Durrie Bouscaren

Health and Science Reporter

Durrie Bouscaren covers healthcare and medical research throughout the St. Louis metro area. She comes most recently from Iowa Public Radio’s newsroom in Des Moines, where she reported on floods, a propane shortage, and small-town defense contractors. Since catching the radio bug in college, Bouscaren has freelanced and interned at NPR member stations WRVO, WAER and KQED. Her work has aired on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Harvest Public Media, a regional reporting collaborative. 

Ways to Connect

Bill cosponsor Alderwoman Cara Spencer asks Tom Buckley, general counsel for the Archdioscese of St. Louis, to clarify his position.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen is considering a bill that would bar employers and landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use contraception or have had an abortion.

If approved, the bill would add pregnancy and reproductive health decisions to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, alongside protections based on race, sex or disability. It defines reproductive health decisions as any that are related to the use of contraception, the initiation or termination of a pregnancy, and the use of a drug, device or medical service related to reproductive health.

During public testimony at a committee hearing Wednesday, an attorney for the Archdiocese of St. Louis threatened legal action if the bill is passed on the grounds that it violates religious freedom.

The St. Louis Children's Hospital's logo, which replaces the 'n' in 'Children's' with an image of the Gateway Arch, is printed all over the hospital campus, including the entrance off Kingshighway Boulevard. Spokeswoman Abby Wuellner said the logo represe
Nassim Benchaabane | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri hospitals are providing less charity care than they did before the Affordable Care Act, according to a report by the Missouri Hospital Association.

But that's not necessarily a sign that hospitals are being stingy. According to the report's authors, that means more people can pay their medical bills.

It’s indicative of more people having insurance,” said Dave Dillon, spokesperson for the MHA. “The numbers for 2015 show very good progress.”

Physicians, clergy, and members of 100 Black Men gathered for a breakfast held by the Prostate Cancer Coalition.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Black men are nearly two times more likely to die from prostate cancer than any other ethnic group. So when a federal agency cited several studies of mostly white American and European men to recommend against screening for prostate cancer, some St. Louis doctors challenged the decision.

“We worry that we’re going backwards,” said Dr. Arnold Bullock, a urologic surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and member of the Prostate Cancer Coalition. “Prostate cancer’s the most common cancer in African-American men, and still kills around 30,000 men a year in the U.S.”

Patients entering the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis are often greeted by a line of protesters.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio | File Photo

Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Louis are taking stock of the $700,000 hit they may absorb under a new state law and a shifting federal landscape.

Last year, the Missouri legislature used a budgetary measure to cut the women’s health provider from the state’s Medicaid program. The process takes several months and requires federal approval, so the rule has yet to take effect.

A plan by the Republican-controlled Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act also includes a measure that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, according to remarks made by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Daisy Duarte and her mother, Sonia. The two appear in an upcoming PBS documentary, "Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts."
The Duarte family

Daisy Duarte estimates that three quarters of her family have died from a genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease that takes hold in middle age. When her own mother became ill, Duarte closed the sports bar she owned to become her full time caregiver.

“She just had a heart of gold. And then to see her where she’s at now, it just hurts so much,” said Duarte, 41. 

Duarte and her 61-year-old mother, Sonia, appear in an upcoming PBS documentary about the search for a cure to Alzheimer’s.

FDA | file photo

After years of opposition in the Missouri legislature to a statewide program to monitor prescription drugs, St. Louis County is preparing to test its own.

By using a new database, pharmacists in the county will help flag consumers who may be “doctor shopping” for highly addictive opioid-based painkillers. Missouri is the only state in the country without such a system.

Its goal is to take away one of the easiest pathways to opioid addiction, while giving doctors and pharmacists a way to be more vigilant, said Dr. Faisal Khan, St. Louis County's health director.

Volunteer counselors Dr. Marva Robinson, left, and Adrian Wrice discuss a case during drop-in hours in the basement of the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In the basement of the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, clinical psychologist Marva Robinson meets with people who know of a conflict that may escalate to violence. She trains her ear to signs of previous trauma or emotional instability. The next day, she starts making calls.

“We start the next day, with trying to make contact with individuals to see how we can have a conversation about the conflict in ways that we can resolve it,” Robinson said.

