Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fentem

Health Reporter

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover.

A longtime NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in South St. Louis, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.

A sign outside the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery advertises Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
File photo |Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3:45 p.m., Sept. 20, with comments from Surgeon General Jerome Adams — A nationwide campaign is needed to combat the opioid abuse epidemic that has damaged many families and communities, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday.

Adams and officials from the U.S. Health and Human Services department visited the St. Louis region to discuss the challenges communities face in dealing with opioid addiction. To address the crisis, Health and Human Services officials announced this week that the federal government will give states $1 billion to fight opioid addiction, including $44 million to Illinois and $29 million to Missouri.

The study examined over 580,000 patient records collected over a 20-year period and found women were more likely to survive a heart attack when treated by a female doctor than a male doctor.
Maria Fabrizio | NPR

A new survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found the Missouri uninsured rate remained steady at 9.1 percent in 2017 despite several Congressional attempts to gut the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the individual mandate, the requirement that all Americans have insurance.

Missouri’s percentage of uninsured people is in line with the national rate of 9 percent. The number of uninsured people nationwide has been falling since 2013, when it was 13.4 percent.

St. Louis County Health Director Faisal Khan, left, and County Executive Steve Stenger declare a public health emergency due to the opioid crisis at a press conference Thursday in Berkley.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Department of Public Health Director Faisal Khan is leaving his post for a job in Kansas City.

Khan, who reports to County Executive Steve Stenger, said Friday that political tensions between the County Council and Stenger’s office have made it difficult to do his job.

“The gulf of trust that seems to have opened up between the two is the result of both sides being unwilling to come to the table and come to an agreement and understanding about the vital services provided in St. Louis County,” Khan said. “The apportionment of blame is equally to share.”

Amanda Moller prepares her formula in her home in University City. The formula is vital to treat a rare condition, but her insurer doesn't cover it.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Every day, Amanda Moller scoops powdered formula out of a can and shakes it up with water from her kitchen sink. It's like mixing a cocktail, she said, "but not that much fun."

The formula doesn’t taste great – like watery pudding with a biting, cheesy aftertaste. But it’s something Amanda needs to treat a rare metabolic condition she’s had since she was born. After 30 years, she’s gotten used to it.

Amanda’s employer-based insurance plan (through her husband’s employer) doesn’t cover it. Like many treatments for rare diseases, the lack of well-funded research and the tendency of insurers to focus on the bottom line mean sometimes patients can’t afford necessary medical supplies. Many of the 16,000 people in the United States who need the formula spend close to $1,000 a month to buy it.

Physician Sonny Saggar, left, nurse practitioner Michael Zappulla discuss the day's plans at North City Urgent Care, one of two urgent care clinics in north St. Louis.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

One of the only urgent-care centers on St. Louis’ medically underserved north side is in danger of closing if it doesn’t receive more patients.

North City Urgent Care opened five years ago near North Skinker Parkway and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. Since then, the center hasn’t posted a profit, owner Sonny Saggar said.

Although there are only two urgent-care clinics in north St. Louis, patient volume is low, Saggar said. On a typical day, there is only a handful of patients — far fewer than the 25 patients a day needed to turn a profit, he said.

“It’s a double-edged sword to have no competition on the north side but also limited awareness,” Saggar said. “I don’t think it’s because there’s not enough people; I think it’s because they’re not aware.”

Saint Louis University Dean of Students Mona Hicks unloads donations at the soon-to-open Billiken Bounty food pantry on the university's campus.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Saint Louis University has announced it’s opening a food pantry to serve its students who lack access to healthy food.

At lunch on a given weekday, students have no fewer than 18 different restaurants on campus to find lunch. Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Subway and Qdoba are all visible on-campus brands. Clubs seeking members put pizza and cupcakes on display to lure potential recruits. In an atmosphere so saturated with food, many would find it hard to believe students are going hungry.

But up to 10 percent of the university’s students don’t have regular access to healthy food, SLU Dean of Students Mona Hicks estimated.

Lois Jackson, who lives in the Villa Lago housing complex in Spanish Lake, sits outside her apartment. Public housing residents have recently been banned from smoking inside their homes.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

James Parker has been smoking for more than six decades. But to keep his habit, he's had to make changes. Every time he smokes, he has to go outside his home in the Badenfest apartment complex on North Broadway in St. Louis.

Parker is one of the hundreds of smokers in St. Louis who can no longer light up in their homes. Residents and housing agencies are adjusting to a new rule from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development which bars residents from smoking within 25 feet of their apartments. Residents and housing advocates have criticized the policy and are worried it will result in more evictions.

South Grand Boulevard Metro Bus station
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6:45 p.m. with comments from Bi-State Development and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department — The man shot and killed Tuesday evening at the South Grand Boulevard Metro station in St. Louis was longtime St. Louis County Health Department Public Information Officer Craig LeFebvre, St. Louis police said Wednesday.

According to police, LeFebvre was waiting at the bus stop on the bridge above the Grand MetroLink station, where people were arguing. One of the men shot LeFebvre, who was not involved in the argument, and another man. LeFebvre later died at a nearby hospital.  He was 48.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis health officials want to add addiction treatment to the region’s health program for low-income people without insurance.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to add anti-addiction drugs and services to the Gateway to Better Health program.

Michael Guthrie signs up for an appointment at the mobile health clinic.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday it’s giving nearly $3 million to 29 community health centers in Missouri. The money is awarded based on how effectively and efficiently the centers provide services to their patients.

