Texas strives to lure mental health providers to rural counties

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200px-Flag-map_of_TexasBy Lauren Silverman, KERA

In her third year of medical school, Karen Duong found herself on the other side of Texas.

She had driven 12 hours north from where she grew up on the Gulf Coast to a panhandle town called Hereford.

“Hereford is known for being the beef capital of the world,” she says, laughing. “There’s definitely more cows than people out there.”

Medical student Karen Duong worked in Hereford, Texas, with Dr. Akinyele Lovelace, an instructor with the University of North Texas Health Science Center's rural medical education program.

Medical student Karen Duong worked in Hereford, Texas, with Dr. Akinyele Lovelace, an instructor with the University of North Texas Health Science Center’s rural medical education program.

It’s even named after a breed of cattle. Out here, there aren’t many people who provide mental health care. In fact, there aren’t any psychiatrists.

That’s the reason Duong went there – she’s studying psychiatry as a medical student at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. This assignment showed her just how severe the state’s mental health care shortage is.

“You have a patient that comes in and they need immediate care or something more acute, and then you tell them that the soonest they can get in for an appointment is six months from now,” Duong says. “It’s not really what we want to tell our patients.”

Hereford is one of many areas in Texas lacking adequate access to mental health care.

Of the 254 counties in Texas, 185 have no psychiatrist, according to Travis Singleton, who tracks physician shortages for Merritt Hawkins, a Texas-based consulting firm. “That’s almost 3.2 million [people],” he says. Continue reading

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Patience, persistance serve Alaska’s Health Commissioner well

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Alaska’s health commissioner spends her summers working on policy issues by day and fishing for salmon for the winter on nights and weekends with her family who belong to the Yup’ik people.

By Annie Feidt, Alaska Public Media

Valerie Davidson, Alaska's health and social services commissioner, drives her 1983 Chevy truck to pick up salmon for a dinner party for 50 people.

Valerie Davidson, Alaska’s health and social services commissioner, drives her 1983 Chevy truck to pick up salmon for a dinner party for 50 people.

In less than 24 hours, Valerie Davidson has 50 people coming for dinner to her house in the remote western Alaska town of Bethel. She had planned to catch and cook enough salmon for the main course, but she’s hit a snag.

Early in the morning, the state opened the Kuskokwim River to commercial fishing, which means subsistence fishermen can’t fish on it. So Davidson and I are in “the orange beast,” her 1983 Chevy pickup, stalking the free fish containers around town. That’s where state biologists deposit their test catches after they conduct their daily studies.

We have been here for an hour, but Davidson is exceedingly patient and persistent. It’s a strategy she used as she worked to expand Medicaid in Alaska, as health commissioner. During this year’s legislative session lawmakers blocked Medicaid expansion from coming to a full vote. She says it was a real low point for her. Continue reading

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Public health officials investigate E. coli outbreak

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Six people have been infected with the same strain of E. coli (three have been hospitalized) Everyone who became sick had something in common – they ate food prepared by, a local food vendor called Los Chilangos.

From Public Health – Seattle & King County

Escherichia Coli_NIAID E Coli Bacteria

E coli / NIAID

Public Health is currently investigating an outbreak of E. coli 0157 – one of the most serious foodborne illnesses you can contract. Our thoughts are with the families affected by this outbreak, and we appreciate the support of the community as we work to protect the health of the public.

A person can get an E. coli O157 infection from many different sources: by eating or drinking something contaminated with animal or human fecal matter, through animal contact, or through contact with another person who has an E. coli infection.

One of our responsibilities at Public Health is to track down these sources. When there are illnesses associated with any one of the more than 12,000 food establishments in the county, we search for contaminated products, ill food workers, or improper food handling.

We follow specific steps to find clues that help us pinpoint the source(s) that may be linked to illness. Here are key steps of this current investigation. Continue reading

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Q&A: Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on attacking the drug epidemic

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VermontBy Elaine S. Povich
Stateline

In January 2014, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address to the opiate drug scourge ravaging his state. While Vermont is not the only state to experience the growing addiction problem, it arguably has been the most aggressive in tackling one aspect of it — offering treatment to residents who agree to participate.

Gov. Shumlin

Gov. Shumlin

Within six months of his speech, Shumlin, a Democrat, signed bills and executive orders that included $6.7 million for a “hub and spoke” treatment program of central facilities and small treatment outposts, a medication-assisted addiction therapy program, tougher sentences for drug traffickers and new regulations for prescribing and monitoring prescription drugs. One of biggest changes is giving people who are picked up by police the choice of treatment instead of criminal prosecution.

