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New York State Department of Health

Local officials and health professional are urging residents to get this year's flu shot. Stock photo

State, county and area hospitals are bracing for this year’s flu season following reports of a sharp increase in recent weeks in the number of flu cases in New York state.

About 11,000 confirmed cases of influenza were reported by the New York State Department of Health for the week ending Jan. 11. That’s an increase of 10 percent over the previous week, according to the New York State Flu Tracker. There were 641 new cases in Suffolk County. The statewide total this season stands at almost 44,000. 

Similarly, “widespread”’ flu activity was reported by health departments in 46 states as of the last week of December, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and professor of Pediatrics, said currently the hospital is in the midst of handling an influx of influenza cases.

“We are dealing with the children’s hospital being quite full,” she said. “We have a number of infants with the flu, and we are concerned about it.” 

“Community protection is everyone’s job.”

– Sharon Nachman

The hospital hopes to see an improvement in the next couple of weeks.

Nachman points to a number of reasons why we have been seeing more flu cases in the state: People unwilling to get vaccinated; individuals believing that they are safe from getting sick if they haven’t in the past; a belief that cold and flu medications are better than the shot, among other things.

“I ask patients, ‘Is there a legitimate reason why you don’t want to be vaccinated?’” Nachman said. “You have to think of who is also living in your household, like young people and the elderly. Community protection is everyone’s job.”

The division chief said if everyone got their flu vaccine there would be less people to treat.

“You are 100 percent at risk without the vaccine,” Nachman said. “The vaccine will not prevent someone from getting the flu, but it can lessen the severity of it and shorten its duration.”

She said despite some misconceptions, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine as it does not contain a live virus. If you happen to get sick after getting a flu shot, it’s a coincidence as there are a lot of viruses and illnesses circulating during the winter months.

In an effort to curb flu cases in Suffolk County, officials announced recently that the county would be offering free influenza immunization to residents 6 months of age and older who are uninsured or whose health insurance does not cover flu immunization.

“The health and wellness of our residents is of utmost importance,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in a statement. “The flu has been on the rise, and we want residents to know it is not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones from what can turn into a debilitating disease by getting immunized as soon as possible.”

The county’s health department has been providing flu immunizations at a number of locations including Suffolk County Department of Health Services at Great River in the Town of Islip and at Riverhead Free Library.

Nachman said it is important to constantly wash your hands and if you are sick, stay home to avoid exposing others to the illness.

Flu shots are also available at local pharmacies, pediatrician and health care provider offices, as well at county-affiliated health centers.

People who are having difficulty finding flu shots or community groups serving those who are in need of flu shots are advised to contact the county Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at 631-854-0333.

 

Northport district officials have found an alternative location for its bus depot. Photo from Close Northport MS Facebook page

At a board of education meeting Nov. 21, Robert Banzer, Superintendent of Schools, recommended to the board that they seek other fueling alternatives of the two 4,000 gallon tanks and look at options to move buses to another location. The district has already begun researching options for alternative tanks locations and placement of buses, according to the superintendent.

In addition,  a plan will presented at the December 12 board of education meeting.

The decision comes less than a week after a TBR News Media article disclosed that the district was in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage.

On Nov. 25, the NYS Department of Health re-inspected the fueling tanks and indicated to the district that the previous citations were corrected.

In a letter to the Northport School Community, Banzer said they would:

  • Conduct refresher training on the latest guidelines for tank maintenance and inspections
  • Schedule periodic tests of all tanks throughout the districts with an outside environmental testing firm
  • Ensure consistent and documented follow up with the Department of Health when seeking follow up inspections
  • Formalize internal communications which includes the superintendent and board of education.

Similarly, the board of education approved two other recommendations brought forward by the subcommittee:

  • Authorizing that the district request the Suffolk County Department of Health perform a follow-up inspection to their May 2017 visit and its subsequent inspection report.
  • Authorize follow-up testing of indoor air quality to follow the same protocols as the August 2018 assessment as well as air quality testing in individual rooms.

