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Remembering lives lost to domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Harbor House has been hosting events throughout the month to share information on statistics and resources.

With the month coming to a close, Harbor House hosted the third annual candlelight vigil Monday night on the steps of the Kankakee County Courthouse in memory of the lives lost to domestic violence and to honor those who have survived.

“I want to thank the survivors who make Harbor House’s mission a reality,” Harbor House Executive Director and CEO Jenny Schoenwetter said in her opening remarks. “[Those] who come forward bravely every day to share their story.

“The whole point of this evening is that we’re also taking time to remember those who have not survived this past year of domestic violence.”

Over 20 attendees stood on the courthouse lawn holding LED candle votives emitting a purple light — the color of domestic violence awareness. This tradition began in 2019, and the 2020 vigil was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During her opening address, Schoenwetter spoke of the resources provided by Harbor House and the mission behind the organization. She noted that the pandemic saw a spike in use of resources, as individuals in abusive relationships were often at home with their abusers for months on end.

In the past year since the beginning of the pandemic, Harbor House has served 567 adult survivors of domestic violence and 130 youth survivors. They have assisted with 175 emergency orders of protection, provided 4,714 nights of shelter and have answered 6,000 hotline calls.

“In that same time frame, our community has seen seven losses of life [and] five victims lost to domestic violence,” she said.

A table was set up on the courthouse steps with five small lighthouses, along with five votives, to honor the lives that were lost in the community. Schoenwetter encouraged those holding votives to think about someone they know who has experienced domestic violence and “hold them in our hands during our time together.”

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe, who is also Harbor House’s board president, then stepped up to the microphone to address the crowd. He spoke about the pandemic and how domestic violence was able to “thrive” in that time of isolation.

“The violence can escalate, and far too often does, to murder,” he said. “Kankakee County has a significant domestic violence problem, and we are no stranger to domestic violence homicides.”

He explained that even when victims report the crimes and press charges, “like that cycle of domestic violence does, it pulled them back.” He expressed that the lives lost create “an unfillable void.”

In addition to Schoenwetter and Rowe’s addresses, Harbor House volunteer Hannah Swale gave a speech empowering survivors, and Community Cup Church of the Nazarene musicians Susan Morrill, Noelle Fillmore and Makenzie Flores performed three songs.

Discussion in additional forums

Rowe spoke last week at the annual State of the County breakfast, and expressed the significant role that Harbor House plays in the community. He also stressed that the data available regarding domestic violence is a lot higher than what is reported.

“In an incident where a victim reported the violence, at least we’re able to build a case, make an arrest, get a charge and get it into the system,” he said. “Imagine how many incidents are happening behind closed doors that we don’t even know about.”

He went on to explain that these disturbances — even if isolated to the victim and abuser — still ripple throughout the home and impact other family members, putting weight on the shoulders of children and distracting them from their schoolwork.

Giving a personal example of his childhood, Rowe’s mother suffered abuse at the hands of his father and, in the instances when his mother would call the police, the question is always “where can you and your son go?”

“We’re really blessed as a community to have Harbor House,” Rowe said, adding that it gives people in these situations a safe place to go.

This has been particularly important during the pandemic, as there has been a significant spike in domestic battery cases. Kankakee Sheriff Mike Downey described the numbers as “atrocious” during a July meeting with the County Board’s Finance Committee.

At that time, Schoenwetter said the Harbor House’s hotline has seen a 15 percent monthly increase in phone calls over the past fiscal year. A peak month during the pandemic was a 60 percent increase in calls, and she said that there are a variety of reasons that cases have risen.

“Everything around domestic violence boils down to power and control,” she said. “So that’s something that the abuser is always seeking in that relationship, and sometimes for the victim in that relationship being able to get away for a period of time like to work or to the grocery store or things along those lines that helps to create a little bit of space and reprise, and that wasn’t an option.”

Closing remarks

Schoenwetter challenged all of the vigil’s attendees to reach out to a survivor of domestic violence to remind them how “strong and amazing they are.” She also challenged attendees to reach out to someone who is currently in an abusive relationship to let them know they have a friend on their side.

