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House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, is pursued by reporters in the Capitol after signing the conference committee report to advance the GOP tax bill, in Washington on Friday.

Franklin/Williamson County Health Department
Health department searching for churches to distribute medicine in public-health emergencies

MARION — If Franklin or Williamson counties were faced with a public health emergency and vaccines had to be dispensed, some 107,000 people in those areas would need the medicine.

Single-file, they would create a line of people stretching all the way from John A. Logan College in Carterville to Shawneetown, near the Ohio River, in Gallatin County.

That'd be a line of people — each taking up about a foot of space —stretching 52 miles long, according to one calculation.

To help fulfill a mandate to provide vaccines or other treatments to people in a public health emergency, one local health provider is recruiting local churches to serve as distributors of medicines for their congregations.

The program is Operation Noah's Ark, which is scheduled to roll out next fall, according to Ronda Koch, director of emergency preparedness for the Franklin/Williamson Bi-County Health Department. The new Franklin/Williamson County program is called a POD — for Point Of Distribution of the necessary medicines.

A program overview and planning meeting is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 30.

Koch says she already has 36 organizations enrolled in the program, nine of which are churches, Though the program is not scheduled to get underway until almost a year from now, it could offer various related workshops and services to churches that signal their interest before then, Koch said.

For instance, outreach planned for early next year in Franklin County will likely include life-saving information on opioid use, abuse and treatment, she said.

"This program is health- and life-saving," Koch said of Operation Noah's Ark. "We're targeting churches through Operation Noah's Ark, but it's open to any organization interested in protecting the health and the lives of the staff and any other people there in their organization."

SouthernEnviron / STEPHANIE ESTERS The Southern 

Ronda Koch, founder of Franklin/Williamson Bi-County Health Department's Operation Noah's Ark Program, shows a map showing how long the line would stretch if the health department had to vaccinate all 107,000 of its area residents, in a 24-hour period, during a public health emergency.  The blue line on the map she put together stretches from John A. Logan College in Carterville and stretches all the way to Shawneetown, in Gallatin County, near the Ohio River.

How the church outreach would work

If there is public health emergency, such as one declared after a bio-terrorism attack, like from anthrax, or a flu pandemic, the health department is under mandate to provide the vaccines within 24 hours of declaration of the emergency. 

The biggest problem facing the Franklin/Williamson Bi-County Health Department is the personnel to complete such an operation, hence Koch's desire to solicit churches and their members to help. Each participating church would be allotted a certain amount of vaccines or medicines for its church population, she said, helping to take a load off the public health workers who would be busily caring for others in the population, she said.

She noted that she has enjoyed good support from church community members in the past; she announced the Operation Noah's Ark program during a recent Church Security Workshop that she partnered with the Williamson County Sheriff's Department recently to host.

Those who are not part of the participating churches will be directed to health department offices and affiliated sites for a dispensing of the medicines, she said.

"Many health departments across Illinois offer this program," Koch said. Those who are curious should contact their local health department to see if it does, she suggested.

"It's a health- and life-saving program in severe public health emergencies," she said. "Organizations, churches, businesses, long-term care facilities and others who are interested in joining this program can be proactive in having the ability to receive emergency medicine in a public health emergency, directly at your facility, instead of having people come to — in our two counties — a 52-mile-long line."

One of the local health departments that does not yet have a church-focused POD is the Jackson County Health Department, although it is open to the possibility, a representative said.

Jackson County Health Department's Closed Point of Dispensing locations are focused primarily on healthcare providers, so they can get critical medications quickly to the healthcare workforce in a disease outbreak situation and continue to serve the public at large, according to Bart Hagston, director of environmental health and emergency preparedness for the Jackson County Health Department.

"However, that is not to say we wouldn’t be interested in working with Jackson County churches on such a program," Hagston said.

Franklin County
Texas man arrested, charged with aggravated DUI in Franklin County crash that killed a 24-year-old woman

BENTON — A Texas man has been arrested and charged with aggravated driving under the influence in connection to a crash in April in Franklin County that killed a woman.

Franklin County Sheriff Don Jones said officers traveled to Rains County, Texas, to apprehend Raymond F. Reid, 29, of Emery, Texas. Reid is charged with two counts of aggravated driving under the influence. He was arrested by Franklin County police Dec. 10.

