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.

This week, our neighbors in Connecticut began hearings about mental health care in the state after the Newtown shooting. Lawmakers and a couple of task forces convened by Gov. Dannel Malloy are reviewing the state's mental health services and looking at the kinds of public policy and legal fixes that might make it better. Should we mandate outpatient treatments for the mentally ill? Can we truly assess someone's risk before it's too late? Should gun buyers face a mandatory mental health evaluation?

Looking for a little something to read over the long weekend? Try the Rhode Island Medical Society's Rhode Island Medical Journal, now online and totally free.

Some of the articles are for a scholarly audience, but I found lots of interest and think others who aren't physicians or researchers will, too.

The Westerly Sun reported earlier this month that the attorney in charge of Westerly Hospital since it entered receivership had declared the struggling hospital’s obstetric services safe. But the paper is now reporting that Westerly Hospital will deliver its last babies by this June. Deliveries at the community hospital have fallen over the years, and the hospital may not be able to sustain a large enough roster of doctors to keep the maternity ward doors open.

If you've got the flu, it's bad. Awfully bad. But is this season any worse than unusual? Are hospitals really being overwhelmed by "skyrocketing" cases in an unprecedented outbreak?

85 years ago, Alexander Fleming discovered some mold growing in one of his petri dishes. In his lab at Oxford, Fleming noticed a substance the mold produced inhibited the growth of some species of bacteria. But the substance was difficult to work with, and the discovery lingered untapped for many years.

Buying a gun from a dealer – say, a sporting goods store – triggers a federal background check. If you’re a convicted felon, you would fail the background check. So, too, if you’ve been involuntarily committed to an institution or otherwise ruled mentally ill. But the federal database against which background checks are run is only as good as the data. And Rhode Island is one of only four states that haven’t submitted any mental health records at all, according to a recent report out from a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

We’re all still reeling from the Newtown, CT tragedy. Reeling…and trying to make sense of what happened and why. And that’s where health care professionals and scientists are often able to help. We’ve got some of the best right here in Rhode Island, who would probably love to be able to answer questions like: Could we get better at predicting who is likely to commit a crime with a gun? Does having access to a gun in the house make you more likely to commit a crime with a gun?

But here’s the thing. We don’t really know. And it’s not exactly their fault.

This week, I’ve been covering Rhode Island’s efforts to change the way we deal with substance abusers who frequent the emergency room (part 1, part 2). I talked to emergency dispatchers, firefighters, addiction treatment specialists, public officials, and more.

The Ocean State has sent the federal government – ahead of schedule – what it’s calling a “blueprint” for the state’s health benefits exchange. The blueprint is a collection of draft documents, the exchange’s creators say, that reflect the state’s best thinking to-date on how the exchange should work. Its submission is a key milestone for states developing their own exchanges.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) published an op-ed on Politico Tuesday urging President Obama not to agree to any Medicare cuts in the fiscal cliff negotiations. The reason: reforming the health care system, including the way we deliver and pay for health care, will add up to all the savings we need.

Whitehouse writes:

Perhaps you’ve been wondering where things stand with Rhode Island’s efforts to build its own online health insurance marketplace?

Wonder no more! I joined our All Things Considered host Dave Fallon in the studio yesterday to give an update on the exchange. That’s because I got the chance to catch up with Christy Ferguson, who heads the group that’s planning and developing the exchange, and wanted to share what I learned.

A new study in the Annals of Family Medicine projects the country will need about 52,000 more primary care doctors by 2025. The study’s authors calculated that we currently have about 206,000.They based their projections on the number of patients primary care docs currently see in office visits per year, and how many might be expected based on how much our population is set to grow, how much more an aging population will need primary care, and how many people will have access to a primary care doctor for the first time as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

And that matters to you because….?  Well, because if the bacterial infection you’re suffering from has evolved a resistance to available antibiotics, it will be harder to treat. There’s some new data about the spread of resistance, and new attention on it today.

There have been lots of great stories in the last day or so about what President Obama’s reelection means for health care reform under the Affordable Care Act – otherwise known as Obamacare. A few of my favorites are linked below.

Sure, it’s been a stressful few weeks – months, even. Debates, political ads, campaigning, flyers, you name it, we’re all tired of it, right? It might even be taking a toll on our mental health. And according to one study by some Israeli researchers, there’s a bit more stress in store just before you cast your vote: