Illinois Public Media News
A dismal ranking of overall health in Vermilion County for the second straight year has prompted a call to action from the county's health department.
Department administrator Shirley Hicks says about 130 people in affected areas have been invited to a meeting Thursday morning at her offices. She notes a lot of the findings in the county's ranking of 98th place out of the state's 102 counties have nothing to do with her department, like unemployment and education levels.
But Hicks says Illinois' fiscal woes will just force her department to work that much harder with social service agencies, primary care providers and others to seek solutions.
"The state of the Illinois economic crisis is a player as part of all of this," said Hicks. "So I think it's going to take all disciplines to look at what part can we do, and how can we best utilize resources that we do have."
Hicks commends the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute for putting the findings together. She says the ranking for the county isn't nearly as important as the process researchers used to arrive at that figure.
"Any time you're looking at those reports, you're looking at where did the data come from, how did they ask the questions, so you can better understand the root cause of the problem," said Hicks. "I don't have any dispute with the actual data, it's really trying to dissect it down the the most common denominator and say 'how can we target our initiatives and our resources and pull those together to make an impact."
Hicks commends the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute for putting the findings together. Thursday's meeting at the Vermilion County Health Department is expected to include primary care providers, social service agencies, law enforcement, hospitals, and members of the Vermilion County Board.
Trace amounts of radiation from Japan have shown up in Illinois, but state officials say there's no reason for concern.
Minute levels of radioactive materials have been detected in both northern and central Illinois. The state's Emergency Management Agency says radioactive iodine was found in grass clippings in Will County and in an air sample collected at a lab in Springfield.
The materials are believed to be related to the troubled nuclear reactors in Japan, but Illinois' Director Jonathon Monken says the levels are extremely low and present no danger. For example, the air sample is 200,000 times lower than what is allowed for nuclear plant effluent.
Traces of iodine have shown up in other states. In Illinois, the state has stepped up its monitoring of grass, air, milk and eggs in the wake of the Japan crisis.
Both houses of the Indiana Legislature have now approved bills that would restrict access to abortions.
The Indiana House voted 72-23 on Wednesday to require that women seeking an abortion be told that human life begins at conception and ban the procedure after 20 weeks unless the woman's life is in danger.
The bill also requires those seeking abortions to be told in writing that they faced a greater risk of infertility and breast cancer.
Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero says it's the responsibility of lawmakers to protect the unborn and that he hoped the additional requirements would lead to fewer abortions.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which last month approved a bill with many of the same provisions.
The CEO of Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. now says a letter he wrote to Gov. Pat Quinn complaining about the state's business climate was never intended as a threat to move the Fortune 500 manufacturer out of Illinois.
Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said Wednesday in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington that news reports about the letter sensationalized his statements about the state's business climate.
According to a copy of the speech, Oberhelman said he'd like to invest further in Illinois. But he said Illinois lawmakers have created an unfriendly business environment.
Lee Enterprises' Springfield bureau reports Oberhlman says in the letter that the company had been courted by other states and while he'd like to stay he also had to "do what's right" for the company.
A second annual ranking of the overall health of each of Illinois' 102 counties shows a mixed bag of results for East Central Illinois.
The annual report of County Health Rankings serves as a kind of 'check up' on how people in Illinois live, according to 28 different factors. Vermilion County ranked among the worst, finishing 98th, but Piatt County finished 15th, McLean County was 13th, Ford County ranked 11th, and Champaign County finished in 34th place.
The report was put together by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute to show counties where they can improve. Julie Willems Van Dijk is an Associate Scientist with the Institute.
"We want to be able to describe those things you can change," she said. "Because you can change your economic environment. You can work to attract new businesses to locate in your community. You can work to support your schools to have higher graduation rates. You can work to make your community more accessible for people who want to walk and bike."
Each report starts with health factors among residents, like the rate of premature death and the number of those in poor physical and mental health. They include social and economic factors like the number of uninsured adults, and the high school graduation rate. It also relies on physical features, like a county's quality of air and access to healthy foods. Van Dijk says the report is also intended to inspire local leaders to help themselves.
"When those leaders get together from different areas, they can talk about what resources are already available in your community, and how they might use them even better than they are now," she said. "Because we all know budgets are tight, and we're living in tough economic times. So it's really important that we use the resources we have to the best of our ability."
The majority of higher-ranking counties are in the north and west, including Jo Daviess, Lake, and McDonough, while the many of the lowest-ranked counties are in the south, including Marion and Alexander counties. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is providing grants for up to 14 communities in the U.S. seeking to improve their overall health.
The Superintendent of Champaign's school district is a finalist for the top job at a school district in Georgia.
