Tagged Mental Health

State Highlights: NYC Lags Behind In Anti-Smoking Efforts; Mass. Long-Term Care Insurance Rates On Rise

Outlets report on news from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, D.C., Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota, California, New Hampshire and Washington.

The New York Times: Once A Leading Foe Of Tobacco, New York Lags Under De Blasio
In the 12 years that Michael R. Bloomberg spent as mayor of New York, he became known for pushing far-reaching health initiatives to curb smoking and change eating habits — challenging Big Tobacco, big sodas and, at times, the will of New Yorkers. The first three years of Bill de Blasio’s tenure as mayor have brought a different approach. (Neuman, 1/22)

Boston Globe: Rates Jumping For Long Term Care Insurance 
The state Division of Insurance has negotiated rate increases of up to 40 percent spread over four years with more than a dozen long-term care insurance companies in an effort to stabilize the troubled and shrinking market for this coverage. The state’s top insurance regulator took the unusual step Friday of approving rate increases at once for 16 companies providing coverage to nearly 55,000 state residents. Most existing policyholders will see rates increase 10 percent a year for the next four years. (Fernandes, 1/20)

The CT Mirror: CT Exchange Wants To Require Broker Commissions For Health Plans 
Officials at Connecticut’s health insurance exchange want to require insurance companies that sell health plans through the marketplace to pay commissions to agents and brokers next year, a move aimed at restoring the assistance for exchange customers. Last year, 40 percent of Access Health CT’s private insurance customers signed up through agents or brokers, who were paid a monthly fee by insurance companies. But insurance companies stopped the commissions for plans sold through Access Health in 2017. (Levin Becker, 1/20)

The Washington Post: For District Workers Caring For Adult Relatives, New Legislation Is A Godsend
Tanisha Vinson, a home-health-care aide in the District, was let go from her job last month after she took off too many days to care for her mother, who had recently undergone spine surgery. “My mother was in a bed and couldn’t get out, and she called me to come,” said Vinson, a single mother of three whose son has disabilities. She missed five days of work in two weeks, and since losing her position she hasn’t found work again. (Bahrampour, 1/21)

Richmond Times Dispatch: Va. Families Of People With Disabilities Criticize New Funding Structure
The SIS, as it’s called, is a tool the state has used for years to determine how much support disabled Virginians need, but this is the first year it has been tied to how much money is paid to caretakers for certain services. The change in funding models was part of a sweeping redesign of the Medicaid waiver system in Virginia, which was implemented in large part last year. Goodloe and several other parents and advocates have voiced concerns that the SIS assessment is not accurately capturing the needs of disabled Virginians and resulting in detrimental cuts that could lead to people with disabilities being placed in more institutional settings. (Kleiner, 1/22)

Richmond Times Dispatch: Advocates Want Every Virginia Child To Have Access To A Nurse While In School
Nurses, students and a legislator from Stafford County have joined forces to try to make sure every child in the state has access to a nurse while in school. The effort is being led by Del. L. Mark Dudenhefer, R-Stafford, who has sponsored legislation calling for every school board to employ at least one nurse at every elementary, middle and high school, or one for every 550 students. The bill, HB1757, was advanced out of the Elementary & Secondary Education Subcommittee on Wednesday and will be heard by the House Education Committee today. (Llovio, 1/20)

Cincinnati Enquirer: TriHealth Software Glitch Sent Mail To Previous Addresses Of Patients
TriHealth, the Cincinnati-based health care company, issued a statement Friday regarding a software glitch that inadvertently sent mail to the address of over 1,000 patients. “The majority of the correspondences were billing statements sent to the previous address of current patients,” the statement said. No Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or any other financial institution information were disclosed in any of the mailings as a result of the glitch, which was discovered several weeks ago, officials said. (Kinight, 1/20)

The Star Tribune: Hennepin County Leads State In 24/7 Child Protection Response 
For years, some of the most seriously abused or neglected children in Minnesota couldn’t get help from a social worker for days. Across the state, child protection agencies would shut down on holidays, weekends and late at night. Calls for help would be forwarded to the police or a nonprofit under contract with the county, and information taken down to relay later to a social worker. Not anymore in Hennepin County, which according to the state has launched the only completely county-run child protection response system in Minnesota that’s operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Smith, 1/22)

California Healthline: From Its Counterculture Roots, Haight Ashbury Free Clinic Morphs Into Health Care Conglomerate
Since it opened 50 years ago, the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic has been a refuge for everyone from flower children to famous rock stars to Vietnam War veterans returning home addicted to heroin. Strolling through the clinic, one of the first of its kind in the nation, founder Dr. David Smith points to a large collage that decorates a wall of an exam room affectionately referred to as the Psychedelic Wall of Fame. The 1967 relic shows a kaleidoscope of images of Jefferson Airplane and other legendary counterculture bands, floating in a dreamscape of creatures, nude goddesses, peace symbols and large loopy letters. (Udesky, 1/23)

New Hampshire Union Leader: Hampton Man Files Malpractice Suit Against Doctors After Wife Dies From Infection 
A Hampton man whose wife died from a severe infection after she sought treatment in Exeter Hospital’s emergency room has filed a medical malpractice suit against two of the doctors who treated her. Francis Chamberlin is suing Dr. Craig Maclean, Ohio-based U.S. Acute Care Solutions, Dr. Steven Kahan, and Core Physicians LLC following the death of his 67-year-old wife, Jacklyn Chamberlin, on Oct. 27, 2016. (Schreiber, 1/20)

Los Angeles Times: Measles Outbreak Grows In L.A.’s Orthodox Jewish Community Despite California’S Strict New Vaccination Law
Six months after California’s strict vaccine law took effect, a measles outbreak has infected 20 people, most of them in Los Angeles County, prompting a search for others who may have been exposed to the highly contagious virus.Most of the patients live in western areas of the county, including L.A.’s Westside, the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Fernando Valley. Santa Barbara and Ventura counties each reported one case. (Karlamangla, 1/21)

The Washington Post: His Mental Illness Left Him Homeless. Then A Unique Program Gave Him His Life Back. 
It’s a little after noon. Usually by this hour, David Weiss would be waking for the second time, still groggy from his antipsychotics. He’d have gotten up once at dawn, maybe made himself an egg with toast. He might have gone into the back bedroom to scan his ham radio or played a few chords on his guitar. Then he’d go back to sleep. But on this day, he had somewhere to be. It’s easier to get up on days like this, days with a purpose. (Itkowitz, 1/21)

