Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

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. 

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Beating the heat
File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

With high temperatures expected in the St. Louis region on Saturday, the heat index — a measure of temperature and humidity — could break 100, according to the National Weather Service. That means it’s a good time to take precautions against dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Twenty-five people died of heat-related causes in Missouri last year, including an 85-year-old woman who died while sunbathing at her St. Louis County retirement home. Seniors, children, and people with chronic medical conditions are at the highest risk for heat stroke.

Kids sitting on the floor in a classroom
Phil Roeder | Flickr

Two national child advocacy organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Social Services, alleging that children in the state’s foster care system are over-prescribed psychotropic medications with little oversight.

“They’re prescribed off-label, to control behaviors,” said Bill Grimm, an attorney for the National Center for Youth Law, which filed the lawsuit on Monday. “While many other states have instituted some sort of oversight … Missouri has very little to none of those safeguards in place.”

The suit seeks class action status. State officials declined comment, citing pending litigation.

Dr. Sarada Garg takes measurements with a portable ultrasound machine at Washington University in St. Louis. A pregnant volunteer looks on.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

Adly Castanaza, nurse from Jalapa, Guatemala, guides the probe of a portable ultrasound over the belly of a volunteer in St. Louis. It’s the same machine she’ll use back in Guatemala, to measure how pregnant women, their children and the elderly are affected by smoke from cook stoves.  

“I have seen, when I was in the hospital, so many people who come from rural communities that have [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease],” Castanza explained. “We have to know exactly if there’s a relation(ship with air pollution).”

Washington University in St. Louis is training health workers from India, Rwanda, Guatemala and Peru to conduct a massive study on how the smoke from traditional cook stoves affects women and children.

Missouri state Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, speaks on a panel held by NAHSE-STL. Affinia Healthcare Chief Operating Officer Kendra Holmes, criminologist Dan Isom, and anti-addiction advocate Howard Weissman join her.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

Public health experts on a panel in St. Louis Friday admonished Missouri lawmakers for failing to pass a prescription drug monitoring bill during the last legislative session. They also called for more treatment centers.

At least 712 people died after opioid overdoses in the bi-state St. Louis region last year — nearly 200 more than the year before, according to the anti-addiction group NCADA St. Louis. Missouri is the only state without a statewide database.

David Mueller, 31, picks up his three-year-old daughter Marjorie from daycare on May 4, 2017. She has a rare form of cystic fibrosis, and Mueller worries the Republican health plan will affect the family's ability to pay for her care.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

A Republican proposal to gut the Affordable Care Act narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now the U.S. Senate is crafting its own bill to reshape the nation’s health care system. Elected officials have held few town halls to hear from constituents in the St. Louis area about what they want in a health care bill, sparking demonstrations outside representatives’ offices.

Barb Fleming of Bel-Nor enrolled in Missouri's high-risk pool after a breast cancer diagnosis in 2008. Today, she pays much less for a plan through the Affordable Care Act.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

Barb Fleming had built a small business selling tableware and wedding gifts. But that career nearly came crashing down around her in 2008, when her doctor found a lump in her breast. 

Months later, Fleming, of Bel-Nor, in St. Louis County, would find herself in Missouri's high-risk pool: a pricey, state-managed insurance plan that covered people with pre-existing conditions. The programs were phased out by the Affordable Care Act, but could return in the sweeping health care proposal passed this month by House Republicans.

Members of the United Mine Workers of America protest in Washington, D.C. in September of 2016.
Flickr | AFGE

Retired coal workers are no longer at risk of losing their union health insurance as the latest federal spending bill funded coverage that is no longer being paid for by bankrupt coal companies.

But the deal left another issue untouched: the looming insolvency of the union’s pension fund, which could run out of money as early as 2025.

Jennifer Morrow | Flickr

Missouri is poised to strip additional providers from a state-run program that provides family planning services for uninsured women.

The budget lawmakers are sending to Gov. Eric Greitens contains a provision that prohibits hospitals and clinics from participating in the Missouri Women's State-Funded Health Services Program if the organization also provides abortion services, as defined by a state law for sexual education in schools.

The budget also cuts the program’s funding by $4.6 million.

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

St. Louis aldermen have reintroduced a bill to create a buffer zone outside Planned Parenthood's building in the Central West End, the state's only operating abortion clinic. A previous attempt stalled earlier this year.

