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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Iowa’s physician workforce increased 6% over 5 years
Iowa’s active physician workforce increased 6 percent over the past five years, according to a new report that also shows the state’s ranking improving from 41st to 40th in the nation in the number of active physicians per 100,000 population. The 2011 State Physician Data Book lists Iowa with 6,294 active physicians in 2010, or 208.2 physicians per 100,000 population. This compares with a national average of 258.7, ranging from a high of 415.5 in Massachusetts to a low of 176.4 in Mississippi. (Eastern Iowa Health)

Actuaries say costs justify Wellmark rate increase
Iowa’s main health insurer is justified in raising its premiums by 9.4 percent for people who buy their own policies, two experts say. The actuaries examined the proposed rate increase from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and reported back to Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss that the increase was justified by rising health care costs. The reports, released Thursday, counter scores of complaints from Wellmark customers, who told Voss in a public hearing this month that they shouldn’t have to pay so much more for their insurance. (Des Moines Register)

All about starting somewhere
Hundreds of Kossuth County residents walked during the Start Somewhere Walk in October, and nearly 25 percent of Algonans have signed up online to support Algona’s bid for the grants and support available through the Blue Zones project. Ten Iowa communities will receive grants and expert support to create a healthier environment for their citizens. Currently Algona is one of 58 communities that passed the first cut. Kossuth Regional Health Center is leading the charge to help area businesses provide a healthier work place environment. (Algona Upper Des Moines)

Iowa survey shows concern for unbuckled teen passengers
A new motor vehicle safety study from the University of Iowa shows that nearly 25 percent of young Iowa teens remain unrestrained in cars, something researchers consider “alarming.” According to a news release from the College of Public Health, to monitor child passenger law, researchers spent three months observing 3,000 youth in 36 Iowa counties, and found that the 24.8 percent of unbuckled older youth (between ages 14 and 17) are violating the state’s child passenger safety law, which says backseat passengers under 18 must wear seat belts. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Iowa, Nebraska gained population in 2010, Census data shows
A new U.S. Census report shows Iowa and Nebraska have each gained more than 12,000 people during the one-year period that ended on July 1. The estimates released Wednesday show that Nebraska’s population increased by 12,500 people between July 2010 and July 2011. Iowa’s grew by a little more than 12,100 in that period. In both cases, the growth rate was less than 1 percent. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

National News

House, Senate pass 2-month extension of payroll tax cut
House Republicans handed President Obama an end-of-the-year victory Friday morning, approving a measure to extend the payroll tax cut through February. The action ended a rancorous, weeks-long partisan stalemate and barely escaped a deadline to keep 160 million workers from seeing their paychecks shrink at the start of January. The House vote came about a half-hour after the bill passed the Senate. (Washington Post)

Medicare spending growth rising slower but enrollment will rise
Throughout Medicare’s 46-year-old history, monitoring the cost of the government health plan for the elderly has been a bit like the old joke: No one asked if spending would jump. They only asked how high. But in early 2010, the number crunchers at Medicare headquarters in Baltimore saw something surprising: a sharp drop in the volume of doctor visits and other outpatient services. Instead of growing at the usual 4 percent a year, the number of claims was suddenly climbing by less than 2 percent. Was this a one-time blip, or a fundamental shift in how seniors were receiving care? (Washington Post)

Report: Cuts in federal funding put public health preparedness at risk
The report looks at a range of scenarios, including some pretty bleak ones based on drastic federal cuts. There are a few areas of particular concern. One initiative at risk is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Cities Readiness Initiative, which helps with distribution of vaccines and antibiotics in a crisis. Ready or Not found that 51 of the 72 cities involved could be cut from the program based on current budget scenarios. Additionally, budget cuts could hobble labs in 10 states that are able to test for for threatening chemicals. That would leave the U.S. Center for Disease Control as the only public health lab able to test a full range of toxic chemicals and nerve agents. (National Public Radio)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Mental health revamp heads to Iowa Legislature
A reform plan for providing mental health and disability services is headed to the Iowa Legislature. The proposal calls for creating five to 15 regions across the state, each with a single administrative body overseen by county boards, instead of a county-based system. Proposed state guidelines would require each region to serve at least 200,000 people, said Suzanne Watson, director of community services for Pottawattamie County. Basic services would be provided locally, and new critical core services would be phased in. (Omaha World-Herald)

