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« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

102 posts from July 2009


A message to youth: Speak up

I've been listening to the song Kristy, Are You Doing Okay? by "The Offspring" (Turn volume down before clicking: YouTube video).

And I want to send a message to youth:  If you have a sense that someone's hurting, please speak up.  You can do that in several ways.  For example, you can give reassurance.  Or just saying hi every day to someone who never talks much might help that person.

You never know what someone deals with outside of school.  Many kids grow up with great families and have great places to grow up.  But some are homeless (yes, even in Rochester).  Some have been physically, verbally or sexually abused.

And you can make a difference.  

All it takes is the courage to accept "outsiders" into your group of friends.  Be kind.  Open doors for each other.  Offer help with homework, to share your meal (if you think someone's hungry) or invite someone to volunteer together.  I often wonder how some young people can survive the things they experience during childhood.  

I know it can make a difference if you just offer encouragement.  Survivors of domestic violence (beatings, stabbings, stranglings) often say to me that they remember a person or people who stand out in their memory because a kind word, a glance or a soft hand on the shoulder gave them reassurance.

So if you know someone who's afraid of safe touch, who is afraid of authority figures, or who, simply put, needs help, do what you're able to do, safely, whether it be a friendly smile, lending an empathetic ear, an offer of help or finding a counselor, teacher or other trusted adult for help.

Help for family violence:
•  "Warning: Before e-mailing or using this Web site (, know that an abuser in the home can discover your Internet activities. The safest way to find information on the Internet would be at a local library or a friend's house. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), TDD 1-800-787-3224."
• (Rochester, Minnesota) Women's Shelter (  "24- Hour Hotline:   1-(507)-285-1010."
Help for youth considering running away:
The National Runaway Switchboard"1-800-RUNAWAY,"
Help with talk of suicide:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ", TTY  1-800-799-4TTY (4889)"
Help for bullying:
Stop Bullying Now:  ""
Help for exploited children:
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
"1-800-THE-LOST, USA TTY 800-826-7653."
Help finding resources not listed:  
Dial 2-1-1 or 1-800-543-7709 (  The operator there can refer you to services.

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904

H1N1 panel

Want to gauge the seriousness of this falls pending H1N1 pandemic influenza?  Join Post-Bulletin Managing Editor Jay Furst and health reporter Jeff Hansel (yep, that's me) for a panel discussion about what will likely be a dynamic situation.

Representatives of Olmsted County Public Health, Olmsted Medical Center, Mayo Clinic and the Minnesota Department of Health have been invited to be part of the panel.

Pregnant?  Got asthma or diabetes?  Worried about your young children or your elderly parents?  Come to listen or come to ask questions — and please plenty of questions with you.

When:  6:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 6, 2009
Where:  Rochester library, 101 2nd St. S.E. 

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904


Pawlenty: Congress should "abandon" Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has asked Minnesota's congressional representatives to "abandon" the Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.

"Healthcare reform is desperately needed.  In Minnesota, our state-funded healthcare expenses are growing in excess of 20 percent each two-year budget cycle.  If left unchecked, this unsustainable growth will bankrupt our state and nation, and it will severely impact our ability to invest in other priority areas such as K-12 education, higher education, military and veterans programs, and public safety," Pawlenty writes in his July 27 letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Tim Walz, Rep. John Kline, Rep. Erik Paulson, Rep. Betty McCollum, Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Collin Peterson and Rep. James Oberstar.

Pawlenty goes on to say that members of the Minnesota delegation should focus on things that states have done well that save money.  He criticizes the idea of a federal insurance option similar to the one that Congress receives and calls the Affordable Health Choices Act a "flawed attempt at health reform" that "would do little to solve the health care cost crisis facing our nation.  I encourage you to abandon this legislation and instead evaluate what states have done to improve health care quality and make health care more accessible and affordable."

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offers a copy of the bill and a line-by-line description from the Ways and Means Committee.

It's interesting that the Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center has taken pains to emphasize that it favors health reform legislation.  It wants health providers to get paid more if they keep more patients alive with fewer complications and medical errors.  But Mayo, according to President Obama, appreciates the idea of an "Independent Medicare Advisory Council" that would define the "value" of health services and find ways to pay for it, in the Policy Center's words

But Pawlenty argues for scrapping the current congressional version and starting anew.

I offer you the links above so that you can review the proposed bill, the Mayo Health Policy Center views, the governor's views, the president's and then decide for yourself who has the best concept.