New appliances sit in the unfinished kitchen at the Ferguson Community Center.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

North St. Louis County seniors will be waiting a bit longer for the opening of a new center run by the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging. The organization is remodeling an unused kitchen and common room at the Ferguson Community Center to provide hot meals and programs for older adults.

Though she had once hoped to open the center by Christmas, Executive Director Mary Schaefer said the space should be ready in the next two months.

In the study he led, Washington University researcher Darrell Hudson found the men in his focus groups were more than willing to discuss their experiences with racism and issues related to mental health.
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

About a dozen of Missouri’s mental health clinics will receive an infusion of federal money in 2017, after the state was one of eight selected to be part of a national demonstration project.

The clinics will be required to collect and report quality data and meet a set of criteria, which will determine how much money they receive. It’s part of a $1.1 billion measure to improve the quality of mental health and addiction services. The law that created the program, the Excellent in Mental Health Act, was introduced by U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in 2013.

Valéria Souza, 36, hugs her step-daughter in a family photo.
provided by Valéria Souza

Three in 10 Missouri adults could have difficulty purchasing their own health insurance if the Affordable Care Act the next Congress fully repeals the Affordable Care Act. That’s because one of the act’s main provisions requires insurance companies to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions — a definition that once included pregnant women, cancer patients in remission and people with such common medical issues as obesity.  

The figures come from an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which determined that about 27 percent of American adults under the age of 65 would qualify as having a pre-existing medical condition. In Missouri, the rate is slightly higher.

Drawing of child and scales of justice
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County will close a residential facility for young people referred by Family Court at the end of the year. On Friday, several teenagers moved out of the Lakeside Residential Treatment Center for the last time.

County officials cited the cost of repairs to the aging building and low enrollment as reasons for the closure. The 55-bed center provided housing, therapy and education for teens referred as part of their sentencing. The residents will resume classes at Marygrove, a Catholic Charities federated agency, on Jan. 3.

A cassava micro plant, grown in a Petri dish, is kept in a Danforth unit similar to a walk-in incubator.
File photo |Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center say a $10.45 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will allow them to expand a project to develop genetically modified cassava into Nigeria.

The country is the largest cassava producer in the world, and farmers there are watching closely as two plant viruses spread across central Africa. One of them, the brown streak virus, was once confined to coastal regions in southeast Africa. Strains of cassava that are genetically modified to resist the two viruses are undergoing field trials in Uganda and Kenya.

Two women walk home after a day of work at Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organisation in Namulonge.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The world’s largest seed companies have their eye trained on Africa’s farming industry. A few, including St. Louis-based Monsanto, see drought-resistant corn as the key to an untapped market.

But some African civil service organizations are wary of the genetically modified seeds Monsanto hopes to introduce.

St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Dec. 10 with results of Senate vote — With an hour to spare before a government shutdown, the U.S. Senate approved a stopgap spending bill late Friday that allows coal workers in southern Illinois to keep their health coverage until April.

Coverage for about 16,000 employees of now-bankrupt coal companies was set to run out at the end of the year. Coal state Democrats held up a vote on the bill because they wanted a longer benefits extension.

Kevin Dietl, left, poses with his mother in a family photograph.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Legislators are making another attempt to prevent suicide among students in Missouri colleges and medical schools.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, pre-filed Senate Bill 52, which would require colleges and universities to develop suicide prevention policies. It also would create a statewide research committee to prevent depression among medical students, and forbid medical schools from preventing student-led efforts to study mental health issues among their peers.

“It’s really not a controversial bill. It’s an awareness bill,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. “We have to begin to look at what’s happening on those college campuses, and try to have preventative measures in place before they get to that point of no return.”

Tony Twitty, 55, founded his auto shop in 1999. Before the Affordable Care Act,it was hard for him to buy health insurance on his own.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

After running on a platform that included calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act, president-elect Donald Trump will take office alongside a Republican-controlled Congress in January. This leaves an estimated 20 million people who gained coverage through the law unsure of how their coverage will change.

