Health and health care news

UNITY, Maine - The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has joined groups across the country in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Patty Wight / MPBN

PORTLAND, Maine - Of the 1.3 million people living in Maine, about 37,000 have dementia. Over the next five years that number is expected to increase to more than 50,000. There is no cure, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms.

One nursing center in Portland recently employed a new strategy. The Cedars is the first in the state to use the "Music and Memory" program, which advocates say can tap deeply into dementia patients' memories to help connect them to the present.

ORONO, Maine - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding the University of Maine a $4.9 million grant to improve food processing technologies for products like grains, seeds and nuts.

The school is among 36 universities in the country to receive a total of $19 million in grants from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The school says its grant is a five-year award to enhance the safety of fresh produce and low-moisture foods.

BAR HARBOR, Maine - Registered nurses at Mount Desert Island Hospital have voted to authorize their union to call a strike.

Vanessa Sylvester, of the Maine State Nurses Association, says negotiations stalled over medical technology issues, management demands for what the union is calling "significant and arbitrary" cuts in pay rates for some nurses, and other issues.

Sylvester says the next step is federal mediation. "And it is our hope that through the federal mediator the hospital will come back to the bargaining table and work toward a resolution of this contract."

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine state Sen. Bill Diamond is looking to make carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in more buildings.

The Windham Democrat first introduced the idea in the Legislature in 2009, but he says at the time he doesn't think people were ready to accept the new technology - or the associated costs. But now, he says, that has changed.

Tom Porter / MPBN

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine - Conditions like cancer, Parkinson's disease, PTSD and depression are no laughing matter. But an increasingly popular form of group therapy uses laughter to help people overcome these same health challenges.

Patty Wight / MPBN

Cancer patients and their families have a new resource in the state: the Maine Cancer Resource Connection. The statewide hotline provides extra support to anyone affected by cancer, particularly those in rural areas. The hotline helps with issues that range from financial and transportation, to just needing someone to talk to.

PORTLAND, Maine - Maine has reached targets in some health indicators, but continues to lag in others. That's according to MaineHealth's fifth annual Health Index Report.

Deborah Deatrick, the organization's senior vice president of community health, says Maine hit goals in four areas: "That would include things like tobacco use, obesity, preventable hospitalizations, and cancer deaths."

AUGUSTA, Maine — Advocates gathered at the State House today in support of a measure that would require GMO labeling.

In 2013, Maine lawmakers passed a law that requires labeling of food distributed in Maine that is produced using genetically modified organisms, but only if five contiguous states, including Maine, pass a similar requirement. Advocates are seeking a repeal of that trigger.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says tests came back inconclusive on a pickled beet salad served at a Portland school where more than 20 students became sick.

The Portland Press-Herald reports the tests were part of an investigation into whether the salad sickened 22 students at Reiche Elementary School on March 10. The salad was not served at any other school in the city on that day.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Medical Center researchers have received a $230,000 federal grant for innovative research that could have an effect on the treatment of osteoporosis and obesity.

Dr. Clifford Rosen, senior scientist at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, says bone cells and fat cells come from one original cell line. He says whether they produce bone or fat depends on how the cells use the fuel that's available to them. Rosen says bone cells uses a lot of energy in the form of sugar while fat cells are fueled by fatty acids.

AUGUSTA, Maine — People from across the state showed up to testify in support of legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe long-term use of antibiotics to treat Lyme disease, without fear of action by the medical licensing board.

Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat. That was agreed by those testifying before the Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development committee on a bill that would shield doctors from disciplinary action for using antibiotics over a long period of time to treat the disease.

PORTLAND, Maine - Portland health officials and the Maine Center for Disease Control are trying to find out what caused 22 students to fall ill on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 10.

The students went to the school nurse's office with a sudden onset of stomach illness and vomiting. Most of the students recovered within hours.

State and city health inspectors examined the Portland public school system's central kitchen, as well as the kitchen at the Reiche School.

Health access advocates are gearing up to assist applicants seeking health insurance through the online Marketplace, as a special enrollment period starts this weekend for those who are being penalized for failing to sign up for a plan.

"Why the federal government decided to start this on Sunday is hard for us to explain," says Dr. Wendy Wolf, President and CEO of Maine Health Access Foundation.

Patty Wight / MPBN

SCARBOROUGH, Maine - Under the Affordable Care Act, Maine is one of several states to receive a $33 million, three-year grant to improve health care and reduce costs. Now in its second year, one of the project's goals is to develop something called a Value Based Insurance Design. The idea is to create one standard insurance plan, offered by every health insurance company, that promotes the most effective treatments.