Preservation architecture adapts to difficult times

Posted in Print on August 29th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – 1 Comment

By Lisa Owad
-Aug. 10, 2010-

A recent exhibit by Chicago Women in Architecture at the A.J. Kane Gallery downtown might have perfectly portrayed the current state of American architecture – bleak.

“Architects Doing Other Things” featured 30 architects who started exploring new fields when their workflow slowed. One architect volunteered at a musical summer camp for girls. Another started baking French pastries.

For architects and developers working in preservation, survival in the current economic landscape depends on adaptation.

Survival of the fittest

“We started seeing an effect right in the beginning of 2009,” said Bob Score, an architect with Harboe Architects, a firm that specializes in restoration and preservation. “We may have seen it later than some because we had some larger projects carrying over.”

“The preservation movement has held up better than new construction and development,” said Walker Johnson, the principal architect with Chicago-based Johnson-Lasky Architects. “Typically, the client and owner is an institution and they may have some money. We’re working presently on three buildings at the University of Illinois in Urbana.”

While the industry struggles to stay afloat, firms that engineer the preservation of Chicago’s numerous historical buildings are realizing that their specialization may be their strongest asset.

“We have just gotten a new job,” Johnson said, “the biggest one we’ve had, at the University of Illinois library. That’s about a $3.5 million project.”

That’s not to say that preservation architects have an abundance of work. “We had someone leave,” Score said, “and we didn’t replace them. But we haven’t had to lay anyone off.”

Harboe Architects, one of the pre-eminent firms in the Chicago preservation field, has 12 projects at the moment. But, they’ve been more difficult to come by.

“When the economy slows, it becomes very competitive,” Score said. “Overall, there’s less money for construction as a whole. Not as many projects, and the ones out there have a lot more competition.”

Firms that don’t specialize in preservation are competing with the specialists in an attempt to stay afloat.

“They’ll try to put their oar in and hope they get the work,” Johnson said. “But if the client is halfway astute, that doesn’t happen. Conversely, we put our oar in for development projects as well.”

Johnson-Lasky, which was formed in 1992, works in design and planning, as well as preservation.

“Guys that did only development work,” Johnson said, “or only housing, they’re really hurting.”

Paying the bills

Even in difficult economic times, preservation projects might have an easier time getting funding than new developments.

“For smaller clients like religious institutions and museums,” Score said, “they often get grant funding from the state or nonprofit organizations for studies or smaller components. Some of our larger projects have other funding sources, like TIF (Tax Increment Financing).”

Harboe Architects’ current restoration of the cast-iron facade on Louis Sullivan’s historic Carson, Pirie Scott Building is one such project.

“The cast-iron was completely funded by tax credits and TIF,” Score said. “That’s unusual, particularly for a project of that magnitude.”

Money from government agencies has helped keep preservation work afloat – for now.

“Most of our large development projects are taking advantage of some sort of financial incentive,” Score said, “whether TIF or tax incentive.” He estimated that privately funded projects comprised only 15 percent of Harboe’s work.

But even public money is starting to disappear. Johnson-Lasky recently completed several projects for the U.S. navy but doesn’t expect to see any more soon.

“They’ve run out of money,” Johnson said.

With public funds running out, two options remain: private financing and fundraising. This is where the recession catches up to preservationists.

“Private developers don’t have the resources right now,” Score said.

Developing Woes

One casualty of the recession is the planned renovation of Chicago’s Schulze Bakery building, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Designed by John Ahlschlager & Sons and built in 1913-14, the bakery occupies an otherwise vacant lot at 40 E. Garfield Blvd. in Washington Park.

Ghian Foreman of Maktub Development and his partners bought the historic building for $3.1 million with the intent of creating jobs and revitalizing an area plagued by vacant lots.

“It’s a beautiful, iconic building,” he said. “It seemed like it could be an anchor to rehabilitate the area.”

Maktub planned to repurpose the building as a mixed-use structure with 88 apartments and 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of commercial space, according to Foreman. They brought in a Cleveland-based development and management firm that specializes in historic renovation, The Ferchill Group, to help preserve the historic structure.