In the weeks since the election, the general consensus among health law experts is that it’s unlikely that congressional Republicans will repeal the law entirely without a plan to replace it, particularly because Senate Democrats have enough seats to filibuster.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

The nation’s opioid crisis is threatening to undo decades of HIV prevention work, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

In response to a national survey of intravenous drug users in 22 cities, they’re calling for wider distribution of clean needles.  

“The science shows that syringe services programs work,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "They save lives, and they save money." 

An example of a safe sleeping practice for infants, without a crib bumper.
National Institutes for Health

A local initiative to prevent infant deaths in St. Louis is recruiting volunteers at a launch event this week.

After holding listening sessions with parents throughout the region, Flourish St. Louis has decided that transportation, mental health, and access to prenatal care are some of the main ways they can help prevent infant deaths.

“We really need moms, dads, grandparents, people from healthcare but also business, faith communities, funders, government. Anyone who feels that they want to work on any of these issues,” said Kendra Copanas, executive director of Generate Health, formerly the Maternal, Child and Family Health Coalition.

In some St. Louis zip codes, the infant mortality rate is more than twice the national average of 5.8 deaths per 1,000. The leading causes of death are congenital malformations, pregnancy complications and disorders related to prematurity or low birth weight,  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mioshi Ferrill holds a little girl named Arianna at the University City Children's Center. 11/21/16
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In one of the baby rooms at University City Children’s Center, half a dozen infants are taking naps, drinking out of sippy cups, and trying to figure out how to roll over.

Mioshi Ferrill of St. Louis picks up a little girl with big brown eyes and plastic barrettes in her hair, and coos at her while she takes a bottle. Ferrill, 24, is halfway through her “on the job training” for a new apprentice program run by a local nonprofit, the LUME Institute. After 135 hours of classwork, 480 hours of training, and a year and a half of mentored work, she will be a credentialed provider of early childhood education. But the real payoff comes in moments, like the time she finally got a baby with stranger anxiety to go down for a nap.   

Kirk Mathews
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Durrie Bouscaren welcome state Rep. Kirk Mathews to the program for the first time.

The Pacific Republican was first elected to the Missouri House in 2014, winning the open House seat that was once held by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. He recently won re-election without any significant opposition.

Calvin Payne, 44, stands in his newly leased space for CQ Custom Designs in the Grove neighborhood.  11/18/16
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Weaving between an ensemble of printers and T-shirt presses kept in the back of a tattoo parlor, Calvin Payne fills custom orders from all over the country.

“These shirts are going to Tupelo, Mississippi. And those other shirts are going to Millington, Tennessee,” Payne said, pointing to packages sitting on the counter. “I do a lot of breast cancer awareness shirts… and these are my favorite, because I know that they go for a good cause.”

Payne started his printing business while working as a server at Sweetie Pie’s restaurant in the Grove neighborhood, buying equipment with his savings and learning how to use it with tutorials on YouTube. This month, the 44-year-old entrepreneur is moving CQ Custom Designs into his own storefront for the first time.

Karen Wheat, second from left, stands with fellow volunteers at the Immune Deficiency Foundation's Walk for PI (Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases) on 10/09/16.
provided by Karen Wheat.

Sometimes we swap more than stories when we gather around the Thanksgiving table.

Flu season generally runs from late fall into early spring, but the number of cases starts to increase when people come into contact with others around the holidays.  By getting a flu shot, people can protect themselves and those around them who may be unable to get vaccinated.

“For an immune compromised patient, this is a really hard time … we can’t fight the flu,” said Karen Wheat, 53, a Belleville resident who lives with common variable immune deficiency. The disorder affects more than 1 in 50,000 people worldwide.

A map shows locations of retail pharmacies included in Dr. Paul Hauptman's study of heart failure drug pricing in St. Louis. Color coding corresponds to retail prices of a combination of digoxin, lisinopril, and carvedilol.
Paul J. Hauptman, MD, Zackary D. Goff, Andrija Vidic, et al

When St. Louis cardiologist Paul Hauptman got a call from a 25-year-old patient who couldn’t afford to buy his prescription for a generic drug to treat heart problems, he knew something was wrong.

“It was $100 at a local pharmacy. I thought surely, it was a mistake,” Hauptman said. “Most of the medications, we’re presuming at most pharmacies will be something like $4, $5, $6.”

