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.

Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri M'Evie Mead addresses reporters outside the St. Louis Circuit courthouse on Friday. June 21, 2019
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 2:15 p.m., June 21 with comments from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and the state health department director — The only abortion provider in Missouri has lost its license, but the clinic’s future remains unclear after a court hearing Friday morning in St. Louis.

Citing patient safety concerns, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Friday declined to renew a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions. Officials said some abortions were not performed properly and failed.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer said the injunction he previously issued keeping the clinic open will remain in effect for now. It’s not known when he will make a final decision.

Current and former elected officials, including St. Louis Alderman Megan Green, former State Rep. Stacey Newman, St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy and St. Louis Alderman Christine Ingrassia, left to right, joined a rally outside Planned Parenthood
File photo|Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

As the deadline nears for the state’s decision on whether to renew the license for Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic, doctors at Planned Parenthood have announced they have stopped following a state rule that, in effect, makes them conduct two pelvic exams before providing the procedure.

The St. Louis clinic had started conducting the exams several weeks ago as part of a corrective plan between the organization and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The plan was put in place after the agency found Planned Parenthood wasn’t in compliance with state rules, which include an initial pelvic exam as part of its 72-hour consent law.

Revelers march down Market Street in this file photo from a previous Pride Parade.
Pride St. Louis

Updated at 5:28 p.m. with comments from Sayer Johnson from the Metro Trans Umbrella Group

After initially banning uniformed police officers from the St. Louis Pride parade, officials from Pride now will allow law enforcement to participate in the event later this month.

Pride officials originally made the decision to ban uniformed officers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a violent conflict between police and gay and transgender people. Now, organizers say they want to use the June 30 event to promote healthy relationships between the police and those historically marginalized by law enforcement.

“Through education and communication, we can build bridges to move forward and be those agents of change that the city so desperately needs,” said Jordan Braxton, director of diversity and inclusion for Pride St. Louis.

The emergency department at SSM Health St. Mary's in Clayton is one of several facilities in St. Louis County that County Executive Sam Page would like to have report non-fatal overdoses to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

County Executive Sam Page plans to ask the County Council to require doctors to report nonfatal overdoses to the health department.

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Many people who overdose on opioids are surviving, thanks to the increased use of the opioid-reversal drug naloxone. Knowing how many people overdose — not just how many die — can help the county understand who needs help the most, Page said.

Health workers and law enforcement are starting to understand addiction and overdoses as a public health, not a criminal, issue, Page said. Other health crises, such as measles or flu epidemics, require physicians to report cases to the government. Overdoses should be no different, he said.

Dr. David Eisenberg, medical director of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, answers questions during a press conference Friday.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Abortion rights advocates are concerned the legal dispute over the last existing abortion clinic in Missouri may have already hindered access to abortion.

The license for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region has been in jeopardy for months as state officials delayed action on its application. To compel the state to act, Planned Parenthood took state officials to court.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer has kept the license in effect while the arguments play out in court. But abortion rights advocates say the legal process as well as Missouri’s increasingly stringent abortion regulations could discourage doctors from providing the procedure in the future.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last provider of abortion services in Missouri. It could lose its license this week.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 9:45 p.m. June 10 with additional comments from Planned Parenthood  — Missouri will continue to have legal access to abortion.

A St. Louis Circuit Court judge on Monday granted Planned Parenthood a preliminary injunction that effectively keeps its license to operate a St. Louis abortion clinic open for at least 11 more days.

Judge Michael Stelzer ordered the state Department of Health and Senior Services to decide whether to renew Planned Parenthood’s annual license by June 21, when attorneys representing the organization and the state appear in court again.

The judge’s decision means Missouri’s only abortion provider will continue operating while he weighs Planned Parenthood’s objections to the way state health officials have handled the organization’s request for a new license.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last provider of abortion services in Missouri. It could lose its license this week.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 9:58 p.m. June 7 with information from the College of American Pathologists —Missouri health officials say they are investigating “failed surgical abortions” at Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic.

Department officials said Friday that some women who had received abortions at the clinic remained pregnant after the procedure, according to an analysis of fetal tissue.

The officials say they reported a lab that tests fetal tissue from abortions at the St. Louis clinic to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Federal officials then temporarily suspended the lab’s accreditation.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, spoke to reporters after a court hearing on Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Lawyers for Missouri’s only abortion provider told a St. Louis Circuit Court judge on Wednesday that it has been unable to renew the clinic’s annual license because state health officials have not followed proper procedures.

