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Cenpatico new behavioral-health coordinator for Southern Arizona

Cenpatico of Arizona has won the state health department’s three-year contract to administer behavioral-health services in Southern Arizona.

In partnership with University of Arizona Health Plan, Cenpatico will now be the regional behavioral health authority for a newly configured eight-county Southern Arizona region.

Regional behavioral-health authorities act like health-maintenance organizations, coordinating publicly funded behavioral health care for children, as well as adults with mental illness or substance- abuse issues, who are covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program.

The contract, which begins in October 2015, will likely be worth more than $600 million annually, said Terry Stevens, CEO of Cenpatico of Arizona. The new model for regional behavioral-health authorities includes medical care for adults with serious mental illness.

Integrating behavioral and medical care is crucial to ensuring patients get treatment for chronic conditions that often accompany mental illness, including diabetes and heart disease, Stevens said.

“For the first time, we’ll be able to get our arms around why some of these folks aren’t getting the preventive care and ongoing care they need,” she said.

More than 52,000 people in the Southern Arizona region are receiving behavioral-health services and about 11,500 of them are eligible for integrated care, Cenpatico said.

Tempe-based Centpatico plans to open a Tucson office next year, with 250 new employees, and will add dozens of employees to its call center here.

The change means the behavioral-health contract for Community Partnership of Southern Arizona will expire in September 2015.

“We had a 20-year run in this community,” Neal Cash, CEO of CPSA, said on Friday. “We’ve set the bar pretty high in a lot of ways.”

The agency had partnered with United Healthcare in its bid for the contract. Cash praised the new focus on medical care for people with serious mental illness.

“There is such tremendous cost and medical comorbidity, it makes sense to have the RBHA be a special health plan to those folks,” Cash said.

The Southern Arizona service area covers Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties.

Cenpatico is the behavioral-health authority for most of those counties under its current contract with the state.

CPSA members will get a letter from Cenpatico later this year advising of the change. The transition should be smooth, Cenpatico’s Stevens said.

The company will invite members’ doctors not already in the UA Health Network to join, in an effort to let patients keep their doctors.

Not much should change for patients, Stevens said.

“What will change is who’s going to pay for those services and who’s coordinating those services.”

She said UA Health Network’s impending merger with Banner Health won’t affect the contract.

Cenpatico also plans to put special attention on preventing people with serious mental illness from ending up in jail. It is hiring a vice president to oversee an initiative dedicated to that issue, Stevens said.

Cash said he’s unsure what the loss of the state contract means for CPSA’s future. The company has a licensed outpatient center, housing and employment services programs that could continue operating. It employs 257 people.

“We’ll have significant assets, we’ll have buildings,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to have the staff and the revenue.

“It really is up to the board to see if there’s a desire to continue to do some of the things we’ve been doing.”

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Health Connector reaches out about enrollment deadline

Days before the deadline to enroll for health care coverage beginning Jan. 1 through the Massachusetts Health Connector, volunteers and canvassers deployed in the South End on Saturday to knock on doors and tell residents about the agency’s open enrollment.

About 30 people gathered on the second floor of a South End dance studio Saturday morning for a crash course in canvassing before departing in teams of two with a professional canvasser.

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Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care For All, and Jean Yang, head of the Health Connector, went door to door with one team.

“We want to make sure everyone has coverage and the coverage they have is working for them,” Whitcomb Slemmer said.

Tuesday is the last day to apply and pay for health care coverage that begins Jan 1. Those who miss that deadline can apply by Jan. 15 for coverage that begins in February. Open enrollment ends Feb. 15.

A trip to the emergency room for an illness in August left Shannon Katramados, 31, of Chelsea with a bill for about $800 because her health insurance had expired without her knowledge.

She started her job canvassing with Health Care For All about a month ago, when the open enrollment began, with the medical bill still fresh in her mind.

“I’m a mother of two children, and in this economy, I can’t afford to pay $800 every time my children get sick,” she said.

The Health Connector site was her first stop, and she said she easily navigated the website to sign her and her children up Dec. 8 for MassHealth standard coverage.

Canvassers were told the South End has diversified over the past 15 years, said Maria Gonzalez, communications director with Health Care For All, and they should be prepared to encounter a wide variety of languages. They carried brochures in eight languages and door hangers in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Bilingual canvassers covered areas with concentrations of Spanish speakers. On Whitcomb Slemmer and Yang’s route this morning, all but one of the people who answered the door spoke English.

The process, repeated thousands of times, goes as follows: Knock on the door, ask people who answer about their insurance — do they have it, what kind, are they satisfied with their coverage, and would they like assistance applying through the Connector if they aren’t insured — and log the information in a phone app.

Saturday’s canvassing was part of a statewide effort to knock on a total of 200,000 doors to bring attention to the open enrollment. The numbers came in at about 187,000.

