Erika Beras

General Assignment Reporter

Erika Beras was 90.5 WESA’s Behavioral Health reporter and now does General 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

When she stepped out of the Waterworks Theater Thursday afternoon, Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center 8th grader Denay Clemons called the movie Selma “an awesome portrayal.”

Denay was among approximately five hundred students from several Pittsburgh schools who were taken to see the movie about the marches in Alabama that preceded the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“I only knew a little bit from school work and history but I learned a lot more about what happened actually like with conversation with the people who actually led the movement,” Denay said.

Morgue File

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has approved a six-week parental leave benefit for Allegheny County employees. The policy is modeled after Pittsburgh’s.

“We really like the policy as we look into it for our employees, we just really think paid leave policies really have benefits for children and families and we want to certainly be a family-friendly community,” said Fitzgerald.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

A duplex on a residential street in Brentwood will now be a rotating home for homeless male veterans with children.

It’s Project Journey for Men’s first shelter, and it's emergency housing is for veterans in transition. The housing comes fully furnished. The men will receive assistance in getting benefits and getting a job and then 60-90 days later they will move out.

Brian Primack, a physician and researcher at The University of Pittsburgh, is the lead author on a content analysis published Friday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

According to the analysis, the 70 most popular videos that depict drunkenness on YouTube have more than 330 million views.

Primack and fellow researchers searched YouTube for words synonymous with alcohol intoxication: drunk, buzzed, hammered, tipsy and trashed.

The University of Pittsburgh has debuted a new crowdfunding site where people can make gifts to specific projects and campaigns.

Through EngagePitt, donors can fund a medical musical the fourth-year students at the Medical School are putting on, or if they want to give to the Pitt Men’s Glee Club, that too is an option.

The Code for America fellowship program has officially started in Pittsburgh. Fellows will look at city procurement, the process by which government buys everything, from pencils to bridges. They’ll look at how the government organizes public bids and requests for proposals.

“What it means for Pittsburgh is an ability to put us ahead of other cities around the world when it comes to the way that we spend taxpayer dollars,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.

A recent Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate will be showing a fashion collection at New York Fashion Week.

“A lot of the clothes that I design are a little bit avant-garde or experimental, so the collection that I did for New York Fashion Week is all surrounded by experimental silhouettes and a lot of different textiles in use together,” said Romina Vairo, who has never shown at Fashion Week before.

A slew of city officials on Tuesday announced a new initiative that they hope will increase public safety and improve community-police relations.

Safer Together, the brainchild of Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, has five similar goals to build relationships of respect, cooperation and trust within and between the Department of Public Safety and the community. It also aims improve education, oversight, monitoring, diversity, accountability and hiring practices for the department.

US Sen. Bob Casey (PA-D) will introduce this week an anti-bullying bill aimed specifically at schools.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require school districts to develop and implement locally-driven anti-bullying policies to protect children. It would also require states to report data on bullying and harassment to the US Department of Education.

Pennsylvania Resources Council hopes to increase recycling rates at local apartment complexes.

They’ll host trainings with residents in select complexes and provide additional recycling bins to make recycling more efficient.

The Mackey Lofts in Uptown, will be the first of 15 complexes in the county to be a part of this initiative.

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.

"We picked a general overall design to really hashing out the details," said Sophia Lee, a junior at North Allegheny High School, who was drilling two pieces of wood together for an early prototype of the robot. "We know that we want to do this, but how exactly are we going to do, so what mechanisms are we going to use, like what kind of metal are we going to use what kind of parts are we going to use, is it going to actually work so this is basically the practice before we build the actual robot."

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

"There are jobs out there, and I don’t know where, but I’m sure kids gain the knowledge here, and if they are interested in it they could probably find a job doing it because they have some base knowledge in how things work," Liller said. 

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.

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. 

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. 

"The thing is it's only for our eyes to see, so it's not illegal or anything," explains Wolynn, as she shows off her new coding and programming skills.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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. 

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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