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Catch up on Tribune watchdog reporting
On Wednesday, the Tribune featured reports updating two of its major watchdog projects this year -- "Clout Goes to College," which exposed the University of Illinois admissions scandal, and "Compromised Care," which reported that elderly and disabled nursing home residents were allegedly assaulted, raped and even killed by mentally ill criminals also living in the facilities. Today we provide updates on other watchdog efforts.
1 child left behind -- now back in school
By Rex W. Huppke and Azam Ahmed
Among the memorable Tribune Watchdog reports in recent months was the story of special-education student Devon Mallard, 11, who has anxiety disorder, dyslexia and oppositional defiant disorder -- and whose needs were not being met by Chicago Public Schools. In August, the Tribune found that despite a March court order requiring the district to establish a proper education plan and provide more counseling, therapy and tutoring, nothing had happened.
Shortly after that story, the district began working with the family and its attorneys to make sure the terms of the court order were met. A settlement was reached and, though the family can't discuss it, Devon's mother, Shnette Tyler, said that for now she is happy with the outcome.
His case resolved, Devon recently returned to classes and is doing well so far. His mother said his school let him bring a guitar home this week, and he practiced for hours: "He's happy about that. He wanted to stay up all night playing it."
Still, her drawn-out experience with the school district, which began in 2007, has left her wary.
"We'll see how this goes," she said. "I just want to see him learn. That wasn't happening before."
Many other special-education disputes with the district remain unresolved. The Illinois State Board of Education said the district has "an uncommonly high number" of special-ed-related court orders out of compliance. Also, a recent report found that about half of roughly 100 district schools reviewed by state monitors were failing to give necessary services to disabled students.
Crestwood's tainted water
By Michael Hawthorne
What we found: Crestwood's secret use of a polluted well for more than two decades remained secret until April, when the Tribune reported that residents in the southwest suburb unknowingly had been drinking tainted water.
What's happened since: Federal agents raided Village Hall and launched a criminal investigation of Mayor Robert Stranczek and his father, Chester, who led the village from 1969 to 2007. A civil lawsuit by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accuses the Stranczeks and Crestwood's top water official of lying more than 120 times about the well. Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers imposed tougher penalties for misleading the public about the source of water flowing from their taps. Quinn also signed legislation that toughened the state's right-to-know law, requiring all customers of a public water system to be notified if their water is contaminated. Left unanswered is whether drinking water contaminated with vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, caused any health problems. The Illinois Department of Public Health has promised to investigate.
By Megan Twohey
What we found: The state crime lab struggled with an ongoing backlog of untested DNA, and the backlog was underreported for years. Also, the state Corrections Department and county probation departments failed to collect DNA samples from nearly 50,000 felons, as required by law. Also, suburban police departments failed to submit rape kits to the state crime lab.
What's happened since: The state crime lab says it has cut its DNA backlog with the help of federal grants and efficiency measures since our May story. At that time, Gov. Pat Quinn had authorized adding 23 forensic scientists and technicians. Three were hired, but the bad economy halted hiring. The lab says the hiring freeze may make it impossible to further cut the backlog.
On the other story, law enforcement agencies have begun efforts to collect the missing DNA samples from felons. For example, the DuPage County state's attorney sent letters to felons there saying they had 30 days to submit DNA or face court sanction.
After the third story, Downers Grove police and other departments changed policies and now submit all rape kits for testing.
Emergency rooms and the uninsured
By Jason Grotto and Bruce Japsen
What we found: Some of the largest nonprofit hospitals in Cook County were steering uninsured patients from their emergency rooms to the county's public clinics and community hospitals -- even as the nonprofits reaped tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks from the county every year to provide charity care. At the center of the controversy was the University of Chicago Medical Center's Urban Health Initiative, set up to divert patients from the teaching hospital's ER to other clinics and hospitals to free up space for patients the hospital said were more seriously ill -- and profitable.
What's happened since: After the Tribune's reports in February and April, members of Congress and two national associations of emergency room doctors criticized the U. of C.'s Urban Health Initiative. University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer ordered a review of aspects of the initiative begun by medical center chief executive Dr. James Madara, vowing to come up with "a better plan." Madara announced in August that he would resign. In September, then-county commissioner Joseph Moreno drafted an ordinance co-sponsored by commissioners John Daley and Jerry Butler to require nonprofit hospitals to set aside up to 4.5 percent of their annual income for charity care to patients without insurance. The ordinance may be voted on as early as November. The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks on a case involving the amount of charity care nonprofit hospitals provide.
