Health news from 90.5 WESA.

Reprieve Period for Abortion Clinics Underway

Jun 19, 2012

Act 122, or the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law, passed in December 2011, was to have been enforced today, but providers have received some additional time to comply. TRAP requires surgical abortion clinics to abide by the same regulations as freestanding surgical centers. If they failed to do so by June 19, either they were given a temporary license or could not operate.

VA To Hire More Mental Health Workers

Jun 18, 2012

In the next few months, VA Pittsburgh Healthcare system will be hiring approximately 42 new mental healthcare workers.

The VA will be bringing on clinicians and support staff to assist the ever-growing number of veterans who seek and require mental health help.

It isn't a rescue, a takeover, or a merger, according to Highmark interim CEO and Board Chairman J. Robert Baum.

However, the Pittsburgh-based health insurer wants to provide at least $275 million to the Jefferson Regional Medical Center and its foundation in return for effective control of Jefferson's Board of Directors.

The local paramedics union has voted down a contract offer from the city of Pittsburgh, and authorized a strike.

The contract offer was rejected overwhelmingly with a vote of 134-9. Local 1 of the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics said it will continue to negotiate in good faith with the Ravenstahl administration to prevent a strike.

Wrong-site surgery and harmful fall prevention tactics appear to be working. According to the June Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory, there has been a decline in the number of reports filed. Wrong-site procedures occur when surgeons operate on a body part other than that intended.

A new study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows nearly 1 in 3 college students have admitted to smoking tobacco from a hookah, a single or multi-stemmed instrument in which flavored smoke passes through a water basin before it's inhaled.

Brian Primack, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics, said the study's findings were somewhat surprising.

To head off West Nile Virus, the Allegheny County Health Department today begins to treat storm water catch basins in the Pittsburgh area with pesticides to combat the breeding of mosquitoes. The treatment will continue weekdays from 4:00-9:00 PM.

The bugs can carry the virus, which has already been detected in samples in Allegheny County this year. Four mosquitoes tested positive: three coming from Pittsburgh's East End and the other from Penn Hills.

Some hospital visits are inevitable, but many are preventable. Over the past decade, potentially preventable hospitalizations have declined in the commonwealth. The most recent report [PDF] from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) tracked 12 conditions and found that in the last ten years the rate of potentially preventable hospitalizations dropped from 231 per 100,000 residents in 2001 to 186.9 per 100,000 in 2010.

Medicaid Changes Have Providers Pulling Teeth

Jun 11, 2012

Marcia Esters lives in a Hazelwood high-rise. As the result of a spinal congenital disorder that was compounded by a workplace accident, she gets around in a motorized wheelchair.

Last fall, she went to her dentist. He told her she needed crowns fused to six of her bottom teeth and her top dentures were wearing out, and because of changes made to Medicaid in the last fiscal budget, the care she needed wouldn't be covered. She would have to pay out of pocket.

Panel Discusses LGBT Health Problems

Jun 6, 2012

Public health experts from the University of Pittsburgh met in Oakland Wednesday to discuss health problems facing gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities.

According to Pitt's Center for LGBT Health, sexual minorities are often more likely to develop certain cancers than heterosexuals. For example, Pitt assistant professor of psychiatry Dr. Tom Mills said lesbians haven't been proven to have higher rates of breast cancer, but that's probably the case.

Starting in September health care insurers will be required to write their policies in plain language. Currently,the policy descriptions sent to customers by insurance companies tend to be long and difficult to figure out. The Summary of Benefits and Coverage, which is required by The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, changes that.

In March, an Allegheny General Hospital patient became the first there to undergo robotically-assisted minimally invasive coronary bypass surgery. The procedure is thought to be less traumatic to the body and allows for faster recovery times for patients.

Teenage athletes disproportionately estimate their recovery from concussions on physical symptoms like headache and nausea, according to a new study from UPMC.

The UPMC Center for Sports Medicine Concussion Program studied 101 concussed teen athletes to find that they often overlook non-physical symptoms like emotional distress, sleep problems, and difficulty in concentration when they are gauging their recoveries.

Robotic-assisted, laparoscopic surgery for prostate cancer has gained in popularity over the years, but a recent UPMC study found it doesn't yield better results than standard open surgery, though it costs a great deal more.

The "Hard Head Patrol" is back this summer educating children of all ages on the importance of wearing a helmet when riding anything with wheels. The program sponsored by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh will begin this month and run through September.

A new study released by the Trust For America's Health (TFAH) shows almost half of all U.S. states scored low on the Injury Prevention Report Card. The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report ranked states on ten indicators and 24 of them scored a five or lower.

