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Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

For sickle cell patients, opiods are often the only pain relief. But growing rates of addiction among the general public mean emergency room doctors are more cautious than ever in prescribing those powerful medications, causing challenges for sickle cell
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of Missouri’s largest insurers, no longer covers emergency room visits that it deems unnecessary.

The policy aims to save costs and direct low-risk patients to primary care physicians and urgent care clinics. But doctors say patients may avoid going to a hospital when they really need it, if they fear a large bill.

Maryville University biologist Kyra Krakos studies flowers at the Shaw Nature Reserve.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Among the many ways rising global temperatures are changing the environment, from shrinking polar ice caps to rising sea levels, research in recent years has shown that climate change also is causing flowering plants and pollinating bugs to fall out of sync.

This summer, Maryville University biologist Kyra Krakos and her students are studying the effects of climate change on flowers and pollinating insects, particularly bumblebees, at the Shaw Nature Reserve about an hour outside St. Louis. Meteorologists have observed more erratic weather patterns over time, such as this year's mild winter, which has caused flowers to bloom at times when they shouldn't.

A view of Elephant Rocks State Park during the fall.
Missouri Division of Tourism | Flickr

It is said Missouri is home to one of the best state park systems in the country. How did it get to be this way? And what hurdles does it face going forward?

“We’ve been in the top four the past few years now, and we’re also considered the number one trail state,” said Steve Nagle, the board president of the Missouri Parks Association, an advocacy group that supports the state parks system. “We’re really proud of that legacy.”

Four years ago, Cait Hogan woke up in her bed on a Sunday morning after a night of drinking in the small college town of Athens, Ohio. Her entire body hurt. Her arms and legs were covered in blood. She realized she’d been raped.

Centene Corp. will step into the breach created by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City’s decision last month to exit the Affordable Care Act marketplace in 2018.

The Clayton, Mo.-based insurer will begin selling health plans next year in all 25 western Missouri counties that Blue KC’s withdrawal would have left “bare” — that is, without any insurer offering health plans in the individual market. 

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Contractors changed the sign for Siteman Cancer Center on June 30.
Bret Berigan | Christian Hospital

Siteman Cancer Center is expanding its reach to north St. Louis County, a move aimed at better serving the region’s African-American population.

Doctors will begin seeing patients at Christian Hospital during the first week of July, where Siteman will replace the hospital’s existing Cancer Care Center. A new building in Florissant is slated to open in 2019, pending regulatory approvals.

Public health advocates say placing a cancer center in an underserved area will improve cancer care for residents in the neighborhood.

Cardinal Ritter Senior Services’ Foster Grandparents program connects seniors with low-income children with special needs.
Cardinal Ritter Senior Services

Low-income Missouri seniors likely will pay more for their medications, after Gov. Eric Greitens signs the state budget.

The Missouri Rx Plan covered half the copay charged to seniors on Medicare with incomes below about $24,000 a year. But budget cuts approved by Missouri legislators will end the benefit on July 1. About 63,000 people kicked out of the program received letters in mid-June notifying them of the change, which sparked criticism from advocates for senior citizens.

“If they don’t get their medications, they’re not going to be able to stay healthy, and they’re going to be able to end up in an emergency room,” said Mary Schaefer, executive director of the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging.

Ella Jones, left, and Diane Stevenson hug goodbye after a meeting. Their group, which is run by The Breakfast Club, offers support and friendship to women diagnosed with breast cancer. (June 13, 2017)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A new friend was scheduled for a mastectomy, but was now determined to get out of bed and cancel the surgery. So Ella Jones’ mothering instincts kicked in.

“I went over to the bed, and I rubbed her and talked to her, and explained in general terms what was going to happen,” said Jones, 71. “If she had gotten up out of that bed and left, she would have never done any treatment.”