It seems to me as a somewhat casual observer that this is the time when the teeth are coming out on all sides of the health-reform issue.  Now's when we're hearing terms like "big brother" and "implode" in reference to the health-care system.  One the one side, health providers say the system will implode if nothing gets done.  On another, doctors suggest malpractice reform must occur.  A third side suggests it's all a ruse to pay for people who want to abuse the system, living out their lives carefree without working and living off the goodwill of other tax payers who foot the bill for universal insurance.  Mayo argues insurance for everyone is essential.  Then there are those who use the term "socialized medicine" and who suggest we'll all be waiting for years before we can get needed health screenings.  

My suggestion:  Don't believe anybody.  Read about it for yourself.  Read the proposals.  Read the governor's letter.  Read President Obama's speeches.  Read what Mayo has to say.  Think about whether you've ever experienced a medical error.  Have you or a family member ever struggled to pay a medical bill?  How would you change the health-care system if you were "king of the world" and could make unilateral decisions?

Once you've made your decisions, write or call your congressional representative or senator. That's government of the people, by the people and for the people.

It's important to note, by the way, that there are several versions of the legislation under consideration.

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904

Service dogs for veterans

U.S. Senator Al Franken, DFL of Minnesota focused on veterans' health for his first bill, and he chose a bipartisan sponsorship, joining Sen. Johnny Isakson, R, Georgia to sponsor the "Service Dogs for Veterans Act."  

Here is an announcement, in the words of Franken's own announcement:

***Press Release*** 
Senators Franken and Isakson Introduce the Service Dogs For Veterans Act
Sen. Franken’s First Piece of Legislation Will Help Wounded Veterans
WASHINGTON DC [7/22/09] – Today Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-G.A.) introduced the Service Dogs for Veterans Act, which will set up a pilot program within the Department of Veterans Affairs to pair service dogs with veterans who have physical or mental wounds, including PTSD. This bipartisan legislation marks Sen. Franken’s first piece of legislation since taking office two weeks ago.
Additional co-sponsors are Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-L.A.), Sen. Mark Begich (D-A.K.), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-O.H.).
“As someone who's spent time with our troops on USO tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, and met wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Bethesda, I feel a real obligation to the men and women who have risked life and limb on our behalf,” said Sen. Franken. “There’s a huge return on investment here. Service dogs can do amazing things, and there is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.
“I believe it is enough simply to improve the lives of those of whom we asked so much. But this program isn't just the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do. This small investment will pay dividends for these veterans for years to come.”
“I have seen firsthand the therapeutic effects of service dogs assisting individuals,” said Sen. Isakson. “The potential they bring for the therapy and treatment of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries should be studied.”
The Franken-Isakson Service Dogs for Veterans Act will:
·         Pair a minimum of 200 veterans and dogs, or the minimum number necessary to produce scientifically valid results on the benefits of the use of the dogs (whichever is greater).
·         Ensure that fifty percent of veterans participating in the pilot program will be those who suffer primarily from mental health disabilities, and fifty percent those who suffer primarily from physical injuries or disabilities.
·         Direct VA to partner exclusively with non-profit agencies who do not charge for their animals, services, or lodging.
·         Require VA to provide seed money to pay for the first fifty service dogs, and match its non-profit partners’ contributions for the rest of the service dogs.
·         Continue the pilot program for at least three years; the Secretary of the VA must make annual reports to Congress on its implementation; the National Academies of Science is directed to study and report on the program’s effectiveness at the end of three years.
·         The scientific study of the pilot program will study both the therapeutic benefits to veterans, including quality of life benefits reported by the veterans; and the economic benefits of using service dogs, including savings on health care costs, such as reduced hospitalization and prescription drug use, and productivity and employment gains for the veterans.

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904

H1N1 and public opinion


[CDC image of the H1N1 virus.  Please click to enlarge.]

The Harvard School of Public Health has published a nationwide survey about the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009. A total of 1,823 people were surveyed, including some by cell phone.  92% said they have seen or read about H1N1.  

57% said in the June survey that they have not at any time been concerned that they or someone in their immediate family would get sick.  42% said they have been concerned at some point.  That second number is an interesting one, since it's just a little higher than the prediction that 40% of U.S. residents will get sick with H1N1 this fall and winter.  If that holds true, some of those in the first group are likely to get an unpleasant surprise. 
27% said there have been H1N1 cases in their own communities.  But here's the most-frightening result on the survey: 32% of respondents said they would not stay home all of the recommended 7 to 10 days if they get sick with H1N1 and are told to stay home that long.

In other words, about one-third people sick with H1N1, while still infectious, would feel alright about coming back to work and infecting the rest of us.  Yikes.

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904

Watch your exposure to allergens

I devoured a package of sunflower seeds the other night and, afterward, read the following allergy "information" (which could be translated as 'warning') on the package:

"Manufactured on equipment that also processes peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, milk and wheat.  So, in other words, if you're gluten intolerant with celiac disease or allergic to dairy products or nuts, you have to meticulously watch for potential contamination.

