How, and why, some schools provide dental care for needy children

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

In a continuing series of stories, “The Burden of Poverty: A Backpack of Heartache,” reporters at the School News Network, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., are exploring the deep challenges poverty creates for local students and their families as well as strategies schools are employing to helping disadvantaged students succeed.

Articles in the series so far have examined the correlation between low test scores and low income and have provided a candid look at the struggles of a nearly homeless honor student. The series has highlighted the ways schools are trying to address the health disparities that can make it harder for poor children to succeed in school.

One recent story looked at the role school nurses play in helping poor children cope with chronic diseases. A Nov. 14 piece explains how a school-based dental program attends to the oral health needs of children who might otherwise be distracted from their studies by the debilitating pain of untreated dental disease. Continue reading

Why do rural hospitals close and what does it mean to communities?

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

 Image by Bob Harwigvia Flickr.

Image by Bob Harwig via Flickr.

Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar had an interesting story recently in USA Today about rural hospital closures.

The pace of closures has picked up in the past few years; the hospitals blame readmission penalties under the ACA, inadequate federal reimbursement policies, and the mandate to switch to costly electronic health records.

It’s also clear that the problem is more widespread in the states that have not expanded Medicaid, such as Georgia and Alabama.

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Freelancer concerns: You might get caught in your pajamas

Carla K. Johnson

About Carla K. Johnson

Carla K. Johnson (@CarlaKJohnson) is a medical writer at The Associated Press and has covered health and medicine since 2001. She is a member of AHCJ's board of directors, serving as liaison to the association’s local chapters and leading the one in Chicago.

Photo by  Carla K. Johnson.

Photo: Carla K. Johnson.Independent writers Cindy Kuzma and Jenni Prokopy and accountant Deborah Conatser (left to right) speak to the Chicago chapter of the Association of Health Care Journalists on Nov. 11 in Chicago.

Freelance journalist Jenni Prokopy recently agreed to do a podcast interview, not realizing that it would include video. Working at home, she was wearing pajamas. “I immediately lifted the camera, so you could just see from here,” Prokopy said gesturing to her neck. “Busted! Now even for podcast interviews, I will be putting on a blouse.”

Prokopy and two other panelists shared their sometimes-humorous experiences and hard-earned wisdom about setting up and maintaining a healthy freelance business at a recent AHCJ Chicago chapter event. Continue reading

How to leverage local angles on fall prevention

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

hj11-collins

Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director, National Institutes of Health, speaks at Health Journalism 2011.

One of the NIH initiatives highlighted last week by director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., during his keynote at the Gerontological Society meeting was a 5-year, $30 million cooperative effort with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute  (PCORI) to conduct a clinical trial testing individually-tailored interventions to prevent fall-related injuries.

Why is this important? Because, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, one in three adults over age 65 experiences at least one fall annually; 20 percent to 30 percent of which cause moderate to severe injuries — or even death. Falls lead to increased hospitalizations, higher medical costs, loss of independence, diminished quality of life, and affects other chronic conditions. According to the CDC, older adults are hospitalized five times more often for fall-related injuries than for other causes. Direct medical costs of fall injuries for people 65 and older was $30 billion in 2012 and by 2020, total direct and indirect costs are projected to more than double.

As of July 2014, nine states have enacted or are considering legislation on fall-prevention initiatives. Many others are partnering with community organizations to educate providers and seniors about the risks. As Kate Hafner wrote in this New York Times piece, the problem is only growing worse.

More peace of mind may come at a price for consumers. Fall-related wearable technology is big business. Consumer Reports recently profiled six different medical alert systems. At the recent National Association of Home Care and Hospice annual conference, I saw at least another half-dozen new products on exhibit — the latest of which incorporate GPS tracking, providing an ability to find the wearer regardless of location. Others monitor a wearer’s balance, alerting clinicians to assess potential health issues before a fall occurs.

There are plenty of ideas and opportunities to focus on falls in the elderly in your community – home risk assessment and safety programs, hospital admissions, costs of rehab, and loss of independence and ability to age in place are just a few ideas. Or take a look at the business side of falls — from health costs to entrepreneurs.

See this tip sheet for more information on how falling affects older adults.

Why some LA kids are affected by diabetes, obesity

Wendy Wolfson

About Wendy Wolfson

Wendy Wolfson is a science writer based in Irvine, California. She covers innovation in biotechnology, medicine and healthcare. She was a columnist for Chemistry & Biology (Cell Press), and freelance contributor to Nature Biotechnology, Science, Red Herring, The Lancet, Bio-IT World, Wired, The Boston Globe and CURE magazine.

In Los Angeles, the chances of a child developing type 2 diabetes fluctuates by ZIP code, according to Ellen Iverson, M.P.H., a medical anthropologist and public health investigator at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

At the Nov. 6 AHCJ chapter meeting, at the Los Angeles Times, Iverson and Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician/cancer researcher at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles who directs the Diabetes and Obesity Program, discussed why diabetes disproportionately affects kids in certain neighborhoods and what community interventions could be effective.

