Health news from 90.5 WESA.

The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System officially opened a "Fisher House" on the campus of its main hospital in Oakland on Tuesday. When a member of a military family from out-of-town must be hospitalized, the house will provide free rooms and meals for the rest of the family.

Health Officials Want to Needle You

Dec 3, 2012

Although no official cases of the flu have been confirmed in the Pittsburgh area yet this season, local health officials are urging residents to get a flu shot during National Influenza Week (December 2-8).

"We're approaching that time of year when you start to see influenza activity," said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department.  "Influenza typically starts in late fall and peaks in the winter sometime in late January or February."

Pitt Study Sheds New Light On Debilitating Virus

Dec 3, 2012

A virus that can cause brain damage lies dormant in more than half the population and scientists are working to eradicate it before it can debilitate our unborn children. It sounds like a movie plot, but it isn’t. In fact, it has already inside us and a new study shows certain cells are resistant to the virus.

For years, it has been recommended that women schedule annual mammograms to help prevent and detect breast cancer in the early stages. Now, as a result of a multinational study, researchers are finding ultrasound screenings could be more affordable and accessible to women while also being more effective.

Dr. Wendie Berg, a professor of radiology at the University of Pittsburgh and practicing radiologist at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC, led researchers through a four-year study that evaluated data from the perspective of using ultrasound as the primary screening method.  

Hospital Acquired Infections Down in PA

Nov 29, 2012

Healthcare-associated infections contracted at Pennsylvania hospitals decreased by 3.1% in 2011. That is according to an annual report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) fell in three categories: catheter-associated urinary tract infections (down 32.3% from 2008-2011; central line-associated bloodstream infections (down 44% from 2008-2011); and surgical site infections (down 5.9% from 2009 to 2010).

Lupus affects some 1.5 million people in the US, most of them women between the ages of 15 and 45. The word “lupus” is well-known, but what it actually does is less-so.

“It is an auto-immune disease, so immune system attacking self. Your immune system is supposed to be your defense against external infections and invaders and for reasons we don’t fully understand it turns on self and mounts an attack against self,” said Dr. Susan Manzi, co-founder of the Lupus Center of Excellence at West Penn Allegheny Health System.

UPMC has entered into negotiations with a Blair County health system for a possible affiliation agreement. Altoona Regional Health System has been exploring affiliation options for nearly a year, UPMC beat out other large health systems, including Highmark for the right to negotiate.

“Now, the discussions get down to more specifics about what an affiliation would look like, and we’re not putting any timelines on this, so we’re not sure when the next step will be,” said Altoona Regional Spokesman Dave Cuzzolina.

Non-general acute care facilities in Pennsylvania, such as rehabilitation and psychiatric hospitals, remained financially sound during fiscal year 2011. That’s according to the most recent report from The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4). The strongest category was rehabilitation hospitals which saw statewide operating margins improve 3.76 percentage points.

Hospital Advocacy Group Outlines Future Challenges

Nov 14, 2012 Wrap Web.mp3

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, an advocacy organization, has outlined how the fiscal cliff, deficit reduction, tax cuts and the Affordable Care Act could impact Pennsylvania's hospitals as they strive to meet financial demands while providing quality care to patients and communities.  

Pennsylvania Receives “B” on Premature Birth Report Card

Nov 14, 2012

Pennsylvania was awarded its highest rating on premature births in 2011 since the March of Dimes began its grading system five years ago.

Pennsylvania decreased the percentage of babies born prematurely to 11 percent, from 11.8 percent in 2006.

A new study out of The University of Pittsburgh finds a genetic link between chronic pancreatitis and alcohol consumption in men.  Researchers found a genetic variant of the chromosome X near the claudin-2 gene that predicts which heavy-drinking men are at risk of developing chronic pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is a serious disease that develops in the pancreas, a digestive gland that makes insulin. 

Pittsburgh Taking Part In World Diabetes Day

Nov 13, 2012

The Department of Health estimates more than 660,000 adults have diabetes including at least 330,000 in western Pennsylvania.   To highlight the impact the disease has locally as well as around the globe, November 14  has been designated World Diabetes Day.

Since 2007, the World Health Organization and International Diabetes Federation have encouraged the world to light buildings blue to attract attention to the impact of diabetes around the world.

The Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard honored its founder Monday with something the late veteran Sidney Singer would have never done for himself.

In a formal ceremony the day after Veterans Day, a crowd of about thirty veterans, family members and friends watched as Veterans Place Executive Director Jared Souder christened the facility's primary building the "Sidney W. Singer Veterans Service Center".

Souder said the designation was overdue after Singer's passing in January 2010.

The newly-launched “My Bike” program provides specially-adapted bicycles to children with disabilities in the 10-county greater Pittsburgh area.  As of Monday morning 51 bikes were ready to go to children in need, by mid-afternoon, funding had been secured for 6 more. The bikes will go to kids like Kody Conley. His mother, Kim Conley, said when they moved into their neighborhood a year and a half ago, Kody was “just a kid in a wheelchair.” When he first rode his specialized bike, the whole neighborhood went outside to watch, and some kids hopped on their own bikes to ride with him.

