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.

 

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Health
3:30 am
Fri June 7, 2013

Collaborative Effort Helps Seniors Avoid Nursing Homes, ERs

Joe Finkelpearl, 81, makes a call to a fellow senior as part of the Agewell Pittsburgh program.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

A few days a week, Joe Finkelpearl goes to the Jewish Community Center and makes phone calls.

He calls a few dozen fellow seniors from an office and chats them up, talking about sports and books, but also ensuring their meals are delivered and their furnaces are working in the winter.

An 81-year-old retired widower, he is a volunteer for Agewell Pittsburgh, a one-stop referral system that provides coordinated access to services for seniors who are living independently.

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The Sequester & You
7:32 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Community Health Centers Spared Sequester Cuts, But Worries Persist

At the Squirrel Hill Health Center, Medical Director Andrea Fox treats patient Vladzimir Shein while Medical Office Assistant Rita Bidrat translates from Russian to English.
Credit Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

When you walk into the Squirrel Hill Health Center, you hear something you don’t hear very often in Pittsburgh: the sounds of people talking in seemingly every language but English.

The patients at this federally qualified health center, or FQHC, are mostly seniors, immigrants and refugees and speak Spanish, Nepali, Russian, Arabic and a few dozen other languages. It’s a community not easily serviced everywhere. It's also one that's grown to depend on FQHCs.

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Election 2013
11:41 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

After Election, City Council Remains Essentially the Same

In the fourth district, which represents Pittsburgh’s southern neighborhoods such as Beechview and Brookline, incumbent City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak won against Johnny Lee.

Rudiak said she has spent the last four years building the foundation for the next four years.

“I look forward to working on a united front on the relationships I’ve been building with the state representatives and state senators and (the) county executive to really actualize on some of these projects,” she said. 

Some of her plans involve revitalizing business districts.  

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Head Start
6:36 am
Fri May 17, 2013

With Sequester Cuts, Head Start Programs Dealt Abrupt Budget Blow

Until recently, Melinda Lassiter's 5-year-old daughter Antoinetta had been enrolled in a Head Start program in Overbrook. But thanks to automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts, the program had to end its school year early. That's left Antoinetta and many of her young peers without a daytime activity.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

On a recent Thursday morning, Antoinetta Lassiter is playing with roller skates she has just gotten for her fifth birthday. She’s in her Beechview home with her mother and grandmother, asking an endless stream of questions.

Her mother Melinda Lassiter said it's nice to have her home, but if things had gone as planned, her daughter would still be enrolled in her Head Start program.

"I went to pick her up from school, and the teacher told us the school was closing on the 19th of April … and that was kind of shocking actually," she said. 

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Mayoral Election
3:02 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Unions Respond To Ravenstahl-Backed Ads Against Peduto

Several dozen union members who supported Pittsburgh’s prevailing wage law gathered in the City County Building Thursday to denounce advertisements Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s PAC, Committee for a Better Pittsburgh, has taken out against mayoral candidate Bill Peduto.

Peduto supported the prevailing wage law, and union members feel he has been misrepresented in the ads.

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Pittsburgh Marathon
3:57 pm
Wed May 1, 2013

Pittsburgh Marathon Medics Prepared For Not Just Sprains, But Trauma Too

Medical professionals usually expect heat-related injuries, heart problems or sprains at the Pittsburgh Marathon. But following the bombings at the Boston Marathon, plans have been made for more extensive medical care.

There will be 400 medical professional volunteers from UPMC, including physicians, nurses and athletic trainers, on hand. That's about a hundred more than last year.

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Health
1:57 pm
Fri April 26, 2013

Commonwealth Court Denies Injunction to Stop State Health Centers from Closing

The Commonwealth Court has denied an injunction to not close state health centers, according to the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, which represents public health nurses.

The Corbett administration is planning on closing or consolidating 26 state health centers. The Department of Health has said that closing centers would allow services to be streamlined and for staff to work in a more mobile capacity. State health centers provide services such as vaccinations and STD testing.

