Health news from 90.5 WESA.

Of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Allegheny County is worst in the state for particulate matter air pollution, with 49 air pollution particulate days a year.

Kate Konkle, outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, said, "We don't see that in a lot of communities, but you can also think about, 'Do we have clean indoor air and smoking policies in place?' Some issues are tougher to tackle than others as a local community, and it might be a push at the state level or in other ways to make some of these better."

Orthopedic Surgery on the Rise in Pennsylvania

Apr 2, 2012

About one in 200 Pennsylvania residents underwent joint replacement surgery in 2010, according to a new study by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4).

The study presents data collected from surgery centers and hospitals statewide to showcase the changes in orthopedic and spinal operations between 2006 and 2010. 28,090 state residents, age 18 or older, underwent a common spine procedure in 2010. The rate was higher, 1 in ever 222, among people 65 and older.

Mixed Outcomes from Ouster of Highmark CEO

Apr 2, 2012

The firing of Highmark CEO Kenneth Melani may have come at an inopportune time for the health insurer, as it prepares to take over the struggling West Penn Allegheny Health System and wages a contract war with UPMC.

Highmark was dealt a blow when Moody's Investors Services downgraded its credit rating in response to the leadership tumult. However, the co-chair of the Pennsylvania House Insurance Committee doesn't see Melani's dismissal as a major factor in contract negotiations between Highmark and UPMC.

Melani Fired As Highmark CEO

Apr 2, 2012

One of the largest insurance companies in Pennsylvania has fired its chief executive officer a week after he was arrested following a fight with the husband of an employee with whom he was having an affair.

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Inc. announced yesterday that the board of directors had dismissed 58 year old Kenneth Melani who had been placed on unpaid leave March 29 after he was charged with simple assault and defiant trespass.

More than 600 social workers gathered in Harrisburg to call for the passage of Senate Bill 922, which would provide state licenses for social workers with bachelor's degrees.

SB 922 would create "practice protection," ensuring licensed professionals meet certain criteria.

Pennsylvania State Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna County), a co-sponsor of the bill, said 43 states have "practice protection" legislation, while 34 issue licenses to social workers with a bachelor's degree.

First-term Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor has announced a bill that will set up a new Pittsburgh HIV/AIDS commission. The overall goal is to bring together various entities and address gaps that he says exist in the current system. One in four of those living with HIV/AIDS in the city are not being treated.

Provision in Marcellus Shale Bill Prompts Controversy

Mar 30, 2012

Public health advocates and some environmental groups are crying foul over a provision in Act 13. The groups claim the wording in the law, which regulates shale drilling, amounts to a gag order for doctors when it comes to chemicals that may make people sick, but industry advocates say that's not the case.


Pennsylvania Democrats Make Hay Over Ultrasound Bill

Mar 27, 2012

A state House measure that would require women to get an ultrasound before they undergo an abortion is on hold due to concerns voiced by medical groups but that has not stopped opponents from striking back against the bill.

Protesters gathered at the Capitol Monday to rally against the bill. Several political candidates were in the crowd.

"The ultrasound bill of course wouldn't affect me… I'm too old to have children," said Harriet Ellenberger, a Democrat running for a House seat in Westmoreland County. "I'm protesting the bill on behalf of younger women," she said.

16 buses carrying people from all over Pennsylvania made their way to the nation's capital to participate in the "Hands Off My Healthcare Rally" that's taking place as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

"I think most of us feel this is a direct assault on our health, our families, and on our ability to make decisions that are made for us by nameless, faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington, DC," said Jennifer Stefano, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

"ED Bill" Sponsor Hopes To Put Ultrasound Bill In Perspective

Mar 23, 2012

A state lawmaker who takes issue with a proposal requiring ultrasounds for women seeking abortions plans to introduce a health care bill he calls "similarly ridiculous."

The proposal by Senator Larry Farnese would require men seeking erectile dysfunction medication —like Viagra— to undergo a cardiac stress test and a prostate exam.

Pennsylvania Water 7th Most Polluted In Nation

Mar 22, 2012

Industrial facilities dumped more than 10 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Pennsylvania's waterways, making the state's waterways the seventh worst in the nation, according to a new report released today by PennEnvironment.

Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act also reports that 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals were discharged into 1,400 waterways across the country.

Lung Association Defends Clean Air Act

Mar 21, 2012

The American Lung Association is hosting "Healthy Air Day" in Pittsburgh to back the Clean Air Act as a part of the organization's Red Carriage Initiative.

This Week is Wildfire Prevention Week

Mar 19, 2012

Governor Tom Corbett has proclaimed this week as Wildfire Prevention Week in Pennsylvania. According to the state Bureau of Forestry, nearly 85 percent of Pennsylvania's wildfires occur from March to May.

Chris Novak, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), said the amount and severity of wildfires varies depending on weather.

All too often a patient who has battled an aggressive sickness ends up succumbing to a simple, but ultimately fatal, infection.

"These are patients … who are undergoing chemotherapy, whose immune systems get compromised," said Dr. Aleem Gangjee of Duquesne University, "patients who are transplant recipients — their immune system is also compromised — and of course for patients who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS."

Gangjee is a medicinal chemist who, along with a team of researchers, is developing compounds that will tackle the stubborn fugnal infection.

