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.

 

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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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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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