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.

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.

Tony Bartleson attemps to lure his dog, Murphy, into the water at Kerth Fountain in Forest Park on Thursday, July 5.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The National Weather Service in St. Louis issued a heat advisory this week as temperatures soared into the upper 90s.

The hot weather puts vulnerable people at risk for heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition that happens when bodies can’t keep their temperature low. The old, young and chronically ill are most at risk for heat-related illness.

Barnes Jewish Hospital, as seen from the campus of Saint Louis University Hospital. Both are Level I trauma centers, and treat hundreds of gunshot wounds a year.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis’ most expensive hospitals don’t provide the best quality care, according to a new report from the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition.

The region’s two academic medical centers, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Saint Louis University Hospital, offer the most expensive care in the region even though they rate among the lowest for hospital quality, according to the report. But some critics say quality ratings are influenced by factors beyond a hospital’s control and fail to adequately represent a facility's challenges and strengths.

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 Executive Steve Stenger declared the opioid epidemic in the county a public health emergency and endorsed a plan to have public health officials work with other organizations to combat the addiction crisis.

The declaration Stenger signed Thursday at the Department of Public Health in Berkeley endorsed an action plan that includes county health officials and other organizations, including the county's Justice Services department and the Missouri Hospital Association.

It aims to increase the public’s access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone, boost prevention education and raise access to treatment for high-risk populations such as the uninsured.

North St. Louis County residents Antoinette Ray and Dorlita Adams examine a map of sediment testing near Coldwater Creek at a public meeting in Florissant held by the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents who live near Coldwater Creek on Wednesday used a meeting with federal officials to voice their worries about the longtime health risks of radioactive waste in the north St. Louis County waterway.

In a meeting at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Florissant, representatives of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sought to inform residents about the agency's recent report on Coldwater Creek. It concluded that people with prolonged exposure to the creek who may have ingested radioactive soil through water, dust or mud were at a higher risk for bone, lung and other cancers.

Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County has been linked to increased cancer risk, thanks to radioactive waste that contaminated the creek bed.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

When a federal agency linked radioactive waste in Coldwater Creek to certain kinds of cancers, residents of north St. Louis County were pleased that the federal government had finally made a connection.

But the report didn't connect that increased risk of cancer to individual cancer cases. That has many wondering whether the radioactive waste actually caused their disease.

Katie Lefton, who studies neuronal networks, adjusts a yogi's pose in Forest Park during scientists' 'Active for AD' fundraiser on Thursday, June 21, 2018.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Thursday was the summer solstice, and the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association marked the occasion with a 24-hour fundraising blitz.

The organization’s Longest Day fundraiser is a national event that collects money to research the disease as well as support patients and their caregivers. Friends and family conduct sponsored activities such as bike rides, bowling tournaments and even drag shows.

One of the first signs drivers see on the way into Unionville, Missouri, is this billboard advertising cardiology at Putnam County Memorial Hospital, a hospital in northern Missouri.
Bram Sable-Smith | Side Effects Public Media

Rural hospitals are more likely to close in states such as Missouri that have not expanded Medicaid.

A recent report from the pro-Affordable Care Act organization Protect Our Care analyzed 84 rural hospital closures since 2010. It found 90 percent of those hospital closures were in states that had not expanded Medicaid coverage. Missouri remains one of the 14 states that hasn’t amended its program to cover people who earn up to 138 percent above the poverty line.

St. Cin Park in Hazelwood. The park is staying open during the clean-up, but the Corps is monitoring the air and water for contamination.
Mike Petersen | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District

A federal government agency has concluded radioactive contamination in a north St. Louis County creek could cause increased risk of certain types of cancer in residents who live near the north St. Louis County waterway.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s public health assessment, released Monday, states that residents who were exposed to the area around Coldwater Creek had a higher risk of exposure to radioactive contaminants, and thus a higher risk of bone cancer, lung cancer or leukemia. The federal organization is also calling for the public to comment and add to the report through Aug. 31.

Advocates for residents near Coldwater Creek were pleased to hear representatives of a federal agency acknowledge what they have long suspected.

Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

A visitor to the new wing of the Mercy hospital in Festus can likely tell immediately where the old building ends and the new part begins. The atrium still smells of fresh paint, and instead of dark, winding hallways, windows let in natural light.

Builders designed it to be prettier and more user-friendly. But Mercy Hospital Jefferson is safer, too.

Pixabay

The rare Bourbon virus could be in the St. Louis region, state health officials say.

A patient with symptoms matching the virus was bitten by a tick recently in the southwest part of St. Louis County, but has recovered.

The announcement from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services indicates the sometimes-deadly virus could be spreading through the state, experts said.

Kate Thornton | U.S. Air Force

A new Missouri law orders the state to create guidelines for testing, processing and storing rape kits, which collect DNA evidence from victims of sexual violence.

After a person is sexually assaulted, investigators can submit DNA evidence in the form of a sexual-assault kit, which police run through a database to help find the perpetrator.

The law requires health providers to give that evidence to police within 14 days. Law enforcement must submit evidence to crime labs 14 days after that.

Stephanie Schuermann, center, sets up a future appointment at the People’s Health Centers mobile clinic at the Forest Park-Debaliviere metro stop.  June 5, 2018
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A mobile health unit will be making weekly stops at select Metro Transit stations to provide screenings, insurance help and other health care needs.

The People’s Health Centers, a community health clinic, operates the van, which made its first stop on Tuesday. It’s scheduled to rotate between Grand, Forest Park-Debaliviere, Civic Center and Riverview Transit stations. The city health department and Metro Transit will provide assistance to help operate and staff it.

Dr. Lannis Hall, right, looks at scans before meeting with patients at a Siteman Cancer Center satellite site in St. Peters. May 31, 2018
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For years, clinical trials were focused in academic medical centers such as the one below oncologist John DiPersio’s office at Siteman Cancer Center, high above the Washington University medical campus in the Central West End. Historically, most participants in clinical trials have been white men.

To help increase diversity in its cancer studies, Siteman bringing the science to people’s neighborhoods, with smaller centers in traditionally underserved areas, far away from the big medical campus. It most recently started clinical trials at its newest location in north St. Louis County, 12 miles north of the Central West End.

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