School Nurses Watch State Budget Closely

May 2, 2011

After years of seeing their ranks slowly increase, school nurses may be cut.  National standards recommend a ratio of 750 students to every school nurse, says Liz Newlin, head of the state association. North Carolina now has an average of about 1200 students for every school nurse. Newlin says some small counties are close to the recommended ratio. 

Liz Newlin: "...and the worst counties right now are Guilford, Randolph, Wake, Wilson, Johnston and Cumberland... and that's in the 2000 to 3000 ratio."

WakeMed Hospital Turns 50

Apr 26, 2011

WakeMed is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The public hospital was built by the county government in response to unfulfilled needs for medical care. Today the WakeMed Health and Hospital system runs two hospitals in the county and plans to break ground on a third that will focus on women. WakeMed President and CEO William Atkinson says the facility was the first in the county to provide care for individuals of all races under one roof.

Nashville housing counselor Louetta Hix
Rose Hoban

  In the last 10 years, multiple studies have concluded that housing people with mental health disabilities in adult and family care homes is not the best plan for them. Each study has recommended phasing out use of the homes and improving the system. Despite that, the number of homes has increased along with the number of adults with mental illness who live in them.

For people with mental health disabilities, housing’s an intensely personal issue. Many want to live independently, some want to live with others. But mostly, what folks with mental health problems say they want is some choice in the matter. But housing is a political and economic issue too. Many factors prevent people with mental health disabilities from getting the housing they want… and need.


It probably wouldn’t occur to him, but Alfred Brown is in the vanguard. He’s weathered a lifetime of schizophrenia and alcohol abuse…

Clinton Toy in front of his Nashville home.
Rose Hoban

  Around the country, advocates have come to realize that one of the most important services for people with mental health disabilities is housing – and that most people with disabilities are able to live independently with some help. States have tried many strategies to create suitable housing options. Tennessee dedicates a small amount of state money every year to local groups that succeed pretty well.  

Thousands of people with mental health disabilities live in large adult care homes and in smaller family care homes in North Carolina. Advocates argue that many of these facilities are too institutional to truly help their residents integrate into the community. Now the federal government is investigating the state. Justice Department attorneys contend the state’s reliance on such facilities to house people with mental illness could violate federal law and Supreme Court rulings. 

Mental health reformers have repeated their intention to move people out of large institutions toward treatment options closer to home. But even as people have left hospitals, local resources have not kept pace.  That means in North Carolina, many people with mental health disabilities live in adult care homes designed for frail elderly people. Now the U S Justice Department is investigating this situation. 

New data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services shows some higher complication rates than average at several area hospitals.

The new online data base at the Medicare website shows rates for eight so-called 'never' events.  Those are complications Medicare officials believe should never happen in hospitals. Those incidents include patients developing bedsores, or doctors leaving objects inside their surgical patients. Medicare has stopped reimbursing hospitals for many of these hospital acquired complications. 

Teenagers who binge drink may do long-term damage to their brains, according to a study from UNC Chapel Hill. Scientists administered alcohol to adolescent mice and measured changes in brain matter. They found adolescent mice exposed to alcohol lost brain matter in the frontal cortex and were less proficient at memory tests. Dr. Fulton Crews is a professor of pharmacology at UNC. He says the human adolescent brain functions in much the same way:

A new facility for the treatment of HIV, AIDS and other infectious diseases opens today in Greensboro. It's a joint project between Moses Cone Memorial Hospital and HIV/AIDS care providers in North Carolina. Doctor Jeff Hatcher is the medical director of the clinic. He says it's the only infectious disease facility in the state that offers several different services in one place:

Veterinarians are meeting in Asheville today to learn a quicker, more cost-effective way to neuter and spay pets. The Humane Alliance of Western North Carolina is hosting the conference. It operates a spay and neuter service in Buncombe County that sterilizes an average of 24,000 cats and dogs a year. The group can offer the procedure at a lower cost than full service clinics because it performs many at a time in an assembly line.

Kids Don't Use Asthma Medications Correctly

Mar 29, 2011
Asthma Inhaler
Dottie Mae, Flickr Creative Commons

Ninety percent of kids using inhalers to control their asthma are NOT using them correctly - according to a new study from the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Study leader Betsy Sleath says kids who use inhalers have to use the proper technique in order to deliver a useful dose of the drug directly to the lungs. She says without proper use, the inhalers don't work as well as they could:

There could be some help coming for victims of bullying in North Carolina. A symposium at N.C. State today highlights the different types of bullying and what can be done to protect students.

Dr. Tina Hancock is the head of the Department of Social Work at the University and one of the organizers of the event. She says the internet will be a big focus of today's meetings.

"They will be addressing the various forms that bullying can take place from social media and the responsibilities of professionals in schools settings to protect children from cyber-bullying."

A study conducted by Duke University researchers finds orphans around the world at great risk of experiencing traumatic events, and for those events to lead to later health and mental health issues. It shows 98% of those children have experienced trauma beyond the loss of their parent. The traumas include things like physical or sexual abuse and witnessing violence or death. It also finds young boys just as vulnerable as young girls.