Jones, a nine-year breast cancer survivor, is one of several women who coach others through their treatment in St. Louis. The program is run by The Breakfast Club, a local nonprofit that supports African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act rallied in front of the White House in late February 2017
Ted Eytan | Flickr

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office weighed in on the Senate health care bill on Monday, saying that 22 million people would lose health coverage in the next 10 years under the Senate's plan. Of those, 15 million would lose Medicaid coverage. It's projected to lower the deficit by billions over 10 years, and also cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated June 27 with a new timeline:

Republicans in the U.S. Senate said Tuesday they would delay a vote to pass their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion and leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026, according to Monday’s estimate by the Congressional Budget Office. Like the House plan, it slashes Medicaid and allows states to redefine what’s covered in a basic health insurance plan, in a bid to lower costs.

Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, will be added to the list of chemicals California warns are known to cause cancer.

The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has posted a notice on its website that glyphosate will be added to the list on July 7. A California judge denied Monsanto's request to block the state from doing so, but the company has filed an appeal.

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

For years, Granite City had some of the worst air quality in Illinois. But a new effort to track greenhouse gases could help reduce the city’s air pollution and improve public health.

For 18 months, Washington University researchers tracked levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from Granite City municipal operations. The area has historically dealt with high levels of particulate matter pollution, largely from the local U.S. Steel plant. The plant idled temporarily at the end of 2015 but began operating again this year.

A drawing of St. Louis resident Mychal Vorhees hearing an animal inside her chimney.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

About a month ago, Mychal Voorhees heard a strange noise near her apartment.

“I was just sitting at home watching TV and I heard what sounded like a bird outside,” said Voorhees, who lives in the Saint Louis Hills neighborhood. “Then I realized it was much closer to me, that is was in the chimney, in the fireplace.”

Initially, she thought the animal was stuck in her fireplace, so she opened the damper and attempted to remove it with a broom. Then, she called her landlord, who sent a wildlife control expert to her home. The expert told her that the bird had built a nest above her fireplace. But he couldn’t remove it because it was a chimney swift, a species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

A comparison of what flames look like on Earth versus in zero gravity.
NASA video screenshot

Despite how long ago humans began using fire, the substance is still a mystery to scientists. Researchers at Washington University are hoping to answer some fundamental questions about it by studying flames in space. Earlier this month, they launched an experiment to do this to the International Space Station.

When a flame burns on Earth, gravity pulls cold, dense air to the base of it, causing hot air to rise. The upward flow of air is what gives flames the familiar teardrop shape. However, a flame acts differently in space.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The state of Missouri filed suit Wednesday against three major drug companies, alleging they fueled the nation’s opioid epidemic with a campaign of false advertising and fake claims.

On the steps of St. Louis Circuit Court, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said he would seek “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damages against Purdue Pharma L.P., Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

Next year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City will leave the individual health care marketplace in Missouri that was set up under the Affordable Care Act. And when it does, about 18,000 patients in 25 western Missouri counties will lose their health insurance. If those enrollees sign on to Healthcare.gov this fall to buy a replacement plan, they may have no options to choose from.

That's because those 25 counties could become "bare."

Saint Louis University Robert Pasken and his graduate student Melissa Mainhart perform a test run of a weather balloon that they plan to launch during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

It's not just astronomy nerds who are preparing for the total solar eclipse in August. Scientists are also using the event, which has not occurred in Missouri since 1442, as an opportunity to gather data. 

St. Louis is one of 30 locations across the U.S. where scientists will launch large balloons into the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere during the eclipse, as a part of the NASA and NSF-sponsored Eclipse Ballooning Project. On Tuesday afternoon, Saint Louis University and Jefferson College researchers performed a test-run of their balloon, which will carry a radiosonde, an instrument that measures wind speed, humidity, barometric pressure and other conditions of the atmosphere. They will also be using Ameren Missouri's network of weather monitoring stations, called Quantum Weather

(via Flickr/wild_turkey5300)

Facts and fiction continue to swirl about mosquito-borne illnesses like the Zika and West Nile viruses. On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we discussed what you need to know about such illnesses and how to prevent them.