“We — the broad community ‘we’ — interact with survivors of domestic violence on a daily basis, we just might not know it,” she said. “You see them in your workplace, you see them in your families, you see them in your friendships — they’re everywhere.”

“These are horrible conversations, but they are necessary conversations,” said Rowe when remembering the lives lost this year. “These are tough things to talk about, especially in a community of our size. But we have to not only talk about it, we have to be vocal about domestic violence in our community.”

For more information on Harbor House, go to harborhousedv.org or call 815-932-5800.

Bradley hires streetscape design firm

BRADLEY — Bradley continues its push for a transformation of the village.

On Monday, the Bradley Village Board hired the well-known design company Hitchcock Design Group to begin preliminary engineering on streetscape improvements along Illinois 50 (Kinzie Avenue).

The board OK’d the $29,500 expense by a unanimous vote.

The village board also approved a state grant request seeking $3 million to go along with $3 million the village is dedicating to the streetscape project.

If all pieces fall into place during the next several months, work could begin along Illinois 50 by summer 2022, village officials noted. The project would take several years to complete, they added.

Mayor Mike Watson said after the board meeting the streetscape improvements would consist of lighting upgrades, retention pond upgrades, street medians developments, decorative brick paving installations at intersections and way-finding signs, among other improvements.

Village finance director Rob Romo said, “When people come into Bradley, we want them to know it.”

The village is looking to dramatically enhance about 5 miles of streetscape along Illinois 50, West Broadway Street and Kennedy Drive in an effort to enhance its appeal to current and future residents, businesses and visitors.

About six weeks ago, the village hired Convention Sports & Leisure International LLC, of Minneapolis, Minn., to complete a market demand and opportunities analysis on the same area.

As part of the creation of this recently adopted business district, the board also included a 1-percentage-point sales tax increase — from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent — for the 913 commercial parcels within this 1,187-acre boundary. The additional sales tax, to be collected over a 23-year period beginning Jan. 1, is targeted to help fund prospective property improvements.

Restraining order OK’d for five nurses at Riverside

KANKAKEE — Five Riverside Healthcare nurses facing possible termination or suspension at week’s end were granted a lifeline Monday in Kankakee County Circuit Court.

At the conclusion of a nearly three-hour hearing Monday, Associate Judge Nancy Nicholson granted a temporary restraining order filed by six Riverside nurses or nurse practitioners.

The ruling applies to nurse practitioners Neelie Panozzo and Kathryn Hamblen; and nurses, Valerie Kietzman, Judy Busato and Carmen Wymore.

A sixth hospital employee, Amy Memenga, a nursing supervisor who says she was fired in September for not obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination, was determined to have fallen outside of the temporary restraining order timeline, Nicholson ruled.

Monday’s action was just the first step, noted Daniel Suhr, the attorney representing the nurses.

The order will be in place until the next major step set to take place at 11 a.m. Nov. 19 hearing in which the preliminary injunction will be heard.

Suhr, however, felt a significant hurdle had been crossed with Monday’s granting of the temporary restraining order which allows the five nurses to remain employed.

“We’re very happy,” he said, noting he and the nurses appreciated the judge’s recognition of the important rights at stake.

“Today’s ruling is preserving the status quo. This means they can continue their jobs,” he said.

He added if the hospital would fire those unvaccinated, it would be in violation of the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act as well as Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order.

Suhr added it was their belief the law allowing religious exemptions-strongly held beliefs regarding vaccination is intentionally clear and broad.

The law, he noted, is meant to give employees the “fullest possible protection of conscience rights,” meaning workers should be protected in the exercise of their conscience even if it is contrary to the employer’s wishes or to the demands of the jobs.

What impact does Monday’s ruling have on Nov. 19 hearing, Suhr was asked.

“We are confident in our arguments,” he said. “This is a positive sign the judge recognizes these rights.”

Riverside’s administration noted Monday afternoon that while it disagrees with the court’s decision, the hospital would comply with the court’s requirement that it allows these employees to continue working as the legal process proceeds.

