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

Iowa News

Mental health takes center stage
As lawmakers rally behind mental health reform legislation on Capitol Hill, University of Iowa (UI) students push for improved access to treatment of mental illnesses on campus. The state Board of Regents approved a $12.50 mental-health fee for students at its December 5 meeting on the University of Northern Iowa campus. With this fee, the UI Counseling Service hopes to hire eight new counselors by 2018. Counseling Service Director Barry Schreier said the UI has one of the lowest counselor-to-student ratios in the Big Ten, which contributes to students experiencing long waiting times before being able to see a counselor. (Daily Iowan)

Survey finds Iowa becoming healthier state
One national organization that ranks the healthiest states in the U.S. every year had some good news for Iowa in 2016. Hawaii once again earned the top spot overall for healthiest state. But Iowa showed the most improvement jumping five places from 22nd to 17th. Molly McWilliam, senior wellness coach for Mercy Medical Center, believes some recent changes in Iowa’s health care scene may be having an impact. “I think there are some key factors that we have going on in Iowa. One is the Blue Zones movement. I think the principle is simple and it’s sticking with people—move more, eat in moderation and be social,” McWilliam said. (KCRG)

Former Representative Linda Miller to head Iowa Department on Aging
Former state Representative Linda Miller was appointed Thursday by Governor Terry Branstad as director of the Iowa Department of Aging. She succeeds Donna Harvey, who has resigned. Miller, 69, of Bettendorf, resigned as a member of the Iowa House on Thursday and will assume her new post, effective Friday. She was a member of the Iowa Legislature for the past decade, but did not run for re-election in November. In the House, Miller was chair of the Human Resources Committee for six years. She also served on the House Health and Human Services Budget Subcommittee for 10 years. (Des Moines Register)

Mercy Medical Center donates trauma kits to SCPD and Sheriff’s Office
A life-saving donation has been made to local first responders. Mercy Medical Center is providing trauma packs to the Sioux City Police and Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office. Those packs include life-saving tools to help jump start treatment. They include a tourniquet, gauze, safety cuttery and compression bandages. The packs are essential because officers and deputies face potentially dangerous situations on a daily basis. Each pack typically costs $125, so officers and deputies say Mercy’s donation makes a big difference in equipping them while on patrol. (Siouxland Matters)

LGBTQ clinic at the University of Iowa offers ‘relief’
Dr. Nicole Nisly didn’t go into medicine with a desire to help transgender people. It wasn’t her childhood dream. And it wasn’t a personal goal crafted during medical school. But, while acting as the University’s interim chief diversity officer in 2011, Nisly attended a meeting of the undergraduate Trans Alliance club that focused on issues within the health care system. After wrestling with exactly how to help, Nisly and her colleague Dr. Katie Imborek landed on opening a well-rounded, holistic clinic that could cater to all the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community. (Des Moines Register)

Transportation grant to help Dubuque’s Marshallese population
On Monday, Iowa’s State Transit Assistance Program approved a $4000 grant to help people from the Marshall Islands living in Dubuque. Navigating the health care system can be difficult for any immigrant. But experts say it’s especially hard for Marshellese who are more susceptible to disease. Mercy Medical Center’s Caolae Jones is part of the Marshall Island Health Care Project in Dubuque. She says many Marsheleese skip doctor’s appointments because they don’t have transportation to a hospital or clinic. Those families are now eligible for bus rides to and from the doctor. (KCRG)

National News

Hospitals start tele-mental health initiative in North and South Carolina
Primary care and emergency room physicians frequently lack the time, training and resources to recognize and treat behavioral conditions, which often present as physical symptoms like insomnia or headaches. The problem, says Dr. John Santopietro, Chief Clinical Officer for Behavioral Health at Carolinas, is that behavioral health remains a poorly reimbursed, labor-intensive service. But using telehealth to deliver the service can make it more viable, especially in a reimbursement environment. One of Carolinas HealthCare System’s 30 innovation initiatives is a tele-consult, virtual behavioral health program delivered through the system’s primary care network. (Modern Healthcare)

Telemedicine a cure for California’s rural health care needs
Digital health innovations and applications, including virtual doctor’s appointments and smartphone health apps, can help us live better and longer lives. But many rural Californians don’t have access to these services as access to broadband internet and access to health care is rapidly becoming one and the same. Modern broadband communications networks and technologies can help bridge this gap, connecting patients though videoconferencing, remote patient monitoring and electronic messaging. This not only brings quality care to rural patients, but it also saves patients and caregivers time and money. (Sacramento Bee)

On health care, Massachusetts looks to Minnesota for new ideas
Minnesota is considered a national leader in health care and Massachusetts officials have headed there to see what they can learn. It’s part of a broader investigation of whether Massachusetts needs new legislation to curb rising medical spending. Experts say Minnesota has been ahead of the curve in adopting payment models that are designed to reward quality of care over quantity of services provided and addressing social issues, such as lack of housing, that contribute to poor health. And Minnesota is better than most states at controlling costs — an area where Massachusetts struggles. (Boston Globe)

Republicans say state flexibility key for ACA replacement
An Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement that emphasizes state flexibility will be a top Republican priority once Congress reconvenes in January, according to congressional staffers. Republican and Democratic legislative aides shared their parties’ agendas in background briefings with reporters Thursday. GOP staffers say under their party’s proposed repeal and replacement of the ACA, states must take the lead in deciding how to maintain insurance coverage for the 20 million people who gained coverage under the law. (Modern Healthcare)

Patient navigators can serve crucial roles in hospitals
Navigators guide patients and their families as they move through the health care system. While interactions with navigators have traditionally happened outside of hospitals, particularly for cancer patients, their services are also needed for people in the hospital and their families. Earlier this year, a study showed that a facilitator trained to support communication between clinicians and families lessened symptoms of depression in family members of critically ill adult patients. The emergence of patient navigator programs is partly a reaction to the increasing specialization in health care. (STAT)

CMS unveils Medicare-Medicaid ACO model
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to enlist states in a new experiment allowing Medicare Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) to also manage Medicaid costs for patients who are enrolled in both programs. A group of 10 health care organizations, including the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and group purchasing organization Premier, sent a letter Thursday urging the CMS to develop the ACO Track 1+ as an advanced alternative payment model and quickly finalize it so ACOs can begin participating as soon as 2018. (Modern Healthcare)

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