Sarah Fentem | KBIA

Sarah Fentem

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.

The agency in charge of licensing the nation’s medical schools has taken the Saint Louis University School of Medicine off probation.

The Liaison Committee on Medical Education informed the school in 2017 that it was putting the school on notice in part because the university could not comprehensively demonstrate and measure what medical students were learning. School officials said it’s made changes to remedy the agency's complaints.

This week, the committee decided that SLU has taken necessary steps to move off probation.

The number of opioid-overdose deaths in St. Louis and surrounding counties continued to rise in 2017, although the increase wasn’t as steep as in previous years.

There were 760 opioid-related fatalities last year in St. Louis, St. Louis County and eight surrounding counties, a 7 percent increase from 2016, according to the St. Louis-based National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The year before, the number of deaths jumped nearly 40 percent.

“We have seen a major increase in access to treatment, in access to naloxone, in access to harm-reduction strategies, and that might having an impact in slowing down the increase,” said Brandon Costerison, director of the addiction prevention and education initiative MO-HOPE.

Gynecologists hope the federal Food and Drug Administration's decision to approve human papillomavirus vaccine for older adults could protect more people. Missouri has one of the highest rates of cancer caused by the virus in the nation.

FDA officials previously recommended the Gardasil vaccine for those between ages 9 and 26. On Friday, the agency expanded the vaccine for those up to 45.

HPV is a skin virus that’s spread through sexual contact. There are many types of HPV and some eventually cause cancer in men and women, including cervical and throat cancer.

Low-cost health care centers are lacking in parts of the St. Louis region with the greatest medical need, according to a report from the St. Louis Regional Health Commission.

The growing need reflects the changing demographics of the region, Robert Fruend, the commission’s CEO said. North St. Louis was long considered the neediest part of the city. As a result, majority of the region’s low-cost health clinics are there.
 
But “over time, over the last 20 to 30 years, that node of this concentrated circle of poverty and need that we had in our region has migrated outwards,” Fruend said.

A St. Louis-based project that uses former drug users to convince overdose victims in emergency rooms to seek treatment will soon focus on patients who refuse emergency transport.

For two years, the Engaging Patients in Care Coordination project has enlisted peer-recovery coaches from participating treatment centers to area ERs to meet with people who have overdosed on opioids.

Starting this month, the project will send the coaches — themselves in recovery — to meet with overdose victims who refused to go to the ER.

On nurse Jordan McNab’s first day at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in 2017, a patient stopped breathing. She had to immediately start giving him CPR.

“I vividly remember with my hands on a chest and going too fast,” she said. “You just can’t prepare for it.”

For many beginning nurses, the stress of a new job can be particularly acute. Dealing daily with life, death and illness along with normal new job strain can put them at risk of burnout during the transition from school to work.

To help new nurses deal with stress and keep them in the workforce, the region’s hospitals have developed nurse residency programs that focus on their well-being.

Biologists at the University of Missouri have found that a chemical commonly used in consumer plastics could affect how a body reacts to and regulates blood sugar.

Bisphenol A — or BPA — is a plastic additive found in bottles, the resin lining of food cans and thermal receipt paper. An experiment by Mizzou researchers exposed a small group of people to the chemical. After the exposure, the researchers measured subjects’ insulin levels, and found people exposed to the BPA had produced more insulin.

Updated at 3:45 p.m., Sept. 20, with comments from Surgeon General Jerome Adams — A nationwide campaign is needed to combat the opioid abuse epidemic that has damaged many families and communities, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday.

Adams and officials from the U.S. Health and Human Services department visited the St. Louis region to discuss the challenges communities face in dealing with opioid addiction. To address the crisis, Health and Human Services officials announced this week that the federal government will give states $1 billion to fight opioid addiction, including $44 million to Illinois and $29 million to Missouri.

A new survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found the Missouri uninsured rate remained steady at 9.1 percent in 2017 despite several Congressional attempts to gut the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the individual mandate, the requirement that all Americans have insurance.

Missouri’s percentage of uninsured people is in line with the national rate of 9 percent. The number of uninsured people nationwide has been falling since 2013, when it was 13.4 percent.

St. Louis County Department of Public Health Director Faisal Khan is leaving his post for a job in Kansas City.