Planned Parenthood has asked Judge Michael Stelzer to issue a temporary injunction barring the state Department of Health and Senior Services from delaying or denying a renewed license to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

Jamie Boyer, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, told the judge during a hearing that the department’s efforts to interview independent physicians who work at the clinic have been an obstacle.

Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri M'Evie Mead addresses reporters outside the St. Louis Circuit courthouse on Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4:30 p.m. June 4 with reaction from Planned Parenthood — A St. Louis Circuit Court judge has delayed until Wednesday a hearing that could determine whether Missouri’s sole abortion clinic remains open. Judge Michael Stelzer ruled Tuesday that current and former independent doctors at Planned Parenthood will not have to testify.

Lawyers for the state Department of Health and Senior Services had subpoenaed doctors, aiming to compel them to testify in court. That request pushed back a hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction barring the state Department of Health and Senior Services from delaying or denying a renewal of the clinic’s license. The judge set that hearing for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood’s lawyers have asked Stelzer to bar the state Department of Health and Senior Services from delaying or denying a renewal of the clinic’s license.

Abortion rights activists on Thursday gathered near the Gateway Arch to protest the potential closure of Missouri's only abortion provider. They marched to the Wainwright State Office Building and decried the state's efforts to limit access to abortion.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6 p.m., May 31 with comments from clinic officials and supporters — Missouri's only abortion provider will remain open.

A St. Louis Circuit Court judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order that keeps the license of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic valid beyond midnight, when it expires.

Judge Michael Stelzer’s ruling keeps the clinic’s license in effect until he rules on Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction that would bar the state Department of Health and Senior Services from denying a renewed license to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. A hearing is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday. 

Abortion rights activists on Thursday gathered near the Gateway Arch to protest the potential closure of Missouri's only abortion provider. They marched to the Wainwright State Office Building, where some activists went inside. May 30, 2019
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The battle over abortion rights in Missouri spilled from the courtroom into city streets on Thursday as hundreds of people gathered near the St. Louis Arch to demand state officials stop trying to limit access to abortion.

Carrying signs that read “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” and “Protect Safe, Legal Abortion,” they were there to protest the state’s efforts to limit access to abortion and the potential closing of the state’s only abortion provider.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and Planned Parenthood have been in a standoff over the clinic’s license, and today its future is in the hands of St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer.

M'Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, addresses reporters outside the St. Louis Circuit Courthouse on May 30, 2019.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 6 p.m., May 30

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood on Thursday told a St. Louis Circuit Court judge that Missouri health officials have delayed renewing a license to the state’s sole abortion provider by continually asking for additional information.

In a hearing, Planned Parenthood’s lawyers asked Judge Michael Stelzer to issue a temporary restraining order barring the state Department of Health and Senior Services from denying to renew the license for its St. Louis clinic. That license expires at midnight Friday.

Judge Michael Stelzer did not make a decision on Thursday, but could do so by late Friday. If the judge does not rule, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region — Missouri’s only licensed abortion provider — would close.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last provider of abortion services in Missouri. It could lose its license this week.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood will ask a St. Louis Circuit Court judge to block Missouri health officials from using an investigation into a patient’s complaint to close the state’s only licensed abortion provider.

Planned Parenthood went to court Wednesday to prevent the state Department of Health and Senior Services from denying a renewed license to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. But Judge Michael Stelzer rescheduled the hearing for Thursday, a day before the clinic’s license expires.

In their request for a restraining order, the organization’s lawyers also asked Stelzer to bar state health officials from interviewing seven doctors at the St. Louis clinic.

Beating the heat
File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Memorial Day marks the opening of many pools and lakes, and water safety advocates are urging Missourians to keep themselves and their children safe from drowning this season.

Swim lessons can keep many people safe, but knowing how to swim is only one part of drowning prevention, said aid Karen Cohn, founder of the Zac Foundation, a water safety organization.

It’s not enough to read by the pool, Cohn said. Adults need to pay attention when children are in the water. She recommends having a designated “water watcher.”

“We assume that people know about water safety,” Cohn said. “We assume it’s common sense, but it's not.”