The South End canvassers were out about two hours, and based on the phone app logs, they had knocked on 2,057 doors.

Canvassers encouraged people to go to the Connector website, which is functioning more smoothly than last year’s, Yang said.

“As anticipated, there have been little system issues,” she said. However, “the site doesn’t crash at all, and there is no slow down in service.”

The previous version of the health site encountered such significant problems that the state placed more than 300,000 people in a temporary Medicaid program and allowed 90,000 to continue on a state-subsidized insurance program for an extra year.

These temporarily insured residents are the ones that the canvassers are focusing on reaching.

“We want to make sure there is no gap in coverage,” Gonzalez said.

About 211,000 people have been determined eligible so far through the open enrollment, with about 98,500 covered through MassHealth and about 112,200 through the Connector.

Yang anticipates the numbers will increase significantly over the next few days as the deadline approaches.

“It’s important that people know the resources that are available,” said Margot Michaels, the Health Care For All campaign director.

Jennifer Smith can be reached at

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Cough Drops: Local health news in brief

Welcome to Cough Drops, a quick brief of health and medical news from around Greater Cincinnati. Got a story tip ? Email or call 513/768-8489.

Free yoga classes for cancer patients, survivors

Stories abound of yoga’s restorative power during illness, and clinical research has actually proved the healing properties of the discipline. Now UC Health Integrative Medicine will offer free (free!) yoga classes tailored to cancer patients and cancer survivors.

Classes are Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the second-floor lobby of the Barrett Cancer Center, 234 Goodman Ave., in the heart of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute.

Teaching the class is UC Health contractor Tina Walter, who is certified in Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness, a practice tailored to cancer patients and survivors. In a UC Health news release, Walter said the YCAT practice focuses on safety and comfort while improving flexibility, range of motion, blood flow and overall mental well-being.

Earlier this year, research out of The Ohio State University found that a 12-week course of yoga practice all by itself, without additional exercise or even weight loss, can facilitate sleep, increase a sense of vitality and reduce inflammation, an important consideration not just for cancer survivors but for anyone contending with an aging body.

The UC Health news release says participants need not even register for the yoga class and there’s free (free!) parking in the Goodman Garage.

Cutting radiation exposure in young patients

Here’s a real gift for any child dealing with hospital tests that require the use of radiation: a method to reduce exposure to the least amount necessary.

The smart people at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center working with Philips Healthcare have come up with protocols to use the company’s AlluraClarity X-ray imaging system with less radiation than now is used on such procedures. Yet the pictures produced are just as clear, researchers have found.

Interventional radiology is an imaging process in which doctors insert small needles or catheters through the skin and into the body to see inside with X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound or magnetic resonance. The tools can also treat disease. It can often eliminate the need for surgery and general anesthesia. But they also expose children to levels of radiation that can harm young bodily organs.

The AlluraClarity system came to the United States from Europe in 2013 and reduced adult dosages by up to 75 percent. Several children’s hospitals in the United States also have the system, but Children’s official say they tweaked the system to achieve even further exposure reductions, by up to 97 percent.

In a news release, Dr. John Racadio, director of interventional radiology at Children’s, and his team expect to deliver data on the protocols they developed at the spring meeting of the Society of International Radiology meeting in Atlanta.

Hamilton County schools get free auto-injectors

A state law went into effect this year allowing schools to maintain epinephrine automatic injectors in schools, in case a child or adult suffers a severe allergic reaction. A Pittsburgh medical-supply company called Mylan Specialty gives away itsEpiPen auto-injectors to schools around the country, including 80 schools in Hamilton County.

Anaphylaxis is a scary phenomenon – a swift allergic reaction that can include hives or skin redness, tightness in the throat, nausea, dizziness, breathing problems, a drop in blood pressure or fainting. Anaphylaxis can be caused by food, insect bites, medicines, latex or even exercise. It can move quickly and be life-threatening.

About 6 million children in the country has a food allergy.

The best treatment of anaphylaxs is a fast shot of epinephrine, which can restore order to the bodily chaos. The EpiPen is a simple tool – the needled tip is pushed against the outer thigh, and a push button injects the drug.

Mylan Specialty started donating EpiPen kits to schools in 2012, which include training videos and dummy pens for training drills.

Study: Kids with behavioral disorders smoke, drink sooner

There are always those kids who starts smoking and drinking earlier than the rest. Turns out, they are often suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or conduct disorder, according to research crunched by a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The study, said Dr. William Brinkman, “reinforced kids with ADHD and conduct disorder are certainly at significantly higher risk for trying these substances, and for trying these substances at younger ages. And the younger you start, the younger you become dependent.”

Teens with ADHD and conduct disorder had a three- to five-times increased likelihood of using tobacco and alcohol and initiated use at a younger age than those who had neither disorder, the study found. ADHD alone was associated with an increased likelihood of tobacco use but not alcohol use.