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Behavioral Health
6:26 am
Thu April 25, 2013

With New Licensing for Specialists, Concern About Impact in the Autism Community

Emma, 11 (left) and Lily, 7, play with their mother Leslie Walter at their home in Shaler. Lily has autism, and according to Leslie, her daughter would be in a completely different place without the dedicated assistance of a behavior specialist. Leslie worries about what could happen with an interruption of services.
Credit Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Behavior specialists in Pennsylvania who work with autistic children have a soon-approaching deadline to apply for licenses to keep doing their jobs. But parents and advocates say that the requirements and the process to apply are arduous. 

When Act 62 passed, those in the autism community saw it as a victory. The 2009 legislation required private insurance companies to pay for services for those with autism — up to $36,000 a year. But it also required the Pennsylvania Department of State to license behavior specialists.

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Behavioral Health
3:30 am
Fri April 19, 2013

Redefining Asperger's: With a Diagnosis, Often Comes An Identity

Caitlin Freeman and Phil Garrow have Asperger's syndrome. When the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual comes out, they will be labeled as being under the umbrella of an autism spectrum disorder.
Credit Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

When the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is published next month, there will be several changes to psychiatric diagnoses.

Many of these changes are controversial — especially the one made to autism spectrum disorders. 

Phil Garrow has Asperger's syndrome. It's what’s written on his medical chart. He says the social struggles that come with the diagnosis is why he hasn’t been able to hold down engineering jobs despite his proficiency in the field.

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Courts
3:18 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Attorneys Make Opening Arguments in Suit Challenging Act 80

A panel of Commonwealth Court judges in Pittsburgh heard opening arguments Wednesday from attorneys challenging the way Act 80, a law that affected various human service programs statewide, was enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly last year.

The lawsuit Billie Washington vs. The Department of Public Welfare was filed last fall. Washington is a Philadelphia woman and one of more than 60,000 Pennsylvanians whose $200-a-month general cash assistance was eliminated as part of Act 80.

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Trauma
2:04 pm
Tue April 16, 2013

How to Talk to Kids About Traumatic Events

For children who have seen the images of death and destruction and have heard the heartbreaking stories surrounding Monday’s terrorist attacks in Boston, there may be a lot of confusion and fear. They may wonder if they are safe, if their caregivers are safe and how this will affect their daily lives.

Jeff Magill, Project Coordinator for Emergency Management at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at UPMC, said children’s responses will vary according to their age and the perspective in which they have been exposed.

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Health
12:03 pm
Wed April 3, 2013

Corbett Meets With Sebelius: No Decision Made on Medicaid Expansion

Gov. Tom Corbett met with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday night to discuss, among other things, potential Medicaid expansion in the state. 

Expanding Medicaid, the federal-state medical assistance program, would cover thousands more people in Pennsylvania. Part of the Affordable Care Act, governors have the option to decide if they will expand coverage in their states.

Corbett has said he won't because he doesn't think the state can sustain the costs of the program over time. 

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Sequestration
2:59 pm
Fri March 29, 2013

As Sequester Cuts Kick In, Hospitals to See Less Revenue from Medicare Payments

Starting April 1, Medicare payments to hospitals, doctors and other health care providers will be reduced by 2 percent as sequestration cuts kick in.

These cuts come after a slew of other cuts and subsidy reductions for under- and un-compensated care in preparation for the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will implement the cut, reimbursing Medicare claims at 98 cents on the dollar. Medicare already reimburses less than most private health insurance plans.

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Health
6:24 am
Thu March 28, 2013

In Pittsburgh, an Effort to Bring Down the Black Community's Infant Mortality Rate

Dorretta Lemon, a registered nurse, visits at-risk, pregnant first-time mothers every month at their homes. She maintains her relationship with the mother and her infant until the child is 2 years old.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

When Sarah Murphy found out she was pregnant, she was initially shocked.

"I didn’t think I would have kids, and then I ended up having him when I was 39," she said. 

Her advanced age led to a medically complicated pregnancy. Her income wasn’t as high as she thought it should be to cover the associated costs.

And as the child of a black woman living in Allegheny County, Murphy’s baby was three times more likely than a white woman’s child to die before reaching his first birthday.

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Health
3:07 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Pennsylvanians Eligible for Health Insurance Tax Credits

A new report from Families USA, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of health care consumers, says that 896,000 Pennsylvanians will be eligible for new health insurance premium tax credits in 2014.

These tax credits will pay for health coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Families will no longer have to pay for more than a set percentage of their income for health coverage.

