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

Iowa News

School board candidates call for more counselors
The Des Moines school district should partner with community health care providers and hire more school counselors to meet the changing needs of students, according to school board candidates. The issue was discussed Tuesday during a candidate forum at North High School. Several Des Moines school counselor positions were cut in spring 2010 to help close a projected $11.1 million budget shortfall. (Des Moines Register)

Hawkeyes Team with Iowa Donor Network
The University of Iowa along with its sister institutions in the state of Iowa – the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University – have entered into a new competition to save lives. Along with Iowa Donor Network, the state’s three college football programs, fans and students will compete to register more organ, eye and tissue donors in Iowa. (Hawkeye Sports)

National News

Premium increases under Obamacare may be overstated
Predictions of sharp increases in health-insurance premiums for people getting coverage under the U.S. Affordable Care Act have been overstated and many states will see little to no change, researchers at Rand Corp. found. Out-of-pocket premiums for most individuals who buy health plans through new insurance exchanges will decline because of federal subsidies, the Santa Monica, California-based nonprofit research group said today in a report. The researchers looked at insurance markets in 10 states to project costs as core parts of the 2010 health law kick in next year. (Bloomberg)

Obamacare’s cost-control programs may be contagious
Accountable care organizations (ACOs) may actually be the unicorns we’ve been waiting for, spreading their cost-saving magic throughout the health system. An early cost-sharing program in Massachusetts designed to cut costs for private Blue Cross Blue Shield patients also lowered costs for Medicare patients who were seen by the same providers, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (Washington Post)

Tweet smears hospital discharge incentive campaign
A tweet decrying a Baltimore hospital’s effort to speed patient discharges implied that patient safety was being put at risk. How much damage was done to the hospital’s reputation remains to be seen. (HealthLeaders Media)

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

Iowa News

Medicare proposal would cut funds for rural hospitals
Both Iowa Senators Tom Harkin (D) and Chuck Grassley (R) are against the proposal and say it would seriously cripple Iowa’s rural hospitals. Iowa leaders in the medical field say those cuts would hurt their hospital’s financial stability, but Medicare patients will still be cared for and treated. “20 percent of American population lives in rural areas and in many cases the hospital in those communities is the major employer and the major source of economic benefit to those communities,” said Mike Donlin, CEO of Floyd Valley Hospital in Le Mars. However, those benefits and treatment could be farther away if those local hospitals cease to exist. (KMEG)

Funding pressures force Linn County mental health facility to close
Linda McKinney thought she had found a safe haven two years ago after losing her job, her condominium and nearly her life to depression. Now the ground under the 61-year-old is shifting again. In late July, the staff of the non-profit Abbe Center for Community Care brought together McKinney and the 75 or so other residents of the Linn County-owned, Abbe-operated residential care facility to announce that they would shut down the place and close the doors on Sept. 30. “All the wind went out of everybody,” McKinney says. A month later, the emptying is underway. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

County hopeful for mental-health exemption
Supervisors Chairman Mark Beardmore and other county officials met with the Iowa Department of Human Services last week on Carroll County’s pursuit of an exemption from the state’s developing regional system for mental-health services. “They extended the same courtesy to Polk County just prior to granting their exemption,” Beardmore said. “This was a fact-clarifying-additional-information-gathering session that lasted just over an hour.” (Carroll Times Herald)

U of I to drop price of water at Kinnick to help fans stay hydrated
With the heat wave pushing into the weekend, University of Iowa officials are taking extra precautions to ensure that fans attending the first Hawkeye football game of the season stay cool. When Iowa kicks off the season at Kinnick Stadium against Northern Illinois at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the mercury is expected to be hitting 90, with the heat index again reaching about 100 degrees. (Des Moines Register)

National News

Governors in key states buck GOP on health care
Despite unrelenting pressure by congressional Republicans to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, GOP governors in swing-voting states are grudgingly bowing to the reality that “Obamacare” is the law of the land and almost certainly here to stay. The governors’ reluctant acceptance is based on what they call financial prudence and what appears to be political necessity. “My approach is to not spend a lot of time complaining,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said recently. “We’re going to do our level best to make it work as best we can.” (Associated Press/Merced Sun)

