Thinking About Health: Obesity Rates Fall in a Few States but Are Still Far Higher Than in 1990

•September 14, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Is the message that the nation is getting too fat beginning to sink in?

The answer is “yes but,” says the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit, non-partisan group that aims to protect the health of communities and make disease prevention a national priority. And a study of healthcare quality and quantity across the nation suggests some reasons why things are not improving uniformly.

Obesity is a disease, and for the last 13 years the Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have monitored obesity rates in the country, focusing on the proportion of a state’s population that is obese. The study designates someone as obese whose body mass index (a measure based on height and weight) is 30 or higher.

This year’s results show that after a decade in which every state’s obese population rose, a few states have finally experienced a decrease.

“We’re seeing the rates plateau albeit at a very high level,” says Richard Hamburg, the interim president of the Trust.  Read More

Depression: Why Do We So Rarely Talk About This?

Nowlan•September 7, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

My friend Beth Smith asked me to write about this. Beth is community health educator for the Henry-Stark County Health Department. She has personal family experience with what I discuss.

I feel a bit self-conscious, but here goes.

I have recently begun traveling to Chicago by Amtrak Monday to Friday, where I go to Rush Medical Center for what will be 30 daily treatments for depression.

The transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) treatments are considered by many psychiatrists a “last resort” therapy for patients who have not responded to medications, talk therapy and other approaches to ameliorating chronic low mood.

The relatively new therapy is FDA-approved and covered by my insurance. I think of the treatment as electro-convulsive shock therapy-lite. In that old treatment, strong electric shocks were administered to the brain to cause a seizure(s) in a patient.

I sit in a chair like that in a dentist’s office, lean back a little and a figure-eight covered coil about the diameter of a baseball is placed against the upper left side of my skull.

The coil zaps me with four electromagnetic pulses per second for 10 seconds, followed by a 20-second breather, then more pulsing, and so on, for 40 minutes. Read More

August: A Wonderful Month for Harvest

KimForColumn•September 7, 2016•

By Kim McDonald
NP Gardening Columnist

August was a wonderful month full of tomatoes, peppers and lots of grapes to harvest.

We spent hours canning and freezing, trying to keep on top of the producing garden. The steamer/juicer, strainer and water bath canner has been a regular in the kitchen this past month, and a couple of the newly tried products that we tested were the grape syrup and grape jam. The aronia was all frozen just because of the lack of time…I’ll get to them later once overtime at works slows down enough to just run at a normal pace.

The roses have been beautiful, and I have tried to keep up with the deadheading so they continue to produce more flowers. The butterfly bushes have attracted butterflies to watch, and the spent flower heads of the coneflowers have attracted small birds. It makes my day to go out and see nature’s bouquet of flowers right there in my own yard. Different flowers, different colors and different textures all mixed to add beauty to the landscape.

The parsley worms finally showed up in August, and we watched all five of them every day until they each disappeared. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of them once again as they turn into a Black Swallowtail butterfly. Each year as I watch the parsley worms, they remind me when I was a kid catching the monarch caterpillars and putting them in a container to take to school so we could all watch as they went from caterpillar to butterfly.  Read More

Politics and Policy in Illinois: The Black Hole in the Illinois Legislative Process

Nowlan•August 31, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

This is the third in a series of columns on “politics and policy in Illinois.”

Ever since the Athenian assembly of 500 condemned Socrates to death in 399 BCE on trumped up charges, legislating has been a messy affair.

The Illinois General Assembly is another legislative body with a checkered past.

In the late 1800s and into the 1900s, there was an end-of-session “jackpot” from which the powerful interests awarded payments to lawmakers on the basis of how well they had supported the interests during the session just ended.

In 1909, 40 Democratic state legislators received bribes of $2,500 each (when a new Model T cost $750) to cross party lines to send Republican William Lorimer to the U.S. Senate, where he was subsequently expelled because of the wholesale bribery.

By the 1960-70s, however, good-government sorts were pushing to modernize state legislatures and make them less dependent on governors and the powerful interests.

For example, in my first year as a House member (1969), I had no office, no staff help. To make telephone calls, I had to go to a row of phone booths just off the House floor. Read More

Thinking About Health: Drug Prices Keep Rising With No End in Sight

TrudyLieberman-Photo•August 24, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Recently a tweet from Lauren Sausser, a fine health reporter I know in South Carolina, caught my eye. “Crazy drug prices became personal. My dad will start Keytruda regimen on Friday, $15,000 per infusion, once every three weeks indefinitely.” The high cost of pharmaceuticals had hit home!

Her 61-year-old father, Jim McCallister, who lives in Spartanburg, S.C., had been diagnosed with a melanoma discovered during a routine skin exam a few weeks earlier. It had spread to his lungs. Doctors recommended the drug which uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells and has showed promise in treating aggressive melanomas.

McCallister’s employer-provided insurance is paying for most of his treatment, and the family is looking into Merck’s co-pay program. In the meantime, McCallister faces several thousand dollars of out-of-pocket costs.

McCallister may be lucky cost-wise. But the fact remains: Somebody is paying for the high cost of Keytruda and other new drugs coming on the market. Sausser said her dad asked if insurance would cover the drug. “The doctor told him they would find some way.”

That’s the nub of the dilemma. For many such as McCallister, there may be help, often from the drug companies themselves in the form of patient assistance plans. Remember drug company AstraZeneca’s ads for some of its costly drugs: “AstraZeneca may be able to help”? Read More

Politics and Policymaking in Illinois: Rauner Breaks Mold of Illinois Governorship

Nowlan•August 24, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

This is the second in a series about “politics and policymaking in Illinois.”

