Illinois Public Media News
The confusion in the wake of Hurricane Katrina four years ago included serious problems evacuating and caring for society's most vulnerable people.
Hospitals and nursing homes were thrown into chaos, and in some cases patients died for reasons that could have been avoided. The Illinois College of Emergency Physicians held a seminar Friday in Urbana to address the problem of moving people in health care facilities, psychiatric hospitals or group homes. Doctor Moses Lee, the medical director for the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team, said "I think many people have seen from Katrina all the difficulties of transporting patients out of a hospital and stabilizing them and figuring out how to place them. So there have been a lot of requests from our audiences over the years that they want to learn more about this dilemma and this challenge. There are not a lot of answers out there, but there are a lot of great people thinking about it."
Lee says many Illinois responders went to Louisiana to help care for Katrina patients in 2005 - but he says Illinois has also seen the potential for such emergencies with special needs populations, such as during last spring's Mississippi River flooding.
A hand recount of ballots Thursday confirmed Dale Munds' one-vote re-election as mayor of Bondville.
The losing candidate, former mayor Karl Kennicker, had requested the recount. "I was worried about the three under-votes," said Kennicker. "There was three people who didn't vote for either one of us for mayor. I wanted to see if by mistake, someone had circled it or put an X through the box, instead of filling in the oval."
But the Champaign County Clerk's blog reported Thursday that the hand recount of ballots showed the same result as the April 7th county by computer --- 47 votes for Munds, 46 votes for Kennicker and three ballots with no votes for mayor.
Kennicker served as mayor of Bondville for 12 years before losing to Munds in 2003. He says he now considers the election settled ... and hasn't decided if he'll seek office again in the future.
Meanwhile, the county clerk's office scheduled another discovery recount for Friday morning, May 1st, at 8:30. Lynn Stuckey requested a recount in the Champaign School Board election, after losing by two votes to Stig Lanesskog.
Illinois health officials say the number of probable H1N1 or swine flu cases in the state has more than doubled to 41.
The numbers released Thursday night are all located in northern Illinois, including 16 in Chicago and 11 in Cook County.
The others are seven in Kane County, three in Will County, two in DuPage County, and one each in McHenry County and Lake County.
The cases are called "probable'' because they haven't yet been confirmed by federal testing.
The outbreak of the new virus strain is suspected of causing 168 deaths in Mexico. One death has been confirmed in the United States. In most confirmed U.S. cases, the patients are recovering.
Seven University of Illinois students have been given the option of coming home or staying in Mexico for the rest of their study-abroad programs.
The assistant director of the U of I's study-abroad office, Erika Ryser, says there isn't much for the students to do since the swine flu outbreak started making headlines last week.
"Their Universities have canceled classes through May 6 -- it's a national move," Ryser said. "So they're all kind of staying put in their housing -- most of them are with host families -- except for those who've made arrangements to come home."
Ryser says the study-abroad office is monitoring health and government websites and working with a network of other university offices to inform their students and determine what to do about summer programs in Mexico. She says two of the seven spring-semester students have opted to return to the United States.
The head of the Illinois Department of Public Health says the state has logged nine probable cases of swine flu, all in northern Illinois.
Dr. Damon Arnold says five of the probable cases are in Chicago, while two are in Kane County and single cases are being reported in both Lake and DuPage counties. The people diagnosed range in age from 2 to 57.
Arnold says all of the cases so far have been mild and nobody has been hospitalized.
Arnold appeared at a news conference Wednesday called in the wake of Chicago's decision to close an elementary school after one student there was found to have a probable case of swine flu.
Arnold, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Gov. Pat Quinn and other officials all stressed that the state is working hard to prevent further illnesses.
Any future development at the old Burnham Hospital site in Champaign will be done without its original developer. Highland Park-based Pickus Companies is withdrawing from future phases of development at the site where it's already built a high-rise apartment building and supermarket.
The Champaign City Council deadlocked last week on a proposal to open the later phases of development at the Burnham site to other bidders. Several council members were unhappy with the Pickus Companies over delays in finishing the the Burnham 310 building, and delays in paying local subcontractors. A second vote to settle the question was expected last night. But city attorney Fred Stavens told the council that Pickus had decided to withdraw from the development of the rest of the Burnham property entirely.
