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POLITICO New York Health Care: Legionnaires' deaths rising; de Blasio's mental illness, homeless strategy

Dear readers: POLITICO New York Pro subscribers receive this email at 5:30 a.m. each weekday. If you'd like to receive it at that time, along with a customized real-time news feed of New York health care policy news throughout the day, please contact us at and we'll set you up for trial access.

written by Josefa Velasquez

LEGIONNAIRES’ DEATHS ON THE RISE — Two more Bronx residents have died from Legionnaires' disease, increasing the total to 10 in what city health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett described as the worst outbreak of the illness in city history. The city's health department issued an order Thursday requiring all building owners to disinfect their cooling towers within 14 days, or be subject to fines. The de Blasio administration, however, does not know how many cooling towers there are in New York City, so keeping track of which owners comply is going to be a challenge. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state health department will provide free legionella testing for all building owners with cooling towers or evaporative condenser units. The testing will be offered through October.

--Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said he is not convinced the city health department has found all the sources of the most recent outbreak, despite reassurances from the de Blasio administration. "We don't know if there are other cooling systems infected with legionella," Diaz told WNYC's Brian Lehrer Thursday morning. "We need to collect the dots before we connect the dots."

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LICH WATCH—More than 100Cobble Hill residents came to the Montessori School Thursday night to hear about the proposed development for the Long Island College Hospital campus, the first of what is likely to be many contentious public gatherings.

...Why is community upset? They don’t want towers in their neighborhood. There are lots of other concerns but the one that trumps them all is the proposed height of the buildings, which would drastically alter the landscape. One woman demanded the developer cover the cost of necessary infrastructure upgrades. There are also concerns over traffic and density.

...What does Fortis want? Fortis is a developer that paid nearly a quarter billion dollars for this piece of property. They want to develop. They’d prefer to do so with community support and to that end they are engaging in these public discussions, hoping to appease the community by altering parts of the plan such as the location of a new school or the construction of retail. But it’s hard, at this point, to envision any scenario in which Fortis gives up on the idea of a tower, or the community embraces the idea of a tower.

MONEY FOR MENTALLY ILL, HOMELESS— New York City will dedicate $22.4 million to tackle the city’s severely mentally ill and homeless residents, Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray announced Thursday. The plan will include $17 million in funding for four new forensic Assertive Community Treatment [ACT] teams, which the city hopes will provide treatment to at least 272 people who are at higher risk for violent behavior, and for all the plan's clinical items. ACT therapy employs teams of mental health, social work and nursing professionals who provide 24-hour individualized mental health care services to people who aren’t responsive to traditional treatment. Mental health experts say ACT is most effective for people who have difficulty traveling to doctor appointments, are schizophrenic or are unaware they need treatment. POLITICO New York’s Laura Nahmias has more:

UP IN SMOKE—The state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council approved emergency rules by the state’s Department of Health to curb the sale of synthetic marijuana, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced. Between early June and Aug. 1, the state saw more than 2,300 emergency room visits and 300 more calls to poison control centers because of the health effects of synthetic marijuana, known as “K2” or “spice,” the administration said. The emergency measures adds two additional classes of compounds to the banned substances list: Adamantoylindazoles, Tetramethylcyclopropylcarbonylindoles and their derivatives. Anyone found possessing, distributing or selling the synthetic drug is subject to a $500 fine and up to 15 days in jail, as well as a civil penalty of up to $2,000 per violation. [PRO]

NOW WE KNOW — Eating spicy food, mainly chilli peppers, once or twice a week resulted in a 10 percent reduced overall risk for death. Consuming spicy food six to seven times a week reduced the risk by 14 percent.

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SYRACUSE EYEING VETERANS HOSPITAL— Syracuse University briefed both federal and state officials on a proposal to create a medical school on campus to train doctors to care for veterans at understaffed VA hospitals around the country, the Post-Standard reports. Graduates of the proposed school, which needs approval from the state Education Department, federal and accreditation agencies, would be required to work at one of the 152 VA hospitals for a certain amount of time.