In January 2015, the state reported that medically assisted drug treatment had increased by 40 percent. Of those who completed treatment plans, 75 percent showed improved functioning. But the report also said more treatment opportunities are needed, citing the difficulty in hiring and retaining clinicians and other health care providers as a major obstacle.

A year and a half after his groundbreaking speech, Stateline checked in with Shumlin to talk about his progress and what remains to be done. Continue reading

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Pediatricians recommend individualized counseling for parents of extremely premature infants

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Premature infant's tiny hand being held By Jenny Gold
KHN

For the tiniest infants — those born before 25 weeks in the womb — survival is never guaranteed, and those who make it may be left with severe disabilities.

These micro-preemies are born in what’s known as the “grey zone.”  Whether or not to resuscitate them depends on the decisions made by individual hospitals, doctors and parents. Decisions can vary greatly even among hospitals in the same area.

A new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics aims to improve the way those decisions are made. The statement suggests that doctors individualize counseling for parents based on the particular baby’s chances of survival and the family’s goals for their child. Continue reading

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Top five health stories of the week

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Abortion foes dive in clinic dumpsters for discarded records

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Dumpster-nonBy Charles Ornstein ProPublica
This story was co-published with NPR’s Shots blog.

The scene in front of abortion clinics is often tense, with clinic workers escorting patients past activists waving signs and taking photographs.

But increasingly, another drama is unfolding out back. There, abortion opponents dig through the trash in search of patient information.

Using garbage as their ammunition, anti-abortion activists who have sometimes been accused of violating abortion seekers’ privacy are turning the tables. They claim it’s the clinics that are violating patients’ privacy by discarding medical records in unsecured ways.

“Everybody acts like the abortion clinics are this bastion of protection for women’s privacy, and they’re like the chief offenders of just dumping this stuff willy-nilly,” said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor at Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group based in Wichita, Kansas. “It’s so hypocritical.”

Abortion rights groups counter that while a small number of clinics have improperly disposed of records, the vast majority take strict precautions to protect patient privacy. It’s far more common, they say, for abortion opponents to trespass on private property or try to break into locked dumpsters.

PHOTONiteowlneils at the English language Wikipedia under Creative Commons license Continue reading

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Planned Parenthood says experts find misleading edits in videos

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Planned Parenthood has paid forensic experts to comb through undercover videos released by anti-abortion activists, and their report finds significant distortions and misleading edits. The report has been handed over to Congress, which is investigating allegations that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from fetal tissue donation.

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States pressed to increase efforts to reduce drownings

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life-jacket-float By Michael Ollove
Stateline

Accidental drowning is the second leading cause of death for U.S. children under age 5, after birth defects. For youngsters under 15, only traffic accidents are responsible for more deaths by injury. And while drowning rates have declined slightly since the turn of the century, African Americans continue to die from drowning at considerably higher rates than whites.

Faced with such stubborn figures, public health advocates and researchers complain that state and local governments aren’t doing enough to prevent drowning deaths. Critics say most states don’t have sufficient laws or don’t enforce laws that could lessen the chances of drowning, such as requirements for fencing around private pools and the presence of trained lifeguards. And, they say, too little is being done to make sure that children have swim lessons and water safety skills.

“There is so much that can and should be done,” said Andrea Gielen, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Injury Research and Policy. Continue reading

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Private money saves successful Colorado IUD program

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By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon, Health News Colorado

A Colorado birth control program that has cut unintended pregnancies and abortions by nearly half since 2009 will stay alive for at least one more year thanks to $2 million in donations from private foundations.

Women and health advocates held a rally at the Capitol to urge approval of a program that provides IUDs and long-acting birth control devices to young women (Photo by Katie Kerwin McCrimmon/Health News Colorado).

Women and health advocates held a rally at the Capitol to urge approval of a program that provides IUDs and long-acting birth control devices to young women (Photo by Katie Kerwin McCrimmon/Health News Colorado).

The rescue of the highly-touted program comes after Republican lawmakers earlier this year killed a bill that would have provided $5 million in public funding for IUDs and other long-acting reversible contraceptives for low-income teens and young women.