Seattle Times: Tet In Seattle Offers Help For A Healthy New Year 
For the third year in a row, the Tet in Seattle Vietnamese celebration for the Lunar New Year has included a health fair to provide screenings, information and insurance enrollment for the community…Volunteers from Swedish Medical Center, the University of Washington, Seattle University, International Community Health Services and others offered free blood-pressure, cholesterol and blood-sugar-level checks, while providing nutritional information and insurance help. (Hansen, 1/22)

WBUR: Mass. Legislators Propose Limits On Legal Marijuana — Here Are The Key Points 
Just hours after polls closed on Nov. 8, 2016, leaders on Beacon Hill began talking about ways they might change the ballot question that made marijuana legal for adult use in Massachusetts. In December, without notifying all members, a handful of lawmakers voted to delay the start of retail sales. Now, as a new session begins, House and Senate leaders have filed dozens of bills that would make major changes in the recreational marijuana law. (Bebinger, 1/21)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

New Message For ER Docs: Prescribe Opioids Only As Last Resort

Medical personnel at hospitals around the country are now being retrained to resist prescribing strong narcotics. In other news on the drug epidemic, The Washington Post reports on the hunt for a painkiller that is not addictive.

Stat: Hospitals Train Emergency Doctors To Resist Prescribing Opioids
Emergency departments, in particular, feel a heavy responsibility to take action: Collectively, they’re one of the top prescribers of opioids nationwide, behind family and internal medicine practices. And so, this month in eastern Mississippi, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle began limiting opioid pain medication only to patients in the most acute pain. St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in New Jersey, which has one of the nation’s biggest emergency departments, is pushing to replace opioids whenever possible with less addictive treatments, like nerve blocks to dull pain. The center has even hired a harpist to fill the noisy halls with calmer notes. (Blau, 1/23)

The Washington Post: The Search For A Painkiller That Works Without Danger Of Addiction
When did our nation’s opioid crisis begin? Pretty much as soon as a German pharmacist isolated morphine from opium in 1805. Within the century, “addiction among soldiers was reportedly prevalent enough to earn the moniker, ‘the soldier’s disease,’ ” writes Jon Kelvey on Smithsonian.com. But after more than 200 years of increased dependency and deaths, his article declares that “America’s Long-Overdue Opioid Revolution Is Finally Here.” Here’s the tantalizing prospect of the piece: New compounds may provide patients with opioid-level pain relief without the awful side effects. (Hallett, 1/22)

And from the states —

The Record: N.J. Attorney General Clamping Down On Painkillers
New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino is using emergency powers to impose some of the toughest restrictions in the United States on painkiller prescriptions, part of an aggressive campaign against drug addiction outlined by Gov. Chris Christie that could also include an investigation into relationships between doctors and drug manufacturers. In a letter to the Board of Medical Examiners last week, Porrino cited his emergency powers and said he would amend several state regulations on the practice of medicine to prevent “the tragic consequences of the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic.” (Rizzo, 1/22)

New Hampshire Public Radio: How The Drug Crisis Is Reshaping One Busy New Hampshire Hospital 
Catholic Medical Center in Manchester is your typical general hospital: they deliver babies, set broken bones, perform heart surgery. And it might be as good a place as any to witness how the opioid epidemic is transforming healthcare in New Hampshire. As the opioids have taken a grip on the state, hospitals have been inundated with patients suffering from addiction. Not all those patients land in a hospital because of an overdose. They’re being treated everywhere – from the nursery to the operating room. (Rodolico, 1/20)

New Hampshire Public Radio: State Hopes Pharma Settlement Will Stop False Marketing Of Opioid Painkillers 
For over a year, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office has been trying to determine whether drug makers break the law in how they marketed opioid painkillers in the state. It’s a slow legal battle that could determine that pharmaceutical companies knew they were putting people at risk by overselling highly addictive painkillers. Many of those painkillers were abused – leading to an addiction and overdose epidemic. (Rodolico, 1/20)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

NYPD’s Mental Health Training Falls Apart At Seams When Put Into Practice, Report Finds

The department’s dispatch team is unable to tell who has received training, so it’s “random chance” on whether an officer who arrives at the scene has been trained in how to handle a mental health crisis, according to the report.

In other news on the New York Police Department —

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

OxyContin Maker Turned Blind Eye To Reap ‘Obscene Profits,’ City Claims In Suit

Everett, a city north of Seattle, has been hit hard by the painkiller epidemic. In other news, Anthem is changing its policy on pre-authorizations for drugs to treat opioid abuse.

USA Today: Anthem To Change Opioid Treatment Policy Under Deal With NY Regulators
Anthem, the nation’s second-largest insurance company, has ended its policy of pre-authorizations for drugs to treat opioid use disorder following an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, his office said Thursday. The agreement, which affects Anthem plans across the United States and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield customers in New York, followed an investigation into Empire’s practices in New York. (O’Donnell and DeMio, 1/19)

In other news —

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Christie Set To Impose Pain Pill Limits Despite N.J. Doctors’ Objections
Gov. Christie wants to tackle opioid addiction by limiting the number of pills physicians can initially prescribe – an idea experts say could reduce excess supply but may cause some pain patients to go days without medication. Christie, a Republican serving the last year of his second term, last week ordered new rules that would limit doctors to writing initial prescriptions for five days’ worth of opioid-based medications, down from 30. (Seidman, 1/19)

Chicago Tribune: Despite Progress, Lake County’s Fight Against Opioid Epidemic Sees Early Setbacks In 2017
Last year, the sheriff’s office was responsible for saving 14 lives using Naloxone, and if the start of 2017 is any indication, the opioid epidemic might be increasing. In 2016, deputies saved two people in January and didn’t have another save until March…According to the latest statistics from the Lake County coroner’s office, opioid or heroin-related deaths went up from 39 in 2014 to 42 in 2015. Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper said that for the first three quarters of 2016, there were 31 opioid- or heroin-related deaths, which was down from the same period in 2015. (Abderholden, 1/19)

Seattle Times: Safe Heroin Injection Sites Get OK From King County Health Board 
King County is moving closer to opening at least two public sites where drug users can inject heroin under supervision. The county’s Board of Health voted unanimously Thursday to endorse the sites, which would be the first of their kind in the nation.A task force, made up of experts on heroin and opioid abuse, recommended the supervised injection sites in September, as a way to reduce the wave of overdose deaths that has wracked Seattle and King County in recent years. (Gutman, 1/19)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Longer Looks: Atul Gawande; Replacing The Health Law; And Diagnosing Concussions

Each week, KHN’s Shefali Luthra finds interesting reads from around the Web.

