospitals in the Indianapolis area.
Santiago, a native of the Bronx, was the manager for the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago.
According to the center's website, a service will be held in New York on Thursday. She will be buried at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx this Friday.
The Bilerico Project, a Washington, DC -based website featuring news about the lesbian and gay community, created controversy Tuesday after it reported that Brennon had tried to claim Santiago's body from the Marion County Coroner's Office, but the office "refused" to release the body to her. The website cited Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act as the reason for the denial.
The implication was that Brennon and Santiago's relationship, which is protected by Illinois' domestic partnership law, was not being honored by Indiana officials. Indiana law prohibits same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. Backers of that law also aim to solidify that rule in the state's constitution.
The Bilerico piece has made the rounds across the Internet, but according to a top coroner official in the office, "there was no issue."
"The wife (Brennon) never contacted us to claim the body so she was never denied that opportunity," said Alfarea Ballew, chief deputy coroner of the Marion County Coroner's Office. "The wife is still hospitalized. We're working with the friends and aunt (of Santiago) to release the body. I've never talked to anybody denying the wife that opportunity."
In an interview with Chicago Public Media on Tuesday afternoon, Ballew said the office has never encountered a situation involving the spouse claiming a body of a same-sex loved one.
"Still," Ballew said, "I'm surprised it's being put out that way. That's not how we would address that kind of issue. We release the body to the next of kin. Christina's aunt was listed as the next of kin. The aunt signed off on paperwork and everything is moving forward with the wife."
The Howard Brown Health Center released a statement Tuesday: "Howard Brown Health Center is working with Amigas Latinas as well as friends and family of Christina and Alisha to host a memorial service in Chicago. As so many of us grieve this tragic and sudden loss, let us patiently and respectfully await the wishes of Christina's family, that of Alisha and all of their friends and loved ones to finalize arrangements in privacy."
An ongoing investigation will address questions about whether fair and concert officials should have taken action to evacuate the outdoor venue sooner. One issue is whether staff should have heeded storm warnings that came in at least an hour prior to the concert.
The Indiana State Fair reopened to the public Monday following a memorial service lead by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Fair officials announced that scheduled concerts featuring Janet Jackson and Lady Antebellum were canceled because the main stage area where the incident happened will not be used for the remainder of the fair, which runs through Sunday.
A concert featuring Train and Maroon 5 set for Thursday will be moved from the fairgrounds to Conseco Fieldhouse. Proceeds from those performances will help the victims.
Meanwhile, Sugarland announced it will soon hold a private memorial in Indianapolis to honor the fans.
Sugarland canceled an appearance in Iowa this week but will resume its tour with a concert Thursday in Albuquerque.
"The emotions have us yearning to be close to each other immediately. The logistics have us needing to replace all of our instruments and equipment," the band stated on its web site. "The set is a loss that is insignificant in light of the tragedy."
Singer Sara Bareilles, who performed on the stage just before it collapsed, released a statement: "The accident at the Indiana State Fair felt like a bad dream. My heart aches for the lives lost or injured as well as their families. We will do whatever we possibly can to help heal the hurt from this very sad day.
A former Chicago police commander imprisoned for lying about the torture of suspects decades ago is still costing the cash-strapped city money.
That's because Chicago is defending itself and former police Lt. Jon Burge against civil lawsuits from men who claim Burge and his men beat, suffocated and shocked confessions out of them.
Six lawsuits are pending that accuse Chicago officers of torturing suspects _ almost all of them black or Latino_ into giving confessions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The city's stance has long been that it would defend itself vigorously against any such lawsuits. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times for a story published Tuesday that he's working toward settling them.
Burge-related cases already have cost the city an estimated $43 million.
The Illinois Department of Revenue has denied property tax exemptions to hospitals in Decatur, Chicago, and Naperville in a move that signals the state's plans to get tough on nonprofit hospitals that operate more like businesses than charities.
At stake are millions of dollars in tax revenue that the hospitals could contribute to cities, parks and schools.
Revenue Department officials tell The Associated Press that the hospitals were informed today. The three are: Decatur Memorial Hospital in Decatur, Northwestern Memorial's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago, and Edward Hospital in Naperville.
The hospitals can ask an administrative law judge to review the decisions.
Illinois' Supreme Court ruled last year that Urbana-based Provena Covenant Medical Center wasn't doing enough free or discounted treatment of the poor to qualify for a tax exemption.
A legislative panel has voted 8-1 to authorize the state to negotiate health insurance contract extensions through the end of June 2012.
All vendors providing health insurance coverage for state workers, including Urbana-based Health Alliance, will be able to negotiate nine-month extensions following Tuesday's decision by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). State Senator and COGFA member Mike Frerichs said the extension should provide relief for a lot of people.
"I think for now the legislature has done its part," Frerichs said. "It's now up to the health insurance providers, and the (Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services) to work out the terms of the deal."
Orland Park House Democrat Kevin McCarthy cast the only dissenting vote.
The state health contracts have been operating for the last few months under a 90-day extension that is due to expire at the end of September. A state appellate court recently upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health contracts for state employees and retirees. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year.
"We are very happy to been given the opportunity to negotiate a longer-term contract to continue serving state workers and their families," Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum said in a statement. "Every day we receive calls from our state members wanting to know if they'll be able to stay with Health Alliance."
But insurers may not get a rate increase from the state over what they're getting currently. In addressing the panel Tuesday, Ingrum compared his provider's rates with that of another provider.
"We are looking at the rate increase and just seeing in this environment to extend a rate from FY 11 to a full year," he said. "If that would be the ultimate terms, it would be a bit unreasonable given the fact that Blue Cross (Blue Shield) got an increase."
Print reports indicate Ingrum is seeking a rate hike of around 5-percent. A company spokeswoman, Jane Hayes, said she understands the state's needs to save money by dropping Health Alliance. However, she said she has a great deal of confidence that Health Alliance will be able to reach a deal with the state.
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) praised the vote by COGFA.
"Finally, thousands of central Illinoisans can breathe a sigh of relief," Cultra said in a statement. "We must fix the current process now, so we are not sitting here next May without a permanent solution in place for the 100,000 state workers and retirees who have faced this uncertainty since this process began."
The state is scheduled to argue before a Sangamon County judge later this week to argue whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current health insurance contract. However, Sen. Frerichs said Gov. Quinn's office recently filed a motion to dismiss that case.
A convicted influence peddler remains on track to be sentenced weeks after his one-time benefactor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Prosecutors said at a status hearing Tuesday that they want to stick with an Oct. 21 sentencing date for Tony Rezko.
The government has portrayed Rezko as the ultimate insider who pulled strings in Blagojevich's administration.
A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from businessmen eager to land state contracts.
The 56-year-old appeared at Tuesday's hearing in jail clothes and chains binding his ankles. He smiled weakly and waived at relatives on courtroom benches.
Jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption in June. His sentencing date is Oct. 6.
Rezko's sentencing was repeatedly delayed to leave the possibility he could testify at Blagojevich's trial. But the government never called him.
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