Erika Beras

Behavioral Health Reporter

Erika Beras is 90.5 WESA’s Behavioral Health reporter. Her work has also aired on NPR, the BBC and other networks. She has won local and national awards for her reporting; among them a fellowship from The International Center for Journalists to travel to Poland and report on shale and energy in 2012. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh Erika was a reporter at The Miami Herald. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.



8:07 am
Fri January 16, 2015

For the Girls of Steel, Building Robots Is a Team Sport

Girls of Steel members Isabella Salvi, 17, (left) and Kyra Halbert-Elliot, 14, work on a robot with team mentor Tom Pope.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

At a lab in Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center, dozens of goggle-clad teenage girls are drilling, hammering and writing code.

They’re the Girls of Steel, and the goal is to build the mind and body of a robot in the next few weeks. Then the girls — and their robot — will enter robotics competitions.

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3:30 am
Mon January 12, 2015

Violence, Mental Health and Public Health Come Together in Commission Report

A year-and-a-half-old committee formed to find new ways to reduce violence and promote positive mental health and community well being in Allegheny County is just now making its recommendations to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The 24-member Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health is calling for the creation of an ongoing Public Health Collaborative. 

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Public Safety
2:48 pm
Fri January 9, 2015

Database Will Keep Track of Kids Served By the State

The Department of Human Services has established an electronic case management system that will keep track of the children served by the state.

Cathy Utz, the Deputy Secretary for Children, Youth and Families for the Department of Human Services, said there was previously no statewide database.

She said there was a gap in the system and caseworkers had to rely on a family or child to self-report if they had received services in another county.

Most other states have a similar system in place.

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Environment & Energy
3:07 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

Coal Company Wants PennDOT to Pay

A road is being built over land that can be mined for coal, and a lawyer is trying to figure out how his client will be compensated.

Robert Lightcap is an attorney for Penn Pocahantas Coal Company which owns approximately 16 blocks of coal covering several thousand acres in Somerset County where Route 219 is being constructed.

The highway will go over the coal reserves owned by his client.

Some of the coal is in release to PBS Coals. They already had a planned, permitted mine in place. Lightcap says acres of coal will be lost because of the road project.

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3:42 pm
Mon January 5, 2015

Urgent Care Clinic Opens in Braddock

On Monday, nearly five years after UPMC shut down their Braddock hospital, competitor Allegheny Health Network and Highmark opened an urgent care clinic in the community.

“We believe everyone in our region should have the opportunity to live healthier, happier lives,” said Patricia Lieberman, chief operating officer of the Allegheny Health Network.

The 12-patient room facility is in a space that was once a surface parking lot for the hospital.

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Behavioral Health
3:30 am
Sun January 4, 2015

Biological Autism Diagnosis Could Be Within Reach

Psychiatric disorders, including autism, are diagnosed by behavior and through questionnaires. But new research out of Carnegie Mellon University, published in the journal PloS One indicate that a biological-based diagnosis might become a reality.

With technology the researchers are using, they can directly see when thoughts are altered and what is spurring that change.

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3:14 pm
Wed December 31, 2014

Health Data Isn't Shared, Researchers Say

The more public health data is shared, the better the world’s public health outcome.

So says an analysis that was recently released by a team of researchers, including several from The University of Pittsburgh. The analysis was published in the journal BMC Public Health.

At present, public health data isn’t always shared on a local, national or international data. Researchers wanted to know why public health data isn’t shared as widely as for example genomic data is.

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Environment & Energy
3:30 am
Mon December 29, 2014

Air Monitoring Ongoing At Airport Fracking Site

This past year, the Allegheny County Health Department began monitoring air quality at Pittsburgh International Airport to gauge the potential health risks of fracking.

Jim Thompson, the deputy director of environmental health for the department said they’re monitoring at the Imperial Point Development, which is approximately 2,500 feet from well pad #2 at the airport.