Coalition: Legislature must act to set up health insurance exchange
Representatives from the ad-hoc alliance of business organizations met last week with the Business Record to outline their campaign for the Iowa Legislature to enact a bill during the 2012 session authorizing the formation of a state-run exchange. The coalition includes the Iowa Health Underwriters Association, the Independent Insurance Agents of Iowa, the Iowa Retail Federation and the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. (Des Moines Business Record)

Community raises $87,000 to help provide mammograms
It’s been more than five months since strong winds ripped through the town of Vinton, and left millions of dollars in damage behind. Despite the physical and financial dent it put on the community, people living there still haven’t stopped giving. People in Vinton, Van Horne, Urbana and other surrounding areas have raised thousands of dollars to help provide mammograms for women. “I’ve always thought it was a great place to live and this just confirms that fact,” said Mike Timmermans, The Foundation Director at Virginia Gay Hospital. (KCRG)

Man’s best therapist
Pets can be a human’s best companion and research shows animals can lighten the mood for us on any given day. Mercy Medical Center’s Pet and Art Therapy program in Sioux City has one four-pawed friend helping patients. “Grover brings a lot of happiness here at the hospital, not just to patients but to staff as well. Everybody that sees him, it brings a smile to their face,” said Melissa Wallace, a Behavioral Health Therapist at Mercy. Grover Cleveland is a basset hound with a career. This talented canine’s been working alongside his owner for the past four months. (KMEG)

Iowa business leaders announce corporate cup wellness challenge
Business leaders Steve Lacy, CEO of Meredith Corporation, and Bill Leaver, President and CEO of Iowa Health System, are teaming up to support healthy change in Iowa. Lacy and Leaver have agreed to co-chair the Corporate Cup Challenge as part of Live Healthy Iowa’s 100 Day Wellness Challenge beginning January 23. The goal for Live Healthy Iowa is to double participation in the 100 Day Wellness Challenge to 60,000 Iowans in 2012. To help achieve this goal, the Corporate Cup Challenge was created to spur competition among Iowa’s companies. (LinkLine/Iowa Sports Foundation)

National News

GOP doctors say stand-alone ‘doc fix’ needed if no payroll tax cut deal
House Republican doctors say leadership should consider a stand-alone “doc fix” if the Senate doesn’t agree to a conference committee on the larger payroll tax package. Doctors are facing a nearly 30 percent cut in their Medicare payments if Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year — and it’s increasingly likely that Congress won’t. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) told reporters Tuesday that he believes the Senate will agree to go to conference and reconcile the two chambers’ payroll tax extensions. But if Senate Democrats hold firm, he said, the doc fix should pass on its own. (The Hill)

Security in flu study was paramount, scientist says
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, concerned about bioterrorism and a worldwide pandemic, has for the first time ever urged scientific journals to keep details out of reports that they intend to publish on a highly transmissible form of the bird flu called A(H5N1), which has a high death rate in people. Working with ferrets, researchers on the virus at two medical centers — Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — are investigating genetic changes that may make the virus more easily transmittable to people. Doreen Carvajal spoke with Ron A. M. Fouchier, the lead researcher at the Erasmus Center. An edited and condensed version of the conversation follows. (New York Times)

Nurses to strike at 8 Bay Area hospitals Thursday
Nurses at eight Bay Area hospitals have said they will stage a one-day strike today to protest contract proposals from Sutter Health. About 4,000 nurses are expected to participate in the walkout, which starts at 7 a.m. The nurses, members of the California Nurses Association, will picket to protest proposed changes to their sick days and union representation. About 2,000 nurses in Long Beach also are expected to strike. Sutter has said it will bring in replacement nurses to cover for the striking workers. (San Francisco Chronicle)

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Mary Jo Clark
ER/Trauma Coordinator
Floyd Valley Hospital, Le Mars

Why did you choose this as your career? When I was 14 years old I saw a segment on the news about the intensive care unit of a nursery and I just knew that was I wanted to do when I grew up.

What are the challenges and rewards you experience in your work?  The challenges are meeting the varying needs of the patients from newborns to geriatrics.  Some patients come in with no medical knowledge and some with too much, some have an uncomplicated complaint and some have you baffled, and some have no money or resources and some have unlimited yet you need to treat them all the same. The rewards are being able to help the patient, solving their problems or getting to a specialist who can.  I work in ER so I like seeing the unusual like people nailing their hand to the board, kids putting rocks in their nose, etc.

