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December health roundup: Portsmouth naval hospital becomes trauma center; Virginia’s psych hospitals are overcrowded and more

Navy Surgeon General Rear Adml. Darin Via address crowd at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (Photo by Steve Walsh)
Navy Surgeon General Rear Adml. Darin Via address crowd at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (Photo by Steve Walsh)

Portsmouth Naval Medical Center becomes Level II trauma center

Portsmouth Naval is now the first Navy-operated Level II trauma center and the second in Hampton Roads.

It also opened to civilians who need acute care.

Navy Surgeon General Rear Adml. Darin Via said the Navy understands the need to have a trauma center on the other side of the Downtown and Midtown tunnels — currently, Sentara Norfolk General is the only Level I trauma center in the region.

“We know speed is the most important thing,” Via said.

Read the full story here.

State psychiatric hospitals’ hands are tied when it comes to admitting patients

According to a new report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, Virginia’s state-run psych wards are overcrowded because by law, they can’t turn anyone away, even if they don’t have the resources to take care of them.

This isn't true for private hospitals, who can reroute patients if the hospital is at more than 85% capacity.

The report says this means state hospitals are admitting people with conditions like autism and dementia who would be better served at different facilities.

JLARC also found that law enforcement drops off patients with temporary detention orders before a medical exam that could determine if the person needs hospital care. Between July 2021 and June 2023, 1,400 people were dropped off that way.

JLARC said many people coming into hospitals through the TDO process had non-psychiatric medical problems the hospital wasn’t equipped to treat.

The report recommended giving state hospitals more leeway in who they admit and encourage or even require private facilities to admit more people.

Read the full story here.

UVA Health puts out a decision-making aid for high-risk breast cancer patients

Patients with a higher likelihood of developing breast cancer have to balance their desire to catch cancer early with the stress that comes with a false positive.

UVA Health doctors are using a virtual tool to help patients decide whether or not to undergo an MRI, which has a relatively high rate of false positives.

It's delivered on an iPad by a nurse in a clinic or hospital. Patients do exercises and answer questions before making a decision on imaging tests.

In a small pilot study, 23 of 24 patients reported liking the decision aid and thinking it was helpful.

New campaign helps patients understand health care laws

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association launched a new website to help residents understand laws that protect and benefit them during hospital procedures and outpatient care.

Some of those laws include a 2016 requirement for hospitals to provide a good-faith price estimate for elective procedures, and a 2022 law requiring hospitals to publish prices online to allow patients to comparison shop.

The VHHA said statewide polling showed 73% of people were not aware that federal and state laws require hospitals to publicly post prices, and 61% weren’t aware they could get good-faith price estimates from their providers.

Get more information here.

UVA: Alzheimer’s discovery reveals dire effect of toxic tau protein on brain cells

UVA researchers have figured out how certain proteins damage neurons in patients with  Alzheimer's disease.

The neurons in the brain, which control our response to the world, get "warped" and create something called tau proteins. Those proteins impact neuron function, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“If we can figure out how to intercept (the tau protein) when it’s floating around in the brain outside of neurons, using antibodies or other drugs, it might be possible to slow or halt progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said George Bloom, who led the research.

The world changes fast.

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