The New Yorker: The Heroism Of Incremental Care
Following the Second World War, penicillin and then a raft of other antibiotics cured the scourge of bacterial diseases that it had been thought only God could touch. New vaccines routed polio, diphtheria, rubella, and measles. Surgeons opened the heart, transplanted organs, and removed once inoperable tumors. Heart attacks could be stopped; cancers could be cured. A single generation experienced a transformation in the treatment of human illness as no generation had before. It was like discovering that water could put out fire. We built our health-care system, accordingly, to deploy firefighters…. But the model wasn’t quite right. If an illness is a fire, many of them require months or years to extinguish, or can be reduced only to a low-level smolder. The treatments may have side effects and complications that require yet more attention. Chronic illness has become commonplace, and we have been poorly prepared to deal with it. (Atul Gawande, 1/15)

Vox: Here’s How Donald Trump Could Replace Obamacare Without Courting Disaster
Republicans have a problem: The promises they’ve made about what their Obamacare replacement plan will do are impossible to keep. Over the weekend, Donald Trump told the Washington Post that his plan would provide “insurance for everybody” with “much lower deductibles.” Oh, and don’t worry about the cost. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it,” he said. “That’s not going to happen with us.” There is simply no way, within the GOP paradigm of private insurance, lower taxes, and less regulation, to make that work. But perhaps he doesn’t need to. (Ezra Klein, 1/17)

ProPublica: Dysfunction Disorder 
It is impossible to say precisely just how influential mental health assessments are in any individual Family Court case. Family Court proceedings are open to the public, but most case files, judicial decisions and trial transcripts are secret. Even lawyers who say their clients were harmed by decisions made with Montego’s input are reluctant to share details, in large part because of confidentiality rules governing attorney-client relationships, as well as fear of retribution by ACS or Family Court judges. What is indisputable is that Family Court cases are complicated and often life-altering. In the last decade, roughly 450 children have died while their families were known to ACS, many of them under the supervision of Family Court judges reliant to some degree on psychologists like those recruited by Montego. (Sapien, 1/17)

WIRED: How A Mere Prick Of The Finger Can Diagnose A Concussion
When your head takes a hit (from an airbag, or a fall, or a 300-pound defensive tackle), your brain is subjected to shear forces that can actually tear it apart from the inside—without any of the structural damage you can see on a CT scan or an MRI. Deep in the brain’s white matter, tissues of different densities pull and strain against each other as they accelerate and decelerate at different speeds. Axons, the long, stretched-out arms of neurons that allow them to talk to each other, get frayed and severed. This is why you might have trouble remembering things or thinking clearly if you get concussed—and why a doctor might ask you to tell them what year it is or who’s the president. (Megan Molteni, 1/17)

The Atlantic: Tragedy Would Unfold If Trump Cancels Bush’s AIDS Program
In 2003, in a move that has been described as his greatest legacy, George W. Bush created a program called PEPFAR—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. At the time, more than 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were living with AIDS, but only 50,000 had access to antiretroviral drugs that manage the disease and prevent its spread. Now, thanks to PEPFAR, 11.5 million people are on those drugs. For good reason, it has been variously described as a “globally transformative lifeline,” “one of the best government programs in American history,” and something “for all Americans to be proud of.” It seems that some members of President-Elect Trump’s transition team beg to differ. (Ed Yong, 1/17)

The New Yorker: On Health Care, We’ll Have What Congress Is Having
In the fall of 1994, the Clinton Administration’s much debated comprehensive, and complicated, health-insurance bill—known derisively as Hillarycare—died quietly on Capitol Hill. It was a moment that, the Princeton sociologist Paul Starr later argued, would “go down as one of the great lost political opportunities in American history.” But, before the end, talk of another approach kept bubbling up: to allow those Americans who couldn’t get insurance elsewhere to buy a policy that was just as good, and inexpensive, as what members of Congress got. When Senator Edward M. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, said that Americans should get “exactly what we have,” he meant the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. (Jeffrey Frank, 1/17)

Vox: This Is What Keeps CDC Director Tom Frieden Up At Night
With President-Elect Donald Trump taking office this week, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how the US will handle public health and respond to potential future pandemics.There’s also uncertainty about what will happen to the CDC budget and vaccine coverage rates under a president who spreads vaccine conspiracy theories. And [agency director Tom] Frieden’s own future is currently in limbo, as he submitted his resignation as director on January 20. But when we met Frieden at the CDC offices in Washington, DC, last week, he was optimistic. (Julia Belluz, 1/17)

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DEA Falls Short In Answering Opioid Enforcement Questions, Senators Say

A Washington Post report has shown that beginning in 2013, DEA lawyers at headquarters started to delay and block enforcement efforts against large opioid distributors and others, requiring investigators in the field to meet a higher burden of proof before they could take action. In other news, a Stat reporter goes behind the scenes in a DEA drug lab, an opioid maker settles a lawsuit over aggressive marketing and a doctor known as the “Candy Man” is permanently suspending his license

Stat: Inside A DEA Drug Lab, A Race To Identify Dangerous New Opioids
At the lab, run by the Drug Enforcement Agency, chemists are analyzing these drugs and trying to identify them. More and more, they’re discovering new, deadlier varieties of opioids concocted overseas and sold on the street in the US. As the chemical compositions of these drugs are manipulated, they can become far more powerful. Fentanyl, a common synthetic opioid, is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and many times that of heroin. (Hogan, 1/19)

New Hampshire Union Leader: Opioid Maker Settles Lawsuit Over Fentanyl Spray 
Insys Therapeutics Inc. of Chandler, Ariz., will pay the state $2.9 million to settle allegations that it aggressively marketed its opioid Subsys, a fentanyl spray approved for cancer patients, to New Hampshire residents. Additionally, it will pay $500,000 to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to be used for preventing and remediating problems related to abuse, misuse or misprescribing of opioid drugs in the state. The settlement comes as New Hampshire struggles with the highest per-capita fentanyl death rate in the country. As of Dec. 12, 2016, 369 people died from drug overdoses and 269 of them, or 72 percent, involved fentanyl. (Grossmith, 1/18)

Reveal: Wisconsin Doctor Known As “Candy Man” Stripped Of Medical License 
The former chief of staff of the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center has agreed to permanently surrender his license to practice medicine in Wisconsin, closing a two-year investigation into his narcotic prescription practices. The VA had already fired David Houlihan, after he was exposed as the “Candy Man” in a January 2015 investigation from Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. We reported that veterans treated at the Tomah VA showed up to appointments stoned on painkillers and muscle relaxants, dozed off and drooled during therapy sessions, and burned themselves with cigarettes. (Glantz, 1/18)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Inside Hospital, Families Find Refuge With Recliners, Tissues And Cake

NEW YORK — Clutching a railing for balance, 89-year-old Alan Epstein searched the hospital waiting rooms for families in distress. He paused when he came across a young woman standing alone in the hallway, making a phone call about her grandfather’s faltering health.

