Health

A photo of an elderly woman using a walker while a health care worker assists her.
miodrag ignjatovic / iStock

Live call-in discussion: A joint investigation by VPR and Seven Days uncovered inadequate care and staffing across Vermont’s eldercare facilities, deficiencies that ultimately led to indignities, injuries and at least five deaths.

We're talking to the reporters behind the Worse For Care series about the challenges faced by Vermont's assisted living and residential care homes.

After decades of progress against one of the most contagious human viruses, the world is seeing measles stage a slow, steady comeback.

The World Health Organization and the CDC say in a new report that there were nearly 10 million cases of measles last year, with outbreaks on every continent.

An estimated 140,000 people died from measles in 2018, WHO says, up from an all-time low of 90,000 in 2016.

And so far 2019 has been even worse.

Five people moved in tandem down a trail, connected by a wheelchair unlike any other.

This hiking trail, popular with Bend, Ore., families, is a testing ground for inventor Geoff Babb. One miscalculation about how to navigate a tight squeeze of boulders, and he could topple over the edge toward an ice-cold river below. But that's not what worried Babb, who hasn't walked since a stroke 14 years ago.

"I don't feel scared on the trail. I trust these guys to figure it out," Babb said, adding that he feels more vulnerable crossing a city street.

A stethoscope on top of a calculator
Aslan Alphan / iStock

State regulators say an out-of-state health insurance company illegally sold inadequate plans to thousands of college students in Vermont and improperly denied nearly a half-million dollars in medical claims.

A group of singers gathered around a man at home.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Brattleboro Area Hospice is the oldest volunteer hospice care group in Vermont. Back when it started four decades ago, the group worked to introduce the concept to people around Windham County. 

Out of all the Thanksgiving dishes Kim Yates has helped prepare for her large family over the years, one batch of mashed potatoes stands out clearly in her memory.

About 30 guests were gathered that year, at her sister's home in Palo Alto, Calif., and Yates had made a point of taking on responsibility for the mashed potatoes so that her young daughter Tessa (who was dealing with extreme food allergies to eggs, dairy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish) would have at least one safe side dish to eat.

When Matthew Braun gets out of medical school, he'll be able to prescribe opioids.

A decade ago, he was addicted to them.

"The first time I ever used an opioid, I felt the most confident and powerful I'd ever felt," Braun says. "So I said, 'This is it. I want to do this the rest of my life.' "

Opioids took away his anxiety, his inhibitions, his depression. And they were easy to get.

"I just started breaking into houses," Braun says. "I found it amazing how trusting people were in leaving windows open and doors unlocked, and I found a lot of prescriptions."

When it comes to global health, the world has made remarkable strides over the past two decades. There has been unprecedented progress vaccinating kids, treating diseases and lifting millions out of poverty. The childhood death rate has been slashed in half since 2000. Adults are living an average 5 1/2 years longer.

There's new evidence that mind-body interventions can help reduce pain in people who have been taking prescription opioids — and lead to reductions in the drug's dose.

In a study published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed evidence from 60 studies that included about 6,400 participants. They evaluated a range of strategies, including meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Gloved hands hold up a flu vaccine
Don Wright / Associated Press for Sanofi Pasteur Photo

It's flu season, and health officials encourage nearly everyone six months and older to get a flu shot.

Christine Finley, the immunization program manager with the Vermont Department of Health, said the good news is there is no shortage of regular vaccines this year — however a high-dose version, for those over age 65, has been a bit harder to get.

On a recent, cloudy fall afternoon, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin stood outside the governor's mansion in Frankfort, flanked by a couple dozen activists in blue T-shirts, holding signs that read, "I Vote Pro-Life."

"It took me a while to figure out why I keep seeing these blue T-shirts," Bevin joked as he turned to the volunteers. "I wasn't sure who you were, but I'm just grateful to you."

These activists have been door-knocking across Kentucky on Bevin's behalf, to reach 200,000 voters before the election on Nov. 5.

Friday is the last day for the public to comment on a proposed rule change by the Trump administration that would eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, for more than 3 million people.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also recently admitted that the plan would mean that almost a million children would no longer automatically qualify for free school lunches.

Arline Feilen lost her husband to suicide in 2013. Three years later, she lost her dad to cancer. And this February, she lost her 89-year-old mom to a cascade of health problems.

"We were like glue, and that first Mother's Day without her was killer. It just dragged me down," said Feilen, who is 56 and lives in suburban Chicago. "It was just loss after loss after loss, and I just crumbled."

Pouring school water fountain water into a clear plastic bottle.
Vermont Department of Health, Courtesy

Dozens of schools and more than 80 child care centers in Vermont have tested positive for lead that exceeds the legal limits. Those are the results under new legislation requiring tests for lead at all schools and child care facilities in the state by December 2020. We're talking with state health and education officials about the testing and what happens when dangerous lead levels are detected.

Jennifer had a rough start to her pregnancy. "I had really intense food aversion and really intense nausea," says the 28-year-old mother of a five-month-old girl. "I wasn't eating at all."

She was losing weight instead of gaining it, she says, and couldn't even keep down her prenatal vitamins or iron pills, which she needed to deal with anemia. (NPR is only using her first name to protect her privacy.)

If you often hit that midafternoon slump and feel drowsy at your desk, you're not alone. The number of working Americans who get less than seven hours of sleep a night is on the rise.

And the people hardest hit when it comes to sleep deprivation are those we depend on the most for our health and safety: police and health care workers, along with those in the transportation field, such as truck drivers.

In the incredibly ambitious, multibillion-dollar effort to wipe polio off the face of the planet, there's currently good news and bad news.

The good news, says Michel Zaffran, who runs the World Health Organization's global polio eradication program, is that there's hardly any polio left.

"When we started back in 1988," Zaffran says, "we had cases in 125 countries and 300,000 cases every year."

Today's teens have a lot on their plate. They strive for perfect grades, college-essay worthy volunteer gigs, trophies in multiple sports — and many of them still find hours a day to spend on social media.

"This is an incredibly stressful time to be a teenager," says pediatrician Megan Moreno, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To get everything done, teens are "sacrificing their in-person time," Moreno says.

Dr. Athos Rassias stands in front of computer screens at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
DHMC, Courtesy

Vermonters who took part in the new VPR-Vermont PBS Rural Life Survey said that traveling distance was one reason why they had trouble getting the health care they needed. Some health experts say telehealth services could be one way to better serve people in rural areas that need health care.

Imagine you are forced to go to a hospital to receive psychiatric treatment that you don't think you need. What rights would you have?

That's the question at the heart of a legal battle between the state of New Hampshire and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case has big implications for New Hampshire, but it also highlights a nationwide problem: A shortage of mental health beds is leaving patients stranded in emergency rooms for days or weeks at a time.

Anxiety and agitation

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