“We bought the building with cash in late 2006,” Foreman said, “thinking we could refinance. Well, early 2007 is when everything fell apart. So we couldn’t get a loan.”

In 2006, the building was appraised at $4.8 million, according to Foreman. Three years later, in September 2009, that amount had risen to $5.8 million. But by July 2010, the building’s value had dropped to $4 million.

“We needed to finance about 40 percent of the debt,” Foreman said. “Two or three years ago people were financing 90 percent of their debt.”

With no way to fund the restoration, Foreman was forced to change tactics.

“We looked at new markets, historic tax credits, TIF and low-income market credits,” Foreman said. The project received nearly $5 million from the Illinois Neighborhood Stabilization Program, but even that didn’t help. The funds have taken so long to reach Maktub that they’ve started to explore other options. And more options mean more complications.

“It’s hard to walk away from $5 million,” Foreman said, “but waiting for that $5 million has held us up for over a year.”

Now Foreman and his partners are hoping to find a tenant for the building. But with the building’s drop in assessed value, investors are hesitant to commit.

“A tenant will help us get this financed,” Foreman explained. “Then the other things will fall in place.”

A blessing in disguise?

The lack of available financing for developers isn’t all bad news for preservationists though.

“In a way, the bad economy tends to be as good for preservation as it is bad,” said Lisa DiChiera, the Director of Advocacy at Landmarks Illinois, an organization dedicated to preserving architectural history.

“Teardowns had become such an epidemic,” she explained. “You don’t see that happening quite as much. People just don’t have the money to buy an existing building, tear it down and build a new one.”

But that doesn’t mean they are eager to invest in preservation. At the historic Ragdale house in Lake Forest, board members are in the midst of a fundraising campaign to renovate the 1897 home designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw. Johnson-Lasky Architects has been working on the project for nearly three years now.

“Ten years ago [Ragdale] had been in quite a bit of disrepair,” said Eric Thompson, Director of Development at the Ragdale House. “It wasn’t up to code for the city of Lake Forest.”

Thompson estimates the entire marketing campaign will take three to four years, but they have had to lower their expectations during the recession.

“You set an achievable goal, you achieve it and then you exceed it,” Thompson said.

The board estimates they need $3 million for the entire project and has managed to meet their first goal of $1 million in a year. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing.

“People are taking longer to make decisions,” Thompson said. “So that’s really stretching the timeline. But in our campaign that shouldn’t make that big of a difference because we went with a smaller campaign goal that was more feasible.”

Changing tactics to fund a preservation project isn’t unusual. In fact, it may be the one way to ensure success, according to Landmarks Illinois.

“One thing that’s getting funded these days is green initiatives,” DiChiera said. “A lot of people don’t equate historic preservation with being green, which it innately is. It’s continually frustrating.”

Frustrating it may be, but gaining funding for a green project still means work in the long run. With little work on the immediate horizon, more work in the long run is well worth pursuing.

Interpreting a passion for Frank Lloyd Wright

Posted in Print on August 29th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

By Lisa Owad
-July 20, 2010-

Katherine Braz claims she isn’t an expert.

“I’m an enthusiast,” she explains.

Braz leads tours at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House on the University of Chicago’s campus in Hyde Park. If you are lucky enough to take one of her tours, that clarification is one of the first things you’ll hear.

“By saying I’m an enthusiast, I hope it conveys my interest and my passion, but also that I’m still learning,” she says. “I’m still exploring.”

Braz, who goes by “Kat,” is one of the 800 volunteers at the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. The nonprofit organization manages the Frederick C. Robie House and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Ill. Both museums are National Historic Landmarks.

A graphic designer during the week, Braz spends her weekends leading tours at the Robie House and Samara, a Wright home known as the John E. Christian House, in West Lafayette, Ind. She has worked at the Robie house since 2007.

“The first Frank Lloyd Wright structure I ever saw was the Robie House,” Braz says. “I think that was in 1999 or 2000. So the Robie House does have a little personal meaning for me.”

The 30‐year‐old Wright enthusiast doesn’t have an architecture background. She recently finished an undergraduate degree in graphic design at Purdue University to compliment her Bachelor of Liberal Arts degrees in sociology and theatrical lighting design.