Joining in the Halloween spirit, the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) is reaching out to communities to help people understand the Medicaid system and what’s at stake if cuts are made. PHAN said it’s a scary prospect and could have devastating impacts.

Chanting "Back to the table, while you're able!", protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh on Wednesday to urge Highmark and West Penn Allegheny Health System to reach an affiliation agreement without going to court.

One day before a court date with Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward, the group of about forty hospital employees, community members and politicians brought a "mock negotiating table" to the doorsteps of local juggernaut health insurer Highmark and the financially ailing WPAHS.

With a total of 308 confirmed cases of fungal meningitis in 17 states, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recommending all patients who received an injectable medicine from the New England Compounding Center (NECC) be contacted and asked about their health.  So far one Pennsylvanian has contracted the disease.

Nationwide, 23 people have died from fungal meningitis after receiving steroid injections made by NECC. Fair WEb.wav

Using a sport analogy, the Consumer Health Coalition is urging people to build a championship healthcare team, with themselves being the most valuable player. A workshop in the Hill District will teach patients how to take a more active role in their own medical care.

Nationwide Screenings for Depression on Thursday

Oct 10, 2012

Depression is more than just a bad mood.  It’s  the most common mental disorder that impacts more than 15 million Americans including 5% of the nation’s children and teens. October 11 is National Depression Screening Day and Dr. David Palmiter, President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA), said this event is very important.

Between 2002 and 2011 the number of women in Pennsylvania hospitals who had both a mastectomy and lumpectomy dropped, while preventative surgery increased. The findings on breast cancer surgeries are detailed in a report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) released Tuesday. While the number of women undergoing surgery for breast cancer remained steady over the ten year period, those having both procedures fell by 60%, from 1,535 to 604.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD)  has joined with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to investigate an outbreak of fungal meningitis.

The outbreak has been linked to patients who received injections of methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid used to stop inflammation. The drug was made by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts which issued the voluntary recall and has shut down its operations. Warehouse Wrap_Emily Farah_SOC.mp3

Personalizing medicine is the goal of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) five-year, $100 million investment to create an electronic database of medical information.  The technology uses analytic and predictive modeling applications designed to improve patient outcomes, research capabilities, and improvements within UPMC.

Starting this month, hospitals will not get as much money from the federal government if they have too many too many Medicare patients readmitted within a month of being discharged.  More than a hundred Pennsylvania hospitals will face this penalty.

Hospitals with high readmission rates for Medicare patients treated for heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia who return for care within 30 days of discharge will lose up to one percent of their regular reimbursement from the federal government.

Rite Aid is Very Different 50 Years Later

Oct 1, 2012

The residents of a Pittsburgh area senior high-rise helped to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a Pennsylvania-based company Monday by rolling up their sleeves.  Rite Aid Corporation marked its birthday by giving free flu shots to seniors across the country.

Rite Aid Pharmacy District Manager Brian Bobby vaccinated dozens of elderly residents of Town North Tower in Ross Township. He said the event is an example of how the pharmacist's role is different now than it was fifty years ago.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Oct 1, 2012 Cancer Wrap.mp3

Today marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Susan B. Komen for the Cure Pittsburgh has planned several events including the 4th annual Paws for the Cure, a dog walk through Hartwood Acres on October 7th, and the Tickled Pink Survivor Luncheon at the Omni William Penn on October 20th, along with other local events. 

West Penn Allegheny Health System said it is released from its obligations to Highmark under the affiliation agreement signed by the two entities in 2011. The reason, said WPAHS Board Chair Jack Isherwood, is a breach of the agreement on Highmark’s part. That breach, he said, comes in the form of an indication that Highmark would not consummate the agreement, even if the insurance commissioner approved it.

“Instead Highmark wants a new deal that involves West Penn Allegheny Health System undergoing a bankruptcy process,” said Isherwood.

Walk For Parkinson’s Disease Research

Sep 27, 2012

Pittsburghers are being asked to get up and move for Parkinson’s disease on September 29.

The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) is sponsoring Pittsburgh’s second annual Moving Day, a walk that helps to raise awareness of the disease.

In addition to the 1.5 mile walk, there will be a movement pavilion, where people can participate in activities such as yoga or zoomba, or simply go dancing.

Barbara Farrell, Executive Director of the NPF branch of Pittsburgh, said exercise is a critical component in managing the disease.

Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs) did slightly better in 2011 than they did in 2010 according to the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council (PHC4). An ASC is a facility that individuals visit for outpatient procedures, rather than going into a hospital. These are procedures that don’t require an overnight stay, such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy.

The financial margins for such facilities rose to 25.19% in fiscal year 2011, compared to 24.99% in fiscal 2010.

Elderly patients in the southern states might need to be more cautious when it comes to their medications.  A recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh shows doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics to older patients in the south than any other region in the United States.