...Officials at the neighboring Upstate Medical University said SU’s plan for a medical school would overcrowd the central New York region. "We at Upstate see this proposal as harmful to us and to the Central New York Community," Dr. Gregory L. Eastwood, interim president of Upstate, wrote in a July 31 letter to SU chancellor Kent Syverud. "A second medical school in the Syracuse area can only stress the already limited resources, even if some new resources come from outside."

GRANT LAND — The federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute has awarded the New York City Clinical Data Research Network $8.5 million over three years, part of the second phase of development for the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network. The city's data research network, made up of more than 20 organizations, including some of the city's leading medical centers, is supposed to help researchers conduct observational studies and multi-site clinical trials.

FOR SALE— The state’s Department of Health approved the $51 million sale of Buffalo-based WillCare HealthCare to a Kentucky company. WillCare has 2,000 employees in New York, Connecticut and Ohio, including 800 clinicians, therapists, field staff and administrators in the Western New York area. More from the Buffalo News:

FALLING SHORT— New York met four out of the nine benchmarks, according to a report from the American Cancer Society. The state fell short on palliative care as well as funding for smoking prevention and cessation programs. But fear not, only 10 states, including most of New England, met the palliative care benchmark, the Times Union reports.


- MAGAZINE EXAMINES OTHER TISSUE TRADE — Michele Goodwin, in an essay for POLITICO Magazine writes that Planned Parenthood did “nothing wrong” and that there are many other far more commercial uses of human tissue. .” For example, she says, corneas go for around $3,500 per pair. “If Americans want the benefits of biotechnology—helpful surgeries, cosmetics, vaccines, Alzheimer’s treatment and pharmaceutical drugs—they and their elected representatives need to learn a few basic facts about how these social services and products are derived from human tissue research.” Goodwin is a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law and she is also an unpaid member of the Planned Parenthood Board of Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Read more:

- EBOLA VACCINE UPDATE— After the West African outbreak, scientists began experimental trials of a vaccine against Ebola in Guinea. One year later, as the outbreak has subsided, the vaccine has proven to “work well,” the New York Times reports. “We have to stop and celebrate the fact that an innovative trial design was able to come up, in the middle of an emergency, with pretty strong results,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, the chief executive officer of Gavi, an alliance of public and private organizations that provides greater access to vaccines in developing countries. The irony, a decade ago the vaccine was shown to be effective in monkeys.

-MEDICAID LOOPHOLE— Medical providers banned from one state’s Medicaid program are able to take part of another state’s program, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General. The Affordable Care Act requires that all states terminate providers banned in other states, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not require states to report terminated providers to a federal database that shares the information, Reuters reports.

-DR. WATSON — POLITICO reports: “IBM will spend $1 billion to buy medical imaging processor Merge Healthcare and combine its technology with the Watson Health platform.”

-MEANINGFUL USE — POLITICO reports: “Hospital groups are the latest to implore HHS Sec. Sylvia Mathews Burwell to finalize a rule that would alter Stages 1 and 2 of the meaningful use program.The groups, including the American Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals and America’s Essential Hospitals, called the rules, issued in April, “past due.” Read the letter: [PRO]

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TODAY'S TIP — Comes from the Mayo Clinic: What kind of multivitamin or supplement you should take depends on your diet.


School for middle and high school students starts too early, which affects their ability to get sufficient sleep. According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, delaying school start times could allow adolescents to achieve the optimal hours of sleep—between eight and a half and nine and a half would reduce the risk of obesity, lower the rate of depression, improve safety, as well as academic performance and quality of life.

- BIRTH CONTROL LOWERS CANCER RISK — A study published in The Lancet Oncology studied 27,000 cases of endometrial cancer and more than 115,000 control cases in 36 countries and concluded that women who used birth control pills experienced a long-term protection against endometrial cancer. In developed countries, roughly 400,000 cases of endometrial cancer have been prevented over the past 50 years by oral contraceptives.

- PERSONALIZED MEDICINE — Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, and Dr. Ronald Bayer, professor of Sociomedical Sciences and co-director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health argue that personalized or ‘precision’ medicine is “misguided” distracts from broader investments in the New England Journal of Medicine. “There is now broad consensus that health differences between groups and within groups are not driven by clinical care, but by social-structural factors that shape our lives,” the men wrote.

MISSED A ROUNDUP? Get caught up here: 8/6, 8/5, 8/4, 8/3, 7/30,

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