Federally qualified community health centers are one part of the government-supported health safety net for low-income individuals in medically underserved areas. The federal government requires them to offer services on a sliding pay scale and serve people regardless of whether they have insurance or not.

Nurses at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center say without raises, more employees will continue to leave for the private sector.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly one-third of the nursing positions at the St. Louis County Jail are vacant, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. Nurses and public-health officials say the pay isn’t sufficient to keep people from leaving.

Nurses from the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton on Monday told members of the St. Louis County Council if the county does not pay them more, it’s likely nurse turnover will remain high.

“In the past month, we’ve lost four longtime employees to [hospital group] SSM,” said corrections nurse Lisa Wellman, who has been working at the jail for seven years. "And their pay-and-benefits package far exceeds what we have.”

Medical assistant Raquis Tyler, Dr. Heidi Miller and nurse Cindi Boehm discuss treatment plans for patients at Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis.
File photo | Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio

Two years ago, registered nurse Amanda Sommer decided she had had enough. She was working as a bedside nurse in a large St. Louis hospital, floating among different departments and taking care of half a dozen patients for 12-hour shifts. Because of staff shortages, her manager often scheduled her to work both nights and days, and the lack of routine was wearing on her.

Sommer left that hospital in 2016 and worked as a home health nurse before leaving the workforce to start a family. She’s one of many health workers who have left their job in recent years. According to a report from the Missouri Hospital Association, health workers are increasingly leaving their jobs. Nearly 18 percent of workers in Missouri and metro east hospitals surveyed by the association left their jobs in 2017, up from 16 percent the year before.

The St. Louis County Jail is located in the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton.
Nate Birt

St. Louis County will use federal grant money to offer medication-assisted treatment to some county jail inmates with opioid addictions.

The county will use $2 million, two-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to phase in treatment for inmates in Clayton’s Buzz Westfall Justice Center.

Missourians buying health insurance on the federal exchange likely won't see the sky-high rate increases that have becoming common in recent years in 2019. But experts say the marketplace's woes are far from over.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

When Missourians go to healthcare.gov to buy health insurance, they likely won't be shocked by double-digit increases this year, according to data filed Wednesday with the state’s insurance department.

Three existing carriers — and one new entry into the market — will offer plans with smaller increases than previous years. Two insurers offering healthcare.gov plans are asking for modest rate increases.

Healthy Alliance Life Insurance plans an average increase of about 4 percent, and Cigna’s plans will increase about 7 percent. Centene's Celtic Insurance plans an average decrease of 9 percent.

The rate filings will not be finalized until late fall.

Former Homer G. Phillips physician Earle U. Robinson Jr. and his daughter, Rebecca Robinson-Williiams worked together to create a documentary about Robinson's time at the historic black-run hospital in the Ville.
Doug Jaggers | WFYI News

In the mid-20th century, St. Louis was home to one of the only hospitals where African-Americans could train as doctors. In segregated St. Louis, Homer G. Phillips Hospital was built to cater to the city’s black population, which was barred from the city’s white hospitals.

“This is a hospital that was all black. From the very lowest job to the medical director,” said Earle U. Robinson Jr., an OB-GYN who completed his internship and residency at the hospital from 1958 to 1963. “Since the hospitals in St. Louis were segregated, Homer G. Phillips was built for the black population.”

Washington University announced a medical apprenticeship program, which will teach medical assistants to draw blood and do other clinical tasks.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Washington University has announced it will begin hiring apprentices this fall to work as medical assistants in clinics in the St. Louis region.

Apprenticeships combine on-the-job learning with more traditional instruction. The university’s announcement reflects the growing popularity of such programs in the health care industry.

Mosquitoes with the West Nile virus have been found in St. Louis County for the first time this sumemer
(via Flickr/John Tann)

Health officials have detected the West Nile virus in mosquitoes found in St. Louis County.

The West Nile virus can potentially be deadly, but cases in humans are relatively rare. No Missouri residents have contracted the disease so far, this year, according to federal health data.

A deer tick, one of the most common ticks in the Midwest and the carrier of several diseases, such as Lyme Disease.
Pixabay

A small survey of St. Louis-area physicians found doctors greatly overestimate the prevalence of Lyme disease and underestimate the prevalence of other tick-borne illnesses in Missouri.

Scientists at the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville sent a survey to 81 St. Louis-area infectious-disease specialists and family physicians. About a fifth of the doctors responded.

According to the results, published earlier this month in the journal Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, 82 percent of respondents believed Lyme disease was among the most common tick-borne infections in the state. But state health officials say there were only 10 probable or confirmed cases of Lyme in Missouri in 2016.

Insurance premiums for plans on healthcare.gov have become more expensive, but most people who buy exchange plans on healthcare.gov receive tax credits to help them offset costs. Those who don’t receive those credits bear the brunt of those higher prices.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The rising costs of insurance plans available through the federal healthcare.gov website may make them unaffordable for some people in Missouri and Illinois.

Premiums for exchange plans on healthcare.gov have become more expensive, but most people who buy exchange plans on healthcare.gov receive tax credits to help them offset the cost and are insulated from rising costs. But those who don’t receive those credits bear the brunt of those increased prices.

This 1980 scanning electron microscopic image depicts a cluster of spiral-shaped, Treponema pallidum bacteria, which causes syphilis.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The rate of syphilis cases in St. Louis County increased 42 percent between 2016 and 2017, the largest increase in at least five years, according to data released by the county’s health department.

The county saw 202 cases of syphilis last year. That’s up from 142 the year before. Experts attribute the increase to people practicing unsafe sex and not knowing enough about symptoms or treatments for the disease.

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