“Are you aware of the caregiver support center?” Epstein asked when she got off the phone. Just around the corner from the sterile waiting room, he told her, there’s a refuge with hot coffee, soft chairs and pleasant company.

Epstein, an energetic former financial broker who still plays tennis twice a week, knows the hallways well: His wife was a patient at the hospital, Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, before she died. Now he’s one of 30 volunteers who make their rounds there, recruiting stressed-out families to visit a small suite set aside for their comfort and emotional support.

Montefiore’s caregiver support center, staffed by a social worker and an administrative aide, is one of 11 that have popped up over the last decade in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Michigan and Iowa, based on a model created in 2006 at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York.

Hospitals are showing a greater interest in family caregivers in part because of new penalties for hospital readmissions, said Jill Gottlieb of Northern Westchester Hospital, who helps other hospitals set up their own support centers. Gottlieb said when family caregivers get the support they need, they are better poised to help patients successfully transition home.

“The family caregiver often is thrust into this world unexpectedly,” she said. “They’re ill-prepared.”

Inside hospitals — where they spend long hours awaiting surgeries or last-ditch efforts to save loved ones — family caregivers feel invisible and are “most often ignored,” said Susan Reinhard, director of AARP’s Public Policy Institute, which has been leading a state legislative campaign to require hospitals to incorporate caregivers into a patient’s care plan.

Randi Kaplan, the social worker who runs the support center at Montefiore’s Henry and Lucy Moses campus, a 1,500-bed hospital in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, knows that “invisible” feeling. She spent hours there during her husband’s six-and-a-half-hour surgery for a brain tumor.

“We were in a very sterile environment,” Kaplan recalled. “Nobody talked to us.”

Kaplan returned to the hospital in 2005, during a “cascading course of unstoppable events” at the end of her husband’s life. Rushed to the critical care unit after his cancer spread to his liver, he died at age 50.

“I was falling apart,” she said. Kaplan said she needed emotional support, but again, “nobody approached us — not a social worker, not a chaplain.”

That experience inspired Kaplan to help Montefiore create the support center in 2011, complete with a soothing waterfall, pictures of cherry blossoms, and private rooms with reclining chairs. Last month, she won an award from the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare for her work at the center, which has seen an estimated 10,000 families so far.

Randi Kaplan and Epstein talk in the caregiver support center at Montefiore Medical Center. (Ben Sklar for KHN)

Randi Kaplan and Epstein talk in the caregiver support center at Montefiore Medical Center. (Ben Sklar for KHN)

On a recent morning, she burst in the door with a bag of groceries — oranges, coffee, dark chocolate, red velvet cake and tissues — to offer to patients and staff.

Tissues are essential, she said: Families visiting loved ones in the hospital are “always emotionally fatigued, always anxious, always feeling alone and overwhelmed. Once they sit down, the tears start flowing and the tissues come out.”

About half of the people who come in the door are dealing with end-of-life situations, she said.

The scene inside the center can be tense: Earlier this year, Kaplan said, a woman came to the center in hysterics, gasping for air. The woman’s husband, who was in his 30s, had been rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest.

Kaplan said she held the woman’s head to stop her from banging it against the concrete. The woman’s family urged staff to medicate her. Instead Kaplan called in a palliative care doctor, Say Salomon, who calmed her and assured her her reaction was normal. Kaplan later held the woman’s hand while a surgeon told her her husband had died.

Salomon, who stopped into the center recently, said he often brings families there for difficult conversations. In one recent case, he said, he helped a family call the patient’s son in jail. The son, who had just learned his father was dying, had to decide whether to use his travel privileges to visit his father in the hospital, or to attend the funeral.

At other hospitals, conversations like these occur in sterile conference rooms, or at the patient’s bedside, Salomon said — “There’s no dedicated space for something like that.”

There’s no dedicated space for hospital weddings, either, but that didn’t stop Kaplan from hosting one. She grew so close to a cancer patient and her partner of 14 years that they insisted on getting married inside the caregiver support center, with Kaplan as maid of honor. Kaplan decorated with flowers and walked the bride down the “aisle.” As she does with many families, Kaplan stayed in touch with the husband after he lost his wife a month ago, at age 59.

A recent visit to the center featured no grand ceremonies but small acts of compassion.

Alexa White, the 24-year-old woman whom Epstein had stopped in the hallway, arrived a few hours later with her 80-year-old grandmother and a cousin. She said her grandfather broke his hip and was suffering from internal bleeding. As they awaited updates, White, a nursing school student, caught up on homework and her grandmother napped.

Ramon Santiago III, who sells life insurance, was alone at the hospital, waiting for his father to emerge from two major surgeries — a heart and kidney transplant. He stopped in to use the center’s computers, and stayed to chat with Kaplan over coffee. He also met volunteer Elvin Olivera, a liver transplant survivor who announced himself as living proof that organ transplants work.

In addition to former patients like Olivera, volunteers include retirees from various careers — police sergeant, elementary school teacher, CT scan technician and labor union president. They went through 10 weeks of training, on top of the unofficial training of caring for their own loved ones.

Dr. Laura Tocci regularly visits the Caregiver Support Center. (Ben Sklar for KHN)

Dr. Laura Tocci regularly visits the Caregiver Support Center. (Ben Sklar for KHN)

The center, established through a United Hospital Fund grant, does not charge for its services. It has allowed the Montefiore to “take a more holistic view” of patients in the context of their families, instead of simply focusing on the day’s surgery, said Dr. Peter Semczuk, the hospital’s executive director.

Some of the family caregivers the center has helped also work inside the hospital. Laura Tocci, the hospital’s director of audiology, said she came to see Kaplan after her wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year and a half ago.

“I walked through the door and I just started crying,” she said. Tocci kept coming back every day for a year.

Tocci said talking to Kaplan helps her find the strength to “walk back out and do what has to get done” — caring not only for her patients, but her wife and 15-year-old son.

“It’s a hard job,” she said. “This makes it easier.”

