MARION — There’s a new place to eat in Marion. Well, it really isn’t that new. To be fair, many of its patrons are not there by choice. Where is this restaurant? Heartland Regional Medical Center.
The offerings change each day. They have an entrée, starch and vegetables, bread, dessert, a deli sandwich special and two varieties of soup, along with a popular item called “The Chef’s Table,” which draws from the culinary talent of Chef Wayne Arment.
The entrée is something that is healthy but also comfort food, according to Julie Moses, culinary director at the hospital. The Chef’s Table offers a little more upscale food. Along with those, patrons can have a deli sandwich custom made or choose the featured sandwich. Traditional foods like pizza and burgers are available. They also serve a breakfast special and a variety of grab-and-go meal options.
Moses said the hospital contracts with HHS.
“HHS is trying to create a more restaurant boutique experience for its cafeteria customers, and also for patients,” Moses said.
The Chef’s Table on Thursday featured shrimp scampi served over spaghetti squash. Regular spaghetti noodles were available, too. Moses said this particular entrée was a suggestion from a staff member, adding that right now a portion of the staff is on a special diet to lose weight or accommodate health conditions like diabetes. They suggested more low carbohydrate entrees.
On Valentine’s Day, the entrée for the day was teriyaki steak and broccoli with fried rice, mixed vegetables, crab rangoon and spring rolls. The Chef’s Table had prime rib with loaded mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. The featured dessert was apple dumplings. Chocolate-dipped strawberries were available to take home or share with co-workers.
Moses said they really pay attention to their customers, most of whom are the nurses, physicians and staff at the hospital and patient families, and listen to their suggestions.
“We want families to come down here and forget for 30 minutes or so why they are in the hospital,” Moses said.
One person requested loaded fries, french fries with smoked brisket or smoked chicken with all the toppings. The cafeteria fixed them and sold 118 servings that day.
The deli meats and cheeses are the Boar’s Head brand. Besides custom-made and featured sandwiches, staff can order meat and cheese to take home, giving them a jump-start on dinner. They make chicken salad and “Not Your Mama’s Pimento Cheese” in house.
“Our goal is food that looks good, smells good and tastes good,” Moses said. “Nutrition is very important for healing.”
Even diets that are mechanically altered (ground for patients with certain restrictions) try to meet that goal. Moses said they have food-shaped molds to help those special diets look more like regular food.
Arment is a certified executive chef.
“The goal is good quality food, and it starts with how it is plated,” Arment said.
He works with the culinary department staff to make sure that food not only tastes good, but is presented well.
To help accomplish that, they have patient ambassadors to personally take each patient’s meal choices for the next day. They are trained to make suggestions for special diets, like for diabetics or those with food allergies, and will call the clinical dietitian to help, if necessary.
“Ambassadors are an extraordinarily important part of our program,” Moses said.
The cafeteria also delivers to a department if they have a “crazy busy” day.
“Our job is easier when they are happy,” Moses said.
As the food has improved, they have started to bring in the community. Moses called the cafeteria a quick, inexpensive place to eat for the employees of local businesses. Arment has competed in the Marion Rib Cook-off and Praise the Lard Murphysboro Barbecue Cook-off. They even catered several hospital events, such as receptions to announce partnerships with St. Louis University and an annual dinner.
“I love what I do, and it shows through the food, I think,” Arment said.
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers were given a rude awakening on Thursday about the condition of the state’s roads and bridges as they began preparing to put together what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar long-term capital improvements plan.
Matt Magalis, Acting Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, laid out just some of the numbers to a Senate panel that’s been tasked with putting together a plan.
“We currently have 79 million square feet of bridges requiring maintenance and updates,” he said. “That’s over 730 state bridges. We also have a need over the next 10 years of additional funding of 13 to 15 billion dollars for our highways. That is just maintenance. We also have a need for capacity (highway expansion) that is in the billions of dollars.”
In addition to highways, Magalis said there is a long list of needed upgrades for other forms of transportation: $250 million in state funds for airports around the state, not including Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports; $19.1 billion for public transit; $800 million for passenger rail; and $4 billion for freight rail.
Also, Margalis said, locks and dams along the state’s waterways, which carry a significant volume of freight, are facing costs in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
In addition to transportation infrastructure, the Senate panel heard Thursday from community college and university officials who say they are grappling with a backlog of long-deferred maintenance projects to their buildings and other campus facilities.
Still, highways and bridges are likely to draw the most attention as lawmakers put together a capital plan because, according to Magalis, many are nearing the end of their useful life, especially interstate highways that date back to the 1960s, and the 730 bridges for which the state is responsible, many of which date back to the 1970s.
“Unfortunately, as you can tell traveling around our state, our infrastructure continues to deteriorate faster than we can maintain it,” Magalis said.
Putting together a financial package to address all, or even most, of those needs would be a challenge anywhere in the United States. But it will be especially difficult in Illinois, which already carries a heavy debt load and is looking to take on more, and whose bond rating with Moody’s Investor Services is just one notch above junk status.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who chairs one of the Senate’s two appropriations committees, conceded that the state will need to find new revenue to pay for any new bonds that are issued to fund another capital plan.
“Any time that the state issues debt, there has to be a dedicated revenue stream,” he said during a news conference Thursday following the committee hearing.
That could mean higher motor fuel taxes, higher sales taxes, or some other form of revenue.
Manar was joined at the news conference by Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. He said Illinois might have to look beyond motor fuel and sales taxes and focus on other, more creative ways to finance a capital plan.
“There have been other novel ideas that have been floated out there over the last couple of months to finance a capital bill,” Sandoval said. “I think we are also going to invite academia to come forward. Academia, business, industry, all the policy think tanks that have had reports out since 2009 — they need to come forward today.”
But simply fixing the state’s roads, bridges, public buildings and other infrastructure is not the only priority of a capital bill, Manar and Sandoval said. Both also said they will make it a top priority to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses receive a proportional share of the contracts that are awarded.
“We’re going to rebuild Illinois, improve Illinois, but we’ve got to (have) a diverse group of men and women to do the work,” Sandoval said.
Manar and Sandoval co-chaired Thursday’s hearing in the Capitol. But they said that was only the first of several public hearings they have planned to solicit public input about the state’s infrastructure needs.
Over the next several weeks, they have scheduled a series of five more public meetings around the state in which they will solicit input from local officials about their needs.
The dates and locations of those hearings are:
More information about times and locations will be available at a later date, according to Manar’s office.
SESSER — Despite being charged with drug- and weapons-related crimes, former Sesser Mayor Ned Mitchell does not stand to lose his state-funded pensions.
Mitchell was charged earlier this month with five felonies after a search of his house in January led to his arrest. Mitchell was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, felony manufacturing or delivery of a controlled substance near a school, public housing or public park, and two felony counts of Category 1 armed violence, assessed when a person commits a felony while possessing a dangerous weapon.
According to previous reporting by The Southern, he also was charged with felonious permitting unlawful use of a building, assessed to a person who controls a building, and “knowingly grants, permits or makes the building available for use for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing or delivering a controlled substance,” quoting in part 720 ILCS 570/406.1 of the Illinois Controlled Substance Act.
In all, he faces two Class 4 felonies and three Class X felonies, according to court records website Judici.
According to Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund Communications Manager John Krupa, the pension Mitchell paid into over his three decades as Sesser’s mayor is safe.
“In general, a retiree does not lose his/her pension if convicted of a felony not related to past IMRF employment,” Krupa wrote in an email Wednesday.
Krupa went on to write that a person could lose his or her state pension if found to have committed a crime related to their state position.
It would appear that this would be the case for other state employee pensions, as well. The Illinois Pension Code as found in the Illinois Compiled Statute has similar language.
“None of the benefits herein provided for shall be paid to any person who is convicted of any felony relating to or arising out of or in connection with his or her service as a member,” Section 40, Chapter 108.5 of the ILCS reads.
According to Illinois’ Better Government Association, a nonpartisan watchdog group, as of 2017 Mitchell had a total state pension that provided more than $50,000 a year that he drew from his time as mayor, a state employee and as a legislator.
VIENNA — Vienna High School has been chosen as one of eight Illinois schools to pilot the return of a program geared toward struggling students at risk of dropping out and who could benefit from extra assistance in crafting a plan for their lives after high school.
Jobs For America’s Graduates helps students explore potential career paths and the steps they need to take to get hired in those fields, according to Superintendent Josh Stafford.
“We’re really excited about this because one of the major things we don’t do well as a K-12 system is connect people to meaningful career paths,” Stafford said. “We’re rock stars at college readiness. We do a great job preparing students to be admitted to college."
Stafford continued, "But the place where we’ve fallen flat on our face, and embarrassingly so, is in helping students make meaningful connections to careers after graduation.”
JAG, as it is known by its acronym, is a national nonprofit that partners with states and local schools to create programs aimed at helping students make a smooth transition into the workforce after graduation.
Various Illinois schools operated JAG programs until about a decade ago when schools shut them down as state funding for the programs dried up, said Jonathan Furr, executive director of the Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University. (Then, the state called its program Jobs for Illinois Graduates).
This fall, the program will gear back up in eight Illinois schools. So far, Vienna and Kankakee high schools have been named as participating schools. Furr said the other six schools will be announced in the coming months. The goal is to encourage additional schools to add the program in future years as more funding becomes available, he said.
The program’s revival in Illinois is made possible by $600,000 in workforce development funds over two fiscal years earmarked for programs that target at-risk youth populations. The Illinois Department of Employment Security is administering the funds in partnership with Northern Illinois University's Education Systems Center, which was founded in 2012 to assist the state in the development of programs around career, work and college readiness.
A new executive director, currently employed in a partnership with the JAG Iowa program, is in the process of establishing a nonprofit with a board made up of statewide business and educational leaders to oversee the program.
Once that happens, she will transition into her role as executive director of the nonprofit, and also be charged with soliciting private donors to support the JAG Illinois program long-term.
Stafford said that he has long believed that high schools are emphasizing the wrong questions to students.
Our first question should not be, ‘Where do you want to go to college?’ but rather ‘What do you want for a meaningful career, how do you envision doing for a successful, fulfilling life?’” Stafford said.
“Our intent here is to turn that ship and start asking the right questions first," he said. From there, the program will help students determine the best way to reach their goals. That could range from going straight into the workforce after graduation to enrolling in a traditional four-year college. But Stafford noted there are also many options in between, such as earning an associate’s degree or certificate in the trades at a community college, entering the workforce and taking classes part-time, and joining the military or other service organizations such as
Furr said that one of the great things about Jobs for America’s Graduates is that the program already operates successfully in thousands of schools across 35 states, so Illinois can learn from others about how to best help students.
“The reason why I’m such a champion of the JAG program is that while we talk about career opportunity for all students, we haven’t always had a strong model for those students that are most in need of finding a successful transition into a career,” he said. “This gives students the support and exposure they need to be successful as they leave high school.”