Brinkman and colleagues studied data on more than 2,500 teens between 12 and 15 from the 2000-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a representative sampling of the U.S. population to collect health information.

The Children’s study, just published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, is among the first to look at the link between the disorders and legal drug use in this age group.

The National Institute of Mental Health calls ADHD “one of the most common childhood disorders” that can go on through adolescence and adulthood. Someone with ADHD has trouble staying focused, paying attention and controlling behavior.

Conduct disorder is a behavioral and emotional disorder marked by aggressive, destructive or deceitful behavior.

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Busy, tarnished year for public health

FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2014, file photo, Registered nurse Keene Roadman, stands fully dressed in personal protective equipment during a training class at the Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines Monday, Oct. 20, for how health workers should gear up to treat Ebola patients. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
FILE – In this Oct. 16, 2014, file photo, Registered nurse Keene Roadman, stands fully dressed in personal protective equipment during a training class at the Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines Monday, Oct. 20, for how health workers should gear up to treat Ebola patients. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Health officials are celebrating some important victories in 2014, and Time magazine even named Ebola fighters the persons of the year. Nevertheless, this was a black-eye year for public health.

Some vital vaccines did not work well. Federal laboratories were careless with dangerous pathogens. And international health officials failed to stop a West Africa outbreak from exploding into the worst Ebola epidemic ever.

Such failings occurred during one of the busiest 12 months of contagions in at least a decade. In the United States, infectious disease menaces seemingly whizzed at us from every direction, from Ebola and enterovirus to measles and MERS. Mumps plagued Ohio. California saw its worst whooping cough outbreak in 70 years. And a mosquito-borne disease called chikungunya burned through the Caribbean and took root in the United States.

The last time U.S. health officials were this frantic was 2009, when a flu pandemic swept the globe. “But that was one disease,” while 2014 had more of a variety of fires to put out, said Dr. Marci Layton of New York City’s health department.

Experts say this year’s tumult was caused by a combination of things. Many cite the impact of international travel, which can bring an exotic disease from the jungles of Africa or the desserts of the Middle East to a U.S. airport in a matter of hours.

“If anyone still needed convincing, 2014 really showed that a disease threat anywhere is a disease threat everywhere,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But experts say others factors this year were shortcomings and errors at the CDC and in other public health organizations.

The leading example was the Ebola epidemic. Previous outbreaks numbered in the hundreds. As of mid-December, health officials were reporting this year’s epidemic had sickened more than 18,600 people, the vast majority in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Of those, more than 6,900 died.

Those three nations were not prepared when Ebola visited them for the first time. Health systems were very weak after more than a decade of war in the region. Doctors were scarce in many areas. Ebola was sometimes mistaken for malaria, especially in the early stages, and care and infection control were poor.

An aid effort was led by the World Health Organization — the United Nations’ health agency. But the WHO staff let bureaucratic bungles delay important work, and was hampered by budget cuts and responsibilities elsewhere, a WHO internal report later concluded.

For months, the WHO got only limited help from various nations, and it wasn’t until the late summer — after the epidemic was out of control — that the United States and other countries pledged more substantial assistance.

The CDC was in charge of the U.S. Ebola response, and initially everything seemed well under control. CDC sent teams to help in West Africa. Frieden repeatedly assured Americans they were safe from an Ebola outbreak here, and that U.S. hospitals were able to isolate and handle any cases that should arrive from West Africa.

But public confidence was shaken after a Liberian visitor named Thomas Eric Duncan came down with the infectious disease in late September, days after he arrived in Dallas. He died October 8, and two nurses who treated him at a Dallas hospital were infected.

How the nurses caught Ebola was unclear, but Frieden later said he should have sent a much larger team to Dallas initially to help hospital workers prevent any spread of the virus.

No one besides Duncan died of Ebola in the United States, and no other transmission of the disease was ever reported, and yet Frieden came under heavy criticism for the CDC’s handling of Ebola. Some politicians called for his dismissal. President Barack Obama stuck with Frieden, but appointed an ‘Ebola czar’ to help coordinate the government’s response.

Some other lowlights from 2014:

—In January, a CDC lab scientist in Atlanta accidently mixed a deadly strain of bird flu with a tamer strain, and the mix was later sent to unaware workers at two other labs. In June, another CDC lab failed to kill anthrax samples before sending them to two labs with fewer safeguards for containing dangerous germs. No one got sick from either incident, fortunately. The anthrax lab director resigned and administrative action was taken against “a few” other employees, a CDC spokesman said.

—Another startling lab failing was discovered at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland. A scientist cleaning out an old storage room discovered forgotten, 60-year-old vials of smallpox virus, one of the most lethal infectious agents in human history. No one got sick from that incident, either. But government lab practices became both a point of concern and something of a joke.

