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

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.

A top administrator from the federal Department of Health and Human Services came to Pittsburgh on Friday to speak to leaders in the mental health community about the push to recognize mental health and substance abuse issues as a public health issue.

“I think a lot of people, especially in the public, have viewed mental health and substance abuse as sort of a social problem,” said Pamela Hyde, administrator of SAMSHA, the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

A few dozen union members, civil rights activists, elected officials and others gathered at Freedom Corner in the Hill District  Wednesday morning to protest UPMC’s use of the 14th Amendment in its lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh.

The lawsuit says it is unconstitutional for the city to challenge its tax-exempt status because of its due process and equal protection under the law.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle said he felt shocked and bewildered at UPMC’s legal technique.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

The last couple years have seen high profile mass shootings and terrorist attacks — Aurora, Newtown, Boston.

Here in Pittsburgh we’ve seen the same. Last year a gunman opened fire at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, killing one person and injuring seven. And in 2009, a man walked into an aerobics class at an L.A. Fitness and started shooting, killing three women and injuring nine.

There are also regular incidents of community and street violence. Last month a gunman injured two women and killed a 15-month-old in the East Hills.

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.

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.

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.  

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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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