News From Around the Northwest

Senate Democrats are questioning the Trump Administration’s authority to allow states to run Medicaid programs that penalize users.

The Trump Administration released guidance last week, saying states could require Medicaid recipients to work. It said states could do other things like put lifetime caps on Medicaid benefits and impose mandatory drug testing.

Oregon State University is holding mass vaccination clinics at its Corvallis campus to deal with a Meningococcal disease outbreak.

The clinics are part of an attempt by the university to control the spread of the disease, which has so far infected six students since November.

"We believe our students’ public health is very, very essential," said Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing for OSU.

The disease is a serious, potentially fatal infection that can cause meningitis or a serious blood infection.

A backlog of outdated air pollution permits is endangering public health and frustrating business owners, according to a newly released audit by the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.

About 40 percent of air quality permits for major industrial sources of pollution are overdue for renewal by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, according to the audit. Oregon is also behind on timely inspections for air quality permits, but it doesn’t know by how much: the agency has no system to track when facilities are due for inspection, according to the audit.

Eighty people who were homeless in Multnomah County died in 2016, according to a report released Thursday.

That's similar to the number of deaths of homeless people the county recorded in 2015: 88, the highest number since the record-keeping began.  

The report is titled “Domicile Unknown,” after the box the medical examiner marks on paperwork to indicate a person was homeless.

The report highlights the dramatically lower life expectancy of people who live on the street. 

The Oregon Health Authority is pushing back release of a public health assessment on airborne hazards in the vicinity of the southeast Portland production headquarters of Bullseye Glass.

The assessment, scheduled for release this month, was delayed as the company’s attorneys prepared to file a $30 million lawsuit against Oregon.

A Dec. 8 letter from the Oregon Health Authority to community partners notified them that the key health report, promised for early- to mid-December, would be pushed back for a “significant extension” until sometime in 2018.

People who experience trauma and end up in foster care are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions later in life, according to a new study.

Researcher Keri Vartanian, with the Providence Center for Outcomes Research and Education, said the fact that foster kids experience trauma isn’t surprising.

“What we found surprising was the extreme prevalence of trauma in this population," she said. "Every single measure of adversity that we looked at in childhood was significantly more prevalent in the foster care population.”

Opponents of a recent Oregon bill to fund healthcare through a new tax submitted signatures Thursday to get a referendum against the tax on the ballot.

The group of Republican lawmakers opposing the tax submitted many more than the need 58,789 signatures to put Referendum 301 on the ballot.

It’ll be a while before the state has verified the signatures, but even supporters of the tax believe the referendum will make it to the ballot.

On Wednesday, as smoke blotted out the sun across the city of Portland, about a dozen people were hiding out from the smoky heat in the air conditioned Hollywood Senior Center – one of the county's designated cooling centers for those needing relief on the hottest days of the year.

Wearing an electronic air filter around her neck, Jennifer Young, who works at the center, flipped on the larger, high-efficiency particulate  filter she brought from home to purify her work-space air.

A researcher at Oregon Health and Science University has reportedly become the first in the United States to genetically modify a human embryo, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review. 

The report, published Wedesday, says OHSU researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov successfully used the gene editing technology CRISPR to alter human DNA in single-cell embryos.

OPB was not immediately able to independently confirm the breakthrough. But Mitalipov's research, if it passes peer review, would be a significant step for American scientists.

 

Oregon’s transgender population is reacting Wednesday to news that President Donald Trump will ban them from serving in the U.S. military.

Basic Rights Oregon calls the move disgraceful. 

"Thousands of patriotic transgender Americans already serve in our military and are putting their lives on the line to keep us safe and defend our American values,” Executive Director Nancy Haque said.

“There is no place for discrimination in our military," she said.  "Discharging talented service members simply because of their gender identity is wrong.”

The Oregon Health Authority just released its second review of hospital pricing and there are some big differences.

During 2015, the cost of a typical child delivery at St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City was $4,000. But that same delivery at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend was more than $11,000.

So in theory, a patient could have had their baby in Baker City and then driven home in a new $7,000 car.

The state’s health authority has delivered on a request from Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. Many tribal members say they need help finding health care.

Under federal law, many American Indians and Alaska Natives receive Medicaid without having to choose a network provider.

In practical terms says Erin Fair-Taylor with CareOregon, it means Oregon has about 17,000 people who sometimes have difficulty finding health services.

Fair-Taylor says CareOregon will help better connect them with their tribes' clinics and other health systems.

Counties with the highest opioid prescription levels in the U.S. tend to have small cities and a higher percentage of white residents. They also have a high unemployment rate, more doctors and more people living with arthritis and disabilities.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in Oregon, that translated to eastern counties like Union and Wallowa, and southwestern counties like Lane, Douglas and Jackson.

Head of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said many doctors still prescribe too many pills, for too long at a high dosage.

Oregon Democratic lawmakers are rushing to set up a potential special election in January that could decide the fate of a $550 million tax on the health care industry. They say this middle-of-winter election might be necessary to ensure that thousands of low-income Oregonians don’t lose their medical coverage.

But Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and some GOP legislators say that the Democrats are trying to tilt this potential vote in their favor. 

A pair of bills aimed at helping people struggling with mental health have passed out of the Oregon Senate.

House Bill 3090 would make hospital emergency room employees draw up discharge plans for mental health patients, even if they haven’t been admitted. And House Bill 3091 would force health insurance companies to cover behavioral health checks.

Kevin Fitts, an advocate who’s suffered dozens of mental health crises said it’s not unusual to spend hours being assessed in the ER, only to be released without treatment or follow up.

Supporters of a proposal to cover the medical costs of all Oregon children rallied at the state Capitol on Friday.

A pair of bills under consideration in Salem would extend Oregon Health Plan coverage to include kids who are in the country illegally.

 

Democratic Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon's district includes Woodburn. She told the crowd the proposal would help some of the most vulnerable people she represents.

Oregon lawmakers have signed off on a bill that would make it easier for transgender people to change their identity on state government documents like a drivers license or birth certificate.

 

The Senate voted 23-6 Wednesday to approve the bill, which now heads to Gov. Kate Brown's desk.

Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said the bill would remove unnecessary barriers for transgender people.

As Oregon lawmakers grapple with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, even some legislative leaders are having trouble gaining traction for their priorities.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, made the case Monday for keeping mental health programs off the chopping block in the upcoming spending plan.

"There are cuts and there are cuts," Courtney said to reporters in his state Capitol office. "I think mental health is taking a disproportionate amount of cuts. And there are certain things you can't cut as much as others."

Many health care organizations are putting plans on hold as they wait to see what happens with the Affordable Care Act.

But one Oregon clinic is expanding anyway.

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health is a series of 16 clinics dotted around Washington and Yamhill Counties. They serve Medicaid patients, undocumented people who don’t have health insurance, and thousands of children.

Oregon is in the midst of a syphilis epidemic according to the Oregon Health Authority. Cases of the disease have increased 2,000 percent over the last decade.

Back in 2007, syphilis had all but been eradicated in Oregon. There were just 26 cases.

Last year, there were close to 570.

Sean Shaffer with the OHA's Public Health Division said he’s very concerned.

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