Colorado health officials estimate that the IUDs and other devices have saved at least $79 million in Medicaid costs for unintended births, but some opponents claimed that IUDs are abortifacients and refused to approve funding in the Republican-controlled Senate.

From mid-2009 to mid-2015, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation funded a pilot effort in Colorado with a $25 million grant. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative provided teens and young women with more than 36,000 free or low-cost IUDs or other long-acting birth control devices.

The newest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show a 48 percent drop statewide in unintended pregnancies and abortions. Births among teens ages 15 to 19 fell from 6,201 in 2009 to 3,361 in 2014, while abortions declined from 1,711 to 939 in the same period.

The 48 percent reduction is up from a 40 percent drop through 2013. Continue reading

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Few health savings accounts owners invest, study

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HSA piggy bank 300By Michelle Andrews
KHN

Only a tiny fraction of the growing number of people with health savings accounts invests the money in their accounts in the financial markets, according to a recent study.

The vast majority leave their contributions in savings accounts instead where the money may earn lower returns.

People who have had their health savings accounts for a longer period of time are more likely to invest their contributions, suggesting that there’s a learning curve in grasping how the accounts work and how to use them, says Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute and the study’s author.

Forty-seven percent of HSAs with investments were opened between 2005 and 2008; in 2014, just 5 percent of HSAs that were opened had investments. Continue reading

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State health exchange will offer more plans for 2016

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From the Washington Healthplanfinder

Washington Healthplanfinder to Offer Residents More Health Plan Options This Fall

Coverage is hereThe Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board today provided final certification of Qualified Health Plans to be offered through Washington Healthplanfinder during the third open enrollment period.

The open enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 1, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016, provides coverage starting Jan. 1, 2016.

Exchange Board Certifies More than 180 Health Plans to be offered Starting Nov. 1

Following approval by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner yesterday, the Board certified 12 health insurance carriers at the monthly Board meeting to offer 136 Qualified Health Plans for individuals and families.

Additionally, six insurance carriers will offer eight pediatric Qualified Dental Plans. Last year, 10 health insurers were approved to sell 82 plans for individuals and families.

Every county in Washington State will again see an increased number of health plan options this fall. In the first open enrollment period, only two counties had more than six carriers offering coverage. This year, 14 counties will have more than six carriers offering coverage.

Approved insurance companies that are new to the market include Dentegra, Health Alliance Northwest, Regence BlueShield and UnitedHealthcare of Washington. Health plans still under review by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner include Coordinated Care. If Coordinated Care is approved, the Board may provide final certification at a later date.

Approval from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and Board certification for these plans is required under the Affordable Care Act to ensure that each plan meets the requirements for Qualified Health Plans and the 10 essential health benefits, including regular doctor’s visits, maternity care and hospital stays.

 

The following insurance carriers were approved to sell health and pediatric dental plans through Washington Healthplanfinder:

  • BridgeSpan Health Company
  • Columbia United Providers
  • Community Health Plan of Washington
  • Delta Dental of Washington – pediatric dental only
  • Dental Health Services – pediatric dental only
  • Dentegra – pediatric dental only
  • Group Health Cooperative
  • Health Alliance Northwest
  • Kaiser Permanente – health and pediatric dental plans
  • LifeWise – health and pediatric dental plans
  • Moda Health
  • Molina Healthcare of Washington
  • Premera Blue Cross – health and pediatric dental plans
  • Regence BlueShield
  • UnitedHealthcare of Washington

Washington Healthplanfinder Business, the state’s business marketplace, will expand its statewide coverage this year with two insurance carriers, Moda Health and UnitedHealthCare, and 47 plans available. Kaiser Permanente will continue to offer health plans to small businesses in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

Starting this November under the Affordable Care Act, Washington Healthplanfinder Business will expand its coverage from businesses of up to 50 employees to larger businesses of up to 100 employees. Washington Healthplanfinder Business allows businesses to compare plans, decide their contribution level and manage payment in one place. Eligible small business owners may also access tax credits when they enroll through Washington Healthplanfinder Business.

Five additional multi-state plans must be certified by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) before they can be offered through Washington Healthplanfinder. Multi-state plans are provided by OPM and private insurance carriers to drive additional competition in health insurance marketplaces across the country.

More information about the health plans that will be offered on Washington Healthplanfinder is available by clicking here.

For more information about Washington Healthplanfinder, please visit www.wahealthplanfinder.org.

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