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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
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Week of: September 9
Week of: September 2
Week of: August 26

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

UMass participating in long-term study of child health

By Scott Allen, Globe Staff

The babies will be studied from the time they are in their mothers' wombs through their 21st birthdays in hopes of discovering the earliest signs of diseases that disable and kill Americans by the million. The air they breath, the grass they play on, the water they drink -- all of it will be carefully measured for signs of contamination, and their family histories and genetic composition mined for the smallest defects.

The National Children's Study, the most ambitious study of children's health ever undertaken, took a big step toward reality today with the naming of 22 centers, including the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, that will carry out the decades of meticulous research.

Under an initial $16.24 million, five-year federal grant, the state medical school will recruit 1,000 Worcester County women willing to let their children's growth and development be tracked as part of the 100,000-child national study that aims to do for children's health what the famous Framingham Heart Study did for the understanding of heart disease.

"This is transformational ... We are talking about 30 years of studies," said Dr. Marianne Felice, chair of pediatrics at UMass Memorial, who spearheaded efforts to win the right to run the central Massachusetts branch of the study. "This is like the Framingham Heart Study for children, but better, longer and in more detail."

In the planning stages since 2000, the National Children's Study is intended to improve both prevention and treatment of major conditions such as birth defects, autism, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Children's study officials had previously named seven institutions nationally to lead the project, but it nearly stalled at the starting gates in 2006 when the Bush administration tried to eliminate its funding. Congress ultimately put up $69 million for this year that allowed the study to name 22 more academic centers, including Yale and Brown universities in New England, to carry out the work. Ultimately, study officials expect a total of 30 to 40 centers will carry out the research in 105 locations around the United States.

Already, Felice said UMass is gearing up to hire many of the 100 or more employees they will need to recruit families and then track the children. UMass officials also are poring over a three-inch-thick briefing book that spells out the study procedures right down to details such as collecting a sample of infants' cord blood in the delivery room for analysis. Felice said the study will be a major boost for pediatrics research at the university, giving local researchers a platform to investigate both national and local concerns, such as the unusually high infant mortality rate in Worcester County.

"I consider this a legacy that I will leave to my young faculty," she said.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Residents to take a stand on SCHIP

At noon today, pediatric residents across the country will join a 15-minute Stand up for SCHIP to urge President Bush not to veto an expansion of coverage for uninsured children who don't qualify for Medicaid.

The action started at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hosptial in California but soon spread to dozens of hospitals, including Boston Medical Center, Children's Hospital Boston and UMass Memorial Medical Center in Massachusetts. The House and Senate have voted to reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Plan, but the president has said he would veto it.

"It means children who could be covered won't be and the possibility that some children already covered may lose their insurance," Dr. Barry Zuckerman of Boston Medical Center said in an interview yesterday. "We see the consequences when patients don't get care when they don't have insurance."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:51 AM

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Staying sharp at the AARP convention

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

There were plenty of jokes about senior moments before a panel of neuroscientists began their discussion of how older people can stay sharp.

This was the AARP annual conference, after all, with oldies music piped through the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and ads for bladder control drugs plastered in the restrooms. Gail Sheehy was competing for the crowd's attention, the doctors noted, with her session in another meeting room on "Sex and the Seasoned Woman."

But the four panelists, three from Brigham and Women's Hospital and one from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, were as serious as the crowd about how to identify, prevent and deal with cognitive decline and dementia.

They explained how memories are retrieved and noted that new brain cells and connections can continue to be made, contrary to previous beliefs.

"It's possible to learn new tricks even though we are old dogs," said Dr. Dennis J. Selkoe, co-director of the Center for Neurologic Diseases at the Brigham.

Dr. Gary L. Gottlieb, president of the Brigham and a geriatric psychiatrist, warned that depression and anxiety can lead to problems with memory that may be confused with dementia.

"The great news is depression is treatable," he said. "There are drugs people can tolerate and psychotherapies people can use."

Dr. David A. Drachman, a professor of neurology at UMass, urged audience members to protect their brains by wearing seatbelts, eating a good diet, and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure under control.

"You are never going to be as young as you are today," he said, to more than a few chuckles.

Dr. Reisa Sperling, director of therapeutic trials in Alzheimer's disease at the Brigham, had a suggestion and a plea.

Learn ballroom dancing, she said, to combine mental and physical activity with social interaction.

And volunteer for clinical trials.

"I think a cure is in someone's test tube, if we can figure out which one," she said. "It takes people to come forward to be participants in trials to test them out."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:29 PM

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Six Mass. hospitals recognized for performance improvement

Six Massachusetts hospitals have made a consulting company's list of 100 US hospitals that have improved their performance.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston; UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester; NSMC Union Hospital in Lynn and Lowell General Hospital were recognized by Thomson Healthcare for better clinical outcomes, safety, financial stability and growth from 2001 to 2005.