A new study indicates exposure to heavy diesel exhaust fumes in workplace mines increases the risk of dying from lung cancer.

Mike Attfield led the initiative, titled "The Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study: A Cohort Mortality Study With Emphasis on Lung Cancer," [PDF] that he said aimed to improve upon previous thoughts and research.

Amid Shale Rush, Trying to Answer Health Questions

Mar 2, 2012

Amy Pare is a plastic surgeon in Washington County. She makes her living doing lifts, tucks and augmentations. So it's remarkable that she finds herself in the middle of a public health debate. It started about two years ago, she says.

That's when patients started coming in with what looked like acne on their faces.

"We started to have patients that would have open areas or recalcitrant lesions, that just kind of bled, ulcerated, didn't quite heal."

A new report [PDF] from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) finds that among patients who acquired a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) in 2010, nearly 42% were readmitted within 30 days of discharge, 31.3% were readmitted specifically because of an infection or complication.

Among those without an HAI 16% were readmitted.

New Hope for Heart Patients

Feb 23, 2012

Patients who suffer from end-stage biventricular heart failure, a condition where both sides of the heart become weakened and can't pump blood adequately throughout the body, might have a new hope, an artificial heart implantation that surgeons say will serve as a "bridge to transplant."

A web service that helps patients view hospital quality will begin publishing data on the occurrence of infection associated with central line-associated bloodstream infections.

Hospital Compare, which provides information about the quality of care in more than 4,700 hospitals across the country, plans to publish data on the occurrence of infection at specific hospitals.

The emergency department at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield will reopen on Valentine's Day, after being closed for more than a year. The move comes as part of Highmark's $745 million takeover of the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS). The new facility features 23 patient beds in private rooms, all new medical equipment, and a fast track patient triage system.

Senator Calls For Stricter Smoking Laws

Feb 10, 2012

Pennsylvania State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) wants to strengthen the Clean Indoor Air Act to ban smoking in casinos and all restaurants, bars, and taverns.

In September 2008, the Clean Indoor Air Act took effect prohibiting smoking in most indoor work and public places through the state.

Under the current law, smoking is allowed in half of a total floor space in casinos, and bars can apply for exceptions to the smoking ban if they show they earn less than 20 percent of their revenues from food sales.

Unveiling of the Giving Life Wall at UPMC

Feb 10, 2012

On Saturday, UPMC will dedicate the Giving Life Wall, a photomontage on permanent display at UPMC Presbyterian hospital that honors those who gave the gift of life through organ donation.

The wall is a collaborative effort between the hospital system and the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE).

The popularity of smoking through a hookah has been on the rise for several years, with many towns and cities having cafes or bars specifically for hookah. The National Cancer Foundation funded a study into whether or not websites that offer Hookah products are candid about their products.

The research team at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine did a systematic search of some of the most prominent Hookah Tobacco websites on the Internet.

CORE Courts More Donors

Feb 2, 2012

The Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE) wants to enlist 20 million new donors this year and will devote substantial energy and resources to the national initiative.

CORE is a not-for-profit organ procurement organization that is federally designated to serve Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and parts of New York.

The so-called Women's Right to Know Act (House Bill 1077) would require an abortion provider to do an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure. Supporters say they want to make sure women have all of the medical information necessary before making a final decision on having an abortion.

Autism Study Sheds Light On Challenges

Jan 29, 2012

Information from more than 3,500 autistic adults and caregivers is included in the Pennsylvania Autism Needs Assessment study, the largest of its kind in the nation.

Anne Bale, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) said there was a great need for information about people living with autism.

Health Officials Consider Rules For Wood-Fired Boilers

Jan 23, 2012

The Allegheny County Health Department is trying to figure out how to best regulate emissions from wood-fired boilers used to heat homes. The department has been seeing an increasing number of complaints about smoke as the popularity of the devices grows. However, there weren't many residents attending a recent Board of Health public hearing on proposed regulations.

Roe v. Wade Anniversary Sparks Rally

Jan 20, 2012

Two days before the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights activists gathered outside City Hall in downtown Pittsburgh today to rally against a new law that puts restrictions on abortion providers.

Governor Tom Corbett signed SB 732 into law on December 22 in response to the Dr. Kermit Gosnell incident that occurred in Philadelphia last year. Gosnell was indicted last January in the deaths of seven babies and a woman at his clinic.

Group Flunks Pennsylvania on Tobacco Policy

Jan 19, 2012

In a "report card" released Thursday, the American Lung Association gave Pennsylvania poor grades for its policies regarding tobacco use and taxation.

Deb Brown, President of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said the Commonwealth is "in the middle to the end of the pack" of the 50 states and Washington D.C., in the eyes of the ALA.

Adolescent Brain Respond Differently to Rewards

Jan 17, 2012

A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh has discovered that the adolescent brain responds differently to reward. This discovery could change what researchers know about early addiction and mental illness.

Researchers at Pitt were trying to learn if the adolescent brain processes salient events differently than the adult brain does. They found that the adolescent brain does, and that process could make them vulnerable to risky behavior and poor decision-making. It could also make them more susceptible to diseases such as addiction, schizophrenia, or eating disorders.