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Government & Politics
5:07 pm
Fri December 19, 2014

ICA Approves City Budget

Pittsburgh’s Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for Cities of the Second Class met on Friday to address the resubmission of Pittsburgh’s proposed 2015 budgets and corresponding five-year plan.

They unanimously approved the $516.6 million operating budget and $76.6 million capital plan.

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9:19 am
Thu December 18, 2014

How the Hill District's Freedom House EMTs Helped Shape Modern Ambulance Care

Freedom House and Presbyterian Hospital staff pose for a photograph. The Freedom House Enterprise Ambulance Service served as the model for emergency ambulance medicine.
Credit Ben Spiegel courtesy of the University of Pittburgh

George McCrary knows the Hill District well. As he drives the windy streets, he points out the places he remembers from his days working as one of the nation's first emergency medical technicians in the late '60s and early '70s.

It was on these streets where a young McCrary was a member of the Freedom House Enterprise Ambulance Service, which served as the model for emergency ambulance medicine.  

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Remake Learning
7:38 am
Mon December 15, 2014

Remember Shop Class? In Beaver Falls, It's Greener Than Ever

Beaver Falls High School students Brad Dawson (left) and Tanner Dobson work on a project in their technology education class. Students at the school have been learning how to make solar panels and build hydro and wind generators.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

At Beaver Falls High School, Tim Liller teaches technology education, or the class typically thought of as "shop."

Once a staple of high school education, shop class has fallen by the wayside with the decline of American manufacturing. But here, Liller's students still learn the basics, including how to wire a home and fix small engines. And more recently, they've also been learning how to make solar panels and build hydro and wind generators.

These are skills Liller hopes they can build on when they graduate.

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2:07 pm
Thu December 11, 2014

Pennsylvania's Heath Ranking Remains Steady

Pennsylvania’s health ranking has stayed steady over the past quarter century. So says a report from The United Health Foundation and the American Public Health Association.

The rankings are done with the purpose of providing a better understanding of health of people and communities across the country and states.

In 2014, Pennsylvania moved up a place to the 28th healthiest state. The state has seen some improvements over the years, such as more students graduating high school and higher immunization rates. And smoking has declined.

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Behavioral Health
3:24 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

Researchers Find Link Between Concussion-Related Depression and White Matter

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh looked at people with neuropsychiatric symptoms for following concussion and found that a link exists between white matter and concussion-related depression.

Saaed Fakhran a radiology professor at Pitt who led the research, said Alzheimer's and brain degeneration tend to get more attention.

“But in terms of just pure numbers, the number of people affected by depression and anxiety is just way, way more than anything else. And unlike brain degeneration and Alzheimer's, this is something that happens right away,” he said. 

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Remake Learning
4:30 am
Wed November 26, 2014

Art and Science Intersect at the Environmental Charter School's Thinking Lab

Tori Hogue (left) and Riley Wolynn, eighth graders at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, learn HTML in the school's Thinking Lab.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

On a recent Thursday morning at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, eighth graders Tori Hogue and Riley Wolynn are hacking web pages.

It's not "hacking" in the sense that often dominates headlines. The students are using a web program to inspect and manipulate websites, and in the process, learn HTML. 

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3:24 pm
Mon November 24, 2014

Medicare Changes Coming in 2015

Changes are coming to Medicare, the insurance plan for seniors and disabled, in 2015. This will affect the way physicians deliver care and the way patients receive care. 

Officials from the Pennsylvania Medical Society discussed some of the changes in a conference call on Monday. Providers will have to provide quality measure data or be penalized in 2015.

Mary Ellen Corum, the group’s director of practice support, said that this is an arduous process.

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Behavioral Health
3:30 am
Wed November 19, 2014

Survey: A Bad Childhood Can Mean Bad Health in Adulthood

The results of a survey released Tuesday from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health reveal that people who are in low-income and educational brackets are five times as likely to have faced abuse in childhood than people in higher socio-economic brackets. The survey subjects were Allegheny County residents.

