KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Rural Hospitals Struggling; Health Hiring Steady; Hurricane Irene Still Affecting Vt. Mentally Ill

The New York Times: A Hidden Toll As States Shift To Contract Workers
In Michigan, the plan to replace state nursing assistants at the veterans home resulted in a lawsuit contending that some temporary workers employed by the contract company had already jeopardized patient care. ... A judge has granted a preliminary injunction that keeps the state employees at work while the lawsuit moves forward (Rich, 11/6).

CNN Money: Oil Boom Leads To Surging ER Visits, Wait Times, STDs
Mercy Medical Center, the only hospital in Williston, N.D., had to double the number of seats in its waiting room six weeks ago. ... emergency room visits have increased 50 percent in the last 12 months and wait times now average at least a couple hours. The explosive growth in the small towns surrounding the Bakken oil formation has led to a surge in accidents and patients, putting an incredible strain on local medical facilities like Mercy (Ellis, 11/7).

Minnesota Public Radio: Virginia, Minn. Voters To Decide Fate Of Local Hospital
Voters in the Iron Range town of Virginia will go to the polls tomorrow to decide the fate of their local hospital. On the ballot is a question asking voters to change the city charter to allow city-owned Virginia Regional Medical Center to affiliate with another system. The hospital has lost millions of dollars and seen patient admissions plummet in recent years (Kraker, 11/7).

The New York Times: Storm Has Vermont Scrambling To Find Beds For Mentally Ill
Among the casualties of the flooding that ravaged Vermont during Tropical Storm Irene was a faded brick hospital that housed the state’s most seriously ill psychiatric patients. ... [The 51 residents] were evacuated by bus to temporary placements around the state. Two months later, the Vermont State Hospital remains closed — for good, Gov. Peter Shumlin says — and the state is grappling with how to care for acutely mentally ill residents (Goodnough, 11/4).

The New York Times: In State Care, 1,200 Deaths And Few Answers 
In New York, it is unusually common for developmentally disabled people in state care to die for reasons other than natural causes. One in six of all deaths in state and privately run homes, or more than 1,200 in the past decade, have been attributed to either unnatural or unknown causes ... The Times reviewed the case files of all the deaths not resulting from natural causes that the commission investigated over the past decade and found there had been concerns about the quality of care in nearly half of the 222 cases (Hakim and Buettner, 11/5).

The Associated Press/MSNBC: NC Health Care Bandit To Highlight Crisis At Trial
A North Carolina man who planned a bank robbery so he could receive the health care he needed in jail said he plans to use his upcoming trial as a forum to illustrate America's health care crisis. ... "My wish is to expose a health care system to the American people that is obsolete in its structure and I can do this by using my case," Verone said in his two-page note [written to The Gaston Gazette](11/5).

New Orleans Times-Picayune: State Launches Online Medical Records Exchange
Buoyed by a $10 million federal grant, state health officials and industry leaders on Friday celebrated the launch of a Web-based medical records exchange that has been the subject of talk and planning since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Authorities tout the Louisiana Health Information Exchange as a way to link disparate health care providers, from primary care doctors to hospitals and pharmacists, so they can collectively provide better and cheaper patient care (Barrow, 11/5).

WBUR's CommonHealth blog: Health Coalition: We Can Reduce Costs Without State Regulation
A coalition that includes health care industry leaders in Greater Boston and health economists has put together a draft plan for how to bring health care costs under control. The message from the Eastern Massachusetts Healthcare Initiative to Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature is: we can reduce spending without more government regulation. More regulation, the group says, might make things worse than they are now (Bebinger, 11/3). 

California Watch: Congressman Calls On Feds To Examine Prime's Billing, Taxes
San Diego Congressman Bob Filner is asking federal officials to investigate Prime Healthcare Services for "possible systemic fraud," citing California Watch reports about the firm's Medicare billing and patient admission practices. Based on another California Watch story, Filner is also asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the hospital chain's "apparent tax evasion," based on a charitable gift from a Prime foundation (Jewett and Williams, 11/6). 

Modern Healthcare: More Not-For-Profit Board Members Receiving Compensation: Survey
Compensation of not-for-profit hospital and health system board members increased during the past two years, results of a newly released survey show. Conducted by the consulting and education company the Governance Institute, the 2011 biennial survey found 15% of hospitals and systems compensated some or all board members compared with 10% in 2009. The jump “marks the first significant increase in the overall percentage of organizations that compensate their board chair and other board members,” said an executive summary (Evans, 11/6).

Modern Healthcare: Healthcare Sees Little Hiring In October
The healthcare industry saw little job creation in October, adding about 11,600 positions, while the overall U.S. unemployment rate was pegged at 9%. Healthcare jobs held steady at 14.2 million with an increase of less than 0.1%, based on preliminary figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last month, the bureau reported the overall U.S. unemployment rate at 9.1% (Selvam, 11/4).

The Texas Tribune/Texas Public Radio: Study To Target Cancer Rates Among Hispanics In Texas
Hispanics in South Texas suffer from liver cancer at twice the rate of the rest of the nation, and ... the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded scientists $2 million to find out why (Pace, 11/7).

The Associated Press: Texas Delays Action On Stem Cell Therapy Rules
The Texas State Medical Board voted Friday to delay until next year final approval of new stem cell therapy rules that could restrict — or even block — procedures such as the one Gov. Rick Perry recently underwent on his aching back. ... If the reworked rules are satisfactory, formal approval could come as early as April (Weissert, 11/4).

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