Protesters generally gather near the building's driveway entrance at 4251 Forest Park Ave., asking women not to enter. The new proposal would require protesters to stay eight feet away from the driveway area of a health care facility.

Dr. Stuart Slavin, associate dean for curriculum at Saint Louis University's School of Medicine, in his office.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine is removing an administrator who drew national attention for his work to prevent student depression and suicide. The decision comes as the school faces probation by the accrediting body for U.S. medical schools, which gave SLU two years to make recommended changes.

Administrators notified students and staff this week that Dr. Stuart Slavin, the associate dean of curriculum, would be placed on sabbatical “so that he can transition to the next phase of his career.”

A pharmacist at Crider Health Center in Wentzville.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

This week, Missouri transferred the state-run health coverage of about 240,000 low-income adults and children to managed care plans run by three companies: WellCare, Centene Corporation and United Health Group.

The move is part of an increasing privatization of Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet. Legislators call it a cost-saving measure that improves efficiency in health care. Critics say the transfer happened too quickly, putting patient health at risk.

Jamie Young and her daughter Maya, 3, listen to a speaker during a demonstration outside of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt's office in Clayton. The group delivered petitions in support of Planned Parenthood.  Feb 23 2016
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Clinics that provide contraception and checkups for about 70,000 uninsured Missouri women may lose state funding next fiscal year, if they give patients information about abortion.  

Geneticist Michael White, right, visits with postdoctoral researcher Max Staller as he prepares samples in the lab. White is waiting to hear if the NIH will fund a proposal to start his own lab.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

As Congress faces a deadline to pass a stopgap budget for the rest of the federal fiscal year, scientists in research hubs like St. Louis are paying close attention.

According to the new study, a woman's weight before her first pregnancy may have long-term effects.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases | National Institutes of Health

The St. Louis region has long grappled with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, but an uptick in syphilis among women of child-bearing age is drawing the concern of public health officials.

In Missouri, 10 cases of congenital syphilis — when the infection is transmitted in the womb — were reported last year. That’s up from just two cases in 2015. Syphilis is treatable with penicillin, but can cause miscarriages, stillbirth and serious health problems if pregnant women do not receive medical care quickly. Men, however, make up the vast majority of cases.

Stephen Cummings | Flickr

Updated at 11:27 p.m. April 24 with the council's decisions — Two bills that would have established a drug monitoring database in Jefferson County failed during a Monday night meeting of the County Council.

The council heard two competing bills that would have allowed the county to join the local prescription tracking system set up by St. Louis County. But a disagreement over how long a database could keep Jefferson County data, however, likely derailed the whole process, even though council members appear to agree that the rising rate of opioid-related deaths is unacceptable and a prescription drug monitoring database could help prevent overdoses.

March for Science posters for sale at Firecracker Press.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

“SCIENCE IS REAL,” declares a stack of printed signs in a St. Louis shop. “Reject Alt-Facts,” reads a hand-drawn poster shared on a Facebook page. Another photo shows a purple Easter egg emblazoned with a diagram of an atom.

For many scientists planning to participate in the St. Louis March for Science on Saturday, activism is an unfamiliar role. But proposals by the Trump administration to slash federal funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health and federal science programs have been too much to accept, organizers said.

Lethal doeses of heroin, left, and fentanyl, right. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.
provided by the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, made up almost half of drug overdose deaths in parts of the St. Louis region last year, according to county coroners in Missouri and Illinois.

The drug is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, and inhaling just a few grains can be lethal.

“If I can be blunt, it’s scary as hell,” said Brandon Costerison, a spokesperson for the anti-addiction group NCADA's St. Louis chapter. “And we don’t really have anything to indicate it’s subsiding yet.”

Sam Werkmeister, 30, sits on his porch in Granite City on March 30, 2017. Werkmeister is recovering from an addiction to opioids, which began with prescription pills.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

Sam Werkmeister, a father of two, nearly died six times last year.

He started taking pain pills to get through shifts at a restaurant. That led him to a full-blown addiction to opioids. After a relapse last summer, it took Werkmeister six months to gather the courage to go back into treatment. 

“It’s called carfentanil, and it’s really cheap,” he said, as he sat on a worn couch in the Granite City group home he shares with a half dozen other men. “It destroyed my life.”

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley signs documents proposing new rules to prosecute human traffickers, on April 3, 2017.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley wants to get tough on human trafficking, which long has been a problem in the state. To do so, he proposed rules Monday that could make it easier to charge human traffickers with a crime.