KHN’s coverage of end-of-life and serious illness issues is supported by The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Categories: Cost and Quality, Mental Health, Syndicate

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Viewpoints: Checking In On The Stem Cell Revolution; Penalties For Overcharging Medicaid?

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The New York Times: The Stem-Cell Revolution Is Coming — Slowly
In 2001, President George W. Bush issued an executive order banning federal funding for new sources of stem cells developed from preimplantation human embryos. The action stalled research and discouraged scientists. Five years later, a Kyoto University scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, and his graduate student, Kazutoshi Takahashi, re-energized the field by devising a technique to “reprogram” any adult cell, such as a skin cell, and coax it back to its earliest “pluripotent” stage. From there it can become any type of cell, from a heart muscle cell to a neuron. … I interviewed [Yamanaka] recently in San Francisco. (Wallace Ravven, 1/16)

The Des Moines Register: Crime Pays. So Does Medicaid.
Six years ago, the Iowa Department of Human Services was put on notice by the federal government that a West Des Moines company called Ultimate Nursing Services of Iowa appeared to be improperly billing Medicaid for a large portion of the home health care services it provided Iowans. … but just a few weeks ago, federal officials announced that … Ultimate Nursing Services continued to successfully bill Iowa’s Medicaid program for improper expenses (1/16)

Boston Globe: Committing To Mental Health 
The Boston Globe brought to light the desperate need to improve our behavioral health care system to better protect and effectively treat children and adults who have mental health or substance-use conditions. … We call on ourselves, our policy makers, and our government leaders to rise together to the challenge of implementing comprehensive reforms. We need the community’s continued support for systemic reform, innovative treatment, and the reporting of recovery results in order to destigmatize mental illness and ensure timely access to prevention, treatment, and support services. (Paul Guzzi and Barry White, 1/16)

The New York Times: Young Victims Of The Opioid Epidemic
Opioid overdoses have claimed more than 300,000 lives in the last 15 years, including some 33,000 in 2015 alone. But those numbers do not tell the full horror of this epidemic, which has devastated the lives of countless children whose parents have succumbed to addiction to prescription painkillers and other opiates. In one terrible case last month, a Pennsylvania couple died of apparent overdoses, and their baby perished from starvation a few days later. (1/16)

The Columbus Dispatch: Organ Donors Save Lives
More than 119,000 people woke up this morning hoping that this will be the day they get a call saying that a heart, a liver, a lung or other organ donation has been found — and they will get a chance to live. Multiply that number by perhaps dozens of parents, spouses, children and friends of those who are waiting lists for an organ transplant, and the news that a record number of transplants took place last year in the United States is cause for hope and joy. (1/17)

WBUR: Why Trump’s Ties To Anti-Vaccine Kennedy Infuriate Even The Nicest Doctors
As an infectious diseases specialist married to a pediatrician, I am going to propose, in most unhumble fashion, that I have the ideal perspective to assess the worthiness of vaccines. So when Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a notorious anti-vaccine crusader, announced this week that he was under consideration to head a government commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity, and is planning to step away from his environmental job to take that post, I had several thoughts. (Paul Sax, 1/13)

Boston Globe: Baker’s Commendable Health Care Cautions 
On Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts added his voice on that matter in a long letter to House majority leader Kevin McCarthy. Baker’s primary focus was protecting this state’s near-universal health care law, but his broader message was equally important. Part of that: Congress must be careful to do no harm as it maneuvers on Obamacare. (1/14)

Miami Herald: After Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooting, Here’s How To Find Help For PTSD
We were all horrified by the senseless shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that resulted in death and injury to innocent citizens. For those of us who witnessed this on television and online, our reactions ranged from “not again” to “it could have been one of us or members of our family.” For the majority of South Floridians, the horror of this day will fade and we will go back to our normal routines. But for others, the trauma will last. Whether you were at the airport or watching it unfold on television or the internet, the images of violence may leave you feeling vulnerable. (Charles Nemeroff, 1/16)

The New York Times: The Robot That Performed My Kidney Transplant Declined To Be Interviewed
Ten years ago, I did not expect my brand new Twitter account to have much of an impact on my life. Yet it certainly has — affecting my career, my choice of where to live, my friendships, my adoption of pets, my intellectual lifestyle and even my emoji use. Now, Twitter has cost me a body organ. Yet my (voluntary!) loss is another Twitter user’s gain: I recently donated a kidney to a fellow journalist, Michelle Minkoff, who works at The Associated Press. (Tiff Fehr, 1/13)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Shooting In Florida By Alaska Resident Exhibits Interconnection Of States’ Mental Health Efforts

Meanwhile, Chicago and Houston both focus efforts on improving mental health services and training for police and paramedics. And in California, a health provider donates $1.5 million to improve care throughout the state.

The New York Times: A Rampage In Florida Shines A Light On Alaska
A deadly shooting rampage at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport this month has focused attention on the interconnection of public safety and mental illness and raised questions, especially here in Alaska, about one of the thorniest questions of psychology: how to tell if someone is delusional and dangerous, or merely delusional. (Johnson, 1/13)

Chicago Sun Times: City Bolsters Mental Health Training After Scathing DOJ Report 
Chicago is bolstering its response to emergencies involving people suffering from mental illness to address glaring deficiencies laid bare by the Justice Department. An eight-hour course developed in partnership with EMS System Hospitals will allow paramedics, 911 personnel, police officers and mental health providers to engage in live, “scenario-based” simulations at Fire Academy South, 1338 S. Clinton. (Spielman, 1/16)

Sacramento Bee: Steinberg Institue, Sutter Health Tackle Homelessness, Mental Illness 
Sutter Health will donate $1.5 million to the Steinberg Institute to advance mental health services and promote an understanding of mental illness throughout California, the institute announced Friday. The 2-year-old Steinberg Institute, founded by former state Senate leader and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, advocates for expanded services for the mentally ill, including health care and affordable housing. The Sutter donation is the largest in the institute’s history and will be used in part to bring mental health services to more communities, with an emphasis on children and adolescents, according to a statement released by the institute. (Caiola, 1/13)

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Terror ‘Beyond Description’ Grips Patients In Chronic Pain As ‘Civil War’ Over Opioids Rages On

In the medical community the pendulum is swinging toward a total crackdown on opioids, and patients who actually need them to manage pain are living in fear of being left behind. Meanwhile, more and more states are requiring physicians to consult databases before prescribing powerful painkillers.

