News From Around the Northwest

So far this year, health officials in Washington state have recorded more than 341 cases of whooping cough. According to the Washington Department of Health, last year at this time, there were 57 cases.

“At this point we’re about 500 percent increase in the number of pertussis cases this year over last year," said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington's epidemiologist for communicable diseases.

The greatest risk is to children younger than a year.

"You can actually die from pertussis when you’re an infant," Lindquist said.

Officials exhort public to get caught up on vaccines, boosters

Public health officials are urging immunizations as several vaccine-preventable diseases make a resurgence in Clark County and across the state.

So far this year, 52 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, have been reported in Clark County — more than three times the number reported at this time last year. Statewide, 319 cases of whooping cough have been reported this year.

An effort to make Oregon hospitals give consumers up-front prices, had a setback in Salem Tuesday.

Senate Bill 891 didn't meet Tuesday's deadline for all ongoing bills to clear committee.

Jesse O'Brien with the Oregon Public Interest Research Group said lobbying killed it.

Rand O’Leary, chief administrative officer of PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center, will take on additional interim leadership roles as John Hill, head of PeaceHealth’s Oregon West Network, plans to depart on May 5, PeaceHealth announced Monday.

The announcement comes after a string of leadership changes at PeaceHealth, a Catholic-affiliated, nonprofit health care system. Those changes included the departure of Hill, who had led the Oregon West Network for three years.

Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan, plans in early 2016 to open two clinics in the Eugene area — one for medical care and the other for dental care.

For the medical clinic, Kaiser plans to lease 25,000 square feet in the basement and first floor of the former Eugene Public Library building at 100 W. 13th Ave. The existing tenants, who have just started a two-year lease, will remain in the upper floor, said Chris Overton, Kaiser’s senior director in Lane County.

The Clark County Board of Health will consider an ordinance to prohibit electronic cigarette use in public places where tobacco products are banned.

The board — county Councilors David Madore, Tom Mielke and Jeanne Stewart — will hold a public hearing on the ordinance during its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Public Service Center.

Preliminary data show the rate of children who had been opted out of required school shots for nonmedical reasons has declined slightly, indicating that the recent education requirements passed in 2013 might be working.

It's the first time that nonmedical exemption rates have declined in 15 years.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, reported the news to the Senate education committee on Thursday during a work session on her second school immunization bill. She said the nonmedical exemption rates in the current school year is down by 2 percentage points.

The Oregon House Health Care Committee will vote on a bill Friday that would change the types of services pharmacists are allowed to provide.

Among the changes, is an amendment proposed by Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, that would allow pharmacists to dispense birth control pills to adults over the age of 18 without a doctor’s prescription. If adopted, the bill would broaden pharmacists' clinical practice to promote disease prevention and patient wellness.

A bill that would make it easier to compare health insurance plans has made it out of an Oregon Senate committee.

Oregon's current health care experiment measures performance in many ways — like what percentage of health records are computerized or how many patients get a follow up visit after a hospital stay.

Such metrics it makes it easier to compare the quality of health plans, but they're only used by Oregon's Medicaid system.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, says Senate Bill 440 would require everyone to use the same metrics.

A state representative is hoping to expand access to birth control by allowing pharmacists to dispense the pill to women without a doctor's prescription.

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, who is an orthopedic surgeon, said the proposal, if implemented, would look as if the birth control pills were being dispensed over the counter. The amendment, which was submitted Wednesday, is attached to a bill designed to define pharmacists' scope of practice and their coordination with physicians.

The national health-care overhaul has dramatically reduced the share of Oregonians without insurance coverage, but it also has posed new challenges.

State Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali and Peter Graven, a health economist at Oregon Health & Science University, discussed the wide-ranging effects of the Affordable Care Act at a Salem City Club luncheon Friday.

“What we have is a result of a lot of competing interests,” Cali says.

Currently, clinics must be owned by doctors to operate in Oregon, which creates a barrier for rural areas, where small-staffed doctor’s offices and clinics require doctors to divide too much time between practicing medicine and running a successful business.

Rural Oregon faces a healthcare shortage, which despite numerous attempts at a governmental fix with loan repayments, rural scholarship programs and a controversial and generous tax credit to rural providers, just seems to becoming worse.

The bill would have codified Affordable Care Act protections for reproductive healthcare and brought Oregon insurance law in line with the federal government, but it divided Democrats, some of whom objected to language in the bill around abortion. The bill was stopped before it could have a public hearing.

Most of the wait times for patients at VA clinics around the Pacific Northwest fall below the national average, according to an analysis of data by the Associated Press.

Twelve of the 29 clinics analyzed in Oregon and Washington had appointments that didn’t meet the agency’s goal of seeing a patient within 30 days, according to the analysis of data by the AP.

From September 2014 to February 2015, the AP found that 2.78 percent of wait times at VA clinics around the country were delayed at least 31 days.

An executive shuffle continues at the highest levels in PeaceHealth, a Catholic-affiliated, nonprofit health care system, with news that another top executive is leaving.

PeaceHealth, which has headquarters in Vancouver, Wash., operates hospitals, medical groups and labs in Alaska, Washington and Oregon and is the dominant health care provider in Lane County.

In the past two weeks, PeaceHealth officials have announced upcoming departures of four executives.

Most of the wait times for patients at VA clinics around the Pacific Northwest fall below the national average, according to an analysis of data by the Associated Press.

Twelve of the 29 clinics analyzed in Oregon and Washington had appointments that didn’t meet the agency’s goal of seeing a patient within 30 days, according to the analysis of data by the AP.

From September 2014 to February 2015, the AP found that 2.78 percent of wait times at VA clinics around the country were delayed at least 31 days.

Shawn Mehlenbacher, the Oregon State University hazelnut breeder who developed varieties resistant to deadly Eastern Filbert Blight, says a Benton County ballot measure to prohibit genetically engineered organisms would restrict his research.

Sen. Sara Gelser wants Oregon to quickly take advantage to changes in the federal tax code that allows people with disabilities to use special 529 accounts already available for college savings. People could use these accounts to save for basic needs without running afoul of the $2,000 assets cap for federal benefits.

PeaceHealth Southwest CEO Sy Johnson said he’s leaving the Vancouver, Washington-based medical center later this month.

Johnson told OPB the decision to leave was his own.

“I have a large family — five young children — and I need to spend a little bit more time with them. So a lot of it is a family decision," he said. "Every organization has its life cycles and places in time. … This is a place and time for me to make this choice.”

Johnson became CEO of PeaceHealth Southwest in November 2013.

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