“My husband claims that I didn’t know who Frank Lloyd Wright was, that I didn’t even know he was an architect,” Braz says. “But it’s hard for me to believe that now.”

Knowing little about Wright and architecture is not uncommon for new volunteers, according to Kent Bartram, the director of volunteer resources at the Preservation Trust.

“One‐third,” he says, “are retirees, one‐third are middle‐aged and have a real passion for Wright and architecture and one‐third are 20‐somethings or early 30s who view this as something like the Peace Corps, as their duty.”

Volunteer tour guides, or interpreters, as they are called, sit through lectures, complete homework, are paired with mentors and participate in model tours to give them a comprehensive training on leading tours. It’s about more than simply knowing the history of architecture.

“You need to be engaging,” Bartram says. “You need to be the sole first responder in the case of any emergency. And you have to think logistically, that there might be another tour 10‐15 minutes after you. Do they need to know Doric versus Ionic columns? No, because that’s not part of the house.”

“The most valuable part of my training experience,” Braz says, “was that all of the senior interpreters were extremely supportive and encouraging.”

Her mentors must have done something right.

“She’s very engaging,” Bartram says of Braz. “We actually use her as a model when we do some of our training.”

Volunteers are asked to contribute four hours each month. But for passionate interpreters like Braz, four hours just isn’t enough.

Braz lives in West Lafayette, where she started volunteering at the Christian House. In 2006, she called Dr. Christian to book a tour at the house he still lives in. After their conversations revealed her knowledge of Wright, she was convinced to do more than just visit.

“He sent me the information, and I studied up,” Braz says. Before I knew it I was conducting tours!”

Members of the Christian Trust later convinced her to volunteer with the Wright Preservation Trust. So, once a month she drives from West Lafayette, Ind. to Chicago to lead tours at the Robie House. She leaves her house at 8 a.m. EST and doesn’t return until 5:30 p.m. having given five back‐to-back tours.

“I do the 9 a.m. Private Spaces tour,” she says. “And the 10:30 a.m. Chicago Architecture Foundation tour, and then I do the full tour at 11 a.m., 12, and 1 p.m.”

And as if volunteering at two Wright houses in two different states weren’t enough, she’s considering volunteering at Wright’s B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee.

“The thing I find so interesting about Wright,” she explains, “is that so many of the concepts and elements and materials he uses are unchanged. It’s how he reworks those things to create dramatically different spaces. It has this elevated quality of existence, which sounds incredibly corny. But it transports you to this environment that is somehow more rich and more fulfilled.”

Since Braz’s first visit to the Robie House 10 years ago, she has seen 123 Frank Lloyd Wright structures, including the 36 she has seen inside or toured.

“I just recently started counting,” she explains. “I have a system. I mark it if I’ve seen it, like justdriven by. And then I put a star by it if I’ve actually toured it. I have several hundred more to go!”

Spoken like a true enthusiast.

How do you talk to the doctor when you don’t know the words?

Posted in Medill News Service, Print on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
March 11, 2010
Medill News Service

Every day thousands of Chicagoans visit a doctor – but can’t explain what’s wrong.

It’s not because they don’t know their symptoms, they just don’t speak the same language.

Radhika Sharma Gordon deals with this constantly as coordinator for a health organization in one of the most diverse areas in the country, Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood.

“One problem [we face] is the language gap in health communications,” said Gordon, the coordinator of Healthy Albany Park, a community coalition of health care workers. “We’ve steadily had an increasing Spanish-speaking population, but we need free or low-cost translation into Arabic for the sizable Arabic-speaking community here.”

Lisa Owad/Medill

With dozens of languages spoken in Chicago, health care organizations can find it challenging to meet all of their patients’ needs.

Speaking their language

Small, community-based organizations like Healthy Albany Park struggle to find funding for translation services and often have to rely on the language skills of their staff.

“We’re forced to be very creative, because we get so little money,” Gordon said. “Unfortunately, people who are bilingual often have this foisted on them as another job duty. You don’t want to overburden any bilingual colleague.”

Lisa Owad/Medill

Organizations that are larger and better-funded have more options.