The unranked 2006 list appeared in last week's Modern Healthcare magazine.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:44 AM

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Beth Israel Deaconess takes over cardiothoracic surgery at St. Vincent

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has taken over the cardiothoracic surgery program at St. Vincent Hospital previously run by Tufts-New England Medical Center and is starting a transplant referral program at the Worcester hospital, the hospitals said.

BIDMC physicians already staff the 348-bed medical center's emergency and radiation oncology departments. The change in cardiothoracic surgery took place July 1, when Dr. Robert M. Bojar, a surgeon based at St. Vincent, switched from Tufts-NEMC to BIDMC. Bojar and Dr. David C. Liu, another BIDMC surgeon, now operate in Worcester.

Tufts-NEMC spokeswoman Brooke Tyson Hynes said yesterday the cardiothoracic surgery change came about because of BIDMC's new surgical residency program at St. Vincent. On July 1, seven surgical residents began the first BIDMC rotations at the Worcester hospital, a year after University of Massachusetts Medical School and its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Medical Center, ended their surgical residency programs at St. Vincent.

Under the new arrangement for transplant patients, St. Vincent specialists will refer patients to BIDMC for kidney, liver or pancreas transplants, Dr. Douglas W. Hanto, chief of transplantation at BIDMC, said yesterday. Most St. Vincent patients had previously been referred to UMass Memorial, which provides kidney, liver and pancreas transplants through a joint program with the Lahey Clinic.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:16 AM

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

UMass Memorial hires new chief nursing officer

Nancy R. Kruger has been appointed senior vice president and chief nursing officer at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, the hospital said.

Kruger had been chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Brigham and Womenís Hospital for five years. Before that she was chief nursing officer at Hershey Medical Center, the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicineís academic medical center.

She received her bachelorís degree in nursing from Skidmore College, completed a graduate degree in nursing from New York University and earned a doctorate in nursing science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:37 AM

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Nurse staffing levels not the whole story, reader says

Liz Kowalczyk's recent blog item about a Massachusetts Hospital Association website that posts nurse staffing levels drew a skeptical response from a man whose wife spent much of last year in three hospitals.

"Anyone who thinks that even a majority of nursing hours are spent 'at each patient's bedside' is out of touch with reality," he wrote in an e-mail. "A good portion of the nurseís day is spent in data entry, and God help anyone needing care in the hours near shift changes."

An MHA spokesman said in an e-mail that some nursing activities related to coordination of patient care might occur away from the patient.

"It's not unreasonable that a nurse is out of the patient room and away from the bedside to consult with other members of the care team, to review orders, to prepare medication, and yes, to document the care provided so that others can take care of the patient as well," said Paul Wingle, MHA senior director of communications.

The man, who declined to be identified, said his wife was 66 when she died in December of sepsis. She was treated at Emerson Hospital in Concord, UMass Memorial Medical Center's two campuses in Worcester and Saints Memorial Medical Center in Lowell. She also received care at a rehab hospital whose staffing levels were not included on the MHA website and at skilled nursing homes.

The nurse staffing levels were similar across the three acute-care hospitals, averaging around 8 hours per patient day on medical/surgical wards and about 15 hours per patient day in intensive care units, according to the MHA site. But those numbers don't tell the whole story, the e-mail writer said in an interview.

The care his wife received in intensive care units was great, he said, but in other units it varied, even within the same hospital. It appeared to him that nurses spend about 30 percent to 50 percent of their time with patients.

"The point is, the percentage of the nurses' time actually spent in care-giving is not what is posted. Those are total hours."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:12 PM

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Levy pans joint liver transplant program

Paul Levy has harsh words for the new joint program for liver transplantation between Lahey Clinic and UMass Memorial Medical Center. Both transplant centers will continue to function independently, with surgeons operating in Burlington and Worcester, undermining the promise of collaboration, he writes in his blog today.

"I cannot imagine how asking Lahey doctors to commute to Worcester for a relatively small liver transplantation program will be a good use of their time or will optimize patient care and control costs overall," Levy says. He is president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which has its own liver transplant program.

Levy welcomed word that Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on the New Hampshire-Vermont border may be canceling plans for its own liver transplantation program because there would be too few patients.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock denied that suggestion.

"DHMC will not be expanding its solid organ transplant program to include liver transplants at this time, but no final decisions have been made," hospital spokesman Jason E. Aldous said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:48 AM
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