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.

 

Ways To Connect

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the prison’s excessive use of solitary confinement for inmates with mental illness or intellectual disabilities, is no longer valid.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.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office plans to fight an arbitration related to tobacco settlement money, but in the meantime, the Department of Health has started cutting millions of dollars.

That's expected to shutter tobacco programs such as Tobacco-Free Allegheny which will now be operating on a week-to-week basis.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday that people will have more options in the health insurance marketplace and premiums will not be as high as originally thought. 

Premiums nationwide will be about 16 percent lower than originally expected.

“In the past, consumers were too often denied or priced-out of quality health insurance options, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, consumers will be able to choose from a number of new coverage options at a price that is affordable,” Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. 

The calls didn’t come on the first or second days of school. Or even the third. But they came soon thereafter and each day more of them are coming in.

"What parents are finding is that the manpower that there to support their kids one on one isn't there," said Cindy Duch, director of parent advising at the Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership Center, or PEAL, an advocacy group that helps out parents of children with disabilities.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

In Clarion County’s Licking Township there are vibrant green hills, windy narrow roads and traffic signs posted just as much for the trucks and tractors as for the horses and buggies.

It's a small, rural farming community north of Pittsburgh.

When you pull up to Emmanuel Schmidt’s home, you see acres of land, his woodworking shop and carriages. The 49-year-old Amish farmer knows Obamacare is coming, but he doesn’t quite know what that means.

"I’ve wondered, I’ve really wondered what’s going to happen with the health care, I don’t know," he said. 

On Tuesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spoke at Allegheny General Hospital announcing a partnership with Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The goal? To go into areas with high numbers of uninsured people and ensure they sign up for the health insurance exchanges, a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are a health care market where people can compare different insurance plans based on coverage and prices.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry used brain scans to measure blood flow to parts of the brain associated with emotion regulation to gauge if the subjects had unipolar depression or bipolar disorder.

The study hoped to identify brain function markers that identified the two types of depression.

The study used 44 Pittsburgh-area women and was conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Kings College London, the University of South Florida and the University of Texas Southwestern.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Rachel Zwipf is packing. Boxes scattered around her home are being filled with pots, children’s toys and framed photos.

She’s moving to North Carolina, leaving behind a good job, her family and painful memories of Pittsburgh.  

"His name was Sean Thompson, but we all called him Lydell," she said.

Two summers ago, Zwipf’s fiancé was murdered in Lawrenceville, just a few blocks from their home. They were already planning to move. Thompson had spent years in jail for a slew of offenses and wanted a new start.

Long-term facilities such as skilled nursing homes or facilities for people with intellectual disabilities often work with hospices. In some cases it goes well. But in other cases, communication can go by the wayside, affecting quality of patient care.

New federal regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid hope to smooth the transition between the facilities as well as give the patient more choice.

They went into effect on Monday. 

Patients in long-term care facilities basically now have two options:

A new study partially conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that those with the herpes simplex virus 1, which typically causes cold sores, displayed reduced cognitive function.

The researchers studied people in India with and without herpes and with and without schizophrenia. They looked at their cognitive functions using a computerized battery and assessed different aspects of top processes.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

A group of teachers are standing in a loosely formulated circle. Some are squatting, some are balancing on one leg, all look like they are about to burst out laughing.

They’re playing a game called Ninja at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead. The goal is to attack the other Ninjas in a counter-clockwise way. But they aren’t just playing — they are learning the game and how its applicable to what they do in their classrooms.

Last July, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center opened a $250 million dollar, 156-bed hospital in Monroeville.

A year in, Mark Sevco, UPMC’s East President said they have had “a great first year.”

They are seeing more than a hundred patients a day in the emergency department, operating at 75 percent capacity.

“We were expecting 65 patients a day, and we’re at about 115," Sevco said. "And from a surgical perspective, we’re 50 percent over our budget projections."

The drug, acetyl fentanyl looks like heroin but it's much stronger and Federal and State officials are very concerned about it.  Abuse of the prescription painkiller has been linked to at least fifty deaths in Pennsylvania this year.

Fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl is administered for severe pain as a patch. But when used recreationally, the powerful drug is very much associated with fatal overdoses. In 2006, there was a rash of deaths in Pennsylvania, including 269 in Philadelphia.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Sixteen-year-old Diondre Harris was clowning around with his friends last Saturday at an end-of-year cookout at the Marshall-Shadeland office of Allegheny Youth Development.

The boys were eating hot dogs, talking about the NBA playoffs and sharing their report cards. AYD held the event to celebrate all that the few dozen teenage boys who take part in the program did over the course of the last school year.

In case you had doubts that buildings full of borrow-able books and artwork are a good thing, the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences and The Campaign for Grade-Level Reporting has released a report that says they are. 

Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners was released on Thursday and discusses ways libraries and museums are supporting children.

Study author Mimi Howard said the goal of this paper was to focus on the development of early literacy skills by using these public resources.

A study out of the University of Pittsburgh has found similar brain abnormalities in concussion and Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Saaed Fakran, an assistant professor of neuroradiology at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the study, said it's too early to make any conclusions based on this research, but he hopes to follow up on it.

The study looked at concussion patients ranging in age from 12 to 28 who have had some sort of trauma, persistent abnormality but have a conventional CT and MRI.

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