“The lower your income, the higher your tax credit subsidy,” said Ron Pollack, Director of Families USA, “so it's tailored to help the people who need it the most.”

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Agriculture
2:32 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

Group Pushes for Sustainable Agriculture in Southwest Pennsylvania

The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center recently released a report on the economical and environmental benefits of sustainably produced, local agriculture. The organization also offered a blueprint of policies they hope state legislators will adopt and introduce in Pennsylvania.

The report, "Healthy Farms, Healthy Environment: State and Local Policies to Improve Pennsylvania’s Food System and Protect our Land and Water," highlighted programs, such as Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative, which pushed for developing sustainable agriculture methods.

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STEM
6:17 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

In Pittsburgh Visit, NOW President Encourages Women to Pursue STEM Fields

Terry O’ Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, was in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to tour STEM education facilities at Community College of Allegheny County, deliver a speech and participate in a panel discussion with women who work in STEM-related fields.

O’Neill said STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education is important not just for women but also for the competitiveness of the country.

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Health
3:36 pm
Tue March 19, 2013

Report: Pennsylvania Fails When It Comes to Hospital Transparency

A new report out this week says Pennsylvania fails when it comes to making hospital fees transparent, resulting in patients not knowing what their hospital fees are until they are billed.

Pennsylvania, along with 28 other states, got an "F." Seven states got a "D." Only 2 states got an "A."

The report was compiled and released by The Catalyst for Payment Reform, a consortium of health care providers and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute, a nonprofit that works to improve the affordability and quality of health care.

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Behavioral Health
12:47 pm
Tue March 12, 2013

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of PA Prisoners with Serious Mental Illness

The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections on behalf of prisoners with serious mental illness alleging prisoners were not given adequate treatment in solitary confinement.

The lawsuit alleges the Department of Corrections violates the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder by isolating them in solitary confinement and not offering them sufficient or proper treatment.

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State Health Centers
7:54 pm
Sun March 10, 2013

Corbett Proposal: Close State Health Centers, Save Millions

As part of Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed 2013-2014 budget, about half of the state’s sixty health centers will be shuttering, consolidating or morphing. Lay-offs of personnel are also part of the proposal; which state officials say is an effort to modernize Pennsylvania’s public health services and save money.

Michael Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health says this move would be a way to deliver services to people who can’t get to the health centers.

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AdultBasic
4:31 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

A "Victory for the Working Poor"

A day after a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that the Corbett administration has to spend tobacco settlement proceeds on health care programs such as adultBasic, plantiffs celebrated what they call a victory for the working poor.

AdultBasic, a health insurance plan, launched in 2002 for low-income people earning too much to qualify for Medicaid.  Two years ago, when the Corbett administration cancelled the program, 41,000 people lost their health insurance coverage.

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Mayview
12:24 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

No Coal Mining on Former Mayview Site

South Fayette Township’s Zoning Board denied a proposal Wednesday night to allow developers to mine for coal at the former Mayview State Hospital site. Many residents were opposed to the traffic and environmental hazards that would have come with the mineral extraction process.

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Health
12:20 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

Corbett Proposal: Close State Health Centers, Save Millions

As part of Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed 2013-2014 budget, about half of the state’s sixty health centers will be shuttering, consolidating or morphing. Lay-offs of personnel are also part of the proposal; which state officials say is an effort to modernize Pennsylvania’s public health services and save money.

Michael Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health says this move would be a way to deliver services to people who can’t get to the health centers.

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Public Safety
3:00 pm
Fri March 1, 2013

State Releases Recidivism Report, Finds $44.7 Million in Potential Savings

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections released a comprehensive state recidivism report this week.

This is the first such recidivism report in six years – the department used to do a much more pared down report.

This report details how often re-offenders commit crimes, what crimes are most likely to end in re-incarceration and how much taxpayers can save - $44.7 million a year - with some changes to the system.

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Health
10:15 am
Mon February 25, 2013

Pennsylvania Fair Care to Stop Taking New Enrollees, Insurance Commissioner "Shocked"

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine says he was surprised by the announcement last week from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare that PCIP – Pre-existing condition insurance plans- a transition insurance program that is part of the Affordable Care Act - would cease to take new enrollees.

Pennsylvania’s plan called 'Pennsylvania Fair Care,' was set up in 2010, has 6,500 enrollees and averages about 200 new enrollees a month.

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