Cook County’s Community and Economic Development Association has a Women, Infants and Children Program office in Albany Park. WIC is a nonprofit, national organization funded by the United States Department of Agriculture that focuses on nutrition counseling and services for moms and kids.

“We run the largest WIC program in Illinois,” said Sarah Sullivan, program coordinator. “Monthly we serve over 46,000 clients in Cook County.”

Lisa Owad/Medill

With federal funding and national support, the WIC offices find it easier to fulfill their clients’ translation and interpretation needs.

“I think we do a very good job meeting the language need within [Albany Park],” Sullivan said. “We have four languages that are spoken on site, full time: Arabic, Hindi, Spanish and English. All of our clerks that are hired speak another language. That is part of the job requirement.”

With so many different languages spoken in Chicago, it’s impossible to represent every language with an on-site interpreter. Using outside agencies to assist with translation and interpretation is a necessity.

“We use AT&T’s Language Line,” Sullivan said. “We have a standing contract with them, so translation help is just a phone call away. We also partner with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights for translation help as needed.”

Video or phone interpreter services are commonly used by hospitals to communicate with non-English speaking patients.

“We have access to 170 languages through a combination of staff interpreters, agency interpreters, phone interpreters and video interpreters,” said Omar Torres-Knight, manager of interpreting services at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital.

However, speaking to an interpreter over a phone or video connection can have its limitations.

“Usually in person is much better,” said Kyung Yu, a Korean interpreter at Swedish Covenant Hospital. “A lot of times our patients are seniors, and a lot of them have hearing problems. And having a rapport with patients is very helpful.”

Swedish Covenant Hospital serves many patients from the diverse Albany Park area.

“The staff has interpreters in house for a few different languages: Korean, Spanish and Russian,” Yu said. “We also use Language Line for other languages.”

When a patient can’t speak English, one of the interpreters is summoned by pager or cell phone. Sometimes their services aren’t even necessary, one of the advantages of working in a diverse community.

“We have many staff [members] that speak other languages,” Yu said. “It depends though, because their primary job isn’t interpretation.”

Immigration trends

Events on the other side of the world can affect translation needs in Chicago. For example, unrest in the Middle East is driving a need for Arabic language services.

“The reality is that anything that’s going on in the world, we pick up in Cook County,” said Magali Rodriguez, the director of interpreter services at the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The number of Arabic speakers in Illinois increased 12.9 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 1990 and 2000, the nation’s Arab population increased by nearly 40 percent.

“We have an Arabic population that seems to be growing,” said Yu. “We get requests often for that language [at Swedish Covenant Hospital].”

When immigration organizations foresee a change in the incoming population, news travels to health organizations, so they can prepare to meet the changing needs.

“In 2008, our local refugee settlement program, World Relief, received word to expect more Iraqi refugees,” Gordon said.

“[WIC has] been at Albany Park for 16 years, and I think we’ve seen some of those trends, and we’ve met them very well,” Sullivan said. “We just purchased an Arabic keyboard a few years ago.”

Effective health care communication

A 2002 Institute of Medicine study revealed that “racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive a lower quality of healthcare than non-minorities.” A major factor in this disparity is the patient’s ability to communicate with their doctor.

And the difficulty doesn’t end with the doctor-patient relationship. Hospitals and clinics might have to provide translation for consent forms, educational materials and medication information, according to “One Size Does Not Fit All,” a study by The Joint Commission, an organization that helps facilitate health care communication between providers and patients.

The often immediate nature of health issues can make the need critical. While court dates are usually scheduled ahead of time, health care, by nature, is often unexpected.

“In the health care system it’s really a greater challenge,” Rodriguez said “because we get sick without prior notice.”

However, health organizations like Albany Park find themselves doing the best they can with what they have in order to serve their clients.

“If we can get English, Spanish and Arabic [translation], then we can cover most of the parents [in the area],” said Gordon.

A parallel system: Interpreting in the judicial system
In 2006, interpreters were used 120, 412 times in Circuit Court of Cook County proceedings.

