News From Around the Northwest

The Oregon Health Policy board met Tuesday to try to reduce the state's vaccination exemption rate, which is the highest in the nation.

Over the last decade, Oregon's vaccine exemption rate for kindergartners has risen to seven percent.

In some schools it's as high as 70 percent.

Most of those exemptions are given because of a parent's personal beliefs. Mississippi and West Virginia don't allow that kind of exemption and more than 99 percent of their kids are vaccinated.

A total of 770 students stepped into Matthew Knight Arena on Monday to get vaccinated against a contagious bacteria at the center of an outbreak that killed one University of Oregon student and sickened three others.

The sluggish start of the mass vaccination clinic came despite a heavy marketing push by the university through posters, stickers, a website and social media to encourage students to get the new vaccine to protect against meningococcal disease.

Oregon legislators have canceled a meeting to discuss a bill that would eliminate nonmedical exemptions from Oregon's school immunization law, after it became clear that a controversial vaccine researcher who linked the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine with autism was planning to testify.

The Statesman Journal reported Tuesday that Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 study was retracted from The Lancet and refuted by subsequent studies, was planning a trip to Salem to testify against Senate Bill 442.

Anna Reed, Statesman Journal

Runny noses and itchy eyes can mean only one thing for some Willamette Valley residents: allergy season has begun.

An unusually dry Oregon winter, coupled with several warm days in the Willamette Valley, have created a perfect storm of pollen according to local allergy experts. While the allergy season seems to have arrived a bit early, experts say it's only by a couple of weeks and it's not all that out of character, especially with the the recent weather conditions.

Local law enforcement have had their suspicions, but researchers have now backed them up: there has been a significant increase of people being taken into custody for issues surrounding mental health in recent years. From 2011 to 2012 alone, the number jumped from 144 to 245.

Since recent studies have surfaced about the detriments of sitting all day at a desk, the modern day office has hatched all sorts of ideas to help out employees, like standing desks, telecommuting and treadmill desks. But as it turns out, walking while working is just another fad.

A new study out of Oregon State University found that while treadmill desks can help overweight or obese employees, the increase of activity only has limited results, and in the end, it doesn't help workers get their daily dose of exercise.

Amanda Loman, The World

The more and more she talks about it, the higher Jodi Fritts-Matthey’s voice gets.

"I just get so frustrated,” Fritts-Matthey said.

The Gold Beach city manager was echoing the frustration and desperation that many of the state's rural officials are struggling with because of the tremendous void of services available for people with mental health issues.

The Coos County Jail is staffed two days a week with a licensed mental health professional to provide services and evaluation through Correct Care Solutions, which maintains and provides the jail's medical services.

COOS BAY — Treatment for mental health issues is not a simple process.

There is no vaccine, no magic pill and no one right way to provide the right kind of treatment.

Throughout the state, police officers mainly utilize a local hospital or jail for people with mental health issues, who they suspect may either pose a danger to self or others or who have committed a crime.

But in order to enforce any form of treatment, medical providers are either having a difficult time proving danger or there are not enough resources to provide it.

Multnomah County held a public hearing Thursday, on banning the sale of e-cigarettes and other vaping products to kids.

E-cigarette use among 11th graders in Multnomah County almost tripled over three years.

Use started at less than 2 percent in 2011 and got to 5.2 percent by 2013. But the rate of growth is what worries health officials.

Sixteen-year-old Natalie Conte told the hearing that vaping at her school is becoming increasingly common.

A University of Oregon student who lived in the same on-campus dorm as a student diagnosed with meningococcemia has shown early symptoms of the potentially deadly bacterial blood infection, a Lane County Public Health official said today.

Testing of the student’s blood is underway, and the diagnosis has not yet been confirmed, said Jason Davis, spokesman for the health department.

If confirmed, it would be the third case of a UO student diagnosed with meningococcemia since mid-January, and the second involving a student living on-campus.

The Portland Veterans Administration will receive nearly $34 million dollars to increase staffing at its facilities around Oregon and Southwest Washington.

The Portland VA will use the funds to hire an additional 200 medical personnel.

Daniel Herrigstad, a spokesman with the agency, said the money comes with strict guidelines.

“It’s specifically earmarked toward hiring direct patient care staff to improve the access for veterans for primary care, mental health and specialty care services," he said.

Area residents told policymakers they do not want minors to have access to recreational marijuana and they want parents to handle educating children about the substance.

Following several high-profile cases of meningococcal disease in Oregon, local doctors are waiting to see if the federal government will permit a new vaccine.

The rate of meningococcal disease has been dropping over the last two decades, but the illness can be fatal.

There is a vaccine. But it doesn't protect against the Serogroup B strain -- the one responsible for about 60 percent of cases in Oregon.

The hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who signed up for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act last year, are younger and healthier than expected -- according to a new study out of the state.

The age and health of new Oregon Health Plan enrollees is important, because on average a population is more expensive to care for if it's older and sicker.

But Lori Coyner with the Oregon Health Authority says the 380,000 Oregonians who were added to Medicaid last year, tended to be young and healthy.

So far more than 140,000 Oregonians have signed up for individual insurance during this open enrollment season.

"We've been really happy with how the open enrollment period as been going for 2015," said Aaron Patnode, the executive Director of Cover Oregon.

"And the numbers that the carriers are reporting are actually right on track with where we expect to be from our enrollment projection standpoint for 2015."

This January, the Oregon Health Plan starts covering the cost of reassignment surgery for transgender people.  It also helps cover the cost of hormone therapy and puberty suppression.

Some politicians question the use of tax payer money, but people in the transgender community call it ground breaking.

When Alexis Paige was born 26 years ago, as far as doctors and family were concerned, she was a boy. But by 11, she began to grow breasts and wanted to be a girl, making school very difficult.

Michael Clapp, OPB

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown sounded the final knockout bell for Measure 92 this week when she certified the defeat of the state initiative to require labeling of genetically engineered foods. But a group of advocates in one Oregon county isn't giving up just yet.

In Benton County, a group called Benton Food Freedom filed signatures this week for a May 2015 ballot measure that would ban genetically engineered crops in the county, according to the Corvallis Advocate.

The Ebola outbreak has exposed gaps in the nation’s ability to deal with severe infectious diseases, according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Rich Hamburg of Trust for America's Health says Oregon only managed to meet five of the study's 10 key indicators: "Over the last decade we saw dramatic improvements in state and local capacities to respond to outbreaks and emergencies," he said.

Community health workers make free stops at patients’ homes to encourage preventative care

Maybe all that’s needed to cure out-of-control health care costs are house calls, early intervention and compassion.

That’s the idea behind Connexions, a two-month-old program based at Good Shepherd Medical Center that uses community health workers to improve lives while cutting the cost of future care.

Eventually we're all faced with the question of what will become of our remains — burial, cremation or donated to science? Soon you could consider composting as another option.

A Seattle nonprofit, Urban Death Project, is hoping to become the world's first organization to offer human composting as an option, turning remains into nutrient-rich soil.

Seattle architect and project founder Katrina Spade first proposed the concept three years ago as both a meaningful and ecological alternative to standard burials.