By Sam Roe and Ted Gregory
What we found: American children with food allergies are suffering life-threatening -- and completely avoidable -- reactions because manufacturers mislabel their products and regulators fail to police store shelves.
What's happened since: Numerous food manufacturers, importers or retailers across the country recalled or promised to replace illegal labels on more than 40 products after the Tribune's November 2008 report. One grocery chain, Whole Foods Market, removed more than a dozen products. Food companies have continued to make changes. For example, more than 150,000 boxes of Lund's Swedish Pancake Mix were recalled by Chicago-based Noon Hour Food Products because of incomplete ingredient labels. A recent check of store aisles shows that Whole Foods changed the ingredient labels on its line of "365 Organic Swiss" chocolate bars, which were highlighted in the Tribune stories.
By Daniel Simmons
What we found: During the Tribune's spot checks this month, some local retailers sold cigarettes without charging the taxes from Chicago and Cook County.
What's happened since: Efrat Stein, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said the agency had inspected all the city locations found by the Tribune to have skipped taxes, and the agency found all but one in violation.
Bogus parking tickets
By Jon Yates
What we found: Mark Geinosky wrote to the "What's Your Problem?" column to complain that he was receiving bogus parking tickets and had no idea why Chicago police officers were targeting him. Geinosky was able to get all 24 of the parking tickets thrown out.
What's happened since: Geinosky hasn't received a single ticket since the column ran. The Police Department launched an internal investigation. More than eight months later, that investigation continues. Geinosky said a detective told him several weeks ago that the initial investigation was complete, but a police spokesman said that is not true. "It's frustrating," Geinosky said.
Eye doctor under fire
By Deborah L. Shelton
What we found: Dr. Nicholas Caro, a Chicago ophthalmologist who has been sued 50 times by patients who claimed he botched their Lasik eye surgeries, was still operating despite a recommendation from the state's chief medical prosecutor that Caro's medical license be "suspended, revoked, or otherwise disciplined."
What's happened since: The doctor contacted at least one of the attorneys whose patient is suing him to offer a settlement. The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation has held three hearings to discuss disciplinary action against him. The agency has set a three-day hearing in early January to formally hear Caro's case and make a final decision.
By Judith Graham
What we found: Ambulances operated by the Chicago Fire Department lack sophisticated equipment that can help paramedics identify people experiencing potentially deadly heart attacks. Most major cities and suburbs surrounding Chicago have 12-lead EKGs -- the equipment in question -- but the city doesn't.
What's happened since: Last week, prominent cardiologists met for the first time with public safety officials at City Hall to discuss the issue. Dr. Jerome Hines, a past president of the Illinois chapter of the American College of Cardiology, said progress is being made. "The mayor's office is very, very interested and will be helpful in pushing this forward," Hines said. The American Heart Association's local chapter is developing a campaign to raise funds for 12-lead EKGs in Chicago.
By Bob Secter
What we found: The overwhelming majority of tickets generated by red-light cameras was racked up for an infraction that experts say is among the least likely to lead to serious crashes -- failing to stop before making a right turn on red. Critics say the cameras are installed to generate revenue rather than to enhance safety.
What's happened since: Northwest suburban Schaumburg shut off its RedSpeed-run camera following an avalanche of complaints from motorists hit with standard $100 fines for turning violations near the Woodfield mall. West suburban River Forest also got into a spat with RedSpeed.
Trustees voted to hire the firm but insisted that motorists caught on camera making improper right turns be charged lower fines than those who commit the more dangerous act of blowing straight through a red light. RedSpeed refused to go along, and the suburb put its red-light camera plans on hold.
By Azam Ahmed
What we found: In April, the Tribune revealed that Chicago had not inspected 70 percent of elevators across the city in the last year, despite a law requiring it to do so. Some elevators had not been inspected since 2001.
What's happened since: In response to the report, the mayor announced a plan to outsource some inspections to licensed professionals not employed by the city. But the city has yet to implement that plan because of a labor dispute, according to Department of Buildings spokesman Bill McCaffrey. While the city has worked through the oldest elevators on the inspection backlog -- those from 2001, 2002 and 2003 -- it is on track to inspect fewer elevators than last year.
The city cites a number of reasons for fewer inspections this year. In the past, most inspections were conducted on downtown high-rises.
But the backlog properties are largely concentrated in the neighborhoods, which take more time to reach. And inspections on backlog properties can take longer because it's been so long since they've been examined that a higher degree of thoroughness is required.