Rural residents will gain, lose in health overhaul
Twenty-one states have opted not to expand Medicaid eligibility, while another half-dozen still are debating the issue, said Tim McBride, a health economist with the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis. He told hospital administrators and others gathered in Milwaukee that when researchers look at rural residents who could be covered by expanded Medicaid, more than half live in states that have opted out. In comparison, more than half of the urban residents eligible for coverage under the expansion live in states that are going forward with it. (Associated Press/Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

States experimenting to lower health care costs
Oregon health officials are concentrating on coordinating services and preventing hospital stays. New Jersey medical centers are rewarding doctors who can save money without jeopardizing patient care. And Massachusetts is expanding the role of physician assistants and nurse practitioners. As states work on implementing the complex federal health care reforms, some have begun tackling an issue that has vexed employers, individuals and governments at all levels for years — the rapidly rising costs of health care. (Associated Press/Charlotte News & Observer)

Health lawyer: Feds must be more ‘holistic’ in HIT regulatory framework
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory framework is outdated, health attorney Brad Thompson said in a letter to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT this week. He suggests several changes that will help to “address the unique aspects of health IT.” Thompson, also says the FDA and ONC, along with the Federal Communications Commission, need to be more “holistic” in their guidance to avoid confusion, duplication and regulatory conflict. (Fierce Health  IT)

Royce White to open mental health center in Houston
While things didn’t work out with forward Royce White and the Rockets, the NBA player (traded to Philadelphia in July) will have an everlasting mark in the Bayou City. On Wednesday morning, White announced a partnership with his non-profit organization Anxious Mind’s Inc. and Bee Busy Wellness Center to create the Royce White Institute of Mental Health on the city’s southwest side. The Wellness Center is a 17,000-square foot facility that will also have dental and primary care. (Houston Chronicle)

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rubicon

A member of Team Rubicon comforts a homeowner in tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma.

Seemingly every week, military units based out of Iowa return home from overseas.  These scenes are repeated across the state and across the nation, adding up to thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen who are leaving behind a life that is very different – and often filled with tragedy and trauma; more than 260,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s often difficult for vets to transition their skills and training to civilian life and the slow economic recovery has aggravated the situation.  Minds and lives driven by a 24/7 military schedule – and perhaps even combat – can be thrown into turmoil by the downshift.  They find themselves in unchallenging jobs, needing alcohol or drugs to cope and sleep, keeping weapons close by – sometimes too close.

Programs emphasizing job placement, counseling and more intense mental health treatment have helped.  But another angle is more recently being explored: community service.

Team Rubicon is an offspring of this approach.  Based in Los Angeles, Team Rubicon involves about 7,000 veterans who specialize in disaster response, including the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.  There, the 60-member early response team, made up mostly of Midwest vets, stood out for exactly the reasons you’d both desire and expect: highly-organized, well-led, polite to a fault and with the endurance of – what else – a platoon of well-trained soldiers.

“We’re good at creating organization out of chaos,” one of the Team Rubicon leaders told an interviewer.  That’s also what well-run service programs do for veterans who find themselves lost, unfulfilled and often unstable in civilian life.  These programs put vets to work, often in teams, fulfilling very real needs that people or communities cannot necessarily do on their own.

Another such program is The Mission Continues, which offers fellowships to veterans who organize and implement their own community service projects with the goal of eventually landing full-time employment or advanced education.  The program is a success – 86 percent of the fellows report a life-changing experience, 71 percent further their education and 86 percent say the program helped them transfer their military skills to civilian employment.

Hospitals could certainly benefit from connecting with The Mission Continues.  Through it and similar organizations, a hospital could have access to well-trained, well-motivated volunteers to fulfill the hospital’s community benefit mission.  Those same volunteers also represent a pool of desirable candidates for future employment.

Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues also illustrate why volunteerism is important beyond meeting institutional goals.  It’s important to remember that these two programs were created first for veterans, giving them a positive direction and outlet for their skills.  Similarly, through their service programs, hospitals provide opportunities to raise the self-worth of volunteers, to help them find a sense of purpose and value.