What are your plans for the future? I see myself being in this position for a long time.   I would like to get my master’s degree and information technology is something that interests me and I may explore that in the future.

How has the hospital supported your career? I started here as a new graduate on the floor and they encouraged me to move up to first a charge nurse then nursing supervisor and now this position.  Along the way I got married and have three active children and they have really worked with me so that my schedule would not conflict with family demands for which I am very grateful.

More About Mary Jo Clark

Education: Bachelor of science in nursing from Morningside College

Years with hospital: 16 years

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Nurse practitioners add new dimension of care at Mahaska Health Partnership
Mahaska Health Partnership Specialty Services employs nurse practitioners to help maintain the health and well-being of the community. “Nurse Practitioners are a wonderful enhancement that helps increase access to primary care services for our community,” MHP Chief Medical Officer Matt Whitis, MD said. “NPs have added a new dimension to our abilities to make healthcare personal at MHP by being available when it’s most convenient for patients.” (Oskaloosa News)

Medicare cut goes down to wire
Wrangling in Congress is pushing a dramatic cut in payments to doctors ever closer to reality. And if it happens, Iowans could get hit harder than other states. Lawmakers hoped to include what’s known as the “doc fix” in a bill to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. The fix is an annual rite in Washington, D.C., in which looming cuts in Medicare reimbursements to the nation’s physicians are typically avoided with last-minute action. Except this time, the minutes are dwindling. (Quad-City Times)

Iowa Health affiliates to test accountable care model
Two Iowa Health System affiliates in Fort Dodge have been selected to participate in a nationwide pilot of a new incentive-based payment system for Medicare patients. The affiliates, Trimark Physicians Group and Trinity Regional Medical Center, will participate in one of 32 Pioneer Accountable Care Organizations that will be formed across the country, and the only one in Iowa. (Des Moines Business Record)

St. Luke’s drops a special delivery at the Crittenton Center
Tuesday, St. Luke’s Health System made a special delivery of 600 diapers to the Crittenton Center in Sioux City. St. Luke’s conducted a campaign for a month… that for every “Like” the hospital received on its Facebook page, they would donate a diaper to the Crittenton Center. They got 300 likes but since it’s the giving season, they doubled it and donated 600. The Crittenton Center provided help to more than 450 babies and their families last year. (KTIV)

Demand grows for mother’s milk
Increased demand for donor breast milk is fueling a shortage at the Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa. The bank provides donations to infants who are born premature, are adopted, or whose mothers cannot produce enough milk. Hospitals can maintain their own inventory of the milk and infants at home can receive it by prescription. Studies show human breast milk gives infants the best start in life, explained Jean Drulis, director and founder of Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa. Donor milk can supplement the mother’s own milk and premature infants receive the highest priority. (Des Moines Register)

National News

A piecemeal approach to health law in states
In passing a good deal of the decision-making to states, the administration has guaranteed that Americans will continue to face a patchwork of state regulations that make coverage uneven and inefficient. People in Utah and Wyoming, for example, are likely to have more limited access to expensive services now mandated in states like Massachusetts and Maryland — at least until 2016, when a senior administration official said the federal government plans to establish a national standard of essential benefits. And consumer advocates worry that some states will limit benefits too strictly. (New York Times)

Rewards for patients to switch care
Told they need a routine medical test, such as a colonoscopy or a mammogram, most patients go wherever the doctor recommends. But under a program being rolled out next month by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, they could be paid to seek care somewhere else. The health insurer plans to introduce a rewards program through which its Massachusetts members who have been given referrals will be asked to call a “clinical concierge’’ service that can direct them to hospitals or medical facilities that charge less for the same tests. (Boston Globe)

DOJ brought in more than $2 billion in 2011 from healthcare fraud cases
The Justice Department said Monday that President Obama’s healthcare reform law helped it recover roughly $2.4 billion through healthcare fraud cases this year. DOJ said it recovered more than $3 billion by winning or settling allegations of fraud against the government. About 80 percent of that total came from cases involving health care programs. (The Hill)

20 people who make health care better
In the annual HealthLeaders 20, individuals are profiled who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. These are their stories. (HealthLeaders Media)