Stat: A ‘Civil War’ Over Painkillers Rips Apart The Medical Community
Two years after the United States saw a record 27,000 deaths involving prescription opioid medications and heroin, doctors and regulators are sharply restricting access to drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin. But as the pendulum swings in the other direction, many patients who genuinely need drugs to manage their pain say they are being left behind. Doctors can’t agree on how to help them. (Tedeschi, 1/17)

The Washington Post: New State Rules Are Forcing Opioid Prescribers To Confront ‘Doctor Shopping’
Over the objections of many doctors and their powerful advocacy groups, states are moving to force physicians to check on patients’ narcotic purchasing habits, one of the more effective ways of curbing opioid abuse as the deadly drug epidemic continues. Eighteen states have adopted comprehensive mandates in the past four years requiring doctors who prescribe opioids and other controlled substances to check databases that show whether their patients are getting drugs elsewhere. (Bernstein, 1/14)

And in other news on the crisis —

Boston Globe: A New Head Start Initiative Targets Children Of Opioid Addicts
In a grim indicator of the toll the opioid crisis is taking on children, a program is being launched in Massachusetts specifically to help newborns, infants, and toddlers with addicted parents. Health officials say they believe it’s the first such early-intervention program in the state to target these children, some of whom were born drug-addicted. The government-funded initiative will pay for weekly home visits to 36 low-income families in New Bedford, a South Coast community where the number of children born with opiates in their bloodstreams is four times the state average. (Pfeiffer, 1/15)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Viewpoints: Trump And Vaccine Fears; The NIH View Of The Cures Act

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Washington Post: If Trump Keeps Stoking Vaccine Fears, He Will Endanger Children’s Lives
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team tried to tamp down the report from leading vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that Mr. Trump had asked him to lead a new panel on the safety of childhood inoculations. The president-elect, we were told, is only exploring the possibility of forming a government commission on autism. But by even entertaining the idea, Mr. Trump — who has his own troubling history when it comes to vaccine safety — gives new life to debunked conspiracy theories tying autism to vaccines. That in turn endangers children’s lives. (1/12)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: The 21st Century Cures Act — A View From The NIH
The Cures Act, formally known as H.R. 34 or the 21st Century Cures Act, passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in the waning days of the 114th Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 13, 2016. Weighing in at nearly 1000 pages, this bipartisan bill is the product of years of hard work by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, in collaboration with a broad array of diverse stakeholders. As with any landmark piece of legislation, the complex negotiations leading up to its passage were challenging and intense. But the final provisions are well worth heralding, including increased support for state efforts to combat opioid abuse, new steps aimed at improving mental health services, and important changes affecting the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. (Kathy L. Hudson and Francis S. Collins, 1/12)

The Washington Post: One Year Later, Zika Still Affects Us All
Over the past year, we’ve seen the life-altering effects of the Zika virus on newborns. Images of babies with abnormally small heads and other birth defects have been shown in newspapers and on TV broadcasts. These images often show the hands of their parents feeding, bathing and comforting them, or the hands of doctors or nurses caring for them. These hands represent the intensive, potentially lifelong support that many of these children will need. For families, this will demand love, patience and hope. For doctors and nurses, it will demand learning new ways to treat patients. For the government, it will require funding, research and commitment. (Tom Frieden and Edward McCabe, 1/12)

The New York Times: Big Sugar’s Secret Ally? Nutritionists
The first time the sugar industry felt compelled to “knock down reports that sugar is fattening,” as this newspaper put it, it was 1956. Papers had run a photograph of President Dwight D. Eisenhower sweetening his coffee with saccharin, with the news that his doctor had advised him to avoid sugar if he wanted to remain thin. The industry responded with a national advertising campaign based on what it believed to be solid science. (Gary Taubes, 1/13)

Los Angeles Times: How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
Sugar may well be a killer. The conventional thinking is that it’s an “empty calorie” — it fills you up without providing nutrients. But there’s a growing body of research suggesting that sugar actually triggers a disorder known as metabolic syndrome, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says now afflicts 75 million Americans. If it does, then it plays a critical role in virtually every major chronic disease, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even dementia. The catch is that the evidence is ambiguous. At this point, scientists can’t tell us definitively whether this accusation against sugar is true. Nor can they exonerate sugar. (Gary Taubes, 1/13)

USA Today: Forced Treatment Is Not The Way: Opposing View
My heart goes out to the victims of the gun violence in Florida and their families, but increasing forced psychiatric treatment is the wrong answer. More forced treatment won’t prevent such tragic events: Virtually every significant study has concluded that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than matched controls in the community. (Daniel Fisher, 1/12)

Los Angeles Times: What’s Really Causing The Prescription Drug Crisis?
There are two quite different stories about why there is a prescription drug crisis in the United States, and why opioid-related deaths have quadrupled since 1999. At some level, you are probably aware of both. Earlier this year, I interviewed people in the New Hampshire towns worst affected by this crisis — from imprisoned addicts to grieving families. Even the people who were living through it would alternate between these stories, without seeing that, in fact, they clash, and imply the need for different solutions. Thousands of lives depend on which of these tales is correct. (Johann Hari, 1/12)

Bloomberg: Pro-Life Republicans, Stronger Now Than Ever
John Ashcroft stood in the place of Jeff Sessions the last time a new Republican administration came to power. Like Sessions, Ashcroft was a conservative senator who had been nominated to be attorney general. Also like Sessions, Ashcroft became a top target of Senate Democrats. … One difference between the two nominees is that Ashcroft was more defensive about abortion. (Ramesh Ponnuru, 1/12)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Longer Looks: Repeal and Replace; A Killer Epidemic; Trump And Vaccines

Each week, KHN’s Shefali Luthra finds interesting reads from around the Web.

