Sarah Fentem

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.

Missouri health officials have confirmed two cases in the state of a mysterious vaping-related pulmonary illness that has sickened hundreds of people across the nation. 

Missouri officials are investigating the cases of seven other patients to determine if their symptoms match the criteria for the illness. They’re also warning consumers not to tamper with vaping products.

Patients with the illness report nausea, shortness of breath, fever and elevated heart rates. The nine Missouri patients have reported modifying pre-packaged vaping products to smoke other substances such as vitamin E or THC, said Randall Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

Proponents of a Medicaid expansion in Missouri want to allow voters to override the state's Republican leaders, who have refused to extend coverage to more people.

The Healthcare for Missouri coalition is collecting signatures on a petition that would place a Medicaid expansion on the November 2020 ballot. If approved by voters, Missouri would expand the health insurance program to those who earn up to $18,000 a year. Missouri is one of 14 states that has not made the program available to more low-income people.

Campaign organizers say the expansion is necessary to extend health care coverage to people who have jobs but lack health insurance.

A federal judge has put a hold on Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban, but has left other provisions of the controversial law intact.

The parts of the law that prohibit abortions because of race, sex or Down syndrome diagnosis and updated requirements to pre-abortion counseling went into effect last week. Doctors say those new regulations victimize patients and compromise doctors’ medical ethics. 

On Aug. 9, Holly Uchtman and her 7-year-old son Zyler headed to their weekly appointment at Mercy Hospital in Springfield. Zyler has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare, terminal disease that causes muscles to weaken and eventually stop working. For two years, Zyler had been receiving eteplirsen, gene therapy that helped his muscles keep their shape.

But that day, there was a surprise on the other side of their journey. The state had removed Zyler from Medicaid, which pays for his nearly $40,000-a-week treatment. They were turned away, and he missed his appointment.

Updated at 11:46 a.m. Aug. 23 with a comment from Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft

Opponents of Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban have dropped their efforts to gather the needed 100,000 signatures to place a referendum on the November 2020 ballot. They claim Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft did not give them enough time to do so by Wednesday, when the law will take effect.

The abortion-rights coalition No Bans On Choice and the ACLU of Missouri have instead turned their attention to making sure state officials cannot block future referendums. On Thursday, they filed a lawsuit against Ashcroft, a Republican, alleging that the laws that allowed him to delay releasing the referendum’s language violate the state’s constitution.

When Missouri officials announced earlier this year that more than 100,000 people, many of them children, had been dropped from the state Medicaid program, critics assailed the cuts as callous and unnecessary.

But House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said Monday that the cuts largely resulted from a new computer system's ability to weed out enrollees who earned too much money to qualify for the program.

Updated at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's comments

The abortion-rights group No Bans on Choice faces an "impossible" task to collect enough signatures on a petition that would allow voters to overturn a Missouri law that bans most abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, officials from the committee said Wednesday. 

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Wednesday released the wording for the ballot initiative after a months-long legal battle. 

American Civil Liberties Union representatives say it’s unlikely they would collect the 100,000 signatures they need to place a referendum on the ballot before the law goes into effect on Aug. 28.

The number of drug-related deaths increased by 16% last year, as fatal overdoses declined by an estimated 5.1% nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Missouri is one of 17 states that saw a rise in drug-related deaths last year. In 34 states, the number of deaths declined. Only Delaware had a higher increase over the previous year, at 16.7%.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are asking a federal judge to overturn a Missouri law banning most abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. 

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, lawyers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services, the St. Louis clinic that provides abortion services, asked the court to overturn the law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

“Extreme legislators are really pushing to find any way possible to outlaw abortion in the state,” said Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri has hired one of its most visible doctors as its first full-time chief medical officer.

Colleen McNicholas, who’s worked as an OB-GYN at the organization’s St. Louis clinic, started her job on July 1. As chief medical officer, she’ll oversee and coordinate medical care at Planned Parenthood clinics across the region.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. July 1 with "St. Louis on the Air" audio; updated at 6:25 p.m. June 28 with details from Planned Parenthood event — Access to abortion in Missouri will continue as a state commission prepares to consider a licensing dispute over a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in St. Louis.

On Friday, a state administrative hearing commissioner extended the organization’s license until the Administrative Hearing Commission decides how to resolve Planned Parenthood’s complaint against the state Department of Health and Senior Services. The commission set a hearing for Aug. 1.

Updated at 2:15 p.m., June 21 with comments from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and the state health department director — The only abortion provider in Missouri has lost its license, but the clinic’s future remains unclear after a court hearing Friday morning in St. Louis.

Citing patient safety concerns, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Friday declined to renew a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions. Officials said some abortions were not performed properly and failed.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer said the injunction he previously issued keeping the clinic open will remain in effect for now. It’s not known when he will make a final decision.

Updated at 5:28 p.m. with comments from Sayer Johnson from the Metro Trans Umbrella Group

After initially banning uniformed police officers from the St. Louis Pride parade, officials from Pride now will allow law enforcement to participate in the event later this month.

Pride officials originally made the decision to ban uniformed officers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a violent conflict between police and gay and transgender people. Now, organizers say they want to use the June 30 event to promote healthy relationships between the police and those historically marginalized by law enforcement.

“Through education and communication, we can build bridges to move forward and be those agents of change that the city so desperately needs,” said Jordan Braxton, director of diversity and inclusion for Pride St. Louis.

Updated at 9:45 p.m. June 10 with additional comments from Planned Parenthood  — Missouri will continue to have legal access to abortion.

A St. Louis Circuit Court judge on Monday granted Planned Parenthood a preliminary injunction that effectively keeps its license to operate a St. Louis abortion clinic open for at least 11 more days.

Judge Michael Stelzer ordered the state Department of Health and Senior Services to decide whether to renew Planned Parenthood’s annual license by June 21, when attorneys representing the organization and the state appear in court again.

The judge’s decision means Missouri’s only abortion provider will continue operating while he weighs Planned Parenthood’s objections to the way state health officials have handled the organization’s request for a new license.

Updated at 9:58 p.m. June 7 with information from the College of American Pathologists Missouri health officials say they are investigating “failed surgical abortions” at Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic.

Department officials said Friday that some women who had received abortions at the clinic remained pregnant after the procedure, according to an analysis of fetal tissue.

The officials say they reported a lab that tests fetal tissue from abortions at the St. Louis clinic to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Federal officials then temporarily suspended the lab’s accreditation.

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