Unless you have an allergy, it's hard to imagine that the mere previous use of a machine could produce enough contamination to cause an allergic reaction caused by a product made later with that same machine.  But it can.  

Also, it's hard to know what potential allergens food might contain.  Read labels and you might get a few surprises.

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904


Volunteering at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic in Rochester annually celebrates its volunteers.  But here's a story from that shows volunteerism is alive and well at Mayo in Florida as well.  The clinic there has 467 volunteers, says an article by Maggie Fitzroy.  

"Their jobs are so necessary that they if they are unable to work a shift, they're committed to calling other volunteers to substitute," Fitzroy writes.  

In Rochester, the number of volunteers has continued to grow.  But, predictably, Jacksonville, Florida has a bigger pool of citizens to draw from.  Still, it's interesting that Rochester, with a population of a little more than 100,000 people, or about 120,000 people in Olmsted County, can come up with about as many volunteers at Mayo here as Mayo in Jacksonville can — which has a population more than eight times that of Rochester.

Want to volunteer?  Try Minnesota's 211.  The operator there can help you match your interests to the needs of the community.  

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904

Mayo kicks into financial gear

Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, Minnesota, is rebounding financially after barely breaking even in 2008.

Dr. Glenn Forbes, CEO of Mayo in Rochester has told employees that their financial performance is looking good.

"Our June financial results exceeded some very aggressive financial goals," he wrote in an employee newsletter. "We are slightly ahead of our financial plan for the practice for the year, although our overall margin for all activities to support our mission remains small."

Mayo is working to "converge" its "governance, management and committee structure to help streamline our roles and processes to effectively respond to the changing needs of our organization and practice," Forbes wrote.  

Mayo Clinic reported a zero operating margin for 2008.  Mayo's national CEO Dr. Denis Cortese told employees in March that Mayo ended $133 million below plan for the year in 2008. Expenses, he said, grew by 7.6 percent that year, while revenue grew by only 4.5 percent.

Mayo officials have said they need to decrease expenses, raise revenues or both — at a level of $142 million nationally — to create a stable financial base.

In Rochester, tough decisions on the road to financial improvement included closing a patient-care unit at Saint Marys Hospital and rescinding job offers to an undisclosed number o nurses who had planned to start work in June.

Now, though, Forbes wrote to the 30,000+ employees who work at Mayo in Rochester, things are looking up.  But that doesn't mean Mayo has overcome the recession.

"A marathon isn't a sprint.  It requires patience, determination and focus," Forbes wrote. "While it's exciting to reach milestones along the way, the marathoner knows each milestone is simply one success in a longer race, and that it's essential to stay focused on the goal."

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904

Pine Island's win is Rochester's loss

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede is happy for Pine Island, Minnesota, which on Friday learned the Minnesota Department of Transportation will offer $14.56 million for a new highway interchange at the intersection of County Road 12 and U.S. 52.  That's where the new $1 billion Elk Run biotechnology project is scheduled to grow in the midst of grassy hillsides and trees.

But Brede can't hide his disappointment that the Rochester 65th Street interchange didn't get funded.  He's also filled with frustration that the 65th Street project didn't at minimum (in Brede's view) get approved.  If it were approved, Brede said, developers, the city and others could possibly cobble together enough money to begin construction.  

Brede complained that there are shovel-ready projects that developers will begin construction on immediately after funding is found to start the interchange construction.  Bulldozers would be at the site the next day, Brede said.

"We don’t seem to be able to get that thing moving," Brede said.

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904


Music and mental health

After many years of having no radio in my aging truck, I obtained a music player.  It's like a whole new world.  I've fallen in love with music and have to remind myself to take the earphones off occasionally.  I found a way to set the maximum noise level so I wish the music were a little bit louder, but I'm prevented from turning it up further.  I figure that protects my ears, at least a little. 

Another thing I've noticed is how often song lyrics suggest depression, other types of mental illness and coping.

For example, I enjoy the song "Unwell" by Matchbox 20 that goes, "I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell.  I know, right now, you can't tell.  But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see, a different side of me."  

The lyrics include references to "talking to myself in public" and "dodging glances on the train."

YouTube video of live "Unwell" performance (Please check your sound level first!).  It seems to me that high-profile musicians who address depression and other forms of mental illness serve their fans well.  They help people know that, even if you've got a mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, for example, you're not alone.  Famous people, too, live with mental illness and it's a medical condition with broad effects.  But there is help available.

Pulse on Health

By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists

Health Reporter for the Post-Bulletin newspaper, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904