Bridges to Health

Health--it's what we all have in common:  whether we're trying to maintain our health through good habits or improve our failing health.  "Bridges to Health" is 90.5 WESA's health care reporting initiative examining everything from unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act to transparency in health care costs; from a lack of access to quality care for minority members of our society to confronting the opioid crisis in our region. It's about our individual health and the well-being of our community.

Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Toby Talbot / AP

A new report praises Pennsylvania doctors for their use of opioid-based pain treatments for chronic illnesses, especially cancer.

The report from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network comes at time, though, when many legislators and organizations are working to fight opioid addiction.

A majority of working adults say they still go to work when they have a cold or the flu. There are some jobs where doing that can have a big effect on health.

At least half of people who work in very public places, like hospitals and restaurants, report going to work when they have a cold or the flu. Those were among the findings of a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Bethlehem Haven

Bethlehem Haven, a shelter for at-risk and homeless women, is joining the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, in a move that will secure their financial stability and offer a wider range of services to the women it helps.

Bethlehem Haven offers transitional housing with the assistance of federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grants. But Bethlehem Haven President Thomas Herward said HUD’s focus on rapid re-housing has left the shelter under-funded.

Surgery can make anyone anxious, but it is especially hard for young children. Kids going into surgery may be separated from their parents for the first time in a frightening new environment, and they may not understand what's happening.

The Challenge Of Taking Health Apps Beyond The Well-Heeled

Jun 23, 2016

When you hear the phrase "digital health," you might think about a Fitbit, the healthy eating app on your smartphone, or maybe a new way to email the doctor.

But Fitbits aren't particularly useful if you're homeless, and the nutrition app won't mean much to someone who struggles to pay for groceries. Same for emailing your doctor if you don't have a doctor or reliable Internet access.

VCU CNS / Flickr

The Allegheny County Health Department will hold a public hearing Wednesday evening regarding a potential HPV vaccine mandate for pre-teens.

Alan Levine / Flickr



The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined two health systems for illegally dumping medical waste in a landfill.

The state agency says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has been hit with $451,000 in fines and Allegheny Health Network has been fined $86,900. Officials say the state found 12 of UPMC's hospitals illegally dumped large quantities of needles, bloody dressings and body fluids into a Monroeville landfill.

Abortion is one of the more common procedures performed in the U.S., more common even than appendectomy. But as clinics in Texas close, finding a place in the state where medical residents training to be OB-GYNs can learn to do abortions is getting harder.

John Voo / flickr

According to our guest, Joseph McCormick of Duquesne’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, “more than 99 percent of all bacteria in this world are our friends.” Is the nation's first antibiotic-resistant superbug evidence that constant hand sanitizing and antibiotics are putting us at risk?

We had kids later in life, knowing little about children and with no parents to guide us. I depended upon Sofiya, our stern Russian day care provider, for child-rearing advice. She reminded me of my Lithuanian grandmother who took care of me as a child.

When the children caught colds, my husband took their temperature and carefully measured out a draught of flavored Tylenol. Then the children would demand Sofiya's special treatment — Vicks VapoRub on the soles of their feet.

After weeks of debate, Canadian lawmakers have passed legislation to legalize physician-assisted death.

That makes Canada "one of the few nations where doctors can legally help sick people die," as Reuters reports.

The new law "limits the option to the incurably ill, requires medical approval and mandates a 15-day waiting period," as The Two-Way has reported.

Vermont Insurers Must Now Cover Vasectomies

Jun 18, 2016

Vermont has become one of several states working to make sure vasectomies are among the birth control options couples can afford.

Gov. Peter Shumlin last month signed into law a bill that adds vasectomies to the list of procedures that most health insurance coverage in Vermont must pay for.

Staff Sgt. Regina Machine / U.S. Army

Earlier this week in Westmoreland County, the Hempfield Township’s zoning hearing board decided to allow a teenage girl to keep her four pet therapy chickens despite initial neighbor complaints.

