Health

Health
10:44 am
Thu October 4, 2012

Call to Privatize State Hospital Comes Up Empty

A pilot program from the Texas Legislature to privatize state hospitals didn't return the desired results.
flickr.com/wiseleyb

The Texas Department of State and Health Services (DSHS) has failed to comply with a directive from the state legislature – but not without good reason.

Last session, the legislature asked DSHS to review proposals from companies interested in privatizing a state hospital, with the provision it be run at ten percent savings for four years. The agency was told to bring an approved proposal to the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy by Sept. 1. Instead, yesterday DSHS submitted a letter to those two agencies explaining why they were empty handed.

There was only one proposal submitted, by GEO Care for the Kerrville State Hospital. DSHS graded the proposal a 64 out of 100.

“Savings in the proposal were achieved primarily through reductions in staffing and benefits,” DSHS Commissioner David Lakely wrote, “to a degree that would put both our patients and the State of Texas at risk.”

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Health
2:37 pm
Wed October 3, 2012

Humana to Select Local Charity for Grant

http://www.flickr.com/proimos/

Three Austin charities are finalists vying for a $100,000 grant from the Humana Foundation, the philanthropic branch of health insurance company Humana, Inc. Humana will make the award to a nonprofit that serves Central Texans in "dire need of assistance," ranging from seniors to children.

The finalist include Family Eldercare, Foundation Communities, and the Marbridge Foundation.

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Health
4:33 pm
Mon September 17, 2012

Medicaid Woes Subject of House Committee Hearing

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

At a morning hearing on the implementation of Medicaid managed care in South Texas, lawmakers got a much bigger earful on the consequences of difficult budget decisions they made in the last legislative session.

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Health
1:28 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

First Person: At Risk of Hunger

Southeast Austin resident Maria Del Rasario Ramirez has lived and worked in the United States for twenty years, and she is one of 162,440 people in Travis County at risk of hunger, according to an estimate by Feeding America. As an undocumented immigrant, she is ineligible to receive food stamps, but she does receive benefits for her granddaughter, whom she is raising.

The food stamps program – officially called the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) – makes up the largest portion of the trillion dollar Farm Bill, which expires at the end of the month. The Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House have been debating how much to cut the program. The Senate wants $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts. The House is calling for $16.5 billion.

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Health
4:46 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

Third Travis County West Nile Death Confirmed

Another death from the mosquito-carried West Nile virus has been reported in Travis County.
flickr.com/GammaMan

Another Central Texan has passed away from West Nile disease, bringing the total of deaths in Travis County to three. 

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department says this afternoon that after a two-week hospitalization, an unidentified individual passed away from West Nile neuroinvasive disease.

As KUT News has previously reported, while there is only one form of West Nile virus, there’s two forms of illness:

One is West Nile fever, a passing, flu-like illness. (The majority of West Nile cases have been just those.) But those with compromised immune systems may be susceptible to a stronger form of the illness – West Nile neuroinvasive disease, which can be deadly. 

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Health
3:03 pm
Wed September 5, 2012

One in Four Travis County Mosquitoes Test Positive for West Nile

A microscopic view of the West Nile virus. The virus has claimed two lives in Travis County so far this year.
CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith

More than half of the confirmed West Nile virus cases in the country this year have been in Texas – over 1,000 Texans have contracted the disease. And local authorities have surprising figures about how prevalent the virus is in the Austin area.

The outbreak was so severe in the Dallas area that officials decided to spray insecticide from airplanes to kill mosquitoes carrying the disease. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the plan worked and that the worst may be over the area. But the same is not true in Central Texas.

“If you look at Texas as a whole, the percentage of infected mosquitoes has gone down in the North Texas area but is staying up in the Central Texas area. We’re still seeing about 28 percent of the mosquitoes that we test, as of earlier this week in Travis County, about 28 percent are still positive for the virus," Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey says.

In Dallas County, only six percent of mosquitoes are now testing positive for West Nile.

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Health
4:42 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

Is Buying Organic Worth It?

A study argues organic produce doesn't have higher vitamin content over non-organic foods. Detractors argue the study's missing the point.
KUT News

A Stanford University study published today doubting the health benefits of organic fruits, vegetables and meats has some Texas farmers raising questions.

The study, authored by Dena Bravata, MD, MS, was published in today’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. It found no consistent differences in the vitamin content of organic food versus the cost-cutting, conventionally grown alternative.

