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.

State officials are testing the Marriott St. Louis West after two guests who stayed at the hotel this fall were diagnosed with the bacterial lung infection Legionnaires' disease.
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The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is investigating a west St. Louis County hotel after two recent guests developed Legionnaires’ disease.

Two people stayed at the Marriott St. Louis West during separate visits this fall, a release from the department said. One person was diagnosed with the bacterial infection in October and the other in November. The illness is fatal in about 10 percent of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Americans have until Saturday to sign up for coverage on the federal, online insurance marketplace. The Affordable Care Act set up healthcare.gov to help people find affordable health care and access income-based subsidies to help pay for it.

But the federal government is cutting funding for outreach and the enrollment period has been cut in half. As a result, fewer people are signing up nationwide. Missouri has one of the highest drops in enrollment.

File photo | Thomas Hawk | Flickr

Updated at 4:35 p.m. with comments from the ACLU — A U.S. appeals court has upheld a federal judge’s decision to include thousands of Missouri Department of Corrections inmates with hepatitis C in a class-action lawsuit that could change how the disease is treated inside the state’s prisons.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the MacArthur Justice Center sued the state on behalf of three inmates with the virus in 2016. The plaintiffs allege that the state didn’t treat their condition properly or quickly enough and only gave treatment to the people with the most serious symptoms. Those actions, they argue, violate the U.S Constitution and constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Mike Parson
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson thinks the state is “long overdue” for a statewide prescription-monitoring database for doctors.

Parson, a Republican, said Wednesday he hopes state legislators will pass a bill legalizing such a program next year. Missouri remains the only state without such a database, which proponents say helps cut down on opioids being sold on the street.

Parson made his remarks during a St. Louis stop on a weeklong statewide tour focusing on health issues. He met with state health officials and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson to discuss Missourians’ addiction to opioids. The drugs in 2017 killed 760 people in the St. Louis region alone, and 951 in the entire state. One in every 65 deaths in Missouri that year was due to an opioid overdose, according to the the state’s health department.

A radiologic technologist clears a trauma bay at St. Louis University Hospital's emergency room.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A coalition of six medical organizations has recommended that hospital doctors take more caution when prescribing opioids for patients with pain.

To cut down on unnecessary prescriptions of addictive painkillers, the Missouri College of Emergency Physicians, the Missouri Hospital Association and other groups want hospital doctors to limit prescriptions, in some cases to a week's supply.

The guidelines, which update a 2015 list that applied only to emergency departments, now include all hospital personnel who prescribe medicine.

The historic, Gothic revival church on Tower Grove and Chouteau avenues would need to be demolished for Ronald McDonald House Charities of St. Louis to build their new 60-bed facility.
St. Louis Preservation Board

Officials from Ronald McDonald House Charities of St. Louis thought they found a perfect spot to build a new facility to house families of hospitalized children. But their plan for a 60-bedroom building has hit a snag.

Earlier this year, the charity bought 2.6 acres of land in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood — a nearly equal drive from the city’s two children’s hospitals. But the plot of land includes an abandoned 19th century church, and the city’s Preservation Board has said the organization’s plan can’t justify tearing down a historic building.

Donato Maffin | U.S. Marine Corps

Children with concussions should be able to continue exercising and using electronics, according to new treatment guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For years, doctors have recommended children who suffered a concussion stay in a dark room with few distractions with the belief it would speed up healing. The new guidance encourages pediatricians to recommend that children engage in moderate exercise and electronics use.

Paul Granneman donates platelets Nov. 20 in St. Louis. The American Red Cross has said the need for blood donations is 'urgent.'
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Officials from the American Red Cross are urging St. Louis residents to donate blood over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

There were 21,000 fewer donations nationally during September and October than hospitals needed, according to the organization. Locally, the Red Cross is down to a three-day blood supply and may need to start rationing blood it distributes to the region’s hospitals.

