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.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the trend in smoking traditional cigarettes among teens is down. That's great news on many levels. But as traditional cigarette smoking has declined, the use of electronic cigarettes has tripled over the past few years.

Wondering whether to worry? Or even what the heck an e-cigarette actually is? I've been combing the latest research to help answer those questions.

Laurie Avocado / Creative Commons license

Several caregivers and patients participating in the state's medical marijuana program have reached out to me recently, offering to educate me about their role and the benefits of the program.

Massachusetts public health officials are looking to Rhode Island for some new ideas to combat drug overdose deaths. They're interested in a program that connects emergency room patients with addiction recovery coaches.


An Associated Press analysis finds some veterans are waiting longer than the VA’s 30 day goal for a medical appointment. But at the Providence VA, just two percent of appointments fail to meet that goal. That's an improvement from six months ago, when about six percent of wait times failed to meet the timeliness goal.

Is Rhode Island spending more than other states caring for the elderly? Or not enough?

(See update, below, plus a reminder: the final Reinvent Medicaid public town hall meeting is scheduled for tonight at 6 pm at the East Bay Family Health Center in Newport.)

That's a question that's come up for debate at the recent "Reinventing Medicaid" town hall meetings around the state, and in statements from groups with a stake in the outcome of Gov. Gina Raimondo's plans to trim nearly $180 million dollars in state (and federal) Medicaid spending.

County Health Rankings 2015 / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released its annual County Health Rankings, and Rhode Island's counties (Providence in particular) seem to be faring worse than the national average on a few measures, and much better on a few, too.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The price of naloxone, a drug that can reverse a drug overdose, has skyrocketed. That’s affecting efforts to prevent overdose deaths. Michelle MacKenzie runs an overdose prevention program at the Miriam Hospital. She says when her program started buying and distributing the injectable overdose rescue drug naloxone, in 2006, it cost about a dollar a vial. Today it’s $15 a vial.

“So if we had to pay $15 a vial, I mean, last year we distributed upwards of 800 kits, which is 1600 vials of naloxone. We would have been like, 200. I mean, think about that,” said MacKenzie.

Today, medical students across the country found out where they'll be spending the next several years of their training, as a resident. It's called Match Day, and it's a celebration for many, the culmination of years of hard work.

Executive Office of Health and Human Services

Since about 2007, the percent of all hospitalizations of kids 18 and under for a mental health reason has nearly doubled. According to state public health data, there have been a steady number of total hospitalizations - about 20,000 - for kids statewide. In 2002, the percent admitted for a mental disorder was between six and eight percent for kids with private insurance or Medicaid, and quite low for uninsured kids. Today it's between 10 and 12 percent across the board.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In the past few weeks, two medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island have faced legal problems arising from their use of the substance. The cases hinge on a conflict between federal and state laws. Now, new federal legislation seeks to address the problem.

Gilead Sciences

Experts on hepatitis C will present to lawmakers next Tuesday about the disease and how to prevent its spread in the Ocean State. Their presentation comes as state officials look for ways to pay for the growing cost of hepatitis C medications.

A working group appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo has just held its first meeting. Their task: to reinvent Medicaid, the state’s health insurance program for the poor. That means finding ways to cut costs as well as improve quality.

It’s a task many other states have taken on. Rhode Island Public Radio health care reporter Kristin Gourlay spoke with Medicaid policy analyst Laura Snyder from The Kaiser Family Foundation to find out what other states are doing. Snyder said they’re not necessarily cutting benefits.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s working group to "reinvent Medicaid" convened for the first time Monday night. The group’s task is to find savings and rein in spending to help close the state’s budget deficit.  Executive Office of Health and Human Services head Elizabeth Roberts highlighted some of the toughest financial challenges.

“Seven percent of Medicaid members, people we’re currently serving, are about 66 percent of our costs," said Roberts. "That is a truly jaw-dropping number.”

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed deep cuts to Medicaid to help close a $1.3 billion dollar state budget deficit. Arielle Levin Becker reports in the CT Mirror about Malloy's proposal:

Gov. Gina Raimondo has appointed a working group to "reinvent Medicaid." The group must present the Governor with ideas for trimming costs and improving quality by the end of April. Sounds wonky, perhaps,  but this is a big and important job. The results could affect all of us. How?