“Interpreters are requested by the court or a court order,” said Magali Rodriguez, director of interpreter services in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Spanish, Polish and sign language interpreters are the most frequently requested, but the court is prepared to provide for everyone.

“We have three tiers of staff,” Rodriguez said. “We have full-time staff in the most often used languages: Spanish, Polish and sign language. We have a second tier that is called ‘session employees.’ They are reimbursed by how many sessions they work. We also have a variety of what we refer to as ‘exotic languages.’ So they are just languages of lesser use.”

However, in a diverse city like Chicago, Rodriguez finds that more help is needed.

“We contract out with a language services provider,” she said. “Our full-time interpreters work every single day and the others are as needed. The contract agency is for when we can’t provide a language.”

Time is the major difference between interpreter services in health care and the courts.

“If there is an impromptu need, the court will call our office,” Rodriguez said. “We welcome the call from any language, even though we normally request 48 hours in advance to request an interpreter.”

However, the two systems aren’t completely unrelated.

“Some medical interpreters do in fact come work for us,” Rodriguez said. “They are a plus because some of our cases use that specialized terminology. So we have very good luck when they have that experience.”

See this article at the Medill News Service

Mobile unit takes kidney care to people who need it most

Posted in Medill News Service, Print on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

The Kidneymobile travels through Illinois to prevent chronic kidney disease. (Courtesy of the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois.)

By Lisa Owad
March 10, 2010
Medill News Service

Not to be confused with the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, the Kidneymobile is a mobile health care unit that offers free health screenings and education in the hopes of preventing chronic kidney disease.

The van paid a visit to Chicago Tuesday in preparation for Thursday’s World Kidney Day. Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mobile health care units that provide screenings for vision or blood pressure may be more common, but the Kidneymobile offers a comprehensive approach to preventing kidney disease. Instead of a single screening or immunization injection, patients receive a battery of basic tests that offer a broader view of their health, all for free.

“Our usual screening consists of blood draw, urinalysis — looking for microscopic protein and blood in the urine — blood sugar, body mass index, waist circumference and blood pressure,” said Nancy Lepain, a nurse practitioner who travels with the van. “I think what we do is incredibly comprehensive, and it’s totally free.”

At least 26 million adults have chronic kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Since early stages of the disease have no symptoms, many more are at risk.

“Untreated high blood pressure and poorly controlled diabetes are the two major causes of kidney disease,” Lepain said. “Both of those diseases are easily treatable with the right medication. If we can get people with high blood pressure and diabetes well cared for, we can certainly decrease the number of people with chronic kidney disease.”

When a patient receives an abnormal test result at the screening, they are able to review the result with the on-site nurse practitioner the same day. Kidneymobile volunteers follow up later to make sure the patient is receiving care.

“We follow up with everyone that tests abnormal,” said Nicole Sisen, community programs manager at the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois. “They get a phone call four to six weeks after the screening. If they have a doctor, we ask that they make an appointment. And then we follow up again.”

Patients who don’t have insurance or a regular doctor receive referrals to places where they can get care.

Unfortunately, most patients that visit the Kidneymobile find themselves in need of further care.

“About 77 percent of the people that we screen have at least one abnormal value,” Lepain said. “And that’s excluding obesity. It’s been very few screenings that we’ve done where we haven’t found at least one person with undiagnosed diabetes. The numbers are very telling.”

The National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, which introduced the Kidneymobile in 2005, partners with community organizations to spread news of their visits. Thousands of people throughout Illinois have taken advantage of the Kidneymobile’s services.

“We usually have a great turnout for the screenings,” Lepain said. “I would say we average 75 to 100 people [each screening].”

“We take great pride in it,” Sisen said. “It’s the only traveling educational unit for kidney disease in the nation.”

While anyone is welcome at the free screenings, the National Kidney Foundation tries to reach those who are most in need.

“We try to locate our screening in areas that have large minority populations,” Lepain said. “African-Americans and Latinos are at much higher risk for developing kidney disease based on the incidence of diabetes and hypertension.”