Khan, who reports to County Executive Steve Stenger, said Friday that political tensions between the County Council and Stenger’s office have made it difficult to do his job.

“The gulf of trust that seems to have opened up between the two is the result of both sides being unwilling to come to the table and come to an agreement and understanding about the vital services provided in St. Louis County,” Khan said. “The apportionment of blame is equally to share.”

Every day, Amanda Moller scoops powdered formula out of a can and shakes it up with water from her kitchen sink. It's like mixing a cocktail, she said, "but not that much fun."

The formula doesn’t taste great – like watery pudding with a biting, cheesy aftertaste. But it’s something Amanda needs to treat a rare metabolic condition she’s had since she was born. After 30 years, she’s gotten used to it.

Amanda’s employer-based insurance plan (through her husband’s employer) doesn’t cover it. Like many treatments for rare diseases, the lack of well-funded research and the tendency of insurers to focus on the bottom line mean sometimes patients can’t afford necessary medical supplies. Many of the 16,000 people in the United States who need the formula spend close to $1,000 a month to buy it.

One of the only urgent-care centers on St. Louis’ medically underserved north side is in danger of closing if it doesn’t receive more patients.

North City Urgent Care opened five years ago near North Skinker Parkway and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. Since then, the center hasn’t posted a profit, owner Sonny Saggar said.

Although there are only two urgent-care clinics in north St. Louis, patient volume is low, Saggar said. On a typical day, there is only a handful of patients — far fewer than the 25 patients a day needed to turn a profit, he said.

“It’s a double-edged sword to have no competition on the north side but also limited awareness,” Saggar said. “I don’t think it’s because there’s not enough people; I think it’s because they’re not aware.”

Saint Louis University has announced it’s opening a food pantry to serve its students who lack access to healthy food.

At lunch on a given weekday, students have no fewer than 18 different restaurants on campus to find lunch. Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Subway and Qdoba are all visible on-campus brands. Clubs seeking members put pizza and cupcakes on display to lure potential recruits. In an atmosphere so saturated with food, many would find it hard to believe students are going hungry.

But up to 10 percent of the university’s students don’t have regular access to healthy food, SLU Dean of Students Mona Hicks estimated.

Updated at 6:45 p.m. with comments from Bi-State Development and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department — The man shot and killed Tuesday evening at the South Grand Boulevard Metro station in St. Louis was longtime St. Louis County Health Department Public Information Officer Craig LeFebvre, St. Louis police said Wednesday.

According to police, LeFebvre was waiting at the bus stop on the bridge above the Grand MetroLink station, where people were arguing. One of the men shot LeFebvre, who was not involved in the argument, and another man. LeFebvre later died at a nearby hospital.  He was 48.

St. Louis health officials want to add addiction treatment to the region’s health program for low-income people without insurance.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to add anti-addiction drugs and services to the Gateway to Better Health program.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday it’s giving nearly $3 million to 29 community health centers in Missouri. The money is awarded based on how effectively and efficiently the centers provide services to their patients.

Federally qualified community health centers are one part of the government-supported health safety net for low-income individuals in medically underserved areas. The federal government requires them to offer services on a sliding pay scale and serve people regardless of whether they have insurance or not.

Two years ago, registered nurse Amanda Sommer decided she had had enough. She was working as a bedside nurse in a large St. Louis hospital, floating among different departments and taking care of half a dozen patients for 12-hour shifts. Because of staff shortages, her manager often scheduled her to work both nights and days, and the lack of routine was wearing on her.

Sommer left that hospital in 2016 and worked as a home health nurse before leaving the workforce to start a family. She’s one of many health workers who have left their job in recent years. According to a report from the Missouri Hospital Association, health workers are increasingly leaving their jobs. Nearly 18 percent of workers in Missouri and metro east hospitals surveyed by the association left their jobs in 2017, up from 16 percent the year before.

St. Louis County will use federal grant money to offer medication-assisted treatment to some county jail inmates with opioid addictions.

The county will use $2 million, two-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to phase in treatment for inmates in Clayton’s Buzz Westfall Justice Center.

When Missourians go to healthcare.gov to buy health insurance, they likely won't be shocked by double-digit increases this year, according to data filed Wednesday with the state’s insurance department.