Vox: The Complex Process Republicans Want To Use To Repeal Obamacare, Explained With A Cartoon
Senate Republicans have taken the first step to repealing Obamacare. They’re doing it through a process called “reconciliation,” which you can read about in-depth here. It can be confusing because it’s a multi-step process — and for each step, Republicans are saying it’s a vote to “repeal Obamacare.” But only after entire process is complete will parts of Obamacare actually be repealed. So to clear up what’s actually happening, we made this cartoon. (Alvin Chang, 1/11)

The New York Times: Inside A Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look At America’s Opioid Crisis
Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015. Overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides. And there’s no sign it’s letting up, a team of New York Times reporters found as they examined the epidemic on the ground in states across the country. From New England to “safe injection” areas in the Pacific Northwest, communities are searching for a way out of a problem that can feel inescapable. (1/6)

The Atlantic: The Republicans Trying To Slow Down Obamacare Repeal
Congressional Republicans knew their push for an immediate repeal of the Affordable Care Act would draw howls of protest from Democrats. But they are now hearing warnings from elected officials who may be harder for them to ignore: Republican governors. In the last week, GOP Governors John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan have raised concerns about the impact a full repeal of the health law would have on their states, which rely on billions of dollars in additional federal funding to cover an expansion of Medicaid they carried out as part of Obamacare. Kasich in particular questioned the plans by Republican leaders in Congress to scrap the law without immediately replacing it. (Russell Berman, 1/9)

Vox: What We Know About How Republicans Might Replace Obamacare
If there’s one thing Republicans have been clear about for the past six years, it is that the top of their agenda includes repealing Obamacare. But Obamacare repeal would leave an estimated 22 million Americans without coverage and wreak havoc on the individual insurance market. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Republicans can’t just repeal Obamacare — they need to replace it with something. (Sarah Kliff, 1/5)

Slate: A Failed Cure For Health Care Costs
It’s a new year, and you know what that means: Your health insurance deductible just reset. Which for many of us means looking forward to paying a significant amount out of pocket for health care until we’ve spent enough for our insurance payments to kick in. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2016, the average deductible for an American with employer-based insurance was $1,221. People covered through the Affordable Care Act exchange will likely pay more than that. Close to 90 percent of those enrolled will select a plan with an individual deductible of at least $1,300, or $2,600 for a family. (Helaine Olen, 1/9)

New York Magazine: My First Day Microdosing With LSD
This was certainly not the first time I had tried an illegal drug, though I have never been what you would call a regular drug user. I smoked marijuana a few times in high school, a dozen or so times in college, once or twice as an adult, and then not again until I was prescribed medical marijuana (I live in California), first to end my dependence on the sleeping pill Ambien and then to ease the pain of a frozen shoulder. I have used MDMA six or seven times. In college, I tried cocaine twice, and those mushrooms that purported to be magic once. All together? More than some people my age, less than Presidents Obama and Bush. (Ayelet Waldman, 1/6)

The New Yorker: Could Obamacare Save The Democrats?
uring the Presidential campaign, Trump adopted the standard Republican line on the Affordable Care Act—that it was a mess that needed replacing—even as he also expressed support for some of the law’s provisions, such as the one that prevents insurers from shunning people with preëxisting conditions. Since the election, however, two things that should already have been obvious have become impossible to ignore, even for Trump. For one thing, neither he nor the Republican Party has a viable replacement to offer for the A.C.A. And congressional Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Minority Leader, have no intention of helping them out. (John Cassidy, 1/5)

The Atlantic: Trump Meets With Vaccine Skeptic, Discusses ‘Committee On Vaccine Safety’
On Tuesday, Donald Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and activist, who also happens to be an outspoken vaccine conspiracy theorist. After the meeting, Kennedy told reporters it went “very well,” and said that Trump “asked me to chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” He also said that Trump called him to ask for the meeting. (Julie Beck, 1/10)

The New York Times: Fentanyl Outpaces Heroin As The Deadliest Drug On Long Island
An anesthetic commonly used for surgery has surpassed heroin to become the deadliest drug on Long Island, killing at least 220 people there in 2016, according to medical examiners’ records. The drug, fentanyl, is a synthetic opioid, which can be 100 times more potent than morphine. The numbers from Long Island are part of a national pattern, as fentanyl fatalities have already surpassed those from heroin in other parts of the country. (Deutsch, 12/28)

The New York Times: The Japanese Art Of Grieving A Miscarriage
We went home. I didn’t sleep. I spent a week throwing myself around the house I’d decorated to look like a dojo — that’s how many souvenirs I brought when we’d moved back to the States from Japan. I was itchy with sadness. I picked at my cuticles and tore out my hair. I had all this sorrow and no one to give it to, and Brady couldn’t take it off me because his hands were already full of his own mourning. We knew miscarriage was common. But why wasn’t there anything people did when it happened? (Angela Elson, 1/6)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

State Highlights: Ga. Gov. Outlines Plans To Boost Mental Health Services, Medicaid, Autism Coverage; Mass. Commission Reports On State Incidence Of Nonrecommended Care’s Procedures

Outlets report on health news from Georgia, Massachusetts, Virginia, Illinois, North Carolina, California, Wisconsin, Washington and Florida,

Georgia Health News: Deal Speech Targets Health Services For The Vulnerable
Gov. Nathan Deal, in his annual State of the State address Wednesday, outlined several health care initiatives to boost mental health services, DFCS, Medicaid and autism coverage. Deal said his fiscal 2018 budget proposal includes, on average, a 19 percent pay raise for DFCS caseworkers to help ensure “a competitive salary,’’ so the state can recruit and retain the best people for the job. The Georgia agency, facing an increase in foster kids, continues to struggle with a high turnover rate among caseworkers who help these children, GHN reported recently. (Miller, 1/11)

Boston Globe: Mass. Health Providers Routinely Ordered Wasteful Medical Tests And Procedures, Report Finds
Massachusetts health care providers routinely order wasteful and unnecessary medical tests and procedures, driving up costs, according to a new report from the state Health Policy Commission. The findings released Wednesday offered new details about what’s called nonrecommended care. Most of the state’s large physician and hospital networks, especially Partners HealthCare, Lahey Health, and Steward Health Care System, regularly ordered unnecessary tests and procedures, the report said. (Dayal McCluskey, 1/11)

Richmond Times Dispatch: Senate Republicans Want To Shift Money From Proposed New Initiatives To State Police 
The General Assembly had not even convened when Senate Republicans sent a message to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to put money into state police salaries inside of hiring people for new public safety and mental health initiatives. Members of the Senate Finance subcommittee on public safety made clear on Wednesday morning that they were not interested in funding new positions the governor proposed for the Board of Corrections to oversee mental health in regional jails, or mental health screening at jails, or new law enforcement training, or part-time parole investigators, or more full-time workers at state liquor stores. (Martz, 1/11)

The Associated Press: Mental Health Workers Urge Governor To Spare Inmate’s Life
Dozens of mental health workers and child advocates are urging Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to spare the life of a convicted killer scheduled to be executed next week. More than 50 people sent a letter to McAuliffe this week asking him to support Ricky Gray’s request to have his sentence commuted to life in prison. Gray’s execution is scheduled for Jan. 18. Gray’s attorneys say he was raped repeatedly by his brother as a child and began using drugs to deal with the effects of that abuse. Gray claims he doesn’t remember much about slaying a family because he was high. (1/11)