Journalist Wendy Wolfson introduced Ellen Iverson, M.P.H., and Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D., both from  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, at a Nov. 5 AHCJ chapter meeting.  Photo by Ron Shinkman.

Photo: Ron ShinkmanJournalist Wendy Wolfson introduced Ellen Iverson, M.P.H., and Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D., both from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, at a Nov. 5 AHCJ chapter meeting.

Mittelman’s field is childhood cancer. In adults, obesity raises the risk of developing cancer by 20 percent but, in children who have cancer, obesity leads to significantly worse outcomes. According to Mittelman, diabetes hits kids harder than adults. Most adults can control diabetes with drugs like metformin for years. “Most kids need insulin within three to five years,” Mittelman said.

Factors that include the barrage of junk food advertising aimed at kids, our evolutionarily developed efficiency at storing fat, the upswing in portion size (in the past 70 years, serving sizes increased 63 percent) and ubiquitous sugar (soda drinks containing sugar don’t have the same degree of satiety as sugar in food) contribute to obesity.

Continue reading

Welcome these new members to AHCJ

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Margret Aldrich, producer, BringMeTheNews, Minneapolis (@mmaldrich)
  • Chris Dall, health news producer, BringMeTheNews.com, Minneapolis (@cvdall)
  • Mariana De Maio, student, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. (@marianasabina)
  • Sheila Eldred, producer, BringMeTheNews, Minneapolis (@milepostmedia)
  • Linda Nguyen, student, University of Texas at Dallas (@linda_nguyen)
  • Leslie Roberts, deputy news editor, Science Magazine, Washington, D.C.
  • Mathew Rodriguez, community editor, TheBody.com, New York (@mathewrodiguez)
  • Amy Sisk, reporter, The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, N.D., (@amyrsisk)
  • Lynne Terry, health reporter, The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, Portland, Ore. (@LynnePDX)

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support and tools to help you.

Research examines impact of soda taxes on oral health

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image from  Rex Sorgatz via flickr.

Image from Rex Sorgatz via flickr.

Is there a soda tax debate coming to your community? The potential for such taxes to address problems with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are important angles to explore, but don’t forget the oral health aspect of the soda tax story.

In the November 2014 elections, Berkeley, Calif., voters approved a 1-cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, a measure strongly opposed by the American Beverage Association but supported by a wide range of health groups.

While Berkeley is the first city in the country to approve such a “sin” tax, it might have opened the door for other communities to do so. In the latest tip sheet, I have collected relevant research and resources for reporters who might be called on to cover soda taxes.

AHCJ members report on health spending in Mozambique

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Noam Levey, who received a 2013 AHCJ Reporting Fellowship on Health Care Performance, recently reported on health care spending in Mozambique for the Los Angeles Times. In the piece, Levey pointed out that Mozambique’s economy is booming – but in contrast, its health care spending is lagging.

The decision to limit health resources had an especially profound effect in remote areas of Mozambique. Levey reported from Chokwe, a rural town about 100 miles north of the coastal capital of Maputo, and described  a newborn baby boy who stopped breathing shortly after his birth, just before sunset.

Nurses were able to revive him with a ventilator and a suction machine. But if he had been born only two hours later, he would have died – limited resources mean the ward is staffed only until 7 p.m.

Continue reading

Welcome AHCJ’s newest members

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Kristen Harris, student, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
  • Amy Umble, health care reporter, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. (@aumble)
  • Beth E. Kutscher, reporter, Modern Healthcare, Brentwood, Tenn. (@mhbkutscher)
  • Denise Morris, reporter, San Angelo Standard-Times, San Angelo, Texas
  • Jayne E. O’Donnell, reporter, USA Today, McLean, Va. (@jayneodonnell)
  • Ryan White, contributing editor for content, ReportingOnHealth.org, Los Angeles

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support and tools to help you.

New blog gives first-person account of Ebola treatment in West Africa

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Ebola coverage has been ubiquitous, but fairly short on eyewitness perspective. This BMJ blog, “The Ebola Diaries,” gives readers on-the-ground insights from the front lines of Ebola treatment in West Africa.

The blog will follow eight British military doctors and their Ebola Virus Disease Treatment Unit (EVDTU). They arrived in Sierra Leone from Yorkshire two weeks ago, and will focus their treatment efforts on health care providers who might have contracted the virus. Here is a sample from their first post:

We have now been in Sierra Leone for two weeks, and been exposed to the usual frustrations of an emerging humanitarian operation: reduced communication; supply line difficulties; acclimatising to 80% relative humidity; and learning the local dialect, which lies somewhere between Brixton and Peckham. However, these difficulties are ameliorated by a sea view and friendly nurses!

Follow “The Ebola diaries” for weekly observations on treating Ebola in Sierra Leone.

(Hat tip to Dr. Mona Khanna for sharing the blog with us.)