Saint Louis University is currently at the forefront of trying to develop a Zika vaccine. Sarah George, a researcher with the Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development, joined the program on Tuesday to discuss her research and prevention tips.

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.

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

When  a native bee received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for the first time earlier this year, it drew an attention to a growing public concern.

Many  bee species in the United States have become threatened or have declined sharply in the last couple decades. Since native bees are crucial to pollinating crops, scientists are making a major push to keep track of them.

Researchers at Webster University and the Saint Louis Zoo are inviting residents to help the effort by leading a bee photo survey in Forest Park this Saturday. Images taken at the St. Louis Bee Blitz will help scientists better understand the abundance of various native species that live in the area.

Jeanette Mott Oxford and Leslie Yoffie discussed hunger in the St. Louis reigon with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Wednesday.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

It may be hard to believe, but some 42.2 million Americans go hungry each day. That’s more than one in eight people in the country. That’s according to Michelle Stuffmann, director of outreach and communications for MAZON, a Jewish Response to Hunger, whose exhibit is slated to travel to St. Louis in July.

A total solar eclipse seen from Australia in November 2012.
Romeo Durscher | NASA

This August, people in parts Missouri will be able to see a total solar eclipse, an event that has not been visible in the area since 1442. The next isn’t expected to take place until the year 2505.

To prepare the public for this once in a lifetime event, local astronomy groups have organized the St. Louis Eclipse Expo this weekend. The event will feature about 80 exhibitors, vendors selling astronomy equipment, photography workshops and talks on the history and science of eclipses.

How can you protect yourself from the spate of spams targeting older Americans?
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

One in three Missourians are over the age of 60. That number is only set to increase in coming years. There’s also been a recent increase in the number of cons targeting older Americans – scammers fooling the group of people out of billions of dollars per year (yes, you read that right), often aided by digital technology.

Three weeks after Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City said it will pull out of the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2018, Centene Corp. says it plans to offer coverage through the exchange in Missouri and Kansas.

The St. Louis-based insurer already has a presence in both states administering Medicaid plans, but the move to sell individual and small group health plans is new.

Medical cannabis related products are sold at a medical cannabi outreach clinic in Shelbyville, Ilinoia on April 29, 2017
Jeff Bossert | Illinois Public Media

Medical marijuana has been available in Illinois for about 18 months. But many people around the state, particularly in Southern Illinois, say they can't find a doctor in their area to help them. A few groups have found a way to change that — they're now bringing doctors directly to the patients with qualifying conditions. More than 30 hopeful patients registered for a recent clinic in Shelbyville, held by Medical Cannabis Outreach.

Army Veteran Gabrielle Hyde suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which often means sleep deprivation and frequent panic attacks. And that means she’s limited in what she and her family can do.

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.

Pat Potter, a former nurse in St. Louis, is noted in the field for her textbook "Fundamentals of Nursing," which is used to teach new nursing students across the country. She retired earlier this spring.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Patricia Potter is noted in the field of nursing for her textbook “Fundamentals of Nursing,” which is used for new nursing students across the country, as well as her groundbreaking teaching of resiliency in nursing, which helps nurses manage stress by combating “compassion fatigue.”

Earlier this spring, Potter retired after 46 years as a nurse, 41 of those she spent at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. At the time of her retirement, Potter was the hospital’s director of research.

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

A buzzing bee may not sound like much to most people but to bee scientists, there’s a lot to learn from the noises bees make when they fly and pollinate flowers.

On Wednesday, researchers at Webster University, Lincoln University and the University of Missouri-Columbia released a study in the journal PLOS One that concludes that recording bees can help track pollinator activity. That could provide scientists with data to aid conservation of species that have experienced falling populations.

Declines in pollinating species have alarmed scientists, environmentalists and policymakers, since many crops depend on native wild bees.

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