A website with the DeKalb County School System, located in metropolitan Atlanta, confirms that Unit 4 Superintendent Arthur Culver is one of three finalists for superintendent there. And another one of the finalists is Gloria Davis, the Superintendent of Decatur Public Schools.
The third candidate is the superintendent at a district in Hickory, North Carolina. The three are scheduled to speak in a DeKalb schools public forum Thursday night. The district has more than 100,000 students and nearly 150 schools and centers.
The only known signed photo of Jesse James, the notorious outlaw from Missouri, will go to auction next week in Chicago.
The photo shows James with slicked back hair and gazing away from the camera at an angle. It's signed J.W. James. (His middle name was Woodson).
Mary Williams with Leslie Hindman Auctioneers says she was skeptical until she saw the signature first-hand and noted its similarity to a letter James is said to have signed.
"It's incredibly similar to an item being offered by History for Sale. It's a two-page letter from Jesse James where he signs on the front with his full name, Jesse James, and on the back he signs J.W. James like on our photograph, and the two are extremely similar," Williams said.
The photo is expected to sell at the auction next Tuesday for at least $20,000.
Not everyone is sold on its authenticity.
Gary Chilcote, the director of the Jesse James Home Museum in St. Joseph, says the outlaw rarely signed anything, because there was a reward on his head.
"What do we compare it with? That's the problem in determining the authenticity of a signature," Chilcote said. "You have to have something to compare it with that you know is correct, and it's pinning that down that is the hard part."
Chilcote says a letter James signed under the pseudonym Thomas Howard was sold several years ago.
Jesse James was shot in his home on April 3, 1882 at the age of 34.
(Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)
A national anti-abortion campaign targeting African Americans has arrived in Chicago.
Thirty billboards are going up around the city's South Side. They say: "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted." Next to the words is a picture of President Barack Obama.
Stephen Broden is with Life Always, the organization behind the anti-abortion campaign, which launched at 58th and State Street.
"The scourge of abortion has hidden behind political correctness in the black community for too long. The heinous practice is devastating and decimating our community across this nation," Broden said.
Life Always organizers said too many black women have abortions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women account for 34 percent of abortions. The CDC says black women have the highest abortion rates. White women account for 37 percent of abortions. The Illinois Department of Public Health does not report the racial breakdowns of women who seek abortion.
A dozen black women showed up at the billboard's unveiling, chanting that black mothers have the right to make choices about their bodies. Critics also say the billboards are racist and shame black women.
In a statement, Gaylon Alcaraz, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, said "It's clear those who fight abortion against reproductive choice for women of color know nothing of why women choose abortion. Rather than create fake concern for a community these people have never set foot in, Life Always should spend their energies helping us address the reasons why women decide to choose abortion."
Life Always has been met with controversy since it kicked off its campaign last month in New York City. The group is also targeting Planned Parenthood for offering abortions in black communities. Planned Parenthood officials say fewer than 10 percent of its services are abortion; the other 90 percent are preventative services, including cancer screenings and STD testing/treatment.
(Photo by Natalie Moore/IPR)
Rahm Emanuel and Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday they could cut costs by possibly merging parts of their governments. The new Chicago mayor-elect and the new-ish Cook County board president stood before cameras to work in the buzz words of the day: collaboration, streamlining, coordination.
"To continue to operate in separate silos, or to provide duplicative services - that's no longer a responsible option," Preckwinkle said.
"Just because it was done like that for 30 or 40 years does not mean we can afford to keep doing it like that for the next three or four years," Emanuel said.
Possible topics for change include criminal justice (the city has police, but the county runs the jail and courts), elections (the city runs Chicago polling places, the county runs suburban ones) and healthcare.
"Both the county and the city have clinics, for example," Preckwinkle said. "And so the discussions have begun about how we can more effectively deliver service at least cost."
Preckwinkle and Emanuel picked six-people to look into these issues, though none has a professional background in healthcare. Emanuel defends the committee, saying the members - including Ald. Pat Dowell and Cook County Cmsr. John Firtchey - have a broad range of experiences.
(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
The Illinois House wants to lift the ban on smoking at riverboat casinos that border states where smoking is allowed.
The bill passed 62-52 Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Daniel Burke said he sponsored the measure because Illinois is losing business to states that allow smoking at casinos. The Chicago Democrat claims casinos have lost $800 million since 2008 because gamblers go to Iowa, Indiana or Missouri casinos.
Burke says casinos have improved air filtration systems, reducing the health concerns from smoking.
Supporters of the smoking ban say it's unfair to subject gamblers and casino employees to second-hand smoke.
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