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MADE IN ILLINOIS: You may call her Tenacious Lee

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DePaul senior Ella Lee leaves no doubts in watchdog reporting

By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For Illinois Press Association

CHICAGO – On Feb. 11, The DePaulia published a story summing up the university provost’s refusal to change a clause in the faculty handbook that’s drawn cries of systemic racism, and wrongful discrimination lawsuits.

The DePaul University student newspaper’s adviser, Marla Krause had utmost confidence the report would be comprehensive and fact-checked six ways from Sunday, given that the byline belonged to Ella Lee.

For the past few years, Krause has watched her managing editor exhaustively research every piece she’s written, while developing reliable sources and giving all sides ample opportunity to say their piece.

“She just loves to dig and dig, and she understands that the story’s not ready when it’s not ready,” Krause said. “She understands you don’t just talk to the lawyer representing the plaintiff. Even though you might feel some sympathy toward the plaintiff, you have to get both sides of the story.”

The DePaulia has been reporting on lawsuits filed against the university over the past couple of years. The clause's vague language states “a pattern of extreme intimidation and aggression towards other members of the university committee” can be grounds for faculty dismissal or other repercussions.

Two Black, female DePaul professors, requested the clause be changed in February 2019, and in April 2020, the university's Faculty Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution to change the language, but Provost Salma Ghanem shot it down.

When the administration put out a statement calling for unity and a self-examination of biases after the murder of George Floyd, then was given the opportunity to change the clause but refused, Lee knew it was time to connect all the dots.

“That to me, that statement and what they refused to do is a perfect juxtaposition of what all of our reporting was leading up to,” said Lee, a 22-year-old senior. “All of these narratives are telling the exact same story that we’ve written five or six times with different names. This is the type of thing I think you can’t say enough. It’s so clearly affecting a lot of people, and it’s being ignored. Anything I can do to bring attention to that lack of care for that issue is something I really want to do.”

Proud as Lee was to publish the story, she can’t help but feel concerned when she shines the light on the university’s administration.

“I felt very proud, but I’m always a little bit nervous when it’s a story that has potential to make waves,” she said. “There are things I need from the university. Like when I need to apply for aid for the spring semester, are they going to deny me?”

Now, if anyone were to question the accuracy of the story, she’d have no concerns.

A half-year fact-checking for the USA Today will do that.

Baptism by bile

Shortly after being promoted to managing editor of The DePaulia, Lee began a six-month internship at USA Today in June 2020.

She was part of a team that spent its days tracking social media channels. When a claim started being replicated at a high rate, team members got on the phone and didn’t put it down until they determined, without a doubt, whether those claims were true.

Those flags you see on Facebook stating a claim is missing context, partly false, or completely false? She and her teammates planted those. And conspiracy theorists were none too happy.

“I was working there during the thick of vaccine misinformation and election misinformation,” Lee said. “I think prior to my internship at USA Today, I would have been more nervous about people’s reactions to pieces that stir things up. After having faced some of the abuse that I faced from my fact-checks at USA Today, it doesn’t really feel like anything.”

But the scope of their fact-checks was much broader. For instance, when an image of Black doctors working on a Ku Klux Klan member went viral, she made two phone calls and reached a photographer who said it was an advertisement.

“This is something that was going out to millions of people every day,” she said. “People don’t grasp the amount of a grasp misinformation has on a very large part of our country. It isn’t just right-wing and left-wing. It’s startling, the amount of misinformation that percolates online.”

Doing fact-checks, vetting sources and generally reading horizontally adds more steps, albeit vital ones, to the reporting process.

“This shined a light on how much harder journalism is than a lot of people are treating it,” Lee said. “There’s no room in a fact-check. If you have any amount of thinking that you could possibly do wrong, it can’t go in your reporting.”

Her campaign kickoff

When Lee saw journalists being attacked leading up to and during the 2016 presidential election, she didn’t just sympathize. She wanted to join the team and help it rally.

“You can’t ignore that, seeing journalists being attacked and not understanding why,” Lee said. “That lit a little bit of a fire under me.”

She joined her high school newspaper before serving as a staff writer and arts and life editor at The DePaulia.

Lee said she got hooked on news, and fast.

“It’s a little bit of a drug,” she said. “You can’t get away from it.”

Her parents, Kari and Matt Lee, are professional classical musicians. So watching them persevere as the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated their livelihoods has prepared her for the gig economy.

“Having two classical trumpet players as parents has prepared me,” Lee said. “I don’t want to quit journalism just because I can’t get a job.”

That comes as a relief for Krause, who dropped the name of celebrated journalist Maggie Haberman when asked what sort of professional Lee could be.

“She has a tenaciousness,” Krause said. “She isn’t the kind of student journalist who says, ‘I’ve got my three sources. I’m done.' I could see her doing investigative reporting for major media. I could see her at the Washington Post or the New York Times someday. She has that kind of ability, and she’s not the only one of my students I’d say that about.”