In his biography of Illinois governors titled “Mostly Good and Competent Men,” the late Chicago Tribune reporter Bob Howard concluded that the 40 to hold the office thus far have been, with a few notable exceptions, okay but not remarkable, certainly no visionaries among them.

Are there lessons to be learned by Illinois GOP governor Bruce Rauner, who has struggled in his battles with Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, from those who have gone before? Maybe; maybe not.

Several past governors stand out.

A penurious lawyer on the frontier, Democrat Thomas Ford (1842-46) restored fiscal integrity to the state, important for prospective outside investors.

Ford insisted that Illinois tax itself to pay in full a huge debt that had been run up earlier by the likes of lawmakers Lincoln and Douglas to pay for “internal improvements” (canals, plank roads and railroads) that mostly died aborning.

Republican Frank Lowden (1917-1921) received national notice for reorganizing a state government comprising scores of tiny bureaus into but a handful of state agencies. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: What Happened to our Railroads?

Ginther•August 17, 2016•

By Jerry Ginther
NP Columnist

If you are less than 30 years old, you are probably unaware of the vast railroad system that spread over this country like a web prior to the mid 1980s.

There are few visible reminders these days. Many of the rights-of-way where the rails laid were abandoned after the steel was retrieved; others were abandoned leaving the rails to rust in place.

The high centers of the rail beds where the tracks once laid are still visible in many parts of the country, running through the landscape like a scar and a fading reminder of these once busy railroad corridors.

Some may still be seen along a few of our nation’s highways, but in time nature will erase all evidence of a roadbed. If you are over 30, perhaps you have called attention to these vacant rights-of-way in the area where you live as you traveled about with your children or grandchildren.

So, why have so many of these rail lines, which were the most efficient movers of all sorts of freight, disappeared from the landscape?

There are several contributing factors, but I’ll discuss a few, which I believe were the most significant. Read More

Remember When? 8-17-2016

Compiled by Bekki Ferguson-Stevens

25 Years Ago This Week

Seven-year-old Jacob Thompson of Sullivan recently won the 1991 Decatur Razzle Dazzle coloring contest. As winner he will be crowned Prince of the Razzle Dazzle parade, which will be at 10 a.m. Saturday. Coronation will be held Friday night.

Sullivan Pre-School “Little Sluggers-Part II” held a 4-H fair Friday, Aug. 2 at the preschool. The group of school aged children have held meetings and given talks and demonstrations during their class at the preschool this summer. Their leaders were Melissa Dolan and Jodi Hughes. Blue ribbon award winners in the club were Chelsey Peters, Brock Peters, Brian Titus, Jeremy Cavinder, Paula Pierce, Jolene Wright, Courtney Rauch, Tara Welty, Lindsay Tull, Karissa Brosam, LaCosta Meadows, Andrea Christy, Brock McDaniel, Tony Cruit, Charlanna Tipsword, Leanne Welty and Jamie Moore.

Six area students are among the 3,142 students named to the spring semester dean’s list at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. They are William D. Krummell of Arthur, Joseph D. Tuttle of Dalton City, Trent E. Doty of Lovington, Kevin A. Dawdy of Findlay and Paul J. Dolan and Jean A. Elzy, both of Sullivan.

Recognized during a recent athletic banquet, Rikki McArthur of Sullivan was a cheerleader at Lake Land College. Read More

Politics and Policy in Illinois: A Not So Typical History

Nowlan•August 17, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

This is the first in a series of eight essays about politics and policy-making in Illinois, which will run between now and the November election, interspersed here and there with a few columns on timely topics. Since we will see no presidential election campaign in Illinois (the race has been ceded to Hillary; campaign money will go elsewhere), election activity here will focus on a few contested state legislative races.

[The Roman philosopher and politician Seneca said that, “All that’s past is prologue,” so I hope this series, a kind of primer, will help us understand how we came to where we are today in Illinois politics—fragmented, fractious, barely functional.]

In 2010, the Associated Press analyzed our 50 states and found Illinois to be “the most average.” That is, Illinois almost mirrored the nation as a whole in demographic diversity and economic activity.

Average maybe, but certainly not typical.

In his book, “The Nine New Nations of North America,” Joel Garreau found Illinois to be part of three of those nations, more than any other state: Foundry, Breadbasket, and Old Dixie. Read More

Thinking About Health: New Hospital Safety Ratings Available to the Public

TrudyLieberman-Photo•August 10, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently signaled to the nation’s hospitals that it was getting serious-and tough-about patient safety and the quality of care hospitals provide. The government’s rating system-five stars for the best hospitals and one star for the worst-sends a message that patients have a right to know what’s going on inside the hospitals they entrust with their lives or those of their family members.

The overall star ratings, the first for CMS, are a composite of 64 measures the government has used the past few years to rate hospital performance. They include factors such as complication rates for patients who’ve had knee and hip replacement surgery, urinary tract infections associated with catheter use, death rates among patients with serious but treatable complications after surgery, and patients’ reported experience with their care.

Only 102 hospitals out of the 3,600 rated received five stars, and they included less well-known specialty facilities such as Lincoln Surgical Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Orthopaedic Hospital of Lutheran Health Network in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Medicare gave 129 hospitals one star. They included two prominent hospitals in Washington D.C. - MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and George Washington University Hospital - as well as several hospitals in New York City. Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, that health policy experts and politicians cite for exemplary quality involving new ways of delivering and coordinating care, received a below-average two-star rating.  Read More