—In May, health officials identified a doctor who traveled from Saudi Arabia to Indiana as the first U.S. case of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. They also said the doctor apparently had spread MERS to an Illinois man he’d met in a business meeting. But what initially seemed to be the first transmission of MERS in this country wasn’t. CDC officials backtracked when additional testing showed the virus had not, in fact, spread to the second man.

—Researchers have come to believe the vaccine that’s been used since the 1990s against whooping cough does a poor job of preventing spread of the disease. Health officials believe that failing was an important contributor to an epidemic this year in California, where nearly 10,000 cases were reported through the end of November. Only 10 percent of children sickened in the epidemic had not been vaccinated against pertussis, according to a review of available records.

—This was the worst year for measles since 1994. About 600 cases were reported in Americans through the first week of December — more than the combined total from the previous five years. The measles vaccine seemed to work fine. The vast majority were unvaccinated people who fell sick in outbreaks sparked by a traveler who picked up the disease in another country and then spread it in the United States.

—Enterovirus 68, a respiratory virus that traditionally kept a low profile, became a national health concern in the late summer as some pediatric hospitals were flooded with wheezing children. Worries hit a new level when doctors noted some children with the virus also developed weakness or paralysis in their arms or legs. By early December, more than 1,100 infected people in 48 states had respiratory illness, including 12 who died. CDC also had reports of paralysis in 94 children in 33 states, though investigators are still trying to establish whether enterovirus 68 was the cause.

Infectious diseases are a continuing threat, and no one should think of 2014 as an aberration, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota infectious disease expert.

“I think what we really hit is a new normal,” he said.

Indeed, it could get worse. Osterholm noted that Ebola and MERS barely touched the U.S. this year, and worrisome forms of influenza in Asia and elsewhere may be on the horizon. Arrivals of people from overseas — and whatever germs they’re carrying — are forecast to keep growing. And adding to the threat of new bugs is the revived menace from old ones, as once-treatable germs are increasingly becoming resistant to antibiotics, experts said.

To be sure, there were public health success stories in 2014. There were not large U.S. outbreaks of MERS or Ebola. In Africa, though Ebola appeared in Nigeria, Senegal and Mali, it petered out during intense public health responses. The disease is still raging elsewhere, particularly in Sierra Leone, but the U.S. Congress acted to bolster the fight with approval this month of a $5.4 billion emergency appropriation. And some experts say Frieden deserves points for his forthright disclosures about — and attempts to correct — failings as they were discovered.

‘Also, the health care and public health workers who went to West Africa did show uncommon heroism, as Time magazine noted. “The response to Ebola has been extraordinary” in both its scope and valor, Frieden said.

Some experts say the mistakes of 2014 were constructive. They led, for example, to an intensive review of safety practices at CDC labs and better preparations at U.S. hospitals for handling Ebola and other new infectious diseases that may appear, they said.

“I think finding problems is sometimes a good thing,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, a Seattle public health official and national vaccines experts. “I think all of this helped us” get ready for what may come next.

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Health Reform Task Force votes against governor’s Healthy Utah Plan

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Health Reform Task Force came together in a formal meeting Thursday at which members voted to not recommend Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposed Healthy Utah Plan to the Legislature, opting instead to recommend two other options.

Herbert officially released the details of his proposed plan at a press conference on Dec. 4, during which he said the proposed three-year pilot program would address the estimated 57,850 Utahns currently caught in the coverage gap created by the Affordable Care Act and the state’s Medicaid limitations

According to Herbert’s proposal, approximately 95,000 Utahns would be eligible for coverage under the Healthy Utah Plan. It would also enroll individuals who are unemployed or underemployed in training programs to better build their resumé on the job market.

In Thursday’s meeting, Task Force Co-Chair Rep. Jim Dunnigan gave a presentation to the task force, outlining three different options for consideration in expanding Utah’s health care coverage. These three options included the Healthy Utah Plan along with two other options that  concentrate on covering Utahns who are considered “medically vulnerable.”

People could be considered medically vulnerable, Dunnigan said, if they have: a disabling mental disorder, a chronic substance abuse disorder, a serious or complex medical condition, are determined disabled under Social Security, are a child in foster care or a child eligible for federal assistance, or are in and out of the correctional system or emergency rooms.

In the meeting, those who supported the Healthy Utah Plan spoke on how it is the most cost-effective option that would cover the most people, Jason Stevenson, communications director for the Utah Health Policy Project, said in an interview. Those against the plan said it would cost too much money, and a step-by-step approach would be better suited because it could be built upon as time passed.

In a close vote, it was decided that the task force would not recommend the governor’s plan to the Legislature but would, instead, recommend the other two options for the medially vulnerable.