But first, Lee and her team have unfinished business. They’ll soon publish a Title IX piece they’ve been building for the past couple of years. She said they’ve given administration ample opportunity to answer their questions, so the university’s leaders have to know the piece is coming.

“I can’t express enough how much we would love to sit down with them and get their responses, and this is one they’ll have to respond to,” she said. “We’ve been working on this since we were sophomores. We’ve been calling it our magnum opus.”

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Press Releases

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 11, 2024

Contact Information:
K. Eric Larson
(847) 997-2109
elarson@eyso.org
 

Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestras to premiere new compositions at Terra metallicum on Saturday, April 13
 

ELGIN, Illinois. (April 11, 2024) – Wanees Zarour, a renowned performer, educator, and expert in Middle Eastern music, will join the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestras (EYSO) as guest artist for a genre-bending evening of musical collaboration and performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13, in the Auditorium at South Elgin High School at 760 E Main St, South Elgin.

EYSO’s flagship Youth Symphony and its Brass Choir will perform with Zarour, who has been working with EYSO student musicians in rehearsals this past month, and through a masterclass at the high school earlier in the day. They will premiere two new compositions at this concert.

Zarour is an award winning Palestinian-American composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist steeped in maqam and jazz music. His compositional and arranging styles transcend borders and draw from traditions spanning the entire globe. 

For millennia, the complex and rich relationships between the natural world and humankind have captivated scholars, scientists, philosophers, and artists. Fruitful and fraught, timeless, and fragile, these relationships inspire a tremendous spectrum of artistic expressions that imitate, investigate, and emulate the interconnected worlds of nature and humanity. In EYSO's 48th season, explore how sound reflects the natural and built worlds around us — and how the two are united through music.

To see a more complete list of performances or for tickets, go to www.eyso.org/concert. In addition to traditional in-person seating, tickets are available to experience the concerts via live streaming.

About EYSO
The mission of EYSO is to create a community of young musicians, enriching their lives and the lives of their families, schools, communities and beyond, through the study and performance of excellent music.

EYSO serves students from 70 Chicagoland communities and has a national reputation for providing students with an engaging musical experience and a comprehensive learning environment of curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and collaboration. Students explore a thematic curriculum each season — one that helps students develop artistically and technically, and prepares them for a future of complex ideas, creative risk-taking, and leadership as global citizens. This approach has led hundreds of alumni to successful careers as professional musicians, educators, and strong leaders in every field. The theme of EYSO’s 48th season is GAIA through which students explore how sound reflects the natural and built worlds around us—and how the two are united through music. 

EYSO is accepting applications to audition for the 2024-25 season at www.eyso.org

To learn more about EYSO, visit www.eyso.org or call (847) 841-7700.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 5, 2024

Contact Information:
Monique Whitney
(505) 480-4150
email: monique@truthrx.org greynolds@ipha.org
 

Illinois pharmacists rally at State Capitol to end prescription drug middlemen patient steering, support increased state oversight

Community pharmacists call attention to increasing prescription drug costs, decreased access to care and emerging pharmacy deserts correlated to pharmacy benefit manager practices.

 

SPRINGFIELD, IL (March 5, 2024) – Illinois pharmacists will gather at the State Capitol today to rally in support of HB 4548 and SB 2790, proposed legislation which would eliminate controversial practices by prescription drug middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. The rally is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. and will be held near the Lincoln statue, located at the east end of the State Capitol and will include brief remarks by bill sponsors and constituents negatively impacted by PBM prescription drug pricing practices.

If enacted, HB 4548, sponsored by Rep. Jones, would protect patients’ right to receive prescription medication from the pharmacy of their choice, banning the lucrative PBM practice of “steering” patients to PBM-owned or affiliated pharmacies or mandatory mail order. Sen. Koehler’s SB 2790 would empower the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services with greater oversight of PBM contracts; monitoring of payments made to PBMs and pharmacies; and ensuring PBM rebates negotiated on behalf of HFS are fully paid to HFS.

“We applaud Representative Jones, Senator Koehler and the many members of our state legislature who are championing these critical measures that would protect the state’s patients and pharmacy providers,” said Illinois Pharmacists Association President Rupesh Manek, RPh, pharmacist and Rochelle-based pharmacy owner. “The proposed legislation is evidence of a responsible governing body aware of the pitfalls that come with overpaying pharmacy benefit managers for services that should be provided in the interest of fiscal responsibility, not overcompensating shareholders.”

Last May, Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino released the results of a Performance Audit of Pharmacy Benefit Managers, finding the state’s Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) department did not have complete copies of the contracts between managed care organizations and PBMs necessary to conduct monitoring of contract provisions, or between PBMs and pharmacies to be able verify accuracy or rate of reimbursement to pharmacies. The result of passage of SR 792 in 2022, the Performance Audit of the Medicaid Managed Care (MMC) PBMs identified over $200 million over 2 years in spread pricing overbilling to the MMC prescription program.