Richard Riegerix, 46, uses a breathing machine to treat emphysema in a temporary shelter set up in a city-owned warehouse. Riegerix stayed at New Life Evangelistic Center for three months before it was closed down by the city on April 2, 2017.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

By dinnertime, the beds had started to fill.

Earlier, employees for the city of St. Louis had laid out about 70 green and orange cots in the corner of a Forestry Division warehouse in the Carr Square neighborhood. They anticipated that at least several dozen people would be without shelter on Sunday night as the city order the closing the  New Life Evangelistic Center, in downtown St. Louis, after a years-long legal battle.

According to the new study, a woman's weight before her first pregnancy may have long-term effects.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases | National Institutes of Health

The number of infants in Missouri who die in their first year is slowly dropping alongside national numbers, but St. Louis’ infant mortality rate has remained nearly stagnant, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis
provided by Barnes Jewish Hospital

A new Missouri rule will strip state family planning funds from organizations that provide abortions, including hospitals. But several facilities are choosing to go without the money, instead of providing the state with a letter to certify that they do not offer the procedure.

At issue is a $10.8 million portion of the state’s Medicaid program, which covers pelvic exams, tests for sexually transmitted diseases and  family planning services for about 70,000 low-income Missouri women. To prevent violating a federal law that says Medicaid patients must be allowed to choose their own provider, the state is rejecting about $8.3 million annually in federal funds, and paying the difference with money from the state.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

A Saint Louis University analysis of mosquito migration patterns and sexually transmitted diseases places the St. Louis region on a map of counties that could see an elevated risk for Zika infections this summer. The virus is spread by mosquitoes but can also be transmitted sexually for several months after symptoms occur.

However, the overall risk in the continental United States is still very low, study author Enbal Shacham said.

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

A central Illinois center for addiction treatment will stay open for now, despite payment delays during the state’s ongoing budget crisis. After two years without a permanent budget, the state is facing a backlog of $12.6 billion in unpaid bills to state employees, contractors and agencies.

Tax season is underway. So is a program that helps low- to moderate-income St. Louis families prepare their taxes for free.
401(K) 2012, via Flickr

Here’s something that may need to be clarified this tax season. Despite the ongoing debate in Washington over a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the law’s requirement for people to be enrolled in health coverage or face a tax penalty is still on the books.

“People should go ahead and take care of their taxes as they would, as if the law hasn’t changed," said Geoff Oliver, a staff attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. "Because at this point the law hasn’t changed.”

Advocate and author Christine McDonald, right, listens to U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri testify during a public hearing in St. Louis about human trafficking.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Eastern Missouri has four full-time police officers dedicated to investigating human trafficking cases, but convictions are rare.

Law enforcement officials say it's hard to build cases against perpetrators because witnesses are few and victims often are unseen. To improve awareness, Webster University will hold a training session this weekend for law students and the general public. Attendees will hear how people are forced into sex work and other trades, and how to identify warning signs.

File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The name of a recently ousted Bel-Ridge police chief will appear on the ballot when the city’s voters elect new aldermen on April 4.

Gordon Brock led the Bel-Ridge Police Department for 16 years before his termination last winter, following accusations of harassment, mismanagement and accepting bribes.

Dorothy Hunter, 109, sits in her apartment at an assisted living facility in Ballwin. Hunter, a retired teacher, has lived in St. Louis her whole life.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When a listener asked our Curious Louis project to find the oldest person in St. Louis, we were convinced we had found her — 109-year-old Lucy Hamm

But it wasn’t long before we started getting calls and emails about someone else we should meet — Dorothy Hunter of Ballwin.

Van Tyler checks a list of names and addresses while delivering meals in Jennings for the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging in June, 2016.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

States with rapidly aging populations, like Missouri, are seeing increased costs to Medicaid programs that cover low-income residents.

But the Republicans' health care proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act would create per-capita caps for federal Medicaid funding, potentially shifting increased costs to states. Advocacy groups for seniors warn that the proposal working its way through Congress may not adequately fund their care.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The Republican plan to replace major tenets of the Affordable Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion over 10 years, according to new numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

In that scenario, 24 million people would lose their health insurance, bringing the uninsured rate back up to nearly what it was before the Affordable Care Act. The White House has disputed these numbers.

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