A top-rated nursing home is hard to find in Texas, 10 other states

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Natalie Anne Sealy's headshot.

Natalie Sealy (Photo courtesy of Billie Pender)

LOCKHART, Texas — The call from the nursing home came just before dawn, jolting Martha Sherwood awake.

During the night, fire ants had swarmed over her 85-year-old mother, injecting their stinging venom into Natalie Sealy’s face, arms, hands and chest.

“She was just lying there being eaten alive,” said daughter Billie Pender, who said she and her sister had repeatedly complained about a broken windowsill in their mother’s room at Parkview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

In 11 states, 40 percent or more of nursing homes get Medicare’s lowest two lowest rating.

The Sept. 2 attack devastated Sealy, a retired bank teller with dementia. “She went steadily downhill,” dying in late March, said Sherwood, who brought a lawsuit against the home.

Their mother had chosen the for-profit facility two years earlier because it was near her adult children. The family didn’t know that Parkview scored poorly on staffing and other quality measures.

This year, Medicare rates it one star out of a possible five stars — the lowest rating possible — on Nursing Home Compare, which was designed by the federal government to help consumers choose a long-term care facility.

The problem for Sealy’s family and residents of many parts of the country is they have few, if any, higher-rated options if they want their loved ones close by.

In 11 states, 40 percent or more of nursing homes get the two lowest ratings, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

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Texas has the highest percentage of one-and two-star homes in the country: 51 percent of its nursing homes are rated “below average,” or “much below average,” on Nursing Home Compare, according to the analysis. Louisiana is close behind at 49 percent, with Oklahoma, Georgia and West Virginia tying for third at 46 percent. Continue reading

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Searching Online: Health information doesn’t have to be scary

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By: Silje Lier, MPH, Communication Advisor
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
US Department of Health and Human Services

Do you often do a Web search of your physical symptoms in hopes of finding more information? Do the search results make you feel anxious and afraid, convinced that you’re suffering from a rare illness?

Today, 3 out of 4 Internet users look up health information online. And with the huge variety of information available to the public, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Everyone deserves to have access to health websites they can trust. But how do you know which websites can be trusted?

For starters, you should be able to (quickly!) answer the following four questions about the website you visit:

  • Who sponsors or hosts the website?
  • When was the information published?
  • Is my privacy being protected?
  • Whom can I contact for more information?

If a health website doesn’t tell you these things, go somewhere else that does get you to the health information you need.

One of these trusted websites is healthfinder.gov, a plain language website that provides free, reliable prevention and wellness guidance, vetted and continually updated by content experts across HHS.

Its interactive myhealthfinder tool lets users get personalized guidance on recommended preventive services (like flu shots and annual checkups), which, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, must be covered by all Marketplace plans and many others at no out-of-pocket cost.

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Just say no . . .

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Radical Approach To Huge Hospital Bills: Set Your Own Price

Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Jay Hancock
KHN

In the late 1990s you could have taken what hospitals charged to administer inpatient chemotherapy and bought a Ford Escort econobox.

Today average chemo charges (not even counting the price of the anti-cancer drugs) are enough to pay for a Lexus GX sport-utility vehicle, government data show.

Hospital prices have risen nearly three times as much as overall inflation since Ronald Reagan was president.

When hospitals send invoices with charges that seem to bear no relationship to their costs, one benefit firm tells its clients to just say no.

Health payers have tried HMOs, accountable care organizations and other innovations to control them, with little effect.

A small benefits consulting firm called ELAP Services is causing commotion by suggesting an alternative: Refuse to pay.

When hospitals send invoices with charges that seem to bear no relationship to their costs, the Pennsylvania firm tells its clients (generally medium-sized employers) to just say no. Continue reading

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FDA Ready to Lift Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men: MedlinePlus

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RedBloodCellsThe change will better align the FDA’s donation policy for gay and bisexual men with its policies regarding other people potentially exposed to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, officials said.

For example, there’s currently a maximum one-year deferral policy in the United States for blood donations by men who have had sex with an HIV-positive woman or commercial sex workers. The same goes for women who have had sex with HIV-positive men.

However, sexually active gay men in a monogamous relationship would not be allowed to donate blood under the new policy.

Source: FDA Ready to Lift Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men: MedlinePlus

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Brain Injury Linked to Raised Risk of Road Rage: MedlinePlus

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Illustration of the skull and brainPeople who have suffered a traumatic brain injury are at increased risk for road rage, a new study finds. .

The study found that those who had suffered at least one traumatic brain injury in their lifetime had many more incidents of serious road rage than those without a brain injury.

Serious road rage was defined as making threats to harm another driver or passenger, or damage another vehicle.

