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Vaccination process slower than anticipated -- Kambic

KANKAKEE — What Riverside’s President and CEO Phil Kambic has undoubtedly learned in the past 20 months of this COVID-19 pandemic would have taken years to acquire in management classrooms.

How he will put these lessons into place in the future may only be forming now, but much has been learned, he said.

In this second installment of our two-part Question & Answer session, Kambic responds to a number of issues he and healthcare officials are facing in regards to the vaccination and unwillingness of the public — and the hospital’s employees — to accept it. You can find the first installment at daily-journal.com.

At this point in the vaccination process, what percentage would you have anticipated for Riverside Healthcare? For Kankakee County?

“I would have expected that Riverside staff would already be at 100 percent vaccinated, given the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine and the longstanding culture we have to provide the highest quality care for our patients.

“For our county, I would have expected us to be at least 75 percent in order to achieve herd immunity. One of the unique qualities of our community is our historic love for our neighbor — particularly when people are vulnerable and struggling. We have a free and easy way to protect our neighbors with this vaccine.”

Hospitals are mandated to have personnel vaccinated, but exemptions had been allowed in previous vaccination programs. Why has this changed for the new mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine?

“It hasn’t changed. We are allowing exemptions as we have in the past with other vaccines. Because of the aggressive nature of this virus and the variants, we are allowing fewer than in past years, but we are still granting exemptions.”

What impact is being felt by those on staff who believe all should be vaccinated?

“It does add some stress to an already stressful situation. Our employees have been through a tremendous amount over the past 20 months. I am particularly sensitive to our staff who have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic and have received the vaccine to stay healthy and to protect their patients. As their colleagues have opted out to this point, they put their team and our patients at additional, unnecessary risk.”

How many employees are at risk of being suspended and then fired at Riverside?

“I hope it would be none — that all of our staff would choose to be vaccinated and do so in the timeline we have communicated. We believe through it could be between 1 percent and 3 percent that would opt to leave instead.”

QUESTION: Some people are saying if a portion of the medical profession is denying vaccinations, this proves there are questions about it. How do you respond?

ANSWER: “I don’t think it is wrong to question things. Intelligent people do ask questions, they seek information. Medical professionals are intelligent people. Science has given us a way to get out in front of this pandemic. There may be a very small minority of healthcare professionals who say otherwise, but the overwhelming majority is passionately supportive of the vaccine, and they cite broad-based reputable sources on which to base this decision.

“As the vaccine first came out in late 2020, I listened to the discussion, debate and research by medical professionals, particularly those on our own medical staff. Do you know who signed up on Day 1 to receive the vaccine in their own arms? The doctors, nearly all of them, of all ages, racial backgrounds, in child-bearing age and even some who were pregnant.

“The veracity of their individual research led them to a common conclusion. That still speaks volumes to me.”

QUESTION: A lot has been noted in the news about hospitals denying exemptions filed for religious/strongly held beliefs. How has Riverside addressed this?

ANSWER: “Riverside has carefully handled these questions. To date, all of the exemptions filed with us have not been religious exemptions. We have found no churches with doctrines stating an opposition to the vaccine. I am a practicing Catholic, as I have been all my life. Early on, the Pope came out stating the Catholic Church’s position of support for the vaccine.

“The filings we’ve received have been strongly held beliefs. I am deeply sympathetic of a strongly held belief and respect each person’s freedom to have those beliefs. But my No. 1 priority as president and CEO is to protect our patients and their care. That is the single driving reason for this requirement among our staff.”

QUESTION: Riverside is not alone to require the vaccine for its employees. What is the context and landscape for Riverside’s position relative to other hospital systems across the state and country?

ANSWER: “Riverside joins numerous hospitals and health systems across this state and nation who have communicated their requirement of the vaccine. Before we issued our policy, Gov. JB Pritzker issued his executive order requiring it.

“Since then, President Biden issued his executive order and is working with [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] now on the requirement for all employers of 100 or more employees across the country.

“People may disagree with our laws, but we are a nation of laws. Riverside will follow this law as we do with all that apply to us.”

UPDATED: Woman with autism reported missing in St. Anne

Katelynn Marie Contreras was last seen at home about 10:30 a.m. Sept. 29. READ MORE. 

Daily Journal staff report

ST. ANNE — The St. Anne community and multiple agencies are searching for a missing woman.

