Erika Beras

General Assignment Reporter

Erika Beras was 90.5 WESA’s Behavioral Health reporter and now does Genral Assignment and Feature reporting. Her work has 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.

 

Ways To Connect

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a recent afternoon, Kelly Liartis is at Magee Women’s Hospital for a check-up. She’s talking to her doctor Hyagriv Simhan about her soon-to-be-born baby — and her frequent summer asthma flare-ups.

He's telling her that despite her fears, its actually OK to use her inhaler ... it's been used in pregnancy, as he says with a laugh, for a "bajillion years."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last week $60 million dollars in funding for navigators to help people sign up for health insurance during the second round of open-enrollment period in the marketplace.

The health insurance marketplace is a key component of the Affordable Care Act.

This next open enrollment period begins November 15.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala says a Pittsburgh police officer who shot and killed a man in Wilkinsburg in April was justified in opening fire.

Officials say Adrian Williams, 29, who was killed in the shooting, had led police on an early-morning high-speed chase that started in Homewood and ended in Wilkinsburg, when he crashed the car he was driving and then ran through yards with a handgun.

Zappala said at least 12 other officers were at the scene and had been involved in the chase. Officer Christopher Kertis shot Williams six times.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection held public comment for their proposed new regulations at coal-fired power plants that is supposed to limit smog-causing pollution.

Those present at a rally at DEP’s offices in Pittsburgh before the public comment said the proposed regulations are lax toward coal-fired power plants and will worsen smog problems in a region already known for poor air quality.

Erin McClelland will be the Democrat running for the 12th Pennsylvania Congressional seat against Republican Keith Rothfus this fall.

In 2011, the 12th district was redrawn – McClelland, who is currently a health care administrator, says that made campaigning particularly hard early on.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says the federal government can play a role in prosecuting child abusers.

Casey is introducing a bill, the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act, that says all adults responsible for children should be required to report cases of child abuse and neglect.

“It would require all states to pass and enforce a law requiring adults with a professional responsibility to children to report instances of known or suspected child abuse,” Casey said.

The proposal comes in the wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a recent Thursday night, a group of barefoot people are moving through a yoga practice at Bend Yoga’s studio in downtown Pittsburgh.

It’s a yoga class for people with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder — or both. Among them is Chris Ohleger, who said yoga has benefited him in ways no other treatments or therapies have.

Allegheny County’s District Attorney Stephen Zappala and police officers from the area announced countywide efforts to help families with members with cognitive brain issues such as Autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ten police departments in Allegheny County — Aspinwall, Bethel Park, McKeesport, Millvale, Moon, Monroeville, Northern Regional, Munhall, Elizabeth and the city of Pittsburgh — will be training police officers to use a radio transmitter reader that, when activated, can track bracelets issued to those with special needs.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

The only thing Kai Arroyo eats is butterscotch pudding. He only drinks milk from a bottle. When he speaks, you get the sort of language that you expect from a kindergartener – not a seventh grader. And he can’t go to the bathroom on his own. 

"He’s still wearing pull-ups at 13," said his mother Astrid Arroyo. "I know! He’s actually a little more vocal about letting us know when he needs to go to the bathroom, but he’s still not fully there, so he’s still dependent on us to remind him and take him to the restroom."

Leaders of statewide groups that represent school boards, school business officials and educational coalitions released a survey they commissioned among selected voters in Pennsylvania.

The majority of the voters surveyed said public schools affect the economy and that school funding should be increased.

When asked, 84 percent of voters in Pennsylvania said they believe public schools have a very strong effect on economic development. Advocates say this is evidence the state needs a fairer funding formula.

A plethora of legislation was proposed in the aftermath of the Sandusky Penn State sex abuse case. One of the most comprehensive bills is expected to pass this week.

Senate Bill 21 will broaden the scope of mandated reporters when it comes to child abuse – and hold them more accountable.

Mandated reporters are those who have contact with children, anyone from a public library employee to clergy to a medical examiner. These reporters would be required to alert law enforcement when they suspect a child is being abused.

Last week, the trauma center at UPMC Presbyterian began a medical trial using critically injured gunshot and knife wound patients. It’s similar to suspended animation, but surgeons are calling it Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation.

The patients will not quite be alive, but they also won't quite be dead.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Medical care is costly, and for many people that cost is prohibitive. More and more often, people like Melissa Jones find themselves turning to crowdfunding to pay for those extras health insurance won't cover.

Walking down Fifth Avenue in Oakland, Jones' 10-year-old daughter Montana Delciello describes it as a full-on sensory experience. The sidewalks swell with people as bikes, cars, buses and ambulances weave in and out of lanes on the massive street.

Dr. Richard Mollica, the director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma at Massachusetts General Hospital, has spent the last three decades working with refugees. This week, he was in Pittsburgh for a conference and sat down to speak about refugees and trauma with 90.5 WESA’s Erika Beras. This is part of the interview.

On how the work he has done has changed since the early '80s:

On Monday afternoon, a chartered bus wound its way through the steep, narrow roads of the South Hills on its way to Baldwin High School.

On board were employees of HIAS, an agency that works with the State Department in bringing refugees to the United States. HIAS works with Jewish Family and Children’s Services, one of four resettlement agencies in the Pittsburgh area.

