April 23, 2014

Ambulance operator complains about IDPH data collection

Senator Jack Chapman

Senator Jack Chapman

A Republican state senator is expressing concern about data the Iowa Department of Public Health collects from his family’s business, but he is stopping short of proposing legislation that would require any changes in the procedure. Senator Jack Chapman runs a Des Moines-based ambulance service and the data deals with the calls his company makes.

“From 2004 to the middle of (this) February, the Iowa Department of Public Health has collected nearly 1.9 million patient care records of Iowans for ambulance transports,” Chapman said during a speech on the Senate floor. “These records include identifyable information such as the patient’s name, address, date of birth. It also includes their medical information, such as their medical condition, medications administered and the list goes on.”

Chapman is calling for a review of this data collection system, but he has withdrawn a proposal from senate consideration that would have forced the department to conduct that review.

“The most important issue is the fact that Iowans have no idea this data is being collected on them and, furthermore, it appears to be stored indefinitely,” Chapman said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is required by state law to collect all sorts of data, including ambulance calls. According to a recent report from the agency, the data provided by ambulance services helps policymakers assess how emergency calls are handled and bring about “more efficent and effective emergency services,” especially when the patients being hauled in the ambulance have “life-threatening” conditions. According to the National 9-1-1 Center, the collection of “meaningful data” helps policymakers come up with the best way to manage emergency services for critical patients outside of a hospital.

Des Moines hospital moving mental health treatment facility to new location

Mercy Medical Center will move a short term, behavioral health treatment center into newly renovated facilities in Des Moines this week. The $12 million project increases the number of inpatient units for people with acute mental health needs.

Mercy Medical director Dr. James Dennert says the new units, which consist of two floors in the hospital’s West building, will be a significant improvement over the aging Franklin Center a few miles away.  “We’ll be able to separate patients by severity of illness, so those patients that are more severely ill, acutely psychotic, manic, and intrusive can be kept in one area,” Dennert says.

By moving the units to the hospital’s main campus, officials say they’ll save money by reducing transport costs for mental health patients who require other hospital services. Dr. Sasha Khostravi directs the unit for children and teens. He says, currently, there often aren’t enough psychiatric beds to meet demand. “On a weekly basis I hear a child cannot be placed. They often go to an actual medical floor or intensive care unit until a bed can be identified,” Khostravi says.

Patients stay in behavior health inpatient units for an average of three days, before finding alternate placements. Officials at Mercy said they needed to expand the program’s capacity, because there are few hospital beds available for psychiatric care in the state  -if beds are not available, patients often stay in emergency room facilities for extended periods of time.

USDA requires pork producers to report PED

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now requiring hog farmers to report outbreaks of a viral disease that has spread across the country and killed thousands of pigs in the past year. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus  or PED, has not previously been considered a “reportable” disease in part because it doesn’t pose a food safety or human health threat.

Iowa State University veterinarian Rodney Baker says the reporting requirement may be too little too late. “Reporting itself doesn’t help us with the disease at all, unless there’s some action taken through the reporting process that prevents the spread of the disease,” Baker says. Baker says it’s not yet clear whether the department will take further action. And, he says, scientists still don’t understand all the ways the virus can spread. But he says the reporting requirement may improve the accuracy of loss estimates, which until now relied on voluntary reporting.

The U.S.D.A. now requires mandatory reporting for two strains of PED and the swine delta coronavirus. All three are believed to have come from Asia. Baker says required reporting does increase the paper trail as hogs are moved throughout the country and could lead to a more accurate number of losses from the diseases. “It may be too little too late but we certainly need to get this in place, knowing that these diseases managed to get through our border biosecurity tells us that there’s a lot of other ones out there that could affect trade,” according to Baker.

Baker says U.S. pork producers earn 20 to 25 percent of their income from the export market. Since PED and delta coronavirus don’t threaten the food supply, Baker thinks U.S.D.A. may have been reluctant to require reporting. For now, the reporting change doesn’t call for restrictions on movement or trade.

Report: Iowa could be better prepared to battle superbugs & the flu

Iowa ranks in the middle of the pack in a report that rates the states’ ability to prevent, control and treat outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Rich Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America’s Health, says the study finds many gaps in efforts to keep ahead of so-called superbugs, salmonella, the seasonal flu and more.

“Iowa received five out of ten points on this report,” Hamburg says. “What we’ve seen is that a majority of states scored five or lower out of ten possible points.”

Iowa’s among 14 states with that half-and-half rating. Among the areas where the report found Iowa lacking, the state does not cover routine H-I-V screening under Medicaid. Iowa also doesn’t mandate that health care facilities report infections.