“This is a setback,” Stevenson said, “but at the same time, the Healthy Utah Plan has a lot going for it in terms of support in the business community, from the hospital, as well as its underlying numbers that show it’s the most efficient and cost-effective plan to close the coverage gap in Utah.”

The two options chosen to receive the task force’s recommendation for legislature only differ by how minimally or broadly the definition of “medically vulnerable” is taken.

In his presentation, Dunnigan said the first medically frail option would cover those who meet a minimum definition of medically vulnerable — or an estimated one out of every eight individuals who fall below 100 percent of the federally identified poverty level.

“We’re calling this an extension,” Dunnigan said. “This has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act …. It would be perhaps a modification of our existing Medicaid waiver.”

The second option would allow for a broader definition of medically vulnerable and cover approximately 1 out of every 5 individuals below 100 percent of the federally identified poverty level.

Even though the Healthy Utah Plan did not receive the task force’s recommendation, Stevenson said he remains hopeful that the Legislature will still consider the plan in its upcoming session.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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Ex-Packers Pro Shop boss Hogan joins Prevea Health

Kate Hogan switched industries, but she said there are commonalities between running retail operations for the Green Bay Packers and managing wellness programs for Prevea Health.

“A lot of the types of thinking we need to do and the customer service are very similar,” she said. “I had an opportunity to build a business over time previously. From a creative standpoint, I love that.”

She joined Prevea on Tuesday as vice president of Corporate Relations and Innovations. She will lead strategy development for Prevea’s LeadWell programs, with direct responsibility for health care innovations designed to improve wellness, and be responsible for maintaining and growing corporate relationships.

Hogan was director of retail operations, including supervising the Packers Pro Shop, when she left the Packers organization in October after 21 years.

LeadWell is Prevea’s program for employers and includes onsite medical clinics, wellness education, medical and fitness programing, and occupational health services.

“It’s about prevention, about living more healthy lifestyles. It’s about that if you get hurt, you get healthier more quickly,” Hogan said. “There is a pretty comprehensive program Prevea has right now. We want to do it even better than we are doing it.”

Hogan will be based at Prevea corporate headquarters in Ashwaubenon, but she’ll serve corporate customers throughout the Prevea coverage area from Marinette to Oostburg.

“Her strategic guidance and fresh perspective will help us continue to drive the leading-edge innovations in wellness that make Prevea the best place to get care and the best place to give care,” said Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea.

Prevea Health includes more than 300 primary- and specialty-care physicians, 20 health centers and 27 employer-based clinics in Northeastern Wisconsin. Prevea, Hospital Sisters Health System and Dean Health Plan jointly own Prevea360 Health Plan. Hospital Sisters is a partner in Prevea Health, the balance of which is owned by its physicians.

— rryman@greenbaypress and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG or on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Contact him at (920) 431-8342.

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Apple’s Next iPhone Update Will Finally Address Its Subpar Health App

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Apple’s Health app got off to a rough start. A very rough start. But some of those issues will finally be addressed in the coming iPhone update, 9to5Mac reports.

The next software update, iOS 8.2, will reportedly bring back some features in the Health app Apple had removed in October, like blood glucose tracking.

It will also add some new features, like descriptions for what the heck you’re actually looking at within the app. 

For example, the blood glucose section will return with the following description: “Glucose — also called blood sugar — is the main sugar found in the blood and the main source of energy for your body.” This is good to know.

The reinstated blood glucose tracking system will include options to manually set units of measurement — and the descriptions for these data points will hopefully make using the Health app a little less intimidating.

This doesn’t mean the Health app is anything close to being truly “fixed,” however. As ReadWrite’s Owen Thomas aptly pointed out in October, Apple’s Health app doesn’t actually “do anything,” because it relies on user input or data from other applications to present data in charts and graphs.

As Thomas also points out, the interface is still confusing, and “the app doesn’t provide any kind of interpretation for what I’m seeing, or suggestions on what to do differently in terms of my exercise or nutrition.” Adding descriptions for what we’re looking at in the Health app is a good step, but the app won’t be a motivational tool until Apple can figure out how to translate all that data into meaningful recommendations tailored to one’s unique health blueprint. 

The iOS 8.2 update will also reportedly add support for Apple’s WatchKit, the development platform for its coming Apple Watch.

NOW WATCH: Here’s The Formula For A Long And Happy Life From A 100-Year-Old Math Teacher

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Top 10 Environmental Health Stories This Year

1. Fracking Concerns Continued



On Dec. 17, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide ban on fracking, citing health concerns. This move — New York is the first state to ban fracking — ended a year full of news about the practice’s health effects.

The bottom line is we really don’t know fracking’s longterm impact, New York’s acting health director Howard A. Zucker, M.D., told the state’s cabinet, saying he recommended suspending the practice.