 Mercy Hospital in St. Louis.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

A handful of St. Louis area hospitals received a high rating for patient safety in a report from the medical watchdog nonprofit, the Leapfrog Group.

Most of the 27 acute-care hospitals in the  region had documented problems with hospital-acquired infections, physician and nurse training and surgical complications, according to the group, which ranks 2,600 U.S. hospitals twice a year.

The St. Louis-area hospitals that received “A” ratings include Mercy hospitals in Festus and St. Louis, St. Anthony’s in Alton, St. Joseph’s in Breese and St. Elizabeth’s in O’Fallon, Illinois.

A microscopic view of oral cancer.
Wikimedia Commons

Studies show cancer survivors are twice as likely to die by suicide than the general population. But some cancer survivors are at a greater risk than others, according to research from a St. Louis University doctor.

A study appearing in this month’s journal Cancer has found patients in recovery from pancreatic, head and neck cancers die by suicide at a higher rate than other common cancers. In the case of head and neck cancer, the suicide rate is 63 for every 100,000 people — close to four times that of the general population and two times that of other cancer survivors combined.

The findings emphasize a little-talked about subject: the mental health needs of patients after they finish treatment, said Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at SLU and lead author of the study.

Gustavo Valdez, an insurance navigator with the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County helps Charles Niemeyer enroll in health insurance through the healthcare.gov website.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Nov. 1 marked the start of the six-week open enrollment period during which Missourians can buy health insurance on the federal exchange.

While enrollment in Missouri has been relatively stable in the federal marketplace’s five-year history, new federal rules could mean fewer people sign up for 2019 coverage.

Missouri Department of Conservation

No one knows exactly how many feral hogs are in Missouri.

But the Missouri Department of Conservation has eliminated 7,300 so far this year.

The pigs aren’t a native Missouri wildlife species. They’re descendants of domesticated pigs that either escaped or were set free to be hunted.

“For over 20 years, unregulated hunting of feral hogs was allowed in Missouri, during which time our feral-hog population expanded from a few counties to over 30 counties,” said Mark McLain, who leads the department’s feral-hog strike team tasked with trapping and killing the animals.

Riverview Gardens senior Shakira Bent speaks with medical assistant Ebonie Hearn-Tolliver at the makeshift student health clinic at Riverview Gardens High School. The school is renovating a campus building to serve as a full-scale clinic in the future.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Two school districts in north St. Louis County are moving beyond the traditional nurse’s office and putting full-service health clinics in schools.

This week, Hazelwood East High School and Riverview Gardens High School unveiled clinics that will offer primary care as well as dental and behavioral health services for students. Officials at the two schools say bringing doctors to the students – instead of the other way around – is an important step to increasing access on those who need it most

An illustration of what it feels like to experience schizophrenia.
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis still has significant work to do to make behavioral health care accessible for all its residents, according to a new report from the city’s mental health board.

The St. Louis Mental Health Board's report released Thursday explains that city residents often face barriers to treatment, including a lack of transportation and affordable care. The city also needs more specialty care for trauma and violence survivors, LGBTQ people and people in continued recovery, the board found.

Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri.
File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal appeals court will soon decide whether Missouri inmates with hepatitis C will be included in a class-action lawsuit seeking treatment for thousands of other state prisoners.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the MacArthur Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections and prison health-care provider Corizon in December 2016. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of three inmates with hepatitis C, claims the department’s policy of only treating people with the most serious symptoms of the virus constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment.

A flu vaccine dose beside several needles.
Daniel Paquet | Flickr

Missouri health officials are urging people to get a flu shot this year to prevent a repeat of 2017’s brutal flu season.

As of Oct. 6, health officials have recorded more than 60 lab-confirmed cases of the flu in Missouri, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services. The agency still lists flu activity as “sporadic,” meaning individual cases have been detected but not a regional outbreak.

