April 17, 2007

Awareness of Veterans' Mental Health Spreading

Jonathan Schulze was a decorated marine and Iraq war veteran. According to Kare 11’s Web site, he sought admittance to the V.A. Medical Center in St. Cloud on January 11th because he was suicidal. Schulze was instead put on a wait list. He hung himself days later.

To improve access to counseling services for Minnesota’s veterans, five senators have authored a bill requesting money for a telephone hotline and improved counseling services in “underserved areas.?

“Senator Erickson Ropes (the main author of the bill) sponsored this bill because many of our returning veterans are not receiving sufficient mental health care,? Tim Donahue, legislative assistant to Sen. Erickson Ropes said. “Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder have been great burdens on veterans, and are often not fully treated.?

The bill also asks for the commissioner of veterans affairs and the adjutant general of the National Guard to report to the state Senate on the psychological status of soldiers returning to Minnesota after serving in Iraq.

“As a co-author of the bill, I think that it’s important we protect our veterans in every way possible,? Sen. Mike Jungbauer, a co-author of the bill, said.

Currently, a soldier looking for mental health counseling must find a clinic or veteran’s hospital and call to make an appointment by him or herself, Donahue said. The hotline would help to facilitate the process.

Emily Stark, who teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota, says that even if access to counseling resources is improved, many people who need them may not use them.

“Improving access to mental health resources is always good, but I think a bigger problem is that there’s a stigma about seeing a counselor,? Stark said. “Some people might feel that if they admit they need therapy, then they are ‘weak’ or ‘crazy,’ and this type of thinking might be even more prevalent amongst the military.?

Aaron Abel, a specialist in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq driving supply trucks agrees with Stark.

“I’ve personally never needed counseling, but I have a good friend from my platoon who just started seeing a counselor for PTSD,? Abel says, referring to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I’m not too worried about him, but I know a few other guys who probably should be getting therapy and aren’t.?

Stark says the bill would be more effective if it included a component to guard against the negative stigma of therapy.

As of now no committee hearings have been scheduled to further the bill.

“At this point with our committee deadlines, this bill may not go anywhere this session,? Sen. Jungbauer says. “But stranger things have happened.?

However, even if no legislation is enacted to help, other resources are appearing.

In an article appearing today in the Pioneer Press, author David Hanners describes a former Marine and Iraq veteran who teamed up with Schulze's family to establish a foundation to help soldiers get mental health help quicker.

"The family announced it had incorporated the nonprofit Jonathan Schulze 'I Can't Hear You' Foundation. The name comes from the phrase barked by Marine Corps drill sergeants to their charges," says the article.

March 26, 2007

Bacteria Levels Under Control at Bloomington Beach

An innovative treatment has reduced dangerous levels of E. coli at Bush Lake Beach to a level safe enough to open the beach for swimmers this summer, said Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead at a city council meeting Monday.

“I think that we were very successful at reducing the level of E. coli in the water,? Winstead said. He made his remarks after a presentation about current beach conditions from Bloomington’s Environment and Health advisor, Karen Zeleznak.

Warm weather, warm water and bird droppings all contributed to E. coli growth in 2006, causing the city to close the beach to all visitors for a portion of the summer season. The city council assigned the Advisory Board of Health to evaluate the situation.

Jeff Luedeman, the coordinator for Bloomington’s Environmental Health Program, said the city decided to try a new type of treatment for E. coli that attacked the bacteria where it is bred most: In the sand where seagulls congregate.

Between July 13 and Aug. 24 of last year, the city applied a diluted chlorine bleach solution onto the shore in a 12-foot swath from the water’s edge. Preliminary results show that the bacteria were reduced to well below the threshold required for beach closure.

The city expects Bush Lake Beach to remain open to swimmers this summer.

“City staff will continue to monitor water quality twice a week starting in late May through Labor Day weekend,? Luedeman said.

--Molly George

February 28, 2007

When You Gotta Go...

Anyone who has ever been denied access to an "employees only" restroom during an emergency now has less to worry about.

The Senate commerce committee passed the Restroom Access Act on Tuesday, to the relief of about 35,000 Minnesotans with bowel and bladder control problems.

The act would require stores to let medically needy people use their restrooms, even if they are for employees only.

Some people do not see the need for a law allowing access to restrooms. They say the law is just extra burden on store owners and isn't required because of simple human decency.

"It's hard to understand how somebody could deny someone bathroom access," said Mike Hickey, Minnesota director for the National Federation of Independent Business. "It would be nice to know what's the actual need here."

The Senate committee apparently was unconvinced by such agruments.

Employees who refuse to let such patrons use their facilities could be charged with a petty misdemeanor and a $100 fine.

February 21, 2007

Big Tobacco Gets Small Break

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned an $79.5 million lawsuit against Philip Morris today.

The case, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, tested the power of juries to impose large punitive awards against tobacco corporations in product-liability trials.

In their ruling, the justices decided to follow the precedent that punitive damages should typically match "actual" damages.

The case originated in Oregon from the family of a Jesse Williams, who died in 1997 from a smoking-related disease. A jury had originally awarded the family $800,000 in compensatory damages in 1991 and $79.5 million in punitive damages.

Williams smoked up to three packs a day for 47 years. Court records say Williams never believed that cigarettes were a health danger, until he got cancer. The Oregon jurors said Philip Morris engaged in fraud and negligence affecting a large number of people over five decades.

February 11, 2007

Flu scares up vaccines, new ideas

With the news that two 8-year-olds and one 17-month old have already died of a flu outbreak in Minnesota, parents and health officials are taking steps to ensure health.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics in St. Paul administered over 1,500 free flu shots Saturday, most to children. Minnesota is one of nine states with flu cases in more than half the state's regions, according to a recent report from the CDC, despite an average total number of deaths and illnesses from influenza this year.

Some are proposing that all children should simply be vaccinated each year. Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner who heads the infectious disease program at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, says the most appropriate place for mass-vaccination of kids are the schools.

The task would be a major undertaking for schools, and some are critical that it could be done, at least this year.

"The problem is, for us to gear up in schools for a major deal like this in the fall would be difficult," said Ann Hoxie, a school nurse also on the state's vaccine advisory panel. "That's a massive effort in a short window of time."

An effort, many say, that may be well worth it.

February 6, 2007

Outbreak Among High School Wrestlers

An outbreak of herpes has infected 40 wrestlers from 16 high schools, according to the Pioneer Press.

Last week the Minnesota State High School League put a halt to all inter-school competitions and any contact among wrestlers in practice within schools for eight days; the moratorium will be over Wednesday.

The wrestlers were diagnosed with herpes gladiatorum, a form of the herpes virus that is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. The disease typically manifests itself as lesion on the face and neck.

Of the 40 cases reported, all but one involved wrestlers in the 189-, 215- and 285-pound weight classes. The other was in the 160-pound class.

Skin infections are not uncommon among wrestlers; the MSHSL's Web site even includes a form for wrestling coaches to fill out to report infections among team members.

The origin of this particular outbreak has not been determined.

Only some meets originally scheduled during the 8 day moratorium have been rescheduled, the MSHSL says it is up to the individual schools whether to reschedule all meets or not.