Obviously, providing manpower to get things done summarizes much of the purpose for volunteer programs.  However, when they are thoughtfully managed and consider both the needs of the hospital as well as the volunteer, hospital volunteer services advance the well-being and health of those who serve.  In other words, these programs can save lives.

For our returning veterans, many of whom desperately need a new mission in life, hospitals and their well-run volunteer programs can offer an oasis of peace and opportunity.

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

Iowa News

Denison hospital plans $1.5M expansion
“This is not a big hospital replacement project,” said Bill Bruce, Crawford County Memorial Hospital CEO. Instead, Bruce says, it’s a transition featuring the addition of new nurse stations along with exam, procedure and patient rooms for general surgery services and the new OB/GYN specialist recently brought on staff. “We have a building that is very flexible and easy to adapt to these transitions and services and it makes sense to offer OBGYN locally,” said Bruce. (KTIV)

Iowa governor announces ICN will not be sold
Governor Branstad has announced that the Iowa Communications Network will not be privatized at a Tuesday townhall meeting in Webster City. Branstad was joined by Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds at City Hall as part of their annual tour to each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Branstad made the announcement following concerns expressed by Van Diest Medical Center CEO Bob Mason about the ICN being privatized. Branstad said the fiber-optics network is an important tool for hospitals, National Guard armories and schools. (Webster City Freeman-Journal)

Ugandan medical students work with Iowa hospitals, clinics
Peter Kavuma and Douglas Akiibua, both 23, left their home country of Uganda for the first time and traveled to Iowa to participate in a medical student exchange program between Des Moines University and Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Kampala, Uganda. The program consists of an eight-week-rotation where Ugandan medical students spend time in the DMU clinic and at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. (Sioux City Journal)

UI researchers make crucial endocarditis discovery
Researchers at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine have made a breakthrough that could save thousands of lives. Professor of microbiology Dr. Patrick Schlievert said they’ve discovered what causes the deadly effects of infective endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart valves. Dr. Schlievert said antigens, or toxins, produced by the staph bacteria that causes endocarditis, stops the body’s immune system from functioning correctly, allowing the infection to spread. (KCRG)

Abortions drop 30 percent in Iowa in 5-year span
A surprising thing has happened since a controversial video-conferencing system tripled the number of Iowa towns where women could obtain abortions: The annual number of abortions has dropped 30 percent in the state. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland installed the system in 2008 to allow its doctors in Des Moines to dispense abortion pills to women in clinics around the state. The system made abortions available in towns where no one else offered them. But it did not make abortions more common, state data show. In fact, the numbers have dropped from 6,649 in 2007 to 4,648 in 2012. (Des Moines Register)

National News

Michigan lawmakers OK Medicaid expansion
It took two votes and eight hours of mostly closed-door politicking and vote wrangling, but Michigan lawmakers approved a plan late Tuesday to expand Medicaid health care coverage to 470,000 low-income residents. The historic 20-18 vote in the state Senate makes Michigan the 25th state in the nation to go ahead with the Medicaid expansion as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Five more states are debating the issue and 21 have decided not to go ahead with the expansion. (USA Today)

Americans hear more about health law, but not from most-trusted sources
The new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 33 percent of the public reported hearing “a lot” or “some” information about the exchanges, up from 22 percent in June. The most common source of that information was the news media. Eighty-one percent of the public said they had heard “something” about the law within the last month from newspapers, cable TV shows, online news or radio. But only 8 percent of respondents said they have “a lot” of trust in the news media.

