Appalachia Health News

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New data from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources shows fewer women in the state are smoking while pregnant now compared to a few years ago. 

DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health says the rate of West Virginia women who smoke while pregnant fell by four percent between 2014 and 2016. 

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Marshall University is boosting its fight against the opioid addiction epidemic. The University has created a coalition to coordinate strategies with the city of Huntington, as well as a new research position to study treatment options for addicts. 

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Christmas this year will mark six months since June’s historic floods that devastated more than 4,000 homes and took 23 lives. For those still recovering, especially those who lost loved ones, the holidays can be more painful than joyful. 

”My husband loved Christmas. I mean, our house used to be decorated so bad that the electric company would send us a Christmas card,” said Deborah Nicely. You might recognize Nicely’s name. Her husband, daughter and grandson all died when the floods washed away their home.

Groups Come Together, Offer Insight on Opioid Fight

Dec 13, 2016
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The group West Virginians for Affordable Health Care hosted a conference Tuesday at Marshall University focused on the state's opioid epidemic.

The conference titled “Innovative Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic,” brought together groups from all over the state as well as national experts to discuss ways of dealing with the epidemic. Groups like the Cabell-Huntington Health Department presented their needle exchange effort and Martinsburg Police presented their Martinsburg Initiative. Dr. Anita Everett is the Chief Medical Officer for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and she was the featured speaker. Everett said it’s great to a see a state of communities trying new things and wanting to work together.

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Senate Democrats have been fighting for years for a long-term fix a struggling union miners pension and benefits fund. More than 16,000 miners are set to lose their benefits by December 31. 

Now the fund may get a 4 month extension, far less than hoped. 

"We never talked about a short term extension; we’ve always talked about a permanent fix," said West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

Manchin said he and other advocates of the bill had agreed to table talk of funding pensions in return for saving the miners’ health care benefits.

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PEIA is the public health insurance program that covers all state employees and retirees. Teachers, state troopers, and yes, even employees of West Virginia Public Broadcasting are covered by the insurance plans. But here’s the issue: over the past few years, funding from state government for PEIA has stayed the same, while health care costs have been on the rise. Now, PEIA needs an additional $50-60 million each year in order to keep funding the program at the same level.

 

Without congressional intervention, about 16,000 retired miners in seven states will lose their health care coverage by the end of the year.

A proposal to temporarily extend the benefits is working its way through Congress. But two Senate Democrats, who are advocates for a more comprehensive plan, say the temporary provision isn't enough.

They are threatening to hold up a spending bill that needs to pass by Friday night to keep the government running.

Budget Cuts Could Be New Norm for PEIA

Dec 9, 2016
West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On West Virginia Morning Kara Lofton talks with the director of the Public Employees Insurance Agency about its financial troubles and the Mountain Stage song of the week.

That's on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting - telling West Virginia's story.

AP Photo/Molly Riley

A stopgap bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to temporarily protect health care benefits for thousands of retired coal miners has been met with resounding criticism from Senate Democrats. 

AP Photo / Alex Brandon

Sen.  Joe Manchin is attempting to put pressure on Congressional leaders in Washington to take quick action on a bill to save the healthcare and pension benefits of thousands of coal miners. 

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Almost 8,000 West Virginians signed up for healthcare during the first month of Open Enrollment under the federal Affordable Care Act this year.

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More than 160 health leaders met in Charleston today to talk about public health concerns and current efforts to improve health outcomes for West Virginians.

The conference sessions covered topics from childhood obesity and trauma, to the housing crisis and aging population. Presenters talked about where West Virginia can improve – for instance ensuring that children have access to healthy food and safe places to exercise. They also discussed new initiatives that show some promise, such as senior housing cooperatives.

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Would you go into a dangerous profession if you were assured that you and your dependents would have healthcare and pension for life? For thousands of West Virginia coal miners, the answer to that question was yes.

“When we all started in the mines, we were promised healthcare for life – cradle to grave,” said Roger Merriman. He’s referring to a deal struck between the United Mine Workers of America and the federal government in 1946. Union miners who put in 20 or more years were promised lifelong health benefits.