Researchers focused on African-Americans. African-Americans are 10 percent of the county but were 20 percent of the survey. Researchers looked at the effects of adverse childhood events on all types of health behaviors and outcomes.

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2:33 pm
Fri November 14, 2014

Health Insurance Marketplace Open Enrollment To Begin Saturday

The health insurance marketplace open enrollment period starts Saturday. It ends Feb. 15.

Neil Deegan, Pennsylvania State Director of Enroll America said during the last open enrollment period, 28,000 Allegheny County residents signed up for health coverage. But there are still residents without it.

“The uninsured rate here in Allegheny County is at about 12 percent. So while great work was done last year, there’s much to be done,” Deegan said at an event held Friday in Garfield.  

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Achievement Gap
1:41 pm
Wed October 29, 2014

Agencies Receive Early Education Grants For Work On Reducing Achievement Gap

The state has given early education grants to four southwestern Pennsylvania agencies. The grants are for $75,000 a year for three years.

The organizations received the money to continue work they’ve already started in reducing the student achievement gap for children in at-risk communities.

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Election 2014
3:55 pm
Mon October 27, 2014

Bill Clinton Stumps for Wolf in Pittsburgh

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, left, talks about Democratic party candidate for governor Tom Wolf, right, as he endorses Wolf in the upcoming election against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, Monday in Pittsburgh.
Credit AP Photo / Keith Srakocic

Former President Bill Clinton came to Pittsburgh on Monday to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf.

Clinton addressed several hundred Wolf supporters at a South Side union hall as the first-time candidate tries to knock off Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Those in attendance also heard from other politicians including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) , U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA-14) and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Clinton lauded Wolf, saying he finds it unbelievable that there isn’t a severance tax on natural gas in Pennsylvania. 

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Behavioral Health
4:32 pm
Fri October 17, 2014

Workshop Provides Mental Health Training For Those Working With Veterans

A workshop held in the North Hills on Friday provided mental health training to clergy and social workers who work with veterans.

Lt. Colonel Michele Papakie has been in the Air Force for 28 years. She’s the Inspector General at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

She spoke to clergy and social workers about her deployments and what she has seen in her colleagues as well as her grandfather, father and son who have all served in the military.

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Behavioral Health
3:36 pm
Wed October 15, 2014

Grant to Help Young Adults with Behavioral Health Disorders

Sixteen to 25-year-olds — they’re in between — not quite children, not quite adults.

But most human services are tailored to either group, not taking into account all of the nuanced needs young adults have. Now, a $5 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to the Department of Public Welfare will address their needs and hopefully help bridge that gap.

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7:03 am
Mon October 13, 2014

Daniel Tiger: Won't You Be His Neighbor?

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is in its second season on PBS.

Originally published on Fri November 21, 2014 1:31 pm

Lexi Schaefers' preschoolers squeal with excitement. Their eyes are trained on an animated tiger dressed in a red hoodie and sneakers, peeking out of the TV at them.

These 3- and 4-year-olds at Shady Lane Preschool in Pittsburgh, Pa., sing along with the songs and laugh and mimic what the characters are doing onscreen.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Sun October 5, 2014

State Liquor Control Board Wants You Buy Pennsylvania-Made Wine

As more awareness and excitement builds around eating and buying local, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board hopes commonwealth residents will drink local. This October, Wine and Spirits stores will be encouraging you to buy wine made and bottled in-state.

Pennsylvania wine sales account for a small percentage of all wine sales – in 2012, wine sales were $821 million – five million of that was wine produced in-state. But those are numbers that have been rising – over the last 30 years, Pennsylvania wineries have grown from a couple dozen to more than 200.

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Learning Innovation
3:30 am
Wed October 1, 2014

At North Braddock's Gardweeno, Digital Literacy Meets Gardening

A microchip called a MaKey MaKey is attached to some cherry tomatoes at Gardweeno, a community garden project in North Braddock that combines digital technology with gardening.
Erika Beras 90.5 WESA

It’s a sunny afternoon on Bell Avenue in North Braddock, and a bunch of kids have gathered around a wooden table set up in what a year ago was just another empty lot.