Delirium Prevention Program Helps Patients At West Penn Hospital

Jun 16, 2016
Allegheny Health Network

Often overlooked or misdiagnosed, delirium is a condition where patients experience an abrupt change in mental status. While it’s typically a short-term problem, medical officials are finding the condition can cause serious brain damage, especially to older individuals. At West Penn Hospital, a new program has been developed aimed at finding treatment and reverse delirium’s impact. Dr. Christine Herb, director of geriatric education for Allegheny Health Network and Dr. Allan Philp, Trauma Program Medical Director for Allegheny Health Network join us to talk about the new program.

Jamie / Flickr

Pennsylvania has used a prescription drug monitoring program and database since 1972 and it’s due for an upgrade.

“Although it was a prescription monitoring system, it was woefully inadequate,” said Michael Zemaitis, a University of Pittsburgh pharmaceutical science professor.

Apps And Health Care, How Do They Fit Together?

Jun 6, 2016
Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Nancy Furbee, of Wexford, has her smartphone loaded with apps, like many people. But she has strategically placed two health related apps right where her thumb hovers each time she unlocks her iPhone.

“Because it really keeps me focused," she said. "And every time I look at my phone, they’re a little smack in the face to remind me to not eat too many things and to really keep honest with my fitness goals."

Furbee said her friends greatly impact her app choices.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Patients of all stripes leaned back in rows of dental chairs on the main floor of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center early Friday for free procedures ranging from walk-in cleanings to root canals and extractions.

Flickr user Microbe World

A Pennsylvania woman has been infected with a rare form of E. coli that is resistant to a last-resort antibiotic, typically only administered when all other antibiotics have proven ineffective.


They're not as ubiquitous as blood or sperm banks, but another kind of biological substance also sits in cold storage ready to treat desperately ill or ailing patients. In Pittsburgh, the use of stool banks for fecal transplants is on the rise.

Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

This month, Pittsburgh officials and members of the organization Donate Life are encouraging locals to consider becoming organ donors.

According to Donate Life, there are more than 8,000 people in Pennsylvania waiting to receive organ transplants. Most transplanted organs come from deceased donors, but just 46 percent of Pennsylvanians are registered eye, organ and tissue donors. While advocates are working to increase that number, they're also looking for more options to meet the demand.

For some, like Steve Debakawitz, that’s a living donor.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Health insurer Highmark is launching a new mobile health clinic in an attempt to bring care to those who find it difficult to get to the doctor’s office.

Flickr user jrgcastro

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has signed a letter of intent to pursue an affiliation with a north-central Pennsylvania hospital network.

Susquehanna Health and UPMC jointly announced the letter of intent Thursday.

The details of the affiliation have yet to be determined.

Susquehanna serves 11 counties through four hospitals, Divine Providence, Muncy Valley, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial and Williamsport Regional Medical Center.

Flickr user Lindsay Fox

This story was updated May 5, 2016 at 9:55 a.m.  

County health officials want to ban the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices everywhere regular cigarettes are already prohibited.

Members of the Allegheny County Board of Health have instructed health department officials to come up with a policy by the board's next meeting in July.

rumpleteaser / Flickr

Jenny Stalnaker, her husband, and their 3-year-old son Townes spend a good two hours cleaning their house every night before bed. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The days of an individual doctor hanging out a shingle and offering a general family practice are all but gone. The new norm is that your primary care physician is part of a multi-doctor practice. It’s also more likely than not that those doctors have either already hired a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, commonly referred to as physician extenders, or they are considering making such a move.

“I find that the PA (physician assistant) generally gives you a lot of time,” said Jeff Phillips of McCandless.  Phillips said until recently he never saw a PA, but now almost exclusively sees a PA when he visits his doctor’s office. “So far so good.”

Charles Williams / Flickr

While much of the testimony at a state Senate hearing in Pittsburgh on Thursday focused on the need for the state to fund opioid addiction treatment regimens, one expert recommended the state take legal action against insurers who illegally deny coverage of long-term rehabilitation programs for those addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.

Felipe Dana / AP

  Post updated March 29 at 5 p.m. 

The aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the Zika virus is present in Pennsylvania, and there are now 11 confirmed cases of people who became infected with the virus while traveling abroad.

And Allegheny County officials announced Tuesday afternoon the first confirmed case of Zika locally, contracted by a man who had visited "an affected area." 

But public health officials keep saying the risk of contracting the disease is slim to none. Have you ever wondered why?