ACO’s coordinated care saving may be contagious
Accountable care organizations (ACOs) may actually be the unicorns we’ve been waiting for, spreading their cost-saving magic throughout the health system. An early cost-sharing program in Massachusetts designed to cut costs for private Blue Cross Blue Shield patients also lowered costs for Medicare patients who were seen by the same providers, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (Kaiser Health News)

Omaha’s Methodist Hospital breaks ground on $77 million surgery center
Officials at the Tuesday ground­breaking for the project said all phases of the construction process will be completed without interrupting patient care, including surgeries. Methodist performs more inpatient and outpatient surgeries than any other Nebraska hospital, according to Nebraska Hospital Association figures, with an average of more than 25,000 procedures a year. (Omaha World Herald)

Measles outbreak tied to Texas megachurch sickens 21
An outbreak of measles tied to a Texas megachurch where ministers have questioned vaccination has sickened at least 21 people, including a 4-month-old infant — and it’s expected to grow, state and federal health officials said. “There’s likely a lot more susceptible people,” said Dr. Jane Seward, the deputy director for the viral diseases division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (NBC News)

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

Iowa News

Branstad asks to meet with Obama, Sebelius in September
State officials have finally submitted their formal request to the federal government, asking for approval of Iowa’s version of Medicaid expansion. “We’ve worked with the Department of Health and Human Services at the federal level on a collaborative manner,” says Michael Bousselot, an aide to Governor Branstad who has been the governor’s point person on the project. “…They actually requested that we split our single waiver into two waivers.” The Iowa Health and Wellness Plan that cleared the 2013 Iowa legislature created a two-tiered system for enrolling more uninsured Iowans in Medicaid. (Radio Iowa)

Medicare revision would hurt 70 Iowa hospitals
Scott McIntyre, a spokesman for the Iowa Hospital Association, said Monday that he was not surprised that so many hospitals were on the list of hospitals that would face cuts if the changes were enacted. “We anticipated, based on the information we had, that the proposal would be devastating,” he said. However, he added that Iowa hospital leaders doubt Congress will approve the idea. Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin have both panned the proposal. They were among 20 senators who signed a bipartisan letter last week warning against such cuts to the critical-access program. (Des Moines Register)

Why tie insurance to jobs?
Unfortunately, this is how things work in a country that has tied health insurance to employment. We have long recognized that is a bad idea. Your employer doesn’t select and subsidize your homeowner’s insurance or your car insurance. Employers being responsible for health insurance started as a fluke. Wage freezes following World War II led some businesses to offer coverage as a perk to attract and retain workers. Time passed, and the insurance businesses grew and evolved around this workplace practice. Now, many Americans have come to expect employers to pick up the majority of the cost of insurance coverage and to insure everyone in their families. (Des Moines Register)

National News

Health care job growth slows
After years as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal national economy, the U.S. health care sector has fallen on harder times in recent months, reflected in hospital job-cutting and a slowdown in hiring growth within the sector overall. In July, monthly employment reports and surveys indicated that some health care-related jobs, particularly at hospitals, could be in shorter supply. (American Medical News)

Doctors should bill for life-or-death decisions
As an intern admitting emergency-room patients to a Cincinnati hospital, I saw it happen again and again: Late-stage cancer patients in the midst of medical crises would roll into our ER in need of a ventilator as expected complications mounted. We would ask for their advance directives, who had their power of attorney, and whether they had considered “do not resuscitate” orders or hospice. Too often, these concepts were unfamiliar, even for patients who had been undergoing cancer treatments for months or years. (Bloomberg)

Data algorithm helps health care providers ID high-risk patients
In health care, not all patients are equal. Some need costly treatment while others are relatively healthy, so providers must often decide who requires more attention and resources. Reston-based information technology firm Altruista Health is attempting to automate that decision process, using its own predictive algorithm to identify a hospital’s sickest patients. Mining millions of health records, the 75-person company’s software performs a sort of triage, alerting physicians to patients statistically at risk of worsening and then providing treatment suggestions. (Washington Post)

Hazards lurk in medical smartphone apps, experts warn
Smartphones and tablets are go-to gadgets to count calories, document daily jogs, measure heart rates and record sleep patterns. Some applications now even analyze blood sugar levels, track fertility or monitor moods for signs of depression. Inexpensive and easy to use, mobile medical apps are also booming business: More than 97,000 varieties are available. By 2017, the mobile industry tracker Research2Guidance predicts, the market will grow to $26 billion. By then, the firm estimates, half the world’s more than 3.4 billion smartphone users will have downloaded health apps. (Kansas City Star)

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