Now the lot is a kid-driven community garden, and on the table is a microchip called a MaKey MaKey attached to a laptop. Wires that stick out from the MaKey MaKey are clamped onto cherry tomatoes. When the kids squeeze the tomatoes, different musical notes play.

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Arts & Culture
12:21 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Two Musicals Trace The Life of Roberto Clemente

Two musicals are currently exploring the life of Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente.
Credit The Associated Press

Roberto Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, but you’d never know it from the hundreds of people who show up to Pirates games wearing jerseys with his name and number — 21 — printed on them. 

Now two musicals will trace the life of "The Great One" from his childhood in Puerto Rico to his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates from the mid-50’s to his untimely death at age 38.

Composer Alki Steriopoulous to spend nearly a decade writing a musical about Clemente.

It's called "21."

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1:37 pm
Fri August 29, 2014

Advocates View Medicaid Expansion Alternative With Guarded Optimism

A day after it was announced that Gov. Tom Corbett’s alternative to Medicaid expansion, Healthy PA was approved by the federal government, health care advocates in Pennsylvania lauded the move as good overall but voiced concerns over high premiums and the logistics of establishing an entirely new system.

“We don’t believe that this is the best way to cover 600,000 Pennsylvanians,” said Kristen Dama, staff attorney at Philadelphia-based Community Legal Services.

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Environment & Energy
5:31 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Oakland Joins Energy Reduction Efforts

Two years after the Green Building Alliance launched its 2030 District initiative in downtown Pittsburgh, the program is expanding its efforts into Oakland.

The 2030 District is a building-by-building effort to improve energy and water consumption and transportation emission in a geographical area. It’s a voluntary initiative focused on the existing building sector. There isn’t a checklist that each building undergoes; it's non-prescriptive. They work with individual building owners to identify what improvements to their buildings will have the maximum benefit.

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Economy & Business
3:30 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Pittsburgh Airport to Start Fracking with Hopes to Offset Financial Woes

Bob Mrvos jokes you could golf in the corridors of The Pittsburgh International Airport Terminal – it's just so empty.

"My wife and I were on vacation and flew into LAX and stayed there for a couple weeks and we came back through Chicago," he said. "You walk through those airports and you can barely get through the hallway there’s so many people. And when you land in Pittsburgh, it's like the airports closed."

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Learning Innovation
3:30 am
Thu August 14, 2014

With 'Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,' Child Development Plays a Role On Air and Online

Chris Loggins, Margaret Whitmer and Mallary Swartz (left to right), staff members of The Fred Rogers Company, read through the script of an upcoming episode of "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood."
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It’s a Thursday morning and a small group, including several child development specialists, is gathered around a table at the South Side offices of The Fred Rogers Company.

They are dissecting a script of an upcoming episode of "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood." Everything is scrutinized: Are certain phrases under copyright? Would a 4-year-old use that word on their own? How much assistance should a character with physical disabilities receive?

They’re making sure the show aligns with Fred Rogers' vision to grow children into competent and caring beings and that every scene and line is age appropriate and holds meaning.

"Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood" is an animated PBS show. It’s based on characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from the beloved "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" that ran for 33 years on public television. 

11:54 am
Tue August 12, 2014

Starting Jan. 1, Allegheny Health Network Will Ban Smoking On Its Grounds

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, no workers, visitors or patients will be allowed to smoke on any Allegheny Health Network grounds.

“Anybody whose walked into any facility, health care or otherwise, who has to walk through smoke or be exposed to smoke, it's not a pleasant thing if you're not a smoker," said Allegheny Health Network spokesman Dan Laurent, "particularly in a facility that’s dedicated to preserving health and promoting health.”

Smoking is already not allowed inside Allegheny Health Network facilities.

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