Three existing carriers — and one new entry into the market — will offer plans with smaller increases than previous years. Two insurers offering healthcare.gov plans are asking for modest rate increases.

Healthy Alliance Life Insurance plans an average increase of about 4 percent, and Cigna’s plans will increase about 7 percent. Centene's Celtic Insurance plans an average decrease of 9 percent.

The rate filings will not be finalized until late fall.

In the mid-20th century, St. Louis was home to one of the only hospitals where African-Americans could train as doctors. In segregated St. Louis, Homer G. Phillips Hospital was built to cater to the city’s black population, which was barred from the city’s white hospitals.

“This is a hospital that was all black. From the very lowest job to the medical director,” said Earle U. Robinson Jr., an OB-GYN who completed his internship and residency at the hospital from 1958 to 1963. “Since the hospitals in St. Louis were segregated, Homer G. Phillips was built for the black population.”

Washington University has announced it will begin hiring apprentices this fall to work as medical assistants in clinics in the St. Louis region.

Apprenticeships combine on-the-job learning with more traditional instruction. The university’s announcement reflects the growing popularity of such programs in the health care industry.

Health officials have detected the West Nile virus in mosquitoes found in St. Louis County.

The West Nile virus can potentially be deadly, but cases in humans are relatively rare. No Missouri residents have contracted the disease so far, this year, according to federal health data.

A small survey of St. Louis-area physicians found doctors greatly overestimate the prevalence of Lyme disease and underestimate the prevalence of other tick-borne illnesses in Missouri.

Scientists at the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville sent a survey to 81 St. Louis-area infectious-disease specialists and family physicians. About a fifth of the doctors responded.

According to the results, published earlier this month in the journal Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, 82 percent of respondents believed Lyme disease was among the most common tick-borne infections in the state. But state health officials say there were only 10 probable or confirmed cases of Lyme in Missouri in 2016.

The rate of syphilis cases in St. Louis County increased 42 percent between 2016 and 2017, the largest increase in at least five years, according to data released by the county’s health department.

The county saw 202 cases of syphilis last year. That’s up from 142 the year before. Experts attribute the increase to people practicing unsafe sex and not knowing enough about symptoms or treatments for the disease.

The National Weather Service in St. Louis issued a heat advisory this week as temperatures soared into the upper 90s.

The hot weather puts vulnerable people at risk for heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition that happens when bodies can’t keep their temperature low. The old, young and chronically ill are most at risk for heat-related illness.

St. Louis’ most expensive hospitals don’t provide the best quality care, according to a new report from the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition.

The region’s two academic medical centers, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Saint Louis University Hospital, offer the most expensive care in the region even though they rate among the lowest for hospital quality, according to the report. But some critics say quality ratings are influenced by factors beyond a hospital’s control and fail to adequately represent a facility's challenges and strengths.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared the opioid epidemic in the county a public health emergency and endorsed a plan to have public health officials work with other organizations to combat the addiction crisis.

The declaration Stenger signed Thursday at the Department of Public Health in Berkeley endorsed an action plan that includes county health officials and other organizations, including the county's Justice Services department and the Missouri Hospital Association.

It aims to increase the public’s access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone, boost prevention education and raise access to treatment for high-risk populations such as the uninsured.

Residents who live near Coldwater Creek on Wednesday used a meeting with federal officials to voice their worries about the longtime health risks of radioactive waste in the north St. Louis County waterway.

In a meeting at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Florissant, representatives of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sought to inform residents about the agency's recent report on Coldwater Creek. It concluded that people with prolonged exposure to the creek who may have ingested radioactive soil through water, dust or mud were at a higher risk for bone, lung and other cancers.

When a federal agency linked radioactive waste in Coldwater Creek to certain kinds of cancers, residents of north St. Louis County were pleased that the federal government had finally made a connection.

But the report didn't connect that increased risk of cancer to individual cancer cases. That has many wondering whether the radioactive waste actually caused their disease.

Thursday was the summer solstice, and the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association marked the occasion with a 24-hour fundraising blitz.

The organization’s Longest Day fundraiser is a national event that collects money to research the disease as well as support patients and their caregivers. Friends and family conduct sponsored activities such as bike rides, bowling tournaments and even drag shows.

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