“That study doesn’t really look at a lot of very important factors,” says Judith McGeary, founder of the Texas-based Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “Vitamin content isn’t the only issue, even for adults. One issue is the exposure to pesticides, which are to be blunt, poison. And the study did show that there was significantly less exposure to pesticides from organic produce than from conventional."

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Health
3:00 pm
Thu August 30, 2012

Texas Can't Swat Its West Nile Outbreak

Health officials say the best way to avoid West Nile virus is to avoid mosquitoes - stay inside at dawn and dust, wear dark-colored clothing with long sleeves and pants, dump standing water and wear insect repellent with deet.
CDC/ James Stewart

The Texas Department of State Health Services say the number of West Nile virus cases and deaths in the state have more than doubled over the past two weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Texas continues to lead the country in the number of cases of West Nile. According to the CDC, nearly 800 people across the state have been infected. More than 30 have died.

The outbreak continues to be centered around the Dallas area but Travis and Williamson counties have seen a combined total of 42 confirmed cases including two deaths.

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Health
3:06 pm
Mon August 27, 2012

Travis County 'Not Actively Involved' in Medicaid End Run

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Travis County hospital district appears interested in the idea of going it alone on the potential expansion of Medicaid, but says there are no plans in the works. The Washington Post reported this weekend that the six largest counties in Texas could seek to expand Medicaid independently of the state, effectively making an end run around Gov. Rick Perry's opposition to the program. 

“We’re not actively involved at this point in time [in those talks]," says Christie Garbe with Central Health, the Travis County hospital district. "We are watching closely as it’s an interesting possibility. But Central Health is already interested in exploring local solutions to expand health care for the uninsured who live in Travis County.”

Central Health estimates the Medicaid expansion would save $7- to $8 million dollars a year by providing health insurance to people who would otherwise just show up at the emergency room.  

Health
5:55 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

Tattoo Ink Linked To Serious Skin Infections

Along with a tattoo, this person got an infection.
A. Kalus CDC

Originally published on Mon August 27, 2012 7:58 am

If you're going to take a walk on the wild side and get a tattoo, it could get even wilder than you planned.

Federal and state health investigators have identified five clusters of skin infections linked to tattoos.

Now it's true that infection risks from tattoos are not exactly new or unknown. In fact, tattoo parlors are licensed and regulated in many jurisdictions to minimize the risk of trouble for people getting "inked."

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Health
3:13 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

Economist: Medical School Could Bring 15K Jobs to Austin

An economic report shows an Austin medical school and teaching hospital would create a total of 15,400 permanent jobs – both direct and indirect.
Laura Rice, KUT News

Austin economist Jon Hockenyos says bringing a medical school and teaching hospital to Austin could add about 15,000 permanent jobs to the community.

Hockenyos says nearly 7,000 of those jobs would be directly connected with the medical facility and research. The other 8,000 or so would be indirectly created.

“The impact of this facility and the operation of this entire complex is going to create ripple effects through the whole community and so we’ll raise the overall level of economic activity here and that will in turn create opportunities in restaurants and dry cleaners and for people supplying things to the medical complex – all those different, related, ancillary activities will then, in turn, have to hire workers,” Hockenyos says.

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Health
11:05 am
Thu August 23, 2012

Why is West Nile Virus Hitting Texas so Hard?

Health officials are investigating more than 1,100 West Nile Virus cases. About half of those are in Texas.
CDC

Texas has seen more than 600 West Nile Virus cases so far this year. That’s more than any other state in the country and almost of half of the total cases in the nation.

The Dallas area has seen by far the largest number of infections and deaths related to the disease. Eleven people have died from West Nile Virus in Dallas County alone.

But there’s no clear reason why the outbreak has been so severe in North Texas.

“The available information indicates that the numbers of reported cases are trending upward in most areas, including Texas,” says Dr. Lyle Peterson with the Centers for Disease Control.

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Health
1:45 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

The Best Way for Texans to Fight Mosquitoes

With one confirmed West Nile virus-related death in Travis County, and spraying for mosquitos in Dallas, many Central Texans are wondering what they can do to keep mosquitos away.

Some have turned to some quirky alternatives to make sure mosquitos keep away – including a bracelet makers say acts as a mosquito repellent.

