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

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.

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."

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It’s a Thursday morning and a small group, including several child development specialists, is gathered around a table at the South Side offices of The Fred Rogers Company.

They are dissecting a script of an upcoming episode of "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood." Everything is scrutinized: Are certain phrases under copyright? Would a 4-year-old use that word on their own? How much assistance should a character with physical disabilities receive?

They’re making sure the show aligns with Fred Rogers' vision to grow children into competent and caring beings and that every scene and line is age appropriate and holds meaning.

"Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood" is an animated PBS show. It’s based on characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from the beloved "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" that ran for 33 years on public television. 

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, no workers, visitors or patients will be allowed to smoke on any Allegheny Health Network grounds.

“Anybody whose walked into any facility, health care or otherwise, who has to walk through smoke or be exposed to smoke, it's not a pleasant thing if you're not a smoker," said Allegheny Health Network spokesman Dan Laurent, "particularly in a facility that’s dedicated to preserving health and promoting health.”

Smoking is already not allowed inside Allegheny Health Network facilities.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Poison ivy, bug bites, allergies — just hearing those words can make you want to scratch. But even though we all itch, and we all scratch, we don’t know very much about what is happening in our brains when we do so.

New work by researchers, including one in Pittsburgh, is attempting to figure it out.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

It’s early on a sunny summer morning and Damien Martinez Coro is leading a group of young ballerinas through a rigorous dance routine at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh. 

As he moves through the studio, he keeps time by snapping his fingers while yelling commands and adjusting the girls’ forms.

The dance school in Bethel Park is a far reach from his hometown of Matanzas, Cuba.

For a small group of local teenagers, part of their summer has been spent learning to think critically about global issues. For the past two weeks the students have been learning Mandarin Chinese and Arabic, hearing speakers who work in the international community and learning from one another in the 2014 Summer Seminar of Global Issues.

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.

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