Kapow! Comic book illustrates health care reform
That’s right, the latest graphic novel to hit book store shelves tells the story of the Affordable Care Act, and it’s titled “Health Care Reform. What It Is. Why It’s Necessary. How It Works.” And its author isn’t your typical comic book geek. No, author Jonathan Gruber is a geek of a different order: He is a health care economist. Gruber was one of the architects of Massachusetts’s groundbreaking health care reform law and an advisor to President Barack Obama on the 2010 Affordable Care Act. He’s also an economics professor at MIT. (WBUR)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

URMED program expands to five area hospitals
The innovative Undergraduate Rural Medicine Education and Development (URMED) program developed four years ago through a partnership with Buena Vista University (BVU) and Buena Vista Regional Medical Center (BVRMC) has reached another milestone. Starting in January, Lakes Area Healthcare at Spirit Lake will join the network of hospitals participating in URMED, which also includes BVRMC, Humboldt Community Hospital, Loring Hospital in Sac City and Pocahontas Community Hospital. The increase in hospital participation also created an additional internship position in the program. (Buena Vista University)

Mercy in Cedar Rapids launches new cancer center Web site
The site is a one-stop resource for anyone looking to learn more about the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center. Site visitors will be offered a preview of what they can expect once the facility opens in the spring of 2012 – from the patient-centered infusion stations to the healing gardens and meditation spaces. The site offers resources for people who are newly diagnosed and those currently undergoing treatment.  Plus, cancer survivors and family members will have access to information on support groups and wellness services. Family physicians and surgeons can also find information on patient referrals, clinical trials and other cutting-edge research. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Hope for  Helmet
Caroline Found, 17, loved volleyball and spending time with her friends. This past August the girl with an infectious smile and bright future died tragically when the moped she was driving crashed – killing her instantly. Her friends say they now wonder- if state law forced Caroline to wear a helmet would she be sitting on this couch with them right now. “There are so many what ifs, that’s a big what if. You know, what if she had been wearing a helmet,” said friend Caroline Van Voorhis. Van Voorhis joined Hope for a Helmet after reading an editorial on the subject in the school’s newspaper. (KCRG)

National News

Medicare penalties for readmissions are likely to hit hospitals serving the poor
James Breedin cannot keep track of how often he has been admitted to Howard University Hospital for heart problems. “It’s been so many,” said Breedin, a 75-year-old disabled former truck driver from Northeast Washington. One reason for his frequent returns, he says, is that he often can’t afford the medications his doctor prescribes, “so I have to do without.” Another is that he fears exercising outside because of neighborhood violence. (Washington Post)

New partnerships aim to lower Medicare costs, improve care
The Obama administration Monday announced new partnerships with 32 of the nation’s leading medical providers that have agreed to work with the federal government to improve the quality and lower the cost of care for Americans who rely on Medicare. The partnerships, which are to reward doctors and hospitals that save money while improving care, are a key initiative sparked by the health care law the president signed last year. (Los Angeles Times)

Supreme Court to hear health care case in late March
The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would devote three days in late March to hearing arguments in challenges to the 2010 health care overhaul law. A decision in the case is expected by the end of June. The court agreed to hear the case on Nov. 14, saying it would put aside five and half hours for arguments and specifying how much time it would devote to each of four issues. Monday’s announcement assigned those issues to particular days, giving a sense of the logical sequence in which the justices will approach them. (New York Times)

Better doctors focus on mistakes
Everybody makes mistakes. But far too few people take the opportunity to learn from them. We’d all be better people if we did. And for doctors, acknowledging errors could mean the difference between a patient’s life or death. In a study where doctors were faced with a simulated medical emergency and had to choose from uncertain treatment options, a scenario requiring a certain amount of trial and error, doctors who paid more attention to their mistakes fared much better than those who focused on their treatment successes. This is a message everybody could benefit from. (The Atlantic)

Medical reform’s daunting task: hospital billing
Some — though not all — of the problem may be addressed under new insurance regulations that go into effect in 2014 under health care reform. That includes clearer plan explanations for consumers, bolstered appeals processes and more transparency. The trend toward more coordinated health care systems, already under way and accelerated by health reform, will also mean the networks patients find themselves in may be more streamlined — and the billing not so Byzantine. (Politico)

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