An FDA panel says removing menthol cigarettes from the market would benefit public health. The Food and Drug Administration advisory panel stopped short of recommending an outright ban on menthol cigarettes. But its report released earlier today says the minty flavoring in menthols makes it harder for smokers to quit.

Malpractice Bill Seeks to Protect ER Docs

Mar 4, 2011

This week, the North Carolina state Senate approved a bill making changes to the medical malpractice system. Part of the bill would change the rules for suing emergency room doctors for malpractice. Supporters say it’s necessary to allow doctors to practice more freely in this high risk area. But opponents say it goes too far in limiting access to compensation for people harmed in the E R.

Impact of Medical Malpractice Cap Unclear

Mar 3, 2011
Boone family
Rose Hoban

At least thirty states across the country have enacted some form of cap on the so-called pain and suffering damages available to victims of medical malpractice. Republicans in the General Assembly have repeatedly introduced similar legislation in North Carolina, but in the past have been stymied by Democrats. This year, another bill capping damages and changing the medical malpractice system is making its way through the legislature. And with Republicans in control it has a good chance of passing the General Assembly.

A Chapel Hill neighborhood is welcoming Orange County's first eldercare home. There's a special ceremony today to mark the opening. Paul Klever is executive director of Charles House Association, the non-profit sponsoring the home. Klever says residents of the Heritage Hills neighborhood actually approached them when they first heard about the idea:

A new microscope developed at Duke University may increase doctors’ abilities to detect melanoma. Chemistry professor Warren S. Warren oversaw the development of the laser-based microscope. He says doctors may be “overcalling” melanoma and removing moles in case they are cancerous.

The federal government has awarded drug maker Chimerix a nearly $25 million grant to develop an anti-viral drug for smallpox.

The Durham-based company’s lead candidate is a drug called CMX001. Chimerix President and CEO Kenneth Moch says the government wants the treatment ready in case of a smallpox outbreak as the result of a bioterrorist attack.

Recently, researchers at Duke published a study looking at implantable cardiac defibrillators in patients and determined that one fourth of patients receiving them didn’t need them. For the past few years, researchers at UNC have been doing head to head analyses of older versus newer psychiatric medications, and they’re finding many patients have more success with older, cheaper drugs.

A panel of local and national experts were scheduled to address the legacy of Agent Orange at a public forum February 16th in Chapel Hill. The toxic herbicide was used by the U.S. government to remove tree cover in the jungles of Vietnam, so the enemy wouldn't be able to hide as easily. Nancy Leterri is executive director of Children of Vietnam. She says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs allows compensation for anyone who had 'boots on the ground' in Vietnam and who suffers from disabilities including certain cancers, Parkinson's Disease...

Patients Recognize Quality

Feb 14, 2011
Roy Perry, 1950

A new study from Duke researchers finds patients really do know a good hospital when they're in one.

There's been a push to create ways to rate the care hospitals deliver. CMS, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has come up with clinical measures of the quality of patient care. You can find those on the Hospital Compare website. Now some Duke researchers find patients satisfaction scores do as good a job of rating which hospitals deliver high quality.

Food-Borne Illness In North Carolina

Jan 20, 2011
Salmonella, magnified 15,000X, virus, disease
CDC/ Janice Haney Carr

Many cases of food-borne illness go unreported and undetected - that's according to a new report.

The report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest looks at food borne disease around the country. It says North Carolina reported 156 outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over a decade, and solved about half of them.

Keeping Seniors Safe in the Cold

Jan 17, 2011
prakhar, Flickr Creative Commons

With the recent cold temperatures, doctors say old people can be particularly susceptible to problems.

Elderly people are more likely to break a bone when they fall. But they also suffer in other ways when it's colder.

UNC Hospitals & Aetna in Rate Dispute

Jan 17, 2011

People around the Triangle with Aetna health insurance are hearing that UNC Hospitals may no longer be an in-network insurer for them.

The letters went out last week from both Aetna and UNC Hospitals, saying that come February fifth, UNC will no longer accept Aetna insurance.

New Model For Delivering Mental Health Care

Jan 7, 2011

With the beginning of the new year, yet another big change came to the state mental health system. January first marked the implementation date for a new type of provider agency to deliver services. They’re called CABHAs… and they’re intended to lower cost and improve quality. The question is… will CABHA’s work?

heart illustration
Vintage Collective, Flickr Creative Commons

Too many cardiac patients are getting internal defibrillators when they don't need them - that's the result of new research from Duke.

Durham Babies Get Home Visits

Jan 4, 2011
Couple with baby
Durham Connects

Starting this year, all babies born in Durham will new get a home visit from a nurse.   The Durham Connects program started this past year, visiting only some new babies and their mothers.   Program director Jeannine Sato says for the coming year, all babies born in the county and their families can get up to three nurse visits:

Insurance Rates For Some Will Drop

Dec 22, 2010

Health insurance rates for some people are actually slated to go down... they're folks who can take advantage of the state's federally funded high risk insurance pool.

After the federal health reform bill passed in the spring, 23 states, including North Carolina, chose to create federally funded high risk pools for their residents. North Carolina's plan is called Inclusive Health, and it's run alongside an already-existing state funded high risk pool.