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A West Virginia-led team of researchers may have found a way to control the spread of rapidly growing cancers, including melanoma. The findings were published last month in the online  journal Laboratory Investigation and suggest new combinations of therapies may be more effective in treating fast-growing cancers than current practices.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On West Virginia Morning, a report on the impact of natural gas drilling has on the health of people who live near these fracking sites.

That’s on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting – telling West Virginia’s story.

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West Virginia University School of Dentistry will soon be one of only three schools in the United States and Canada to have a dentistry Innovation Center sponsored by the Center for Research and Technology Incorporated.

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Telemedicine has been touted as a way to fill in some gaps in health care for rural residents.  But telemedicine relies on broadband service, which parts of Appalachia still don’t have.

“Without broadband, you don’t have telemedicine,” said nurse practitioner Lindsey Kennedy. Kennedy manages the telemedicine program at Bland County Medical Center in southwestern Virginia.  

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Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell visited Charleston today to voice support for the Affordable Care Act.

Telemedicine Suffers from Lack of Broadband

Nov 22, 2016
West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On West Virginia Morning, host Beth Vorhees talks with Moore Capito and Riley Moore, newly elected Delegates with a family legacy in politics and Appalachia Health News reporter Kara Lofton has the story about how telemedicine is being held up by a lack of broadband.

That’s on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting – telling West Virginia’s story.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Children are still coping with the emotional aftermath of the June 2016 floods that devastated most of the central and southern parts of West Virginia, according to the nonprofit Save the Children. 

In the weeks following the floods, Save the Children provided support to more than 44,000 children and caregivers, according to a press release. Starting in December, the nonprofit will launch its Journey of Hope program in the state’s five most heavily affected counties Clay, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas and Roane.

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The number of infant deaths in Ohio has increased from 955 in 2014 to just over 1,000 in 2015, according to new data released by the Ohio Department of Health.

The data showed that black babies are dying at a rate nearly three times the rate of white babies. For both races the leading causes of infant deaths are pre-term births, sleep-related deaths and birth defects, according to a press release.

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Obesity rates among West Virginia children in low-income families have increased by 2 percent from 2010 to 2014.

West Virginia's obesity rate among young children from low-income families increased from 14.4 percent in 2010 to 16.4 percent in 2014, according to the national Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Although the recent presidential election has raised questions about the Affordable Care Act’s future, West Virginia University says it will continue to operate the West Virginia Healthy Start Navigator Project. The program helps people in northern West Virginia sign up for health insurance under the ACA.

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Shepherd University

The new president of Shepherd University is partnering with West Virginia University to continue her cancer cell research, and she’s allowing students to watch her work as it’s happening.

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Veterans' benefits are expected to be tougher to qualify for next year, according to the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension program, which subsidizes senior living and home care for veterans and their spouses.

The pension is designed to provide financial support to lower income veterans and their spouses who need help with daily living.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Last summer, huge hazardous algal blooms shut down drinking-water intakes along the Ohio River. Some experts say the mix of farm runoff, wastewater, and rising temperatures makes blooms like this more likely, leading to major health issues and expenditure of public dollars.

 

“It started to cover the river,” said local resident Ethan Wells. “It started looking like a neon [green] slime across the top of the river, and it was kind of eerie in a way to have the river alive like that.”

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Shepherd University is partnering with Berkeley County Schools and the Martinsburg Police Department to help combat opioid addiction. A new initiative hopes to identify basic causes of drug abuse in at-risk families.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Federal law says all polling places must be accessible by wheelchair. But advocates in West Virginia say there is an ongoing concern that not all the polling places in the state comply with this requirement.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act states that all polling places must include at least one wheelchair accessible voting machine and an accessible route to and from the precinct. This route must be the same route that all voters take not an alternate route, for instance, in the back of a building.

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Kristina “Breezy” Weaver  lives in Wyoming County, which has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in a state that leads the country in drug overdose deaths. Last June, Weaver’s father died of a heroin overdose.

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What happens to a community as coal jobs go away? Here are some things you might expect: many people leave, schools empty, local businesses struggle to keep their lights on. But here’s something that may not come to mind: extra curricular sports go away.

That’s what happened to children in McDowell County over 25 years ago. They lost their local soccer league. And while the thousands of lost coal jobs may not come back, thanks to a 4-H project, and about a dozen volunteers, soccer is making a comeback in McDowell County.

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