“These and other unvaccinated team members are required to comply with stringent safety protocols, including wearing an N95 mask at all times and weekly testing,” read a statement from the hospital.

The hospital plans to contest Monday’s ruling.

In its statement Monday, the hospital said, “We are unwavering in our belief that requiring our employees to be vaccinated or receive an approved religious-strongly held belief or medical exemption will allow us to provide the safest environment possible, and that the criteria we’ve been using to guide our decisions is fair, justified and clearly focused on protecting the health and safety or our patients and workforce.”

The administration noted late last week that 90 percent of its 2,913-member workforce has been vaccinated.

“We continue to be deeply grateful for every member of our team, the vast majority of whom have already received the vaccine or an approved exemption,” the hospital said. “We hope that those who haven’t will also take this important step before the deadline on Oct. 31.”

Panozzo, who has been at the forefront of the fight to continue working by being tested weekly, expressed gratitude for the granting of the restraining order.

“We passionately love to serve our patients,” she said.

She noted that with nursing shortages growing, she is grateful these jobs will not be lost by month’s end due to suspension or firings.

“This is not just about the six of us,” she said, referring the many others who had not joined the suit. “We have worked for these past 20 months or so without being vaccinated. I don’t know why they felt that had to change. The law clearly protects those with religious belief.”

She said regardless of the pandemic, the hospital’s mandate was violating the group’s constitutional rights.

While Monday’s ruling applies only the five parties, Hamblen hopes that Monday’s ruling would provide protection for all other unvaccinated employees.

“It’s my hope Riverside would step down,” Hamblen said. “We want to stay here and do our job. We are not looking for money. We just want to keep our job.”

Moderna, J&J boosters available, clinics this week

KANKAKEE — Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 booster shots are now available for those eligible in Kankakee County after being authorized by federal and state health officials last week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel approved recommendations for the two emergency-authorized brands Thursday following the lead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as the option to “mix and match” the brand of the original dose cycle and booster.

The eligibility requirements for Moderna’s booster are the same as the booster of the other mRNA vaccine, Pfizer, that was approved weeks ago.

People over 65, long-term care residents and people aged 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions who received Moderna’s vaccine are recommended to get a booster at least six months after their last shot, according to the CDC. Adults with underlying medical conditions or who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure from occupational or institutional settings may receive a Moderna booster.

Those 18 and older who received Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine are recommended to get a booster dose anytime past two months after the initial dose, under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization.

“I believe some of the decisions that are based on that is that the Johnson & Johnson may have a lower efficacy number in terms of protection,” said Kankakee County Health Department administrator John Bevis.

The health department is kicking off its expanded booster options with two clinics this week. From 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., a Moderna booster clinic will be held on Wednesday and a Johnson & Johnson clinic on Thursday. First and second doses or Pfizer shots can also be scheduled.

To sign up for the Moderna clinic, visit signupgenius.com/go/Moderna27. For the Johnson & Johnson registration, go to signupgenius.com/go/janssen28.

The approved Moderna booster dose is 50 micrograms, half the size of a normal dose.

“We’ll have to make sure we’re very careful of who we’re giving a shot to and what it is, which is part of the reason why we’re doing the two separate vaccine days,“ Bevis said.

Bevis said the health department will assess ongoing interest in boosters and mixing and matching at these clinics. Residents can also get boosters at their pharmacies or doctor’s offices.

“We expect to have more [clinics] and I hope to have a large number of individuals coming in through our doors,” Bevis said. “You know, we try to eliminate as many barriers as we can. We don’t ask for insurance cards or anything like that, staff will be vaccinated that will be giving the vaccinations, so the public can be assured of that.”

As long as a person meets the time frame and eligibility requirements for a specific booster, he or she can get it, even if it’s a different approved brand from the original vaccination. Though the CDC has not widely recommended mixing and matching, they approved it as an option so those interested can opt in.

Bevis said he has heard that some people are interested in switching vaccine brands for the booster to avoid the side effects they had before.