According to the information sheet filed Sept. 18 in Franklin County Court, it is alleged that Reid crashed a vehicle while under the influence of one or many intoxicating substances. According to the information sheet, the crash was the cause of Lauren Reeves’ death.

Reeves was 24 and lived in Cabot, Arkansas.

Jones said the crash occurred on Interstate 57 and the investigation was originally handled by the Illinois State Police.

According to an ISP news release sent the day of the crash, Reid was driving a semi-trailer northbound on I-57 near mile marker 67 when he crossed the median, striking head-on the Toyota Camry Reeves was driving.

Reid is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Dec. 10 at 1:30 p.m.

alert top story
Some offended after Montemagno compares SIUC to a car often called the worst ever made

CARBONDALE — In one of the more puzzling moments at Wednesday’s Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees work session, SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno raised eyebrows when he likened the university in its present form to an old, beat-up car.

As he pitched his academic restructuring plan, which would eliminate the university’s 42 departments and reorganize programs under newly formed schools and colleges, Montemagno showed a pair of slides to illustrate the university’s decline.

“This was an SIU degree,” the chancellor said, showing a photograph of a gleaming Chevrolet Camaro. “A pretty maroon car; sporty. It provided a sense of distinctiveness that made people want to climb in and ride along and go. And what happened over time was … because of budget cuts and austerity, because of what we cut, we took away the chrome, we took away the fancy wheels, we got rid of the many things that made coming to SIU extraordinarily desirable.”

Next he showed a photo of a battered Yugo — commonly considered one of the worst cars ever made.


An unidentified man test drives a Yugo in this Aug. 27, 1985, file photo. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, file)

“The end result was, we got this,” Montemagno said. “What we got was a bare-bones, basic program that provides a poor education and education of students. It’s hard to attract a student from a long way away to make them want to come here when we’re not providing the balance of what we used to provide, which was a comprehensive, four-year education.”

He went on to say that his office had conducted a campus-wide survey to determine stakeholders’ hopes for SIU, and that he hoped to increase the university’s perceived value by bringing back a “vibrant student experience,” propping up research and reshuffling programs to allow for greater “synergy.”

“We’re basically rebuilding our Camaro,” Montemagno said.

During the public-comment period at Thursday’s full board meeting, Faculty Association President David Johnson ridiculed the comparison.

“In Chancellor Montemagno’s view, everything about SIUC is broken. Our academic structure is broken, our core curriculum is broken, our research is a mess, student life is a mess, we are substandard across the board … SIU is a piece of junk that only Carlo Montemagno can fix,” Johnson said.

Natasha Zaretsky, an associate professor of history, echoed Johnson’s sentiments.

“It pains me deeply to hear the chancellor compare SIUC to a junk car. That is such a disservice to me and to my fellow educators, as well as to all the wonderful students who I have had the honor of teaching over the years,” Zaretsky said.

Trustee Shirley Portwood also chastised the chancellor for his choice of analogy.

“I urge you to immediately desist in comparing SIUC to a rusted-out old car that you can turn into a beautiful sports car,” Portwood said, prompting enthusiastic applause from the audience. “It’s certainly not a recruitment tool. Who would want to come to a university whose own chancellor refers to it in such demeaning terms? Who would want to send their child to an institution that’s similar to a rusted-out, old car?”

Richard Sitler / Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Members of the SIU Board of Trustee's, (from left) Sam Beard, Shirley Portwood and Joel Sambursky listen to speakers during the open input portion of the trustee's work session held Wednesday in the SIU Student Center in Carbondale.

Montemagno attempted to respond, but board chair Randal Thomas cut him off to move on to the next agenda item, as the public-comment period had exceeded the allotted 30 minutes.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Montemagno said he had hoped to clarify his remarks.

“I was equating the perception of how people were perceiving our institution outside to help provide a stark contrast of why the enrollment decline was occurring,” he said. “It was the fact that we lost our distinctive appeal, and that if we lose our distinctive appeal, we lose a lot of the reasons of why people want to come.”

SIU board mulls restructuring plan, tuition hike

At a standing-room-only work session Wednesday, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s new chancellor presented his controversial academic reorganization plan to the SIU Board of Trustees, eliciting an apparent mix of skepticism and support.

He said the university had lost key elements of its campus life and had “failed to put in place enterprises that are at the very, very cutting edge of excitement and discovery in programming. So those things that we’re doing right now are to rectify that.”