For those who don’t have health insurance or can’t afford to visit a doctor, the Kidneymobile offers a chance to stay on top of their health. Chicago resident Juan Ramirez, 42, attended a Kidneymobile screening Tuesday to check up on his blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

“I have health insurance,” Ramirez said, “but they raised it so high. I have to pay a $700 or $800 deductible the first time I use it. For me it’s hard, because I just make minimum wage. Every time I see an opportunity like this, I prefer to take advantage of it.”

The Kidneymobile isn’t the only mobile health care unit making the rounds in Chicago. The University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital has a Pediatric Mobile Medical Unit and the Mobile C.A.R.E. Foundation operates Asthma Vans throughout the city. Norwegian American Hospital’s Care-A-Van brings pediatric care to the children of Humboldt Park.

Related Links:
Learn more about the Kidneymobile and how to request a visit
The Kidneymobile’s 2010 schedule
Care-A-Van takes free health care to the streets

See this article at the Medill News Service

‘Sick and tired’ of Wal-Mart’s sick-day policy

Posted in Medill News Service, Print, Video on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

By Lisa Owad
March 4, 2010
Medill News Service

As part of a national week of action against Wal-Mart’s sick leave policy, community activists gathered Wednesday at Chicago’s only Wal-Mart to protest. The “Wake Up Wal-Mart” campaign objects to the company’s practice of penalizing employees who use their paid sick days. Fearing they may lose their job, some employees return to work before they are well. Employees say this endangers the community’s health, as well as their own.
Related: Protestors rally against Wal-Mart’s sick-day practice

See this article at the Medill News Service

HeartFest educates in matters of the heart

Posted in Medill News Service, Print on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

Balloons lead the way to St. Francis Hospital's annual HeartFest in Evanston, Ill. Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
Feb. 18, 2010
Medill News Service

A healthy cooking demonstration and free screenings for cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure were features of the annual HeartFest event at Evanston’s St. Francis Hospital on Thursday. February is American Heart Month, and attendees were able to attend lectures, learn about healthy food and receive screenings.

Participants and organizers speak about the reasons people need events such as this.

“Last year we had a lot more people coming for free screenings. Last year we had a lot of patients come because it was free and they couldn’t afford it.”–Margo Schafer, director of public relations, St. Francis Hospital

Stella Wolfe, 77

“I’m here to learn and also here to take blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar screenings. I enjoyed the meditation.”–Stella Wolfe, 77

Laurence Rosen, 64

“I came for the cookies. I had the screenings. That’s the main thing. I have a doctor, but it’s too expensive.”
–Laurence Rosen, 64

Harice Leavitt, 80

“It’s free, conveniently located, I got the mailer and most of my physicians are here.”–Harice Leavitt, 80

Joseph Zawadzki, 74

“To get educated. This is an excellent forum for disseminating information about healthy heart. One can live to a ripe old age, hopefully.”–Joseph Zawadzki, 74

“I always come to the HeartFest to get my blood and sugar checked out. I learned some things I didn’t know. It’s convenient, free, and I stay on top of things. I get three things at once!”–Delores Walker

See this article at the Medill News Service

Will malpractice awards climb in wake of court ruling?

Posted in Medill News Service, Print on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
Feb. 17, 2010
Medill News Service

Although medical malpractice awards climbed in the years before Illinois put limits on them, opponents disagree on the impact of the recent Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the caps.

The average award for emotional harm in medical malpractice cases increased 437 percent in the seven years leading up to creation of the 2005 law capping non-economic damages, according to data from the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter. Rates were highest in 2004, the year before award caps were enacted, with an average award of $4.8 million.

Chart: Lisa Owad/Medill

Physicians argue that high awards drive up insurance premiums and make health care more expensive.

“When the cap was reinstated in 2005, premiums for Chicago physicians stabilized and even began to shrink,” said J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association in a statement after the court ruling. Before caps on damages, premiums rose steadily 10 to 12 percent a year between 1997 and 2005, Rohack said.

The Medical Malpractice Act limited the amount victims could receive for emotional harm to $500,000 from doctors and $1 million from hospitals.The Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional earlier this month. This was the third time the court ruled against medical malpractice award caps.

Critics of award caps say the averages don’t tell the entire story.