Eric Wiliams carries a crate of lettuce from the community garden at local nonprofit A Red Circle. The nonprofit is starting a farmers market in Riverview.
Erica Williams | Provided

When several Shop ‘N Save grocery stores closed last year in north St. Louis, residents in some neighborhoods were left without easy access to healthy produce.

A local nonprofit organization, A Red Circle, aims to fill the void with a monthly community farmers market that does more than just sell fresh food.

“It’s going to be a very cool farmers market with a purpose,” Red Circle founder and CEO Erica Williams said.

peter.a photography | Flickr

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said it will distribute 338 licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana. The number is far less than the 510 hopefuls who have already paid application fees with hopes of receiving a license.

These licenses are for different aspects of the medical marijuana pipeline: 60 to cultivate marijuana, 192 to dispense and 86 to manufacture marijuana-infused products.

Even though the number of licenses to be issued is the minimum of what the law allows, a report from University of Missouri economists indicates that might be too much based on demand in other states with similar laws.

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz / U.S. Air Force

The St. Louis Department of Health is urging people to receive a measles shot before the busy summer travel season begins.

The U.S. largely eradicated measles decades ago thanks to effective immunizations, but the disease has had a resurgence of recent years as more people choose to not vaccinate their children.

Many of the outbreaks nationwide this year have occurred after people have traveled to countries where the disease is more common and spread it to under-vaccinated communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A lot sits vacant in the once-thriving Martindale-Brightwood neighborhhood on Indianapolis' east side. Residents say city leaders have neglected such neighborhoods in favor of downtown development.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood on the east side of Indianapolis was once a thriving working-class community supported by manufacturing and a nearby railroad. But in recent decades, the predominantly black neighborhood has suffered from decay. Many of its buildings have plywood over their windows, and vacant lots are filled with trash or scrap metal. Nearly 40 percent of people live in poverty.

Just south of the train tracks lies the city's revitalized downtown, with its soaring office towers and the looming Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts. After the city and surrounding Marion County merged governments in 1970, Republican mayors focused their attention on downtown renewal. But critics of the consolidated government, Unigov, say it benefitted the few at the expense of the many. For them, the contrasting images in Indianapolis hold lessons for St. Louis, which is weighing a similar merger.

<p><strong>Better Together-Style Merger In Indianapolis Created Winners And Losers</strong></p> <p>Backers of the ambitious plan to merge governments in St. Louis and St. Louis County have pointed to the success of Indianapolis which completed its own mer
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Backers of the ambitious plan to merge governments in St. Louis and St. Louis County have pointed to the success of Indianapolis, which completed its own merger 50 years ago. Since then, Indianapolis has been a Midwest success story, with a gleaming downtown, a business boom and steady regional population growth.

But the success of Indiana's capital was made possible by political maneuvers that allowed Republicans to gain the upper hand in Unigov, Indianapolis' version of merged government. Critics say the city's success largely came at the expense of black residents and Democratic voters.

Detective Melody Quinn of the St. Louis County Police Department leads a class outlining the myths and dangers of the sythetic opioid fentanyl, which was involved in the majority of the county's overdose deaths last year.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Officials from the St. Louis County Police Department want the public and the region’s law enforcement to know touching the synthetic opioid fentanyl won’t get them high or overdose.

Such myths could put overdose victims at risk, since emergency responders may be hesitant to touch or treat them.

In recent months, several police reports and media outlets have recounted stories of law enforcement officers getting high or sick after responding to overdose victims and getting fentanyl powder on their hands.

Wikimedia Commons

The Washington University School of Medicine will more than double the number of students receiving full tuition each year thanks to $100 million in scholarship funding.

Officials from the medical program on Tuesday announced the boost in scholarships, which will be provided throughout the next 10 years. The scholarships are aimed at recruiting more low-income students and people of color and reducing the massive amount of medical school debt students incur.

“They look at our tuition and they don’t even consider applying because of concern they would accumulate very large amounts of debt,” said Eva Aagaard, the school’s senior associate dean for education. “This might change their mind, and we might see a really different population applying and being accepted into Wash U.”

jpellegen | Flickr

Food insecurity is affecting a significant number of seniors, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. A recently released report found 12% of Missouri seniors did not have consistent access to food in 2015.

Close to 170,000 older Missourians — or 1 in 8 of the state’s seniors — suffer from food insecurity. That’s when a person can’t safely access healthy food due to cost, lack of transportation or other factors. With seniors in already-vulnerable health, a lack of healthy food can cause new health conditions and make existing ones such as high blood pressure or diabetes more serious.