That's fine with Councilman Tom Bruno, who says he likes the 18-story Burnham 310 building, but not the way Pickus does business. "Their delay in paying local subcontractors for the work that they did is inexcusable," said Bruno. "And I was very reluctant to enter any additional agreements with them."
Deputy City Manager for Development Craig Rost says the city will now likely seek bidders from other firms for residential development on the remaining city-owned lots on the Burnham site. But he doesn't expect any actual construction to start until 2011 at the earliest, due to the economy.
Christie Clinic has joined Carle Clinic in agreeing to increase the number of Medicaid patients it accepts for treatment.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the two Champaign-Urbana medical clinics two years ago - claiming they conspired illegally to stop accepting new Medicaid patients. Carle settled with the state last December. And late yesterday (Monday), the attorney general's office announced Christie had done the same.
Under the settlement, Christie Clinic will increase the number of Medicaid patients it takes in for primary health care to 85-hundred over the next three years. And those patients can't be turned away for existing medical debt for a four-year period prior to the state's lawsuit --- that's when the attorney general says qualified Medicaid patients were turned away. Christie will also make payments to Frances Nelson Health Center and the Champaign Urbana Public Health District to help pay for medical and dental care for low-income patients.
Christie spokeswoman Karen Blatzer denies that happened, and she said the suit was settled to curb costs. "We don't want the perception to be that we are guilty. But we feel that it is more important to provide the health care our community needs, and being involved in this lawsuit was expensive and very distracting," Blatzer said.
Blatzer did not know how much the additional Medicaid patient load would cost Christie. The clinic has agreed to increase its Medicaid patient rolls to 85-hundred by 2012.
Blatzer says the payments to Frances Nelson Health Center and the Champaign Urbana Public Health District equal when Christie has given to them in the past.
Champaign City Finance Director Richard Schnuer says it's the toughest budget he's ever worked on. But Schnuer says the 109-million dollar budget plan to be presented to the City Council Tuesday night is balanced, thanks in part to 2-point-5 million dollars in cuts to recurrent spending items.
To make the cuts, the Champaign budget plan calls for doing away with 25 fulltime city jobs over the next few years. Schnuer says most of the positions are currently vacant or expected to become vacant due to staff turnover. "We selected those that would have the least impact on services," says Schnuer. "I want the public to be very assured that when they call 911, 911 will dispatch police and firefighters who will come as quickly as usual."
The budget plan also projects a million dollars in new revenue due to new or increased city fees. And it reallocates money between various city funds, to pay for increased pension funding and other items.
Schnuer says the budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1st is part of a multi-year strategy to deal with decreasing city tax revenue, due to the recession. The Champaign City Council will work on the budget during study sessions in May --- with a public hearing set for May 19th. Final council passage is set for June 2nd.
Local health departments are keeping an eye out for the potential of a flu outbreak, but they've been planning for such an occasion for years.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District director Julie Pryde says even though there have been no reported cases of swine flu in Illinois, there are some common sense measures you should be following, whether or not there's an outbreak. One is to stay home from work or school if you're sick.
"If you have a fever, stay home, contact your doctor or your health care provider," Pryde said. "Don't go around other people when you are sick. That's good public health practice in general, but it's especially important during a time where there is a potential for a pandemic outbreak."
The health district has been promoting a "Stock Two for Flu" campaign for the past few years - it asks shoppers to buy one or two extra food items or other personal needs to keep in stock at home in case a flu pandemic keeps them at home. But she stresses that there's no need to fear or panic over the potential.
School officials are trying to spread the word that cleanliness is also important in keeping influenza at bay - principals in Champaign Unit 4 are being asked to make sure their students are regularly washing their hands.
Illinois public health officials say swine flu has yet to show up in the state, but it will eventually.
Doctor Damon Arnold, the state's public health director, says his agency is closely monitoring the situation....
"The department and its public health partners including local health departments, hospitals and emergency departments are on full alert to watch for possible cases," Arnold said. "We are prepared to act swiftly to assure early detection and warning and to respond in the event of a case or cases are identified to limit its spread within the state."
The swine flu has proven deadly in Mexico... but the cases in the U-S have so far been milder. Arnold says the state has been planning for a pandemic event over the past few years, and says a 2006 training exercise focused on what the state would do if a similar flu outbreak occurred. He says the public should go about normal routines, but those who are feeling ill should stay home.
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