(MORE: How Fracking Changed the Eagle Ford Shale)

Throughout the year, other scientists echoed this sentiment. “We really don’t know objectively how the health of these communities is being affected by the natural gas drilling,” Peter Rabinowitz, M.D., who published a survey on the health of those living near fracking wells, told in September. “We don’t know about long-term health effects. … We really just don’t know how much to worry, and how much not to worry.”

In 2014, studies did link respiratory issues and skin conditions, as well as infertility, miscarriages and birth defects to fracking wells. Next year, the study of fracking’s health effects — and the debate over its safety — is sure to continue.

Although fracking grabbed a lot of headlines in 2014, it was far from the only environmental health issue to make waves.

2. Power Plant Emission Standards Tightened

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On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed rule that would make the first-ever significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants nationwide, with a plan to cut their carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030, a major tenet of the president’s Climate Action Plan.

Lowering emissions standards is meant to not only help the environment, but also public health.

(ABOVE: The Worst Cities for Air Pollution)

“For the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce [emissions],” the president said in a press conference before the EPA’s June announcement, adding that they “threaten the health of the most vulnerable Americans.”

Particulate air pollution — or the microscopic bits of ash, soot, diesel exhaust chemicals, metals and aerosols filling the air from factories, power plants and cars — is a known cancer-causer. It’s also closely associated with heart failure and heart attacks. Particulate pollution also damages lung health.

The EPA’s new clean power plant standards could prevent an estimated 100,000 asthma attacks per year and an estimated 2,100 heart attacks, the American Public Health Association stated at the time of the announcement.

“This is about protecting out health, and it is about protecting our homes,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in June.

3. Water Quality Issues Surfaced

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In early August, the city of Toldeo, Ohio, shut off its municipal water supply after the city detected high levels of the toxin microcystin. Blue-green algae blooms, which are the result of warm, wet weather and agricultural runoff, produce the toxin, which has long plagued Lake Erie and other Great Lakes.

(ABOVE: Photos of Toledo’s Water Crisis)

In fact, the EPA considers harmful algal blooms to be a “major environmental problem” in all 50 states. As the planet continues to warm, the problem is only going to get worse, scientists said in the journal Science.

Extreme weather events caused some to zero in on water quality issues in other ways, too. When heavy rains hit, municipal sewer systems are often overwhelmed, dumping storm water, which contains fertilizers and chemicals, and untreated sewage into nearby waterways in an estimated 775 communities around the country.

After a storm in Michigan sent a deluge of contaminated water into Lake Erie this summer, Melissa Damaschke, of Michigan’s Sierra Club, told The Detroit News. “These extreme weather events are happening and we need to address them.”

4. Chikungunya Hit the U.S.

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After months of spreading throughout the Western Hemisphere, the chikungunya virus made its way to the United States in July.

A Florida man became the first patient to locally acquire the painful virus, the CDC announced. In total, it spread locally to more than 10 people.

(ABOVE: Diseases Insects Spread)

Hundreds of Americans also acquired the virus while visiting the Caribbean. Chikungunya arrived in the Caribbean in December of 2013, whereas previously it had only been found in Asia and Africa.

Like all other vector-borne diseases, such as West Nile and Lyme, chikungunya is predicted to spread faster and farther than ever before as a result of climate change. Warmer climates and longer growing seasons make the environment more hospitable to insects, who in turn have more opportunities to spread infection.

Other climatic-related diseases, such as valley fever, which sickens individuals through fungal spores spread during dust storms, might become increasingly severe as well.

5. Heat Deaths Predicted to Rise

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Scientists have been studying the burden climate change will place on us for the past several years. In 2014, several studies were released examining the affect of increased heat.

(ABOVE: India Experiences a Heat Wave)

From present day until the 2080s, British researchers projected that annual heat deaths in the United Kingdom could increase from approximately 2,000 to more than 12,000. Although the country’s average temperature will increase, the number of cold deaths is not expected to drop significantly enough to offset the spike in heat deaths. The findings were reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

6. Pollution Named Top Environmental Health Risk

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In April, WHO named air pollution the world’s top environmental risk, blaming it for some 7 million deaths a year — more than double previous estimates.

(ABOVE: Pollution in Singapore)

This measure combined outdoor air pollution from factories and cars, as well as indoor pollution from wood and coal stoves. Together, these two types of pollution killed more than smoking, traffic deaths and diabetes combined, WHO said.

Southeast Asia is now the most-polluted region in the world, WHO stated. Meanwhile, U.S. air quality has been steadily improving since the Clean Air Act of the 1970s.

Although, according to the American Lung Association’s 2014 State of the Air report, nearly all of the 25 U.S. cities with the worst air pollution had more high ozone days from 2010 to 2012 than from 2009 to 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. Warmer, more humid summers are likely to blame for the rise in ozone, researchers stated.