Angela Brown is acting CEO of the Regional Health Commission, which administers the Gateway To Better Health program for uninsured people in the St. Louis region.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Gateway to Better Health, a health care program for poor and uninsured people in St. Louis, will soon cover treatment for people addicted to opioids and other substances, its leaders announced Tuesday.

Gateway to Better Health is a state-sponsored program that provides health care to nearly 20,000 St. Louis and St. Louis County residents who often can’t afford health insurance but don’t qualify for the state’s Medicaid program. It provides primary, specialty and urgent care at the region’s five federally qualified health centers and at St. Louis County-run health clinics.

New nurse Becky Boesch looks through files as part of her job as a nurse in the cardiac step-down unit at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri State Board of Nursing has approved expanding five of the state’s nursing programs, adding 250 slots for future students.

State officials say the move aims to help reduce nursing vacancies. The profession has one of the highest vacancy rates in the health sector, with 13 percent of positions unfilled in Missouri, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

About 60 percent of the approximately 70,000 Missourians purged from the state’s Medicaid program in 2018 lost coverage because they failed to reply to a mailed renewal form, according to state data.

The Missouri Department of Social Services started using an automated system to determine residents’ Medicaid eligibility last year. If the system couldn’t find their information, the state mailed enrollees renewal forms to complete and return.

Some health experts and state officials are concerned people otherwise eligible for the program are living without insurance because they never received the mail.

Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery Executive Director stands beside the nonprofit's mobile outreach van. The decal on the back window represents the molecule naloxone, a chemical that can reverse and overdose.
File photo | Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

A St. Louis nonprofit is sending outreach workers to city streets to dispense life-saving treatment from a newly refurbished ambulance.

The Missouri Network For Opiate Reform and Recovery will use the vehicle to dispense the overdose-reversal drug naloxone to active drug users and those in recovery. It also provides testing for sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV and information about treatment programs.

The mobile unit extends the nonprofit’s reach beyond its headquarters at 4022 S. Broadway.

Grandmaster chess player Susan Polgar will be inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, the youngest woman to be awarded the honor.
Susan Polgar

A Webster University chess coach will today become the youngest woman to be inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.

Susan Polgár was the first woman to win the coveted grandmaster title through traditional tournament play in 1991. The Hungarian-born champion has broken gender barriers in the male-dominated chess world during a career that spans five decades.

“There will be naysayers, and there will be men that don’t want to see women succeed, especially in a male-dominated field,” she said. “But don’t let that hold you back — just work harder and prove them wrong.”

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

A survey of first-year St. Louis University medical students found those who described themselves as perfectionists were more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

The findings, published in February in the journal Academic Psychiatry, show the thought processes that are lauded in high-achieving fields such as medicine can have a serious effect on students’ well-being.

“We then essentially found evidence these toxic thought patterns would contribute to distress and even mental health conditions in medical students,” said survey author Stuart Slavin, the medical school's former associate dean of curriculum.

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz / U.S. Air Force

Health officials in Jefferson County are trying to find people who may have come in contact with a person there who has caught measles.

The person caught the virus after traveling, according to officials at the Jefferson County Health Department. The department is “working directly with the case to identify potential contacts and make arrangements for follow up immunizations and care if necessary,” officials said in a release.

Measles infects the respiratory system and can cause deafness, blindness and can even be fatal in some rare cases. People who contract the measles develop a distinctive red, splotchy rash over their bodies. There is no specific antiviral treatment or medicine for measles, but giving a person a vaccine soon after they’ve been infected may lessen symptoms.

April Thomas (left) and Cory Lampkin (right) visited Jamaa Birth Village with their daughter Addisonkori in March. March 4, 2019.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Brittany "Tru" Kellman sometimes starts her day two hours before Jamaa Birth Village opens at 10 a.m., stashing diapers and snacks for the dozens of people who will come through the Ferguson nonprofit’s doors. She gives everyone a hug when she meets them.

Jamaa is different from other pregnancy clinics. It provides care for women of color by women of color. After traumatic experiences as a teen mom, Kellman was determined to create a better alternative for black women.

“Creating Jamaa Birth Village is a kind of a re-creation of the type of care and support I gave myself when the system failed me,” said Kellman, the center’s founder.

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