Mike Cluck stands with his wife Nancy in the front hallway of their home in Edwardsville.  (Nov. 10, 2016)
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

An estimated 20 million people have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but dissatisfaction with the law helped propel Donald Trump the presidency. 

One criticism is a lack of choice for insurance plans bought on Healthcare.gov, an online marketplace established for uninsured individuals to shop for coverage. In three Illinois counties east of St. Louis, residents have just one insurance provider to choose from on the exchange for 2017, and enrollees say the coverage appears to have some serious gaps.

Charles and Doris Lehman, of Sparta, Illinois,  at the Pour House bar in Marissa, Illinois. (Nov. 1, 2916)
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Thousands of former coal workers and dependents who worked for now-bankrupt coal companies could lose their health insurance at the end of the year if Congress does not pass legislation to fund it.

Retirees in southern Illinois say losing their health insurance would amount to a broken promise from the coal companies that would have devastating effects to their well-being. Without Congressional action, Republican president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to repeal of the Affordable Care Act makes the retirees’ coverage alternatives uncertain.

WashU biomedical scientist G.S.M Sundaram, PhD., holds a model of the molecule fluselenamyl, which may improve PET scans for patients with Alzheimer's disease. Senior author Vijay Sharma, PhD, sits to his right.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Think of the night sky when you look up through the smog of the city. Then, think of that same sky on a clear night in a rural area.

That’s the difference between two images of a 90-year-old man’s brain, after he passed away and donated his body to Alzheimer’s disease research. Both scans are dark blue, with points of light showing plaques consistent with the disease. But the sharper image uses a new compound developed by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Tara Hegger, right, looks through pictures with her cousin, Lisa Pepper. Hegger has stayed in Mercy Hospital's intensive care unit for three months, because she can't find a nursing home in the state of Missouri that will accept her.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

For three months, 32-year-old Tara Hegger has lived in the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital.

She passes the time listening to music, visiting with family members and watching TV, mostly comedies. They keep her mind off of a painful decision that inches closer every day.

“The social worker came to me and basically told me I had to leave, because my days ran out," Hegger said, pausing between the pumps of oxygen provided by a ventilator next to her. "I had to make a choice.”

Like other Missouri patients in her situation, she will have to leave the state to find a nursing home that accepts her insurance — a dilemma tied to the state's low Medicaid reimbursement rate for long term care.

Van Tyler checks a list of names and addresses while delivering meals in Jennings for the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Since the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging saw its funding slashed by about $2 million during the recession, the agency has had to piece together grants for major projects.

“We’ve had to close senior centers over the years because we can’t support the number that were originally being utilized. And yet at the same time the population is growing,” Director Mary Schaefer said.

That could soon change. On Nov. 8, voters in St. Charles County, St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis will see a box for “Proposition S” on the ballot. The initiative would increase property taxes to pay for programs for seniors, to help them continue living at home.

Angela Merten is an in-person assister for the federal online marketplace at Touchette Regional Hospital. But she says most of the people she'll help sign up for health insurance will qualify for Medicaid under Illinois' expanded program.
File photo |St. Louis Public Radio

The eastern St. Louis metro area has been particularly hard hit by health insurance companies exiting the Affordable Care Act exchange. This week, the federal government released prices for 2017, which include substantial increases in western Illinois.

Insurance brokers in Belleville say three Metro East counties — St. Clair, Madison and Monroe — will have just one insurer to choose from this year: Blue Cross Blue Shield.

St. Louis College of Pharmacy professor Amy Tiemeier demonstrates how to use a medication disposal pouch to promote National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. (Oct. 20, 2016)
Durrie Bouscaren| St. Louis Public Radio

Police departments, recreation centers and a handful of grocery stores will accept and dispose of unused medications in the St. Louis region as part of a semi-annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday.

Public health officials recommend that people dispose of unused medications to prevent accidental poisoning or addiction. While flushing pills down the toilet may be effective, it can contaminate the water system. With that in mind, a growing fixture at the take-back days are plastic disposal pouches, filled with a carbon compound. They can hold up to 45 pills, and a once cup of water is added, the mixture breaks down into a substance that is safe for a landfill.

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