Health and health care news

Susan Sharon / Maine Public

The number of people dying from drug overdoses in Maine this year is on pace with last year, when 370 lives were lost. Now, some advocates are calling for stronger local action to address the opioid epidemic.

On Monday morning, advocates, family members and friends of people affected by substance use disorder sang as they placed 38 roses on the step of Lewiston City Hall — one for each city resident who has died from a drug overdose in the past two years.

A hearing date has been set for a Lewiston dentist who had his license temporarily suspended this winter for allegedly putting the health and safety of his patients in immediate jeopardy.

The Maine Board of Dental Practice will hold an adjudicatory hearing Sept. 29-30, for Dr. Jan Kippax.

The board suspended Kippax’s license in February for 30 days following complaints that he continued painful procedures after patients asked him to stop, extracted the wrong teeth, inappropriately restrained patients and failed to change contaminated gloves.

PORTLAND, Maine - Maine health officials continue to combat the state's high rate of whooping cough with the new vaccine mandate.
The Portland Press Herald reports that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is requiring incoming seventh-grade public school students to receive a second dose of Tdap, a vaccine that protects against tetanus, pertussis and diphtheria. Maine has one of the highest rates of pertussis - a contagious respiratory disease - in the country.

The Maine Association for Community Service Providers says Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services is failing to work with the provider community to resolve issues identified in a scathing federal audit that found the state does not properly investigate critical incidents involving people with developmental disabilities.

A Maine organization will receive nearly $70,000 less in federal outreach grant funding for the Affordable Care Act this year.

Steven Johndro of Western Maine Community Action, which contracts with partners throughout the state, says the cut isn’t as deep as he feared it would be, but it will hamper enrollment efforts.

“Last year our funding amount was $521,000. And this year the funding amount is $451,000,” he says. “Certainly it does reduce capacity in some instances, or in most instances.”

Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

The Maine Supreme Court is considering a first-of-its-kind case in Maine: whether an employer or insurer should be forced to pay for an injured worker’s medical marijuana.

The number of Maine households that experience food insecurity has increased, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released this week. Maine now ranks 7th worst in the country for food insecurity, falling from its previous position as 9th worst.

More than 16 percent of households have limited access to adequate food. That’s higher than the national average of 12 percent, which has been on a downward trend.

As the U.S. Senate holds hearings this week to work toward a possible bipartisan compromise on health care, Maine consumers have some ideas. Not surprisingly, they don’t want to be without insurance, and they don’t want it to be beyond their price range either.

A research institute at Maine Medical Center will get $11 million from the National Institutes of Health to create a multidisciplinary research center to study human metabolism and metabolic diseases such as obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.

Researchers at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute have been studying how fat, bone and the brain control overall metabolism in the body. Faculty scientist and Program Director Lucy Liaw says the award provides funding to young investigators to conduct cellular, molecular, biochemical and clinical research.

In the first six months of 2016, drug-related deaths in Maine hit a high of 193. That number is down slightly to 185 for the same period this year, but Maine Attorney General Janet Mills says the state isn’t doing enough to address the drug crisis.

Mills says, given the more widespread use of the anti-overdose drug naloxone, increased efforts to get addicts into treatment and the general increased awareness of the drug crisis, she had hoped the number of drug deaths would go down significantly this year. They haven’t, and that means more must be done.

Patty Wight / Maine Public

Mainers for Health Care officially launched their campaign to expand Medicaid though a ballot initiative this November.

Dr. Elizabeth Rothe, a family medicine physician at Central Maine Medical Center, says expanding the insurance program will not only help an estimated 70,000 Mainers, it will also help hospitals.

"Caring for patients who cannot pay their bills puts hospital budgets in the red," Rothe says. "It jeopardizes jobs, departments, and even entire hospitals. Maine needs to expand Medicaid."

As part of Overdose Awareness Day, public health workers with the city of Portland handed out 100 free doses of the overdose reversal medication known as Narcan in Monument Square Thursday night. They also provided training on the signs of overdose and how to administer the drug.

But the auto injectors themselves talk friends and families through what to do in an emergency, even if they’ve never been shown what to do. Community Health Promotion Specialist Lizzie Garnatz demonstrated what that the instructions sound like once you open the device.

The Trump administration says it will cut the funding for the program that helps people navigate the Affordable Care Act sign-up process by about 43 percent. That’s in addition to dramatically cutting advertising for the ACA’s open enrollment period.

In Maine, the navigator program is coordinated through Western Maine Community Action, with in-person navigators available throughout the state. Program Coordinator Ashley McCarthy says Thursday’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was a shock.

The Drive For Our Lives bus, which set out from Los Angeles a month ago, arrived in Bangor Thursday for a brief stop.

A handful of people convened beside the bus to call for better health care, and to call out members of Congress who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Two more cases of Jamestown Canyon virus have been identified in Maine. This is the first year that the mosquito-borne disease has been detected in the state, bringing the total number of cases to three. But state epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett says it’s unclear whether the virus is more common, or it’s been detected through better testing.

“We just have to be really cautious when there are mosquitoes are around,” says Bennett. “Use the inspect repellant. Cover up. Make sure you are aware of what you can do to prevent bites.”