According to one product’s website, these bracelets essentially work by producing an “aura” of plant-based oils that act like a protective shield – something they say mosquitos won’t like at all. But according to Dr. Phil Huang, the medical director for the Travis County Health and Human Services, such bracelets might not be that effective.

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Health
11:52 am
Mon August 20, 2012

After Komen Drama, Planned Parenthood Expands Screening

Planned Parenthood will expand breast health services to more than 40,000 women across five Texas cities, the result of increased donations following Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure's short-lived decision earlier this year to halt breast cancer fundingto the organization. 

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Health
4:49 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

State-Run Women's Health Program Faces Questions

As state officials prepare to take full control of the once federally funded Texas Women’s Health Program on Nov. 1, they’re running into a series of unexpected challenges, from controversy around proposed rule changes to questions about how to cover the 130,000 enrolled clients within the confines of a tight state budget. 

The state has pledged to forgo $35 million in annual federal funding — a 9 to 1 match — in order to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from the program, clinics that have used Women's Health Program dollars to provide contraception and cancer screenings, but not abortions. Two separate courts have blocked Texas from ejecting those clinics ahead of legal hearings scheduled for the fall.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry has directed the Health and Human Services Commission to find a way to fund the 6-year-old program exclusively with state dollars. 

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Health
2:20 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Texas Among Most Obese States in U.S.

Tipping the scales: More than one-third of Texans list themselves as obese in a new study.
flickr.com/sourmash

Obesity continues to be a serious and worsening health problem in the U.S. and globally. And Texas is no exception to this trend.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that Texans rank among the 13 states in the nation which have the highest obesity rates.  Between 30 and 35 percent of Texans said they were obese as part of a national survey conducted by the CDC.

The data, collected in 2011, represents a new baseline because of the way cell phones users were included in the survey. The survey is known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

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Health
10:42 am
Mon August 13, 2012

Spraying for West Nile Begins in Dallas

The Dallas area is spraying to combat West Nile virus, which is responsible for nine deaths in the region.
flickr.com/gammaman

Starting today, Dallas County and the City of Dallas will begin spraying for mosquitos in an attempt to combat West Nile virus.

Officials in Dallas County have declared a public health emergency after the virus has killed nine people and infected more than 180 in the area.

Local leaders resisted spraying at first but now the mayors of Dallas, Highland Park and University Park all agree with truck spraying and additionally support aerial spraying. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is urging surrounding cities to approve these safety measures.

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Health
2:53 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

When it Comes to Flesh Eating Bacteria, the Odds Are On Your Side

Streptococcus bacteria can lead to cases of necrotizing fasciitis - the "flesh eating bacteria" in certain populations.
Janice Haney Carr, Centers for Disease Control

There’s been a new case of so-called “flesh eating bacteria,” this time in Texas.

44-year-old Keith Korth was fishing last weekend at Port O’Connor on the Gulf Coast. According to reports, an infected blister needed medical attention, and was diagnosed as a fast-moving bacterial attack called necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating bacteria.

(You can read more about necrotizing fasciitis, but be warned – the pictures are gruesome.)

Korth is recovering at a Houston hospital after having much of his leg amputated. A family member, reached by phone this afternoon, says he’s feeling much better. The infection has apparently been stopped, she says, and the family expects him to go home to Brenham, Texas, on Monday or Tuesday.

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Health
12:02 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

Texas 'Tooth Fairy' Studies Triggers for Autism

Smile! A San Antonio scientist hopes to discover the "why" behind Autism.
flickr.com/steveritchie

A San Antonio scientist looking for possible causes of autism is taking an unusual approach. University of Texas Health Science Center epidemiologist Dr. Raymond Palmer is using baby teeth to try to root out some answers.

The project is nicknamed “the tooth fairy studies” because to conduct his research, Dr. Palmer collects old, donated baby teeth from kids with and without autism. He is trying to discover how environmental effects  -- from as early as conception – can determine whether a child develops autistic traits.

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Health
5:00 pm
Wed August 1, 2012

State Re-designates UMC Brackenridge as Highest Level Trauma Center

UMC Brackenridge is recognized as a Level 1 Trauma center, the highest level center a hospital can achieve.
Bryant Miller, KUT News

University Medical Center Brackenridge announced its re-designation as a Level I Trauma center for adults today.

The designation reaffirms the original Level I designation the hospital received in 2009. Every three years the center goes through a stringent re-designation test by The Texas Department of State Health Services.

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