7. Allergies Continued to Become More Severe

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If you live in the “pollen belt” — the swath of the country that stretches from the southern Midwest to the Southeast — you likely experienced worse-than-usual allergy symptoms this year, continuing with a years-long trend of more-severe allergy symptoms.

(ABOVE: The Worst Cities for Fall Allergies)

Warmer springs and falls create pollen seasons that are particularly tough for people with allergies, Dr. Clifford Bassett, of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and spokesperson for the AAFA, told in October. “We’ve had record warm days, and as of result of that, greater healthier plants pollinating, record pollen counts and so forth,” he said of 2014. It also makes reactive plants, such as poison ivy, grow faster and become more toxic, he added.

As Warner Carr, M.D., an allergy and fellow of the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology told, “There’s a warming trend in our environment, so we’re seeing a much more favorable growing environment for weeds.”

8. Ebola Made History



It’s impossible to talk about health in 2014 without Ebola.

Ebola is a zoonotic disease, which means it is transmitted from animals to humans. In 2014, it was the most striking example of what happens when humans and the natural world combine with tragic results.

2014′s Ebola outbreak is by far the deadliest in the history of the disease. As of Dec. 14, 18,603 cases have been reported around the world resulting in 6,915 deaths. Actual figures are likely much higher. And the outbreak is raging on for the most-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the U.S. military and other organizations are still working to control the epidemic on the ground in West Africa.

9. Enterovirus Sickened Kids



A severe form of enterovirus, the type that usually causes summer colds, hit kids across the country particularly hard in 2014. Above,  4-year-old Eli Thomas Waller with his sisters. Waller died from the virus this fall. 

At least 11 more children died because of EV-D68 and the severe respiratory illnesses it causes. In total, more than 1,152 people in 49 states and Washington D.C., fell ill from mid-August through December. Almost all of the CDC’s laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus occurred in children, most of whom had a history of wheezing or asthma.

10. The Flu Shot Made Headlines



The 2014 flu shot also raised illness concerns toward the end of the year, as the CDC announced that one of the three viruses the vaccine protects against had mutated, making this year’s formulation less effective than the agency hoped.

But this bad news merely “reinforces the notion we’ve always known, that the influenza vaccine is not a perfect vaccine,” Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and past president of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, told “But it is the best we have. … Waiting for perfection is the great enemy of the current good, and we can still do a lot of good, protect an awful lot of people, and make a severe disease milder, using the current vaccine.”

MORE ON WEATHER.COM: The Worst Cities for an Active Lifestyle

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The 2014 Health Trends We Can’t Wait To Leave Behind

If there’s one thing that’s constant year in and year out, it’s wacky health trends. Every year has them, and 2014 was no exception. While we’ve certainly made advancements in medicine and mental health, when it comes to our faddish tendencies, we seem to be running in circles.

So what are we hoping to shed in 2015?

Clay Eating

shailene woodley

Earlier this year, the actress Shailene Woodley went on a press junket for “Divergent”, but ended up giving just as much publicity to a little-known trend of eating clay for “cleansing” purposes. She called it one of the healthiest things you can do for your body, citing an unnamed taxi driver’s advice and little else.

While this practice is mostly harmless, there are some concerns that adherents could eat clay tainted with heavy metals. As we explained at the time:

While there is some evidence that clays can help remove toxicants from food sources when used in a culinary context, there is no substantial medical evidence that these clays, including popular bentonite clay, remove toxins. And, anyway, most people don’t need help in this regard: Our livers and kidneys, if healthy, are perfectly capable of clearing our systems of trace amounts of “impurities” from our environments.

The Blood Type Diet

blood type

How is this still a thing?! We’re not saying it isn’t healthy to eat lean proteins and vegetables in place of refined carbs, as the diet prescribes. We’re just saying that has nothing to do with one’s blood type.

At the very beginning of the year, researchers from the University of Toronto thoroughly debunked the central premise of this diet.

“The way an individual responds to any one of these diets has absolutely nothing to do with their blood type and has everything to do with their ability to stick to a sensible vegetarian or low-carbohydrate diet,” said the study’s lead researcher, Ahmed El-Sohemy, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Toronto.

But that hasn’t stopped a whole industry of books, smartphone apps and blood tests that continues through 2014.

Activated Charcoal

edible charcoal

Edible clay’s sinister cousin, activated charcoal, actually does have a medical use: Emergency room doctors use it to treat poison victims, including some drug overdoses. But that doesn’t mean a perfectly healthy person can benefit from it.

“It’s not a very specific absorber of substances. It will absorb anything in your gut, good and bad,” Linda Fan, M.D., attending physician in the department of emergency medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center told Life by Daily Burn. “I wouldn’t use it without a medical professional’s advice.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, charcoal can interact poorly with some medications and could worsen preexisting medical conditions, like intestinal bleeding or blockages.