Pittsburgh has become a hub for refugees. This week HIAS is holding its national conference here, and among the activities are visits to where refugees live, work — and go to school.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says a U.S. Department of Justice report criticizing the system for numerous reasons, including the prison’s excessive use of solitary confinement for inmates with mental illness or intellectual disabilities, is no longer valid.

“The report was accurate for the time frame but not reflective of our department today,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.

Three thousand gallons of the chemical that spilled into the Elk River and contaminated tap water for 300,000 people in nine West Virginia counties has been moved to Armstrong County.

The January West Virginia contamination continues to have lingering effects on the water supply.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) says ensuring a leak like the one that occurred in West Virginia doesn’t happen here is a matter of holding private industry accountable and government regulation, starting from the top with Homeland Security.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

As a child in war-torn Somalia, Aweys Mwaliya saw friends and family killed in massacres. Fleeing the country,  his family spent weeks walking to Kenya. The trip was so grueling, that along the way, his youngest sister died. The family couldn’t give her a proper burial.

"The feeling I have about those terrible things are very, very bad, and I’m still wondering why things like that happen, why people do things to other people," Mwaliya, now 30 and living in Pittsburgh said. 

In Kenya, his family spent a decade living in refugee camps.

At a conference held in Pittsburgh last fall, several dozen men from around the United States discussed a disturbing trend in their community: the high suicide rate and prevalence of depression among Bhutanese-Nepali refugees.

"People are looking for resources where they can go to curb this mental health issue," said Buddha Mani Dhakal, editor of the Bhutan News Service.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a blustery January morning, Leslie Bachurski is at Northern Area Multi Service’s offices in Sharpsburg. Bachurski, a health care navigator, is at the resettlement agency to help non-English speaking refugees enroll in health insurance plans.

Her first client of the day is Birkha Tamang, a 42-year-old Bhutanese refugee who has been in the United States for 16 months with his wife and kids. He’s the only one in his family with a job — and the only one without health care coverage.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

By the time the federally funded Squirrel Hill Health Center’s Mobile Unit opens its doors in the South Hills community of Prospect Park, people are already lined up, looking for help.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

On a typical weekday morning, 47-year-old Tek Nepal is moving about the Mount Oliver duplex he shares with his wife, sons, daughter-in-law and grandchild.

He works nights, so he gets his family time in the mornings. And often, that time centers around eating.

Those meals used to consist of lots of starches. But since a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis in 2012, they have changed.

Courtesy photo

On a Sunday morning last December, nearly a hundred people gathered in a West End church to dedicate their prayers to Claudine Mukankindi, a young woman who came to the United States as a Congolese refugee.

In December 2012, a year earlier, she died of a heart attack at age 36.

In a pew near the front was Adeline Kihonia. Dancing and chanting in worship, she had tears in her eyes.

"She was like a part of my family," Kihonia said. "When she passed away, it was like I lost a sister, a good sister."

"The Fault in Our Stars," a movie adaptation of a critically and commercially popular young adult novel, has just finished filming in Pittsburgh and in the Netherlands.

The book and movie center around two teenagers who meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. Many of the extras in the movie are young people with cancer.

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the movie adaptation of the beloved novel. Book author John Green says the story goes against the typical trope popular media brings us about the ailing.

Thousands of people came downtown to see the Knit the Bridge project and the Rubber Duck earlier this year. Civic and corporate leaders hope thousands will also come to Light Up Night and will visit Holiday Market.

Light Up Night consists of big trees getting decorated throughout downtown, live music, other festive activities such as ice skating at PPG Place and, you guessed it, fireworks.

Jeremy Waldrup, who runs the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said he expects more people than ever before to be a part of this years festivities.

Emergency Departments across Pennsylvania are seeing increasing numbers of psychiatric patients and many want to establish a real-time statewide bed-tracking system to find available psychiatric beds.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, along with the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society is asking to work with the Department of Health and Hospital Association of Pennsylvania to establish the database.

Michael Turturro, Chief of Emergency Services at UPMC Mercy in Uptown says there is a great need for this.

In its last big recruitment push for its latest major research study, The American Cancer Society is seeking participants in rural southwestern Pennsylvania counties such as Fayette, Cambria and Westmoreland.

Cancer Prevention Study 3 (CPS-3) is the third massive American Cancer Society study. CPS-1, which started in the 50’s, found links between smoking and lung cancer. CPS-2, which started in the 1980’s and is ongoing has found links between unhealthy behaviors and cancers. CPS-3 hopes to find major factors that can affect cancer risk.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

With sexual violence can come a host of mental health issues — depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to name a few. But dealing with the judicial system can also bring a slew of problems for victims.

A new policy brief out of Rutgers University in New Jersey looked at male Pennsylvania state prison inmates and found that almost all of them had experienced traumatic events in their lives. 

Nearly 600 men participated in the screening that looked at the prevalence of trauma in male inmates. Researcher Nancy Wolff, who runs the Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers, found that the men had experienced a wide range of trauma in their lives.

On Thursday afternoon, Carla Bailey was unsuccessfully trying to get customers’ attention at the Rite Aid on Smithfield Street downtown.

Bailey, a supplemental insurance agent, was working for Green Cross Insurance, a new brokerage firm setting up in Rite Aid stores to disperse information about the health exchanges. Bailey is working in stores throughout the region, and on Wednesday she had been in McKees Rocks, where one person signed up to learn more about the Affordable Care Act.

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