A flu shot “remains the best way to protect people from becoming ill or becoming hospitalized or even dying,” said Sharon Frey, clinical director of the Saint Louis University Center For Vaccine Development.

Saint Louis University School of Medicine recently was taken off probation by the nation's accrediting body.
Wikimedia Commons

The agency in charge of licensing the nation’s medical schools has taken the Saint Louis University School of Medicine off probation.

The Liaison Committee on Medical Education informed the school in 2017 that it was putting the school on notice in part because the university could not comprehensively demonstrate and measure what medical students were learning. School officials said it’s made changes to remedy the agency's complaints.

This week, the committee decided that SLU has taken necessary steps to move off probation.

Michelle Pattengill, a technician at L&S Pharmacy in Charleston, Mo., holds a bottle of oxycodone, a prescription opioid.
Bram Sable-Smith| Side Effects Public Media

The number of opioid-overdose deaths in St. Louis and surrounding counties continued to rise in 2017, although the increase wasn’t as steep as in previous years.

There were 760 opioid-related fatalities last year in St. Louis, St. Louis County and eight surrounding counties, a 7 percent increase from 2016, according to the St. Louis-based National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The year before, the number of deaths jumped nearly 40 percent.

“We have seen a major increase in access to treatment, in access to naloxone, in access to harm-reduction strategies, and that might having an impact in slowing down the increase,” said Brandon Costerison, director of the addiction prevention and education initiative MO-HOPE.

The HPV vaccine protects against nine forms of the human papillomavirus, which can cause, anong others, cervical and throat cancer. The government recently announced it works for older adults as well as adolescents.
Benjamin W. Stratton | U.S. Air Force

Gynecologists hope the federal Food and Drug Administration's decision to approve human papillomavirus vaccine for older adults could protect more people. Missouri has one of the highest rates of cancer caused by the virus in the nation.

FDA officials previously recommended the Gardasil vaccine for those between ages 9 and 26. On Friday, the agency expanded the vaccine for those up to 45.

HPV is a skin virus that’s spread through sexual contact. There are many types of HPV and some eventually cause cancer in men and women, including cervical and throat cancer.

 A photo of Oregon Avenue in Gravois Park neighborhood. The Regional Health Commission has identified the south St. Louis neighborhood as having a significant need for low-cost primary care.
Paul Sableman | Flickr

Low-cost health care centers are lacking in parts of the St. Louis region with the greatest medical need, according to a report from the St. Louis Regional Health Commission.

The growing need reflects the changing demographics of the region, Robert Fruend, the commission’s CEO said. North St. Louis was long considered the neediest part of the city. As a result, majority of the region’s low-cost health clinics are there. But “over time, over the last 20 to 30 years, that node of this concentrated circle of poverty and need that we had in our region has migrated outwards,” Fruend said.

Nurse Jordan McNab attends to a patient in the cardiac intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On nurse Jordan McNab’s first day at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in 2017, a patient stopped breathing. She had to immediately start giving him CPR.

“I vividly remember with my hands on a chest and going too fast,” she said. “You just can’t prepare for it.”

For many beginning nurses, the stress of a new job can be particularly acute. Dealing daily with life, death and illness along with normal new job strain can put them at risk of burnout during the transition from school to work.

To help new nurses deal with stress and keep them in the workforce, the region’s hospitals have developed nurse residency programs that focus on their well-being.

The chemical additive BPA is found in many consumer products, including thermal paper used in cash register receipts. Scientists at the University of Missouri have found a potential link to BPA and insulin production.
Derek Bridges | Flickr

Biologists at the University of Missouri have found that a chemical commonly used in consumer plastics could affect how a body reacts to and regulates blood sugar.

Bisphenol A — or BPA — is a plastic additive found in bottles, the resin lining of food cans and thermal receipt paper. An experiment by Mizzou researchers exposed a small group of people to the chemical. After the exposure, the researchers measured subjects’ insulin levels, and found people exposed to the BPA had produced more insulin.

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.

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