On the plus side, he says Iowa is proactive in educating the public about the HPV vaccine for teens and didn’t cut the level of funding for public health services in the past fiscal year.

Hamburg says, “Iowa and the other states are addressing some of the policies that need to be addressed in order to be more adequately prepared to respond to and prevent infectious diseases but there’s still a long way to go.”

In one area where the state was lacking, the report says Iowa failed to meet the recommendations of having most young children, between 19 and 35 months, vaccinated against whooping cough.

“The Centers for Disease Control recommends a 90% rate of vaccination,” Hamburg says. “Iowa had 88.2% so it didn’t receive a point on the report.”

The CDC also recommends a state vaccinate at least 50% of its population for influenza. Iowa had 50.4% vaccinated for the flu, so it met the recommendation, but just barely.

While Iowa scored five out of ten on the report, as did most states, the highest-ranked state was New Hampshire with eight out of ten, and three states only scored two out of ten — Georgia, Nebraska and New Jersey.

See the full report at: www.healthyamericans.org


Most older drivers say they won’t give up the steering wheel

Iowa’s youngest Baby Boomers are turning 50 this year and the Hawkeye State has one of the nation’s largest populations of elderly residents by percentage.

Jodi Olshevski, a corporate gerontologist, says a new survey shows most drivers who are now between the ages of 50 and 68 see themselves staying behind the wheel for many more years.

“The majority of them, about 76%, told us they plan to drive into their 80s, 90s or some think they’ll never stop driving,” Olshevski says. “Boomer men are more likely to say they’ll never stop driving than women, and we asked them to tell us what they thought their driving patterns will be over the next five to ten years, and they said, essentially, they think it’ll be about the same.”

Olshevski has some tips for older Iowans who are still driving and want to keep that independence.

“Adjust to the changes in your driving skills so as you’re aging, be tuned in to changes that are occurring,” she says, “and don’t forget about maintaining your vehicle. That is so important and it’s something that usually can be fairly simple to keep on top of.”

Besides keeping your car in good shape, Olshevski suggests it’s also important to keep yourself in top running order.

She says, “We know that exercise is important for so many aspects of aging but we found out in a study we conducted that it’s also very important for driving and that it can enhance flexibility and range of motion.”

Familiarize yourself with the many features of the vehicle which can help to strengthen your ability to drive and also, consider taking a refresher course in driver’s education.

Olshevski is executive director of the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence, based in Hartford, Connecticut.


Iowa Donor Network begins work on new facility

Officials with the Iowa Donor Network broke ground this morning on a new facility in Altoona. It’s scheduled to be completed in January of 2015 and will replace the current facility in Johnston.

Iowa Donor Network spokesperson Tony Hakes credits the “generous nature” of Iowans for the necessary move into a bigger building. “We have 1.8 million people registered as organ and tissue donors. Our tissue donation has been on the rise for the last 10 years and organ donation was on the rise last year. As a result, we have just outgrown our current facility,” Hakes said.

The Iowa Donor Network administrative headquarters are located in North Liberty and will remain there, according to Hakes. The new facility in Altoona will include two recovery rooms, as opposed to just one, and will include upgraded equipment. “We’ll also have a state-of-the-art communications center which will allow us to make and take more phone calls,” Hakes said. “The end result will be we’ll be able to carry out the wishes of more Iowans and help more donor families.”

The communication center is staffed 24 hours a day and currently handles over 65,000 calls a year. Approximately 60 employees will work in the new building. Hakes said the three acres site will eventually include a memorial garden for donors and their families. The Iowa Donor Network is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

More movement at statehouse over medical marijuana issue

The Iowa Senate’s Democratic leader says he’s willing to co-sponsor a bill that would allow the very limited use of medical marijuana in Iowa.

The mothers of children with severe epilepsy have been lobbying legislators to decriminalize possession of cannabis oil and allow their childrens’ doctors to recommend its use. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has the power to co-sponsor policy bills in the closing hours of the legislative session.

“I have agreed to provide my signature to a bill that would move a limited bill on medical cannabis oil forward,” Gronstal says.

But for the bill to be eligible for senate consideration, it must also have the signature of the Senate’s Republican Leader, Bill Dix. Dix is not ready to say whether he’ll support it.

“There have been some discussions about that, but that’s as far as it’s gone,” Dix says. “Members, people who are working on that continue to work on a proposal and there’s not yet one that’s been determined.”

Governor Branstad said earlier this week that he is willing to work with legislators to draft a bill allowing the limited use of a non-hallucinogenic oil derived from marijuana if the bill mimics new laws in states like Utah, where a Republican governor approved the move.