“A single larger case can skew those numbers,” said Peter Flowers, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. “So looking at [the award amounts] as an average, isn’t really a clear assessment.”

While the average award amount increased prior to 2005, state data show that only a small percentage of medical malpractice plaintiffs are awarded money. Only 4 percent of medical malpractice cases resulted in damage awards between 1998 and 2004, according to the Illinois Department of Insurance.

“Non-economic damages of any significance occur in a case of a terrible catastrophic event,” Flowers said. “It happens very rarely. It has very little impact on the overall system.”

Bruce Ottley, a professor at DePaul University’s College of Law, also said the ruling would have only minimal impact since few plaintiffs are ever awarded such large damages.

“There are a lot of us that don’t think it will make a noticeable impact on costs,” Ottley said. “The caps [were] fairly substantial. Judgments above that are fairly rare.”

However, cases that do not result in payout still have an impact, according to a 2005 study released by the Illinois State Medical Society and ISMIE Mutual Insurance Company. ISMIE is the largest liability insurance provider for Illinois physicians.

“Eighty percent of the claims filed against ISMIE Mutual policyholders result in no payment to the plaintiff,” the study said. However, between 2000 and 2005, ISMIE Mutual “paid over $150 million in defense costs for these non-meritorious claims.”

See this article at the Medill News Service

Getting the lead out: Rule targets Illinois’ top child environmental illness

Posted in Medill News Service, Print on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
Feb. 16, 2010
Medill News Service

The state took a step Tuesday to reduce lead poisoning, the No. 1 environmental illness in Illinois children, according to health officials.

In response to new federal regulations, the state hosted the first of several statewide sessions to explain new certification procedures for contractors.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule on renovation and repair requires contractors working on any buildings built before 1978 or that are occupied by children to be certified in lead-safe practices. The rule goes into effect in April.

More than 5,000 Illinois children had elevated blood lead levels in 2008, exceeding any other state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Children in Chicago are required to be tested for lead between the ages of six months and six years.

“Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, language processing disorders, shortened attention span and behavioral problems,” according to a plan released by the public health department in 2004. At high levels, lead can cause organ damage and death.

Lead poisoning is most commonly caused by deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust and lead-contaminated residential soil, according to the EPA.

“Lead-abatement, for the most part, waits until a child gets sick first,” said Nicholas Peneff, owner of Public Health and Safety, Inc. in Chicago. “We’re trying to prevent that. We’re trying to treat the house first.” Peneff’s company is an EPA and state-accredited training center where contractors can earn certification in lead-safe practices.

Without certification, contractors will face a fine of $37,500 for each day they work. “It’s all regulated now,” Peneff said. “It’s federal. They’ll stop you from advertising, from working in pre-1978 houses.”

The required training focuses on lead-safe work habits. “If you are going to damage or remove something, you try to do so without disturbing the finish,” Peneff said. “You work wet, so it keeps the dust down. Lead is in the dust.”

Most of the contractors Peneff sees at his training sessions are eager to comply. “They’re proud of their work,” Peneff said. “They don’t want to be embarrassed.”

But contractors are not without their concerns.

“People either think they’re going to lose work, or that it’s going to prove there is lead,” Peneff said. “Once you call it lead, if anything goes wrong, most insurance companies have an insurance exclusion. They have to become environmental contractors [with the new rule], but they can’t get insurance to protect their work.”

Related Links:
Find out about informational meetings for Illinois contractors

See this article at the Medill News Service

Chicago beats first lady to the punch

Posted in Medill News Service, Print on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

By Lisa Owad
Feb. 11, 2010
Medill News Service

A new program to fight childhood obesity will soon be under way in Chicago. “I Am Moving, I Am Learning,” sponsored by Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services, is expected to reach children in March.

The program, which has been in the works for more than a year, follows Tuesday’s announcement of Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity campaign, “Let’s Move.”

“The idea is to get children moving throughout the day,” said Paulette Mercurius, an assistant director of Head Start programs in Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services. Head Start programs are offered nationwide to help children get a jump on their education.

“Our programs are required to provide meals for children,” Mercurius said. “We look at the menu choices. In addition to that, we educate parents about choices for their children and the children themselves. That’s all incorporated into their daily routine.”