People with a history of traumatic brain injury were also much more likely to have been involved in a traffic crash that caused injury to themselves or passengers, or damage to their vehicle.

Source: Brain Injury Linked to Raised Risk of Road Rage: MedlinePlus

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‘Free’ contraception means ‘free,’ Obama administration tells insurers

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Birth control patch - Photo by John Heilman, MD under creative commons licesnse

Birth control patch – Photo by John Heilman, MD (CC)

By Phil  Galewitz
KHN

Free means free.

The Obama administration said Monday that health plans must offer for free at least one of every type of prescription birth control — clarifying regulations that left some insurers misinterpreting the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

“Today’s guidance seeks to eliminate any ambiguity,” the Health and Human Services Department said. “Insurers must cover without cost-sharing at least one form of contraception in each of the methods that the Food and Drug Administration has identified … including the ring, the patch and intrauterine devices.”

The ruling comes after reports by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group, found many insurers were not providing no-cost birth control for all prescription methods. (KHN is an editorially independent project of the Kaiser Family Foundation.) Continue reading

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Home visits by nurses for first-time mothers help reduce costs

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Symphonie Dawson and her son Andrew.

By Michelle Andrews
KHN

Symphonie Dawson was 23 and studying to be a paralegal while working part-time for a temporary staffing agency when she learned that the reason she kept feeling sick was because she was pregnant.

Living with her mom and two siblings near Dallas, Dawson worried about what to expect during pregnancy and what giving birth would be like, not to mention how to juggle having a baby with being in school.

(Photo courtesy of Symphonie Dawson)

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How one hospital brought its C-sections down in a hurry

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In 2012, Hoag Hospital’s cesarean section rate was about 38 percent – five percent higher than the state average.  The Newport Beach hospital has been working to lower the amount of c-sections by stepping up data analysis and patient education (Photo by Heidi de Marco/Kaiser Health News).

In 2012, Hoag Hospital’s cesarean section rate was about 38 percent – five percent higher than the state average.(Photo by Heidi de Marco/Kaiser Health News).

By Anna Gorman
KHN

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.— Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, one of the largest and most respected facilities in Orange County, needed to move quickly.

A big insurer had warned that its maternity costs were too high and it might be cut from the plan’s network. The reason? Too many cesarean sections.

“We were under intense scrutiny,” said Dr. Allyson Brooks, executive medical director of Hoag’s women’s health institute.

The C-section rate at the time, in early 2012, was about 38 percent. That was higher than the state average of 33 percent and above most others in the area, according to the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, which seeks to use data to improve birth outcomes.

Within three years, Hoag had lowered its cesarean section rates for all women to just over a third of all births. For low-risk births (first-time moms with single, normal pregnancies), the rate dropped to about a quarter of births. Hoag also increased the percentage of women who had vaginal births after delivering previous children by C-section.

In medicine, this qualifies as a quick turnaround. And the story of how Hoag changed sheds light on what it takes to rapidly improve a hospital’s performance of crucial services, to the benefit of patients, insurers and taxpayers.

Continue reading

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Heroin sends more young adults to California emergency rooms | Reuters

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320px-HeroinThe number of young adults admitted to California hospital emergency rooms with heroin poisoning increased sixfold over the past decade, the state said, the latest evidence of growing abuse of the highly addictive drug.

Heroin abuse has been on the rise across the United States, in part because it has become easier to obtain than prescription opiates like Oxycontin.

Source: Heroin sends more young adults to California emergency rooms | Reuters

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AP-GFK POLL: DOUBTS ON COURT’S FAIRNESS IN HEALTH LAW CASE

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U.S. Supreme CourtMany people in the United States doubt that the Supreme Court can rule fairly in the latest litigation jeopardizing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The Associated Press-GfK poll finds only 1 person in 10 is highly confident that the justices will rely on objective interpretations of the law rather than their personal opinions.

Nearly half, 48 percent, are not confident of the court’s impartiality.

Source: News from The Associated Press

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NEW BLOOD TESTS, LIQUID BIOPSIES, MAY TRANSFORM CANCER CARE

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Breast Cancer CellA new type of blood test is starting to transform cancer treatment, sparing some patients the surgical and needle biopsies long needed to guide their care.

The tests, called liquid biopsies, capture cancer cells or DNA that tumors shed into the blood, instead of taking tissue from the tumor itself.

A lot is still unknown about the value of these tests, but many doctors think they are a big advance that could make personalized medicine possible for far more people.

Source: News from The Associated Press

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Top five stories of the week

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Credit: Dan Shirly

Credit: Dan Shirly

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