Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

SSM Health president and CEO Bill Thompson.
provided by SSM Health

The president and CEO of one of St. Louis’ largest health systems will retire next year, after five years in the position.

Creve-Coeur based SSM Health — a  Catholic, nonprofit network of hospitals, clinics and other providers — announced Wednesday that it will begin a national search to hire a replacement for Bill Thompson.

“There’s been a lot of things that have happened in this organization over the past 36 years that I take great pride in, most of which happened not because of me," Thompson said. "But I feel great pride because I was here when they did happen."

Mary Lynn Faunda Donovan is the executive director of VOYCE, a local organization that helps people negotiate these conversations in the family at no cost to the family.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Have you had “the talk?”

No, not that talk — a talk that is actually far more awkward, unwanted and, indeed, painful to have: a talk about end-of-life and long-term care decision making between parents and children.

Author Tim Prosch has written extensively about this issue in his book dubbed “The Other Talk.” He said the issues is becoming more prominent because 77 million baby boomers “are marching into retirement” and will live longer and require more care for a longer period of time.

Legacy nuclear waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton was thought to be contained behind this fence, but a new study has detected radiation in trees offsite.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio


Transferring authority for the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not speed up removal of radioactive waste from the site, a corps official told federal lawmakers recently.

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

More than 200 senior citizens in north St. Louis County could soon receive daily hot meals from the local Meals on Wheels program, thanks to a cafeteria planned for the Ferguson Community Center.

The Mid-East Area Agency on Aging has been delivering frozen meals to seniors for three years because it lacks a place to heat them.

That could change soon, now that the agency has submitted plans to remodel center’s cafeteria at 1050 Smith Avenue. It also plans to open a new senior center location there as soon as August.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Next week, in-person interviews will begin for a new director of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis -- for the ninth time in three years.

The challenges of finding a director who can make a long-term commitment aren't unique to St. Louis. Across the nation, the VA has had difficulty recruiting administrators, VA Under Secretary David Shulkin said Friday.

Adrian Clark | Flickr

A bill awaiting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s approval would require hospitals to disclose cost estimates to patients within three business days.

State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, sponsored the bill. It links hospital costs to 17 other measures related to healthcare, including a provision that would charge Medicaid patients for using the emergency room during a non-emergency. Another would allow doctors to charge those patients for missing an appointment. Patient advocates say the latter goes against federal law.

Quinton Reed eats a home cooked lunch and watches TV at his Garfield Commons Apartment. Reed was diagnosed with schizophrenia after years of struggling with homelessness.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Quinton Reed is one of the lucky ones. After struggling with homelessness for four years, he was diagnosed with  a mental illness and set up with treatment and a one-bedroom apartment in south St. Louis.

“I used to couldn’t watch TV or see my daughter or see my family or just relax. I was just out all day carrying big bags, going from shelter to shelter and sleeping outside,” said Reed, showing off the couch in his living room where he goes to relax and get away from the world.

Flickr | Cardinal Rehabber

Cardinals are known for their bright red plumage, a color that gives birds an advantage when attracting mates. But what gives them this attractive hue?

It’s all in the genes, say scientists at Washington University in St. Louis.

Wikimedia Commons

The classic lab mouse is black or white, eats a precisely measured diet to keep him lean, and is relatively young — probably a teenager or young adult in rodent years. His genes are nearly identical to the others around him, the result of generation upon generation of inbreeding for research purposes.

Those specs might help a scientist standardize her experiments, but they may also be holding some research back for one type of cancer drug, two St. Louis researchers argued in a recent review. Instead, they say that pre-clinical trials should include older mice, obese mice, and mice with different types of gut microbiota.

Lydia Adams speaks during the public comment section of the Ferguson Commission meeting. Adams was one of numerous speakers who spoke during Monday's meeting, which took place in Ferguson.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Foundation for Health has announced that it will donate $6 million to address health issues raised by the Ferguson Commission last year. The priorities include gun violence, food insecurity and toxic stress. | Flickr

Updated May 31 with bill signing — St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay went to St. Louis County today to sign the bill setting up the city's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. The bill allows the city and county to work together to form a cohesive system. The mayor and county Executive Steve Stenger are pledging to bring down drug overdoses.

Ray Meibaum

Anyone who has watched a lot of Saturday morning television likely has seen Taz, the voracious Tasmanian devil of Looney Tunes fame, a loud and voracious presence.

While Taz thrives in the cartoon, in the wild the species isn’t doing so well. About 20 years ago, a mysterious illness caused its population to dive.

Conservationists are scrambling to save the animals and educate the public about them. As part of that effort, Yindi and Jannali, two female Tasmanian devils, recently arrived at the St. Louis Zoo, where researchers are studying how they adjust to life in captivity.

Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

In the months after floods swept through his hometown of Fenton  just after Christmas, Scott Bayliff and 16 crisis counselors from the mental health center Places for People were on the ground to help.

“We ask them how they’re doing, assess them for the signs of trauma, signs of depression, worsening sleep, anxiety, increased substance use,” Bayliff said. “We’re here to listen. We knew a lot of people were just overwhelmed, and they just needed someone.”

Tonya Sherry, right, goes over paper work with Mary Kay Fink at the MS Center of St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A new Medicare proposal would cut the link between the cost of many medications that are given in an outpatient clinic and how much doctors are paid to administer them.

Under current Medicare rules, drugs that have to be administered in an outpatient setting — such as chemotherapy, injections or drugs taken after an organ transplant — are reimbursed for the cost of the drug, plus six percent of the drug's price to pay for storage and handling.