Katelynn Marie Contreras was last seen at her St. Anne home about 10:30 a.m. Sept. 29 and as of 3 p.m. Friday, her location is still not known, according to the St. Anne Police Department.

A pond on the northside of St. Anne was searched Friday morning, and a drone has been deployed in the search as well.

St. Anne Police Chief Henry David said Contreras has lived in St. Anne with her father and stepmother for two years. Her mother lives in Chicago with Contreras’ two children, David said.

“She has talked about going back to Chicago,” he said. “Apparently, she is trying to avoid us. She might be afraid we will harm her.”

The 25-year-old woman was not seen leaving the residence. She has no friends in the area and no belongings, money, phone or form of transportation, according to a Missing Persons Awareness Network flyer posted to social media. The flyer described her as a mixed Hispanic female, 5 feet, 1 inch tall, 150-160 pounds, long straight brown hair, and hazel eyes. Her ears are pierced and she has a tattoo on her right wrist that reads “Hope.”

The flyer classified Contreras as “autistic with mild retardation” and noted she has a speech impediment.

At the time of her disappearance, she was wearing a teal-colored T-shirt, white jeans that appear gray from the knees down, and black and grey Skechers shoes.

Anyone with information is asked to call the St. Anne Police Department at 815-427-8126 or the missing persons network at 312-620-0788.

Kankakee School Board hears COVID-19 update, approves budget

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee School Board heard an update on COVID-19 numbers and approved the fiscal year 2022 budget for Kankakee School District 111 during its meeting this week.

As of Monday’s board meeting, there have been 64 positive cases of COVID-19 among students and 18 positive cases among adults in the district since the school year started in August, Superintendent Genevra Walters reported.

She also reported that as of Monday, there had been 510 total students and six adults asked to quarantine this school year.

She noted that a large portion of the students in quarantine was in the Kankakee High School freshman class, who were scheduled to return from quarantine Thursday. She also noted that these numbers change on a daily basis.

Walters said the district would be putting together a chart for employees and students to clear up the expectations for who is required to quarantine and the conditions for returning to school, which will be posted to the district’s website.

This includes that a student or staff member who is vaccinated and not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms does not have to quarantine, she said.

Therefore, some of the KHS freshmen were eligible to return to school before the rest of their class on Thursday.

Walters noted there was some confusion with differing guidance from the CDC, health departments and Illinois State Board of Education, so the district consulted with its attorney for clarification.


Nicole Terrell-Smith, assistant superintendent of business services, presented some highlights from the fiscal year 2022 budget in a budget hearing prior to the regular board meeting.

The district’s budgeted revenue includes about $23 million in local funds, $43 million in state funds, $12.2 million in federal funds and $14.8 million in ESSER (federal COVID-19 aid) funds, for a total of about $93 million.

Terrell-Smith also noted the consumer price index for fiscal year 2022 is 1.4 percent, and the tax collection rate is estimated at about 91 percent, which is in line with last year’s rate.

As for expenditures, she projected a total of about $88.3 million, an increase of about $13.2 million from fiscal year 2021.

Other spending

Also during Monday’s meeting, board members voted to table a 4 percent salary increase for Superintendent Walters for the 2021-22 school year.

Additionally, the purchase of a contract for tutoring services with Paper Education Company for the 2021-22 school year was approved in the consent agenda. The services will cost $58,720.

According to the proposal for the services, the company will provide online one-on-one tutoring in both English and Spanish for students at Kankakee High School in all subjects.

The services were proposed as a means of addressing learning loss due to scheduling problems which are still being worked out at the high school.

Health leader clears up confusion on Comirnaty

Daily Journal staff report

Kankakee County Health Department administrator John Bevis recently addressed some confusion surrounding a brand name change for one of the producers of the COVID vaccine.

“There’s some individuals out there that feel that the Pfizer and the Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccines are different, and they are not. They are the same,” Bevis said about the FDA-approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

“Obviously, Pfizer is what it was called when it first came out. Now, its brand name is called Comirnaty. To help facilitate not having to ship all the vials back at taxpayers’ expense and put a new label on it that says Comirnaty, we just are using the original vials that we were sent, and eventually, the vials will say Comirnaty. So they are one in the same, and both effective in regards to their efficacy.”

Pfizer’s fact sheet given to recipients before they receive the shot states that the EUA-authorized vaccine and Comirnaty have the same formulation and can be used interchangeably without presenting safety or effectiveness concerns.