Teachers are also given CDs, along with dances designed for limited classroom space.

“We know that kids like to dance, like to move,” said Vanessa Rich, deputy commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services. “You don’t have to separate it. It can be an integral part of every day.”

In 2004, “I Am Moving, I Am Learning” started in 17 Head Start locations in Virginia and West Virginia. Its goals are to increase the quantity and quality of time children spend in moderate to vigorous activity and to improve healthy nutrition choices for kids.

“We make it real,” Rich said. “Some of our children will never see Brussels sprouts unless it’s in Head Start.”

Sponsors of “I Am Moving, I Am Learning” say they hope the program will expand through their partnership with other community organizations, such as the Chicago Park District and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children.

“The thing that’s really unique about Chicago,” said Christy Kierig, communications manager for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, “is that we’ve been mobilized in Chicago since 2003.”

One of their campaigns, called 5-4-3-2-1, Kierig said, is a “daily recommendation for healthy lifestyles for kids and families.”

Illinois is the 10th-worst state for childhood obesity, according to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with 34.9 percent of the state’s children overweight or obese. The National Survey of Children’s Health ranked the weight of children aged 10 to 17.

Related Links:
Let’s Move
CLOCC’s 5-4-3-2-1 campaign to fight childhood obesity

5-4-3-2-1: Fighting childhood obesity on a daily basis
5 – Servings of fruits and vegetables
4 – Servings of water
3 – Servings of low-fat dairy
2 – Or less hours of screen time
1 – Or more hours of physical activity
Source: The Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

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Medical Malpractice Act overturned

Posted in Medill News Service, Print on July 19th, 2010 by Lisa Owad – Be the first to comment

Jeff Goldberg, attorney for Abigaile LeBron, displays a photo of his client during a press conference. Abigaile suffered severe brain damage at birth. Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
Feb. 4, 2010
Medill News Service

The Illinois Supreme Court overturned a law capping non-economic awards for medical malpractice Thursday. While supporters applaud the decision as a victory for patients’ rights, advocates for the caps worry the ruling will increase insurance costs, affecting the quality of care.

“Today marks the third time that the Illinois Supreme Court has declared those laws unconstitutional,” Peter Flowers, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, said at a press conference Thursday. “We are here today on behalf of the trial lawyers and Illinois citizens to say enough. Three strikes and you’re out.”

The Medical Malpractice Act of 2005 limited the amount medical malpractice victims could receive for emotional harm to $500,000 from doctors and $1 million from hospitals. Thursday’s ruling stemmed from LeBron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, the first case to challenge the 2005 law. Abigaile LeBron was born with severe brain damage in 2005 and sued for medical malpractice. The case is still pending.

The decision comes on a day the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that health care spending increased by $134 billion in the past year, the largest one-year jump recorded.

“Overturning this law further strains our state’s already-failing health care system,” James L. Milam, M.D., Illinois State Medical Society president, said in a press release issued by ISMIE Mutual Insurance Company. “Losing medical lawsuit reform heaps even greater pressure on patients and doctors.”

ISMIE is the largest provider of liability insurance to physicians in Illinois.

The American Medical Association agreed. “Today’s court decision threatens to undo all that Illinois patients and physicians have gained under the cap,” J. James Rohack, M.D., the president of AMA, said in a press release. “When the cap was reinstated in 2005, premiums for Chicago physicians stabilized and even began to shrink.” Before caps on damages, premiums rose steadily 10 to 12 percent a year between 1997 and 2005, Rohack said.

Jeff Goldberg, the attorney for Abigaile hopes that the decision will be a wake-up call. “We hope…that the legislature will wake up and the insurance industry will stop trying to limit the rights arbitrarily for people that are severely injured and are the victims of medical negligence,” Goldberg said.

However, at least one attorney thought the ruling would have only minimal impact since few plaintiffs are ever awarded such large damages.

“There are a lot of us that don’t think it will make a noticeable impact on costs,” said Professor Bruce Ottley at DePaul University’s College of Law. “The caps (were) fairly substantial. Judgments above that are fairly rare.”

See this article at the Medill News Service