 

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, works at one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program to give low to no cost Narcan to those with prescription health insurance coverage. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.

On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.

Narcan kit are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.

Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.

This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.

The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.

The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.

“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”

While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.

Narcan kits are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies, like at Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.

“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”

The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.

“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”

Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.

File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Widespread concerns over indoor air quality will keep the K-wing of Northport Middle School closed for the upcoming 2017-18 school year, Northport school officials announced.

On Aug. 9, Northport school district held a community forum to address parents concerned over what health risks may be posed to students in the classrooms where an earth science teacher reported smelling gasoline fumes in April. The fumes were said to be coming from a petroleum-based warehouse located beneath the K-wing. The materials have since been removed.

The most recent air-quality tests, performed July 22 by Hauppauge-based J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc., an environmental and construction testing firm, showed no hazardous concentration of chemicals in any of the samples. But four chemicals commonly linked to perfumes, natural rubber products, air conditioners and refrigerators, thermoplastics and latex paints were found in high concentrations — above the 95th percentile — in the K-wing corridor, rooms 74 and 75. These results were reported to the New York State Department of Health, according to J.C. Broderick & Associates’ report.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said the wing’s closure will not affect scheduled classes other than moving their locations, as students can be readily accommodated by reallocating use of existing classrooms.

The district has a plan of action in place to continue air-quality sampling throughout the building.

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An ambulatory surgery center in Port Jefferson Station will allow Mather Hospital to open up space for patients in need of extended stays. File photo from Mather Hospital

North Shore residents in need of a surgical procedure will soon have a new, more convenient option that eliminates the need for extended hospital stays, long searches for parking and unnecessary treks through vast buildings.

The New York State Department of Health approved plans for the Port Jefferson Ambulatory Surgery Center to be located on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station at a meeting of the State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council Aug. 4. The project, which is estimated to cost nearly $10.6 million, will establish a freestanding outpatient facility for surgical procedures with six operating rooms. John T. Mather Memorial Hospital will own about a quarter of the center, with 19 individual physicians making up 70 percent of the ownership structure.

Doctors involved in the plans, which go  as far back as five years, are excited for the possibilities the center will bring.

“There’s a massive need because it’s more comfortable for the patients, they’re less expensive to run [than full hospitals] and it’s less expensive for the hospital,” Port Jefferson-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Fracchia said in a phone interview. He called the center a “win-win-win” because of the benefits it will create for patients, insurance companies and Mather Hospital. Sending patients with ailments treatable at another site out of the hospital will also allow Mather more space for those who require a hospital stay.

Fracchia is serving as a treasurer for the project as well.

The Port Jefferson Station center will handle procedures in ophthalmology, orthopedics, pain management, general surgery, neurosurgery and otolaryngology.

“It’s a more comfortable, homey type of facility,” orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian McGinley said in an interview. McGinley is the president of the Port Jefferson Station project. Both McGinley and Fracchia stressed the improvement the facility will make in convenience and cost savings for patients. McGinley added that the center will be held to the same high standards that are associated with Mather Hospital. He said the centers tend to be cleaner than hospitals with a far lower risk of infections like MRSA.

Pinnacle III, a company based in Colorado that specializes in establishing ambulatory surgery centers nationwide, has assisted in developing more than 40 centers across the United States and will play a role in creating the Port Jefferson Station site. It will be the first Pinnacle III center in New York, and according to Pinnacle III President and CEO Robert Carrera, New York is one of the states with the greatest need for more surgery centers. Lisa Austin, the company’s vice president, estimated that the cost of procedures at surgery centers is about 33 percent less than at traditional hospitals.

Carrera, Austin, Fracchia and McGinley all speculated that ambulatory surgery centers could be a wave of the future in health care, especially in New York.

“Things have changed — you don’t see anyone building new hospitals,” Fracchia said. New York currently has 116 ambulatory surgery centers, though plans for more are popping up in addition to the Port Jefferson Station location.

Fracchia said he anticipates ground being broken on the site within the next week or so, and the goal is for the doors to open by the winter of 2017.