Boston Globe: Naturopaths Get Their Own Licensing Board 
Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday signed into law a bill that creates a licensing board to regulate naturopaths, alternative medicine practitioners who have fought for two decades for the right to be licensed in the same way as medical professionals. The bill, pushed through on the Legislature’s final day, stirred controversy as opponents — primarily the Massachusetts Medical Society — said licensure would grant legitimacy to practices that are merely “a combination of nutritional advice, home remedies, and discredited treatments.” (Freyer, 1/11)

Chicago Sun Times: New U. Of C. Medicine Trauma Center Boss Aims To Tackle Violence
The new $39 million Level 1 adult trauma center, the first on the South Side in 25 years, is scheduled to open a year from now, then it will begin accepting adult trauma patients in spring 2018…The university launched a national search in June for a leader for the long-awaited E.R. in a violence-besieged area devoid of adult trauma care since Michael Reese Hospital closed in 1991. The ideal candidate, officials said then, would not only be a skilled physician administrator, but bring expertise on violence intervention. Chicago saw more than 780 people killed last year — its deadliest in over two decades. (Ihejirika, 1/12)

North Carolina Health News: Community Health Centers Partner With Docs, Managed Care In Reform Plan 
In a move designed to safeguard their survival, the state’s community health centers have agreed to a partnership with one of the nation’s largest for-profit managed care companies to provide and coordinate care to Medicaid patients under the state’s reform plan. A press release Tuesday from the North Carolina Medical Society, another plan partner, described how the joint venture will “establish, organize and operate a physician-led health plan to provide Medicaid managed services.” (Hoban, 1/11)

Sacramento Bee: Yolo County Reports First Flu Death; Officials Say It’s Not Too Late For Flu Shot 
Yolo County reported its first flu-related death this season, prompting health officials to remind Californians there’s still time to get a flu shot. “It’s absolutely not too late,” said Dr. Stuart Cohen, chief of the infectious diseases division for the UC Davis Health System. Last week, he said, UC Davis lab technicians confirmed 32 new cases of flu, roughly double the number during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. (Buck, 1/11)

Chicago Tribune: Planned Mental Health Hospital ‘Long Overdue’ 
A new facility planned in New Lenox could help provide mental health services to area residents, as well as help alleviate pressure on Will County programs dealing with mental health and drug addiction issues. Silver Cross Hospital plans to partner with a national firm to build a $22 million behavioral health hospital to help address the need for such services in Will County. (Fabre, 1/11)

San Jose Mercury News: $500 Million Game-Changer: UCSF Given Historic Gift
UC San Francisco announced Wednesday that it has received a stunning $500 million donation — the single largest gift in University of California history and one of the most generous gifts ever given to an American university. The gift, which comes at a time of dwindling financial support from the state, was pledged by the family foundation of the late Helen Diller, a San Francisco native and longtime champion of UCSF whose husband, Sanford, founded the Prometheus Real Estate Group, a San Mateo-based commercial real estate firm. (Krieger, 1/11)

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Transformative’ Donation To UCSF: $500 Million 
The Helen Diller Foundation is pledging $500 million to UCSF — the biggest gift in campus history and among the largest to any public university in the United States — to recruit faculty and students and fund “high-risk, high-reward” research. The gift, to be announced Thursday, comes on top of a series of hefty donations to the school over the past decade, including a previous $35 million contribution to support cancer research from Diller, a philanthropist who died in 2015 at her home in Woodside, and two $100 million gifts from Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne Benioff, for the UCSF children’s hospital. (Allday, 1/11)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Official: Food Stamp Drug Tests Would Violate Federal Law
Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to drug test some food stamp recipients violates federal law and cannot proceed without an act of Congress, a top appointee in the Obama administration says. Wisconsin’s Republican governor has called on President-elect Donald Trump to act immediately on taking office to allow the Walker administration to start testing able-bodied recipients of Wisconsin’s Food Share program. (Stein, 1/11)

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Limited Medical Marijuana Bill Hits Senate As Others Push Cultivation
A bill offering a small expansion to Georgia’s medical marijuana law will be introduced Thursday in the state Senate, the same day the law’s architect expects to file much broader legislation attempting to legalize growing and distributing the drug in-state for medicinal purposes. Senate Bill 16 represents an olive branch of sorts from the chamber’s conservative majority, which last year blocked attempts by the House to expand the 2015 law. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle acknowledged last week that it was coming, saying he thought Senate Republicans may be ready to compromise. (Torres, 1/11)

Kaiser Health News: Mobile Team Offers Comfort Care To Homeless At Life’s End
Since January 2014, the pilot project run by Seattle/King County Health Care for Homeless Network and UW Medicine’s Harboview Medical Center has served more than 100 seriously ill men and women in the Seattle area, tracking them down at shelters and drop-in clinics, in tents under bridges and parked cars. This KHN story also ran in USA Today. It can be republished for free (details). “It’s really necessary that people be taken care of where they are,” said Dr. Daniel Lam, director of inpatient and outpatient palliative care services.”(Aleccia, 1/12)

Health News Florida: Bilingual Clinic Provides Care To Tampa’s Diverse Community 
Spanish speakers in the Tampa area have a new health care provider that they can understand. Located on West Hillsborough Avenue, CliniSanitas calls itself Tampa’s first multicultural medical center. The clinic’s staff is 100 percent bilingual and though it provides urgent care, the clinic really aims to be your family doctor. (Ochoa, 1/11)

Tampa Bay Times: Gov. Scott To Name Justin Senior To Lead Health Care Agency
Gov. Rick Scott will name Justin Senior the secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, his office confirmed Wednesday. Senior, 45, has been serving in the job as interim secretary since October, when the previous secretary, Liz Dudek, left the agency. He earns $142,000 a year. As secretary, Senior will oversee one of the state’s largest budgets and the department that runs Florida’s Medicaid program. He’ll face confirmation from the state Senate, but the Republican-controlled chamber almost never rejects appointees of the Republican governor. (Auslen and Bousquet, 1/11)

Orlando Sentinel: Orlando Startup Wants To Better Your ER Experience 
Quick’rCare is an online platform that allows consumers to find the nearest emergency rooms and urgent care centers, compare their wait times, and reserve their spot online before heading to the facility. To make this possible, the one-year-old startup sells its software to various providers, including health systems, so that their emergency room and urgent care center data show up on Quick’rCare website when consumers plug in their zip code.The service is free for consumers. (Miller, 1/11)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.