Sherry Cooke’s brother, Dennis, died during stint in a nursing home in Louisville. Years ago, Dennis fell from a ladder and sustained serious brain injuries. He was only in his 40s, and spent the next several years bouncing from one nursing home to another.

Cooke, who lives in Pewee Valley, said she kept her brother company and checked on him practically every day. Despite her vigilance, she said he starved to death within seven months of entering a nursing home.

“Time after time I went in and the tube feeding was not running,” said Cooke, who is now a nursing home reform advocate.

Making sure her brother was getting proper care from the nursing home staff was a constant battle, Cooke said. She said she sometimes saw Dennis’ feeding tubes tied in knots and his body covered in bed sores.

She kept records of his time there and eventually took some final pictures of him right before he died. Her brother had entered the nursing home at a healthy weight and died an emaciated man. Dennis—who was 5-foot-7 –died weighing 106 pounds.

Hardin Memorial Hospital

Hardin Memorial Hospital will soon be able to care for more babies born premature and with other health problems. 

The hospital in Elizabethtown is expanding its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and adding two physicians from Louisville who will practice full-time at HMH.

HMH's Chief Nursing Officer Sharon Wright told WKU Public Radio that having neonatologists around the clock will be a huge asset.

"We see many babies born to mothers who are abusing alcohol or medication," explained Wright.  "Those babies who are going through withdrawal can now stay in our community and stay here for their treatment instead of being transferred to Louisville, so it's not just for premature babies."

Wright knows firsthand the struggles of local parents whose babies must be transferred elsewhere for treatment.  Twenty years ago, she gave birth to twins only 25 weeks into her pregnancy.  The newborns were put on life support and transferred to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville.  She said having them away from home made the ordeal that much more difficult.

The expansion at Hardin Memorial Hospital should be complete in September.

A new report says Kentucky and other states could do a better job of placing children in the foster care system with families instead of group care.

The Kids Count report, released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Kentucky Youth Advocates, says 18 percent of the 7,211 children put into foster care in 2013 in Kentucky were placed in group settings. The data showed 81 percent were placed in family settings. The report says 30 states do a better job of finding family placements for foster children.

Kentucky Youth Advocates said progress has been made over the last year in placements. In addition, the state has begun to offer more in-home services and has changed how children are assessed when they come into the foster care system.

A drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose will soon be available without a prescription in Kentucky.

The state Board of Pharmacy’s emergency regulation went into effect last week to allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone, a drug that’s already used in hospital emergency rooms and by law enforcement agencies.

Van Ingram, head of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, says the hope is to save people who can then be rehabilitated.

“Substance abuse treatment is the end-goal for all individuals who are addicted, but we can’t get them to substance abuse treatment if they aren’t alive.”

Naloxone can be administered by a needle injection, through an auto-injector, and through a intranasal device.

A bill passed this year by state lawmakers allows pharmacists to establish guidelines on how to prescribe the drug.

Heroin Overdose Deaths are Down in Three Kentucky Counties

May 11, 2015

New statistics indicate heroin-related overdose deaths declined in 2014 in three northern Kentucky counties hard hit by the drug epidemic.

Citing the latest statistics from the Kentucky Medical Examiner's office, The Kentucky Enquirer reports that Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties had a combined 64 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2014, down from 72 in 2013.

Leaders of the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Task Force say the drop shows community efforts are beginning to yield results.

Dr. Tracey Corey, Kentucky's chief medical examiner, released to The Enquirer the latest count of overdose deaths statewide that included heroin in the bloodstream. Her analyst noted that the medical examiner does not get all heroin-related overdose deaths cases, however.

The medical examiner had 233 such deaths in 2014, up from 230 in 2013.

Nationwide, a majority of emergency room physicians report an increase in the number of patients since the Affordable Care Act took effect. 

The law was intended to cover the uninsured and steer more of them into primary care rather than the ER, but that hasn’t happened, according to a report issued last week by the American College of Emergency Physicians. 

"We're seeing many more people coming in now with coverage needing service," said Michael Rust, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association.  "A lot of the folks are having access issues in areas of the country and state where there's not enough primary care physicians to handle everyone that has new coverage."

Kentucky had a doctor shortage even before the ACA took effect.  Compounding the situation is that most of the newly insured in Kentucky are on Medicaid, and some physicians won’t accept Medicaid because of its low reimbursement rates.

Kentucky hospitals have cut their workforce by 10 percent since 2013 as they prepare for an estimated $7 billion in federal cuts by 2024 because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Kentucky Hospital Association detailed the numbers in a new report released Friday. President Michael Rust praised Kentucky officials for implementing the Affordable Care Act and reducing the number of people without health insurance. But the report by the consulting firm Dobson/DaVanzo says Kentucky hospitals will lose more money than they gain from the expanded health insurance coverage.

The report seems to contradict a study from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in February that said Kentucky added 12,000 jobs because of the Medicaid expansion. But that report included jobs outside of hospitals.

Lisa Autry

A federal law championed by First Lady Michelle Obama is up for reauthorization later this year. 

At Plano Elementary School in Warren County Thursday, Kentucky’s 2nd District Congressman Brett Guthrie solicited feedback on the Healthy  and Hunger-free Kids Act which became law in 2010. 

Following a roundtable discussion, Guthrie said he learned that schools want more flexibility in preparing meals.

"Everyone wants kids to eat healthy, but when you write a single rule that comes out of Washington, DC, that goes into every cafeteria of every school, they don't always work," Guthrie told WKU Public Radio.

While the federal act has brought more nutritious meals into school cafeterias, much of the food is wasted. 

"If a kid doesn't pick up an apple, the school won't get reimbursed from the federal government if the kid is on free or reduced lunch," Guthrie explained.  "A lot of times they have to make the kids pick up an apple and walk out with it knowing that it's going in the garbage."

Cafeteria managers says the healthy food has resulted in more children bringing their lunch from home.  Most of the children not eating cafeteria food are from middle and upper class families that pay full price for their lunch.  It hurts schools monetarily when those children who pay full price bring their lunch from home. 

Officials in Middlesboro have given preliminary approval to a citywide smoking ban.

The vote Tuesday came after a request from a group of elementary school students involved with Destination Imagination, an educational nonprofit organization that tries to encourage and equip young leaders.

The Middlesboro Elementary School students proposed an ordinance that would ban smoking in all public places. Their presentation to the City Council last month included a petition with more than 400 signatures and information about the health effects of smoking.

The City Council's first reading of the ordinance to ban smoking passed unanimously. A second and final vote is set for May 19.

Kentucky is seeing a rapid increase in the number of syphilis infections, mirroring a national trend.

Public health officials are seeking expanded education and treatment for the sexually transmitted disease.

Kentucky’s number of syphilis cases has doubled since 2009, to just over 10 cases per 100-thousand residents.

The Courier-Journal reports the figures from the state Department for Public Health also show Louisville is home to nearly half of the state’s cases.

Kentucky state epidemiologist Kraig Humbaugh says most of the recent national increase in syphilis cases effect men—especially men who have sex with other men.

Syphilis is a bacterial disease with symptoms such as sores, headaches, and fevers. It can be treated with antibiotics, but—if left untreated—could lead to blindness or stroke in later stages.

It can also be passed from a mother to a fetus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for increased public education efforts concerning safe sex, and greater promotion of syphilis awareness and screenings.