The growing popularity of telemedicine may still be out of reach to some, but Pennsylvania is trying to close that gap. Governor Tom Corbett has announced that the state will increase patients' access to specialist care through telemedicine by expanding coverage for people covered by the Medical Assistance Program.

"How this will work is using technology like interactive audio and video equipment, doctors and patients will be able to connect from remote locations," said Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

Several years ago Paul Getsy woke up and went to work like any other normal day. He put on a headset and thought the right ear had stopped working, only to discover it was actually his ear that wasn't working. Getsy suffered what's called sudden sensorineural hearing loss. That's a fast, frequently one-sided and often uncorrectable hearing loss that occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. A steroid treatment didn't work, and traditional hearing aids don't do much for people with this type of hearing loss.

Screening for colorectal cancer has shown to be effective and decrease the likelihood of death caused by colon cancer, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. University of Pittsburgh Professor of Medicine Dr. Robert Schoen, the lead author, said that the screening exam was not a full-blown colonoscopy.

A special type of cardiac ultrasound developed at UPMC allows doctors to pinpoint the placement of pacemaker wires on the heart, according to a recent study from the hospital system.

Principal investigator Dr. Samir Saba said the speckle tracking echo technique improves upon doctors' methods of placing the left ventricular wires for biventricular pacemakers.

Well, it would improve the current technique if there were any standard method of placing those wires.

A research team at the University of Pittsburgh has discovered a possible treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), just four years after determing the cause of the rare skin cancer.

The husband-and-wife team of Dr. Patrick Moore and Dr. Yuan Chang has found that the experimental drug YM155 is an "extremely potent killer" of MCC tumors in laboratory mice.

Moore said the drug was not toxic to the rodents, so human trials are expected to begin within six months.

ACHD Warns Whooping Cough is On the Rise

May 9, 2012

The Allegheny County Health Department is reminding the public to get vaccinated for pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Department spokesman Dave Zazac noted there have been 46 confirmed or probable pertussis cases countywide this year, far above the typical average of seven. He said the bacterial infection can be picked up by touching tissues with the disease, or by coming into contact with bacteria put in the air through coughing.

Wheelchairs break 40% more often than they used to, according to a new study by researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The incidence of breakdowns in previous years was already high, according to senior author Dr. Michael Boninger, but a surge in failures since 2006 has left more people with spinal-chord injuries in inconvenient and unsafe situations.

Members of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and Allegheny County residents implored the County Board of Health Wednesday to pass updated and strengthened air toxic guidelines (ATG), the document used to permit new sources of air pollution in the county.

GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said the hope was that the board would have new guidelines to consider at their meeting on Wednesday, but they didn't.

County Health Board Names Interim Director

May 2, 2012

The Allegheny County Board of Health has appointed Ronald Voorhees as interim director. This comes after the board ousted County Health Director Bruce Dixon after 20 years on the job. He'll be leaving in early June.

"It is the intention of the board to hold a national search for a permanent director, and that process will begin. We've already posted the job description," said Board Chair Lee Harrison.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark Inc. have agreed to another extension. This one will provide in-network access for Highmark Commercial and Medicare Advantage members to all UPMC hospitals and physicians through the end of 2014.

The new deal replaces a one-year contract extension that was set to expire June 30, 2013.

While making the announcement, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he hopes the two non-profits will continue to meet to try and hammer out a deal that will extend beyond December 31, 2014.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In a space that was until recently a parking lot now stands the newest addition to the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

It took more than a decade for it to come together, but the new facility in Oakland is being touted as the future of veteran-centered health care.

New features include 78 private beds for psychiatric care in the same building as an outpatient primary-care center that providers hope will streamline services.

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh has taken a look at the childbirth procedures and delivery suites at Magee-Women's Hospital to understand and suggest ways to improve sustainability in the practice.

Melissa Bilec, an assistant professor in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, led the research that is considered the first of its kind. The researchers used a Life Cycle Assessment to determine environmental impacts of childbirth in a hospital setting.

Families were given an eight-month period from the beginning of the school year to make sure their children are fully vaccinated. But enough students were not in compliance that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has extended the deadline by two weeks.

"Two weeks depends on the school district. It's eight months from the start date of school," said Department of Health Spokeswoman Christine Cronkright. "In some school districts, that day is coming today; some, it's tomorrow; it depends on when that school district began school."

A report this week from The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) showed that more than 10 percent of those released from hospitals in Pennsylvania are readmitted within 30 days and that means a huge cost for taxpayers. Readmissions for Medicare patients alone accounted for more than a half billion dollars in spending in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available.