Anne Cassity, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) said “NCPA commends the Office of the Auditor General for its diligence in revealing gross overpayment to PBMs in Illinois’ Managed Medicaid program. Sadly, Illinois is joining numerous other states in recognizing how PBMs harm both the patients and payers – both public and commercial – they purport to serve. We urge Illinois to join the ranks of states who have established comprehensive PBM regulation with strong enforcement provisions to ensure patient access to pharmacy services at their neighborhood community pharmacy.”

PBMs manage patients’ prescription drug benefit, acting as the liaison between the patient, the pharmacy, and the patient’s employer or health plan sponsor. Since 2019, numerous studies have uncovered evidence of PBMs practices that result in endpayers paying significantly more for patients’ prescription medication than the patient’s pharmacy was reimbursed (a practice called “spread pricing”); and patients “steered” away from their pharmacy of choice to PBM-owned/affiliated pharmacies. Additional studies have shown the drug manufacturer rebates PBMs negotiate increase a drug’s list price year over year, causing patients to pay more out of pocket because of rebate-inflated costs. For more information on the rally or how PBM practices are affecting Illinois patients and taxpayers, contact Illinois Pharmacists Association at IPhA.org. Learn more about NCPA, the country’s largest organization of independent pharmacy owners, at NCPA.org. To understand how PBM practices affect patient care and affordability of medication for consumers and end payers, visit PUTT’s website at TruthRx.org.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 4, 2024

Contact Information:
William Nissen, publisher of the elderparole.org website
(312) 882-6338
email: wmjnissen@gmail.com
website: https://www.elderparole.org/
 

Advocates to deliver letters of support for elder parole bill, HB 2045, to governor, lieutenant governor, and legislative leaders in Springfield on March 6, 2024
 

CHICAGO (March 4, 2024) - Advocates for the passage of HB 2045, which would establish an elder parole process in Illinois, plan to hand deliver more than 900 signed letters of support for the bill to the Springfield offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and legislative leaders on March 6, 2024.

The elder parole bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-27th), would provide a parole process for approximately 1,000 people in Illinois prisons who are aged 55 years or older and have served at least 25 years.

The letters come from people across the State of Illinois and beyond, including people incarcerated in Illinois prisons. Most of the letters make the following points in support of enactment of the bill:

• The Illinois prison population has been steadily aging.

• Older inmates are often sick and infirm.

• Illinois is not providing the medical care that is needed by these aging inmates.

• A court-appointed monitor has identified elder abuse in Illinois prisons where preventable deaths have occurred due to the state’s failure to provide proper medical care.

• The medical care that is being provided is very costly to the state and the cost will only worsen as more inmates age.

• The Joe Coleman Medical Release Act is not solving the problem because too few people are sick enough to qualify and many of those who qualify are being denied release.

• Many older inmates have maintained close ties to their friends and families, who will support them in transitioning to life outside prison.

Under the bill, no one would be entitled to release, but rather eligible people would be given the opportunity to present their individual circumstances to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board and request release.

The bill requires the board to decide whether to grant parole based on several considerations, including rehabilitation, character references, participation in educational and work programs, and criminal and disciplinary history. The bill also provides that victims’ families would be notified and given the opportunity to participate in the parole hearing.

In 1978, Illinois abolished discretionary parole for those sentenced on or after Feb. 1, 1978. Since then, the growth in the prison population has far outpaced the increase in the state’s general population, and the percentage of the prison population 55 years or older has also increased significantly.

Dr. John Raba, the former medical director of Cermak Health Services, which provides health care at the Cook County Jail, is the court-appointed monitor in a class action where state officials have entered into a consent decree requiring that adequate medical care be provided in Illinois prisons. Dr. Raba has reported that the state is not meeting the needs of older prisoners and does not have the resources to provide such care.

According to Dr. Raba’s reports, the inadequate health care is resulting in elder abuse and avoidable deaths. Dr. Raba has recommended that a pathway to early release of prisoners be established. This bill would establish a reasonable pathway.

Rep. Slaughter has explained the need for this bill as follows: “This bill would establish a much needed mechanism for considering on an individual basis whether there is no longer any public interest to be served by continuing to imprison an individual who has aged and served significant time, because the individual has become rehabilitated, is not a threat to public safety, and neither the public nor the individual would benefit from that individual’s continued imprisonment. The
people covered by the bill are the least likely to re-offend and the most expensive to care for, given medical expenses and end-of-life care.”

Here are links to the text of most of the letters to be delivered and to a fact sheet for the bill:

Text of letter supporting enactment of HB 2045: https://bit.ly/3sd6aE9

Fact sheet for HB 2045: https://bit.ly/3P5jvph

 
 
 
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