Medicare has proposed cutting the reimbursement rate to 2.5 percent more than the drug's sale price, plus a flat fee of $16.80 per dose. But because of automatic federal budget cuts, for a few years doctors would be reimbursed less.

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

Radioactive material has been discovered in a drainage area located in the northwest portion of the West Lake Landfill.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered landfill owner Republic Services and the Cotter Corporation to collect sediment samples in March in response to heavy rains that occurred in late December and early January.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

The “For the Sake of All” project made waves with the revelation that, in St. Louis, less than 10 miles apart between Clayton and north St. Louis, there is an 18 year gap in life expectancy at birth.

The multi-disciplinary project on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis, which combined a multi-part report and recommendations to the community, hasn’t stopped its work.

300 pixel elderly health care
National Institutes for Health

Missouri’s insurance regulator could block Aetna and Humana from offering certain insurance plans in the state if they go forward with a $37 billion dollar merger announced last year.

WordShore | Flickr |

Even in 2016, talking about mental health is hard to do. There’s a persistent stigma about mental illness and it is hard to know when and what to say or do. What steps are being made to reduce the stigma? What are the signs of mental illness? What resources are available for those who deal with mental illness in their day-to-day lives?

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed these questions with representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) St. Louis.

Stephanie Arne, host of 'Wild Kingdom.'
Wild Kingdom

Stephanie Arne is the host of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” a nature adventure television show that came on the air in 1963. It is a show that holds a dear place in many St. Louisans’ hearts because it was originally hosted by St. Louis zoologist Marlin Perkins, who worked many jobs at the St. Louis Zoo and eventually served as its director.

You can now find it on a web series that is updated regularly.

Practical Cures | Flickr |

Typical symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder behavior include forgetfulness, distractedness, hyper-focus, disorganization and emotional difficulties. Tackling these issues by oneself is difficult enough, but bringing another person into the equation in a relationship can be even harder.

What's your name?

Eli Chen 

Where do you consider your hometown to be? 

Hoffman, Estates, IL

What are you doing for us here at STLPR?

I'm the new environment and science reporter.

Care to share a piece of audio or story you're proud of? What's in store for our listeners and web readers?

Probuphine works by implanting four bars like this under the skin of the upper arm. The bars release a dose of the opioid addiction medicine buprenorphine for six months.
Braeburn Pharmaceuticals | provided

Updated May 27 with FDA decision and new pricing details — The Food and Drug Administration approved Thursday the buprenorphine implant Probuphine for use treating addictions to prescription painkillers and heroin.

The implant received a lot of attention in the addiction medicine field in anticipation of its approval as a potential game changer in the fight against opioid addiction. It could also have a $5,000 plus price tag every six months.

Army Corps of Engineers

Three former aircraft workers and seven north St. Louis County residents who say they were exposed to radioactive waste stored near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport after World War II, have filed a federal lawsuit against Mallinckrodt and the Cotter Corporation.

They hope to join a larger case, filed in 2012, that represents about 250 plaintiffs who lived or worked near the airport waste site, Coldwater Creek, and another storage site in Hazelwood

An international panel of scientists reported this week that glyphosate, the main ingredient used in Monsanto's weed killer Roundup is unlikely to cause cancer in humans.

A worker does maintenance on a wastewater pump at the Bridgeton Landfill on Aug. 28.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency did not attend a public meeting to share updates on the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton late Monday after someone made threatening comments in a Facebook group for local advocates.

Robert C. Strunk, MD, (right) discusses results of a decades-long pediatric asthma study that involved Janae Smith, (middle) a patient and study participant, and Denise Rodgers, (left) who retired this year as a clinical research coordinator.
Washington University in St. Louis

Children who live with persistent asthma in childhood are at a higher risk of developing lung problems later in life, according to new findings from a national asthma study that began in the 1990s. A small number of patients even exhibited symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, in early adulthood.

A view of the Earth from the International Space Station
A Beautiful Planet | IMAX

The idiom “you can’t see the forest for the trees,” takes on a more grandiose meaning in the new Omnimax film, “A Beautiful Planet,” opening today at the Saint Louis Science Center.

The film takes viewers to the International Space Station, with cameras operated by astronauts themselves, to see what Earth looks like from outer space.

Researchers have produced insulin-secreting cells from stem cells derived from the skin of patients with type 1 diabetes. The cells (blue), made from stem cells, can secrete insulin (green) in response to glucose.
Credit: Millman Laboratory

After a meal, your blood sugar tends to rise. When it does, there are cells in your pancreas called beta cells that react by releasing insulin, which controls blood sugar.

People who have Type 1 diabetes have damaged beta cells and can't produce insulin. To manage the disease, they either have to inject insulin or wear a pump all day.

But new stem cell research at Washington University could lead to a breakthrough that helps their bodies produce the insulin they need.

Lori Fiegel, Mary Rocchi and Geneva Powell shed some light on the state of seniors in the St. Louis region.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

By 2045, one in four people in the St. Louis metro area will be older than 65. That means there will be more than 290,000 people in that age group — a 75 percent increase, compared to today.

Sam Johnson, left, assists a visitor at the food pantry he manages for St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist Church, in north St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

When Sam Johnson helps people fill grocery carts at the food pantry he manages now, he notices that the items have been picked over more than usual.

“Normally we have meat. Chicken, we might have fish. But we ran out of meat that you can cook,” Johnson said.

Instead, a fold-out table offers a selection of canned chicken, SPAM and tuna in the basement on the grounds of the St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist Church, in north St. Louis.

In the past few years that Johnson has managed the pantry as a volunteer, he’s seen demand rise during the holidays and again in the summer. Now, he’s starting to see another group of newcomers: visitors who recently lost their public assistance benefits in the state’s latest round of cuts.