Tell that to holistic wellness blogs, GNC and even cold-pressed juice company Juice Generation, which launched a charcoal-laced health tonic.

Since there is little confirmed benefit and a whole host of potential problems, we’re hoping to just not go there in 2015.

Fun Run Scams

foam race

It takes a lot of will and motivation — not to mention some extra dough — to sign up for a fun run, warrior race or marathon. How are budding athletes supposed to find the strength to participate if there’s a good chance they’ll be scammed?

This year, organizers of St Paul’s 5K Foam Fun Run were put on notice from the Better Business Bureau for canceling their race at the last minute and neglecting the small matter of, you know, refunding participants. It turned out the organizers had helped themselves to this foam-fingered discount in at least five other cities.

Treating Non-GMO Like Health Food

gmo label

There are many reasons to be concerned about genetically modified organisms — corporate control of our food sources, for example — but health probably ain’t one of them.

While many worry about the long-term safety of this food, there is no good research that shows it is harmful. (Then again, there’s no good study to show it’s safe, either). Just the same, a label of non-GMO is not quite the same as a seal of health, points out Instead, it can be employed as a marketing tool to get health-conscious people buying cookies, sugary cereals and other not-so-great-for-you foods.

In promising news, a 2014 meta study of more than 100 billion farm animals — from the pre-GMO era of 1996 to the present day — found that giving livestock GMO feed was nutritionally equal to non-GMO.

And, as Mark Bittman explained in a 2014 column, to focus on GMOs is myopic at best:

Someone recently said to me, “The important issues are food policy, sustainability and G.M.O.’s.” That’s like saying, “The important issues are poverty, war and dynamite.” G.M.O.’s are cogs in industrial agriculture, the way dynamite is in war; take either away, and you have solved virtually nothing.

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Cuomo on fracking ban: Health risks outweighed jobs

ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday defended the state’s decision Wednesday to ban large-scale hydraulic fracturing, saying the state can’t jeopardize the public’s health for the jobs the drilling could create.

He said the Southern Tier, counties on the Pennsylvania border that would have been the primary beneficiary of fracking, can achieve economic development without the risks associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

He called the presentation at a cabinet meeting Wednesday by acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker “powerful” as Zucker laid out the case against fracking and warned that he wouldn’t let his kids near fracking wells.

“When the public health commissioner says, ‘I wouldn’t let my family live in an area that is doing high-volume fracking,’ that is very sobering, and frankly, that is enough for me,” Cuomo told reporters in Schenectady, where he attended an event to cheer the city’s selection for a casino. “Because if the state health commissioner doesn’t want his kids living there, I don’t want my kids living there, and I don’t want any New Yorkers’ kids living there.

“So that really took my breath away that comment, and I thought it was very powerful,” Cuomo continued.

Cuomo’s decision on fracking — which he was said was make independently by his health and environmental experts — was hailed Thursday by environmental activists, including singer Natalie Merchant, who held a rally in support of the ban. Anti-fracking groups have dogged Cuomo since he first took office in 2011, urging him to pass a fracking ban.

“It is time for governors across this country to lean from the bold leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” said Julia Walsh, a co-founder of anti-fracking group Frack Action. “The science is in on fracking, and it’s time for renewable energy now.”

Cuomo said the Southern Tier economy can be improved without hydrofracking. The region sits over the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, and neighboring Pennsylvania has had a drilling boom in recent years.

The area also lost out on a casino Wednesday, when a siting board picked a project in the Finger Lakes rather than either of the two in the region.

Cuomo said the two decisions “were totally unrelated, totally independent.”

He said the Southern Tier needs help, but, “I don’t want to choose between jobs and health. Nobody wants to make that choice. The challenge for us in the Southern Tier is to grow the economy in a way that doesn’t jeopardize people’s health, and I believe we can do that. And I believe we need to focus on it as a distinctive region as we’ve done before.”

He said the area will get the attention from his administration in his second term. He put a heavy focus in his first term on the the Buffalo area and the North Country.

“The Southern Tier deserves a robust economic development strategy that is also healthy,” he continued. “It’s kind of absurd for us to conclude that the only thing we can do for the Southern Tier is fracking, and if there’s a health risk, well, too bad, then there’s going to be a health risk.”

He added, “I don’t want to say that to the Southern Tier. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe we have to make that choice. Let’s invest in the Southern Tier. Let’s help the Southern Tier, but let’s do it in a way that’s healthy.”

Still, Republicans and landowners ripped the decision, saying it is a missed opportunity to help a struggling area of the state.

“The answer to rural poverty is not government hand outs; it’s government getting out of the way and allowing the private sector to create real and permanent high-paying jobs,” Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said in a statement.

Contributing: Gannett Albany Bureau staff writer Jon Campbell.

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