The Pulse

The Pulse is written by Kristin Gourlay, an award winning health care reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio.

Full archive of The Pulse can be found here.

On this solemn anniversary, an update on the terrible costs of war, including the toll on veterans’ and their families’ lives, from the Brown University-based “Costs of War” project. The ongoing project taps academics of all stripes to tally up the myriad costs of post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, from the invisible and previously unaccounted for costs to taxpayers to the vastly under-reported costs in civilian lives, economies, and environments.

A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine finds that nearly a quarter of Medicare recipients spend more than their total household assets on out-of-pocket health care costs in the last five years of their lives. That’s in co-payments, home health care, things Medicare doesn’t cover.

Addiction is a debilitating disease. It’s progressive, chronic, and can kill you.

But it’s also treatable. And there’s been increasingly good news on that front. So, I thought it might be a good time to share a handful of recent stories I’ve come across. Plus, September is Recovery Month, sponsored by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Tomorrow morning (Thurs., Sept. 6) I’ll be joining our Morning Edition host Chuck Hinman to talk about the rising number of transfusion-acquired babesiosis infections.

Testing blood serum samples at Yale’s School of Public Health

This week, we’re all about Block Island here on RIPR. It’s the focus of our annual “One Square Mile” series, where we bring you stories on a variety of angles about one particular part of Rhode Island. As we started exploring this beautiful island, it became clear to me that one of the biggest health stories is how ticks have come to be such a menace. So, I invite you to listen to the three stories I’ve reported about the problem:

One of my first feature stories for Rhode Island Public Radio ran this morning during Morning Edition.(Listen here.) It’s about how a hospital realized its staff were dealing with more and more morbidly obese patients but still training on “standard issue” mannequins. So they asked a local puppet and mask maker, Big Nazo, to design something for them.

You don’t have to take out a loan or pack up your parents’ hatchback to attend college this fall. The University of Rhode Island’s 50th annual fall honors colloquium includes a season of free public lectures on health care policy and politics. The lectures take place at 7:30 pm throughout the season on URI’s Kingston campus, but if you can’t make it, they’ll be streamed live, too.

Confused by that number you keep hearing from the candidates in connection with Medicare – $716 billion dollars? Who’s cutting what? Which side is right? Kaiser Health News‘ Mary Agnes Carey cuts through the campaign clutter for you with an excellent FAQ.

There are a few new tools out there for comparing and researching health care options in Rhode Island. I don’t recommend basing your decision solely on one of these web tools. I do recommend digging deeper and getting behind the rankings. But I think they might be a helpful starting place for some, especially if you’re looking for care for a loved one.

I blogged earlier this summer about a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak in Rhode Island and a growing number of cases throughout the country (see the latest from the RI Dept. of Health). There were some indications then that the vaccine was losing its efficacy. But that may not be the full picture.

There’s a lot of buzz about Medicare, the nation’s health insurance program for seniors and the disabled, right now. I wonder how Rhode Island’s Medicare recipients are reading all of this. Confusion? Concern? Here are some of the stories I’ve been following and my best effort at sorting fact from fiction:

The Block Island Times reports that the island’s health center won’t be partnering with Thundermist, a partnership the health center hoped would help defray costs and boost resources. The news came, according to the BI Times, as a surprise to attendees of a recent town council meeting. BIHS is also reeling after losing its director suddenly – for reasons that aren’t yet public.


Westerly Hospital is closer to being acquired by the CT-based nonprofit Lawrence & Memorial. That might provide some relief to the financially troubled hospital, which has been in receivership since late last year (see lots of great posts about that by my illustrious predecessor).

There’s an interesting new issue out of the journal Health Affairs about the many challenges facing the nation’s “safety net” health care providers (such as big urban hospitals and others providing a  lot of so-called “uncompensated care.”). But, according to the issue’s editor, there are other stories, too:

“Meanwhile, other articles in this issue delineate the great strides that many safety-net providers have made in system integration and care coordination—in essence, preparing themselves to be leaders in delivering care and managing population health.”

No pun intended. Well, OK, maybe a little bit intended.

But seriously, folks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published its 2012 breastfeeding report card for all 50 states. And Rhode Island seems to be making progress in some areas. But not all. We’re lagging behind on a few key measures. For example, the report shows that about 34% of Rhode Island babies were fed breast milk, exclusively, through the age of three months. The national average is 36%.

First, here’s how the CDC describes what the report aims to tell us and how states play a role: