Sunflower oil saves at-risk newborns from infection
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Sunflower oil saves at-risk newborns from infection

Saturday, March 5, 2005Simply massaging low birth weight babies with sunflower seed oil can protect them from potentially fatal infections.

Infections and complications from preterm birth cause more than half of all neonatal deaths, and very low birth weight babies are particularly vulnerable.

Preterm babies have immature skin that lacks a protective film called vernix that has antimicrobial properties.

In some countries, such as India, newborns are routinely massaged with mustard oil.

But mustard oil, says Gary Darmstadt of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, can delay recovery of the skin barrier and have a toxic effect on skin.

Seeking an alternative low-cost product, Darmstadt and colleagues experimented with sunflower oil and an ointment called Aquaphor that comprises petrolatum, mineral oil, mineral wax and lanolin.

The researchers tested the treatments on 497 newborns (72 hours old or less) and preterm babies (less than 33 weeks gestation) between 1998 and 2003 in Bangladesh.

They applied the treatments to the entire body besides the scalp and face three times daily for the first 14 days and then twice daily until discharge.

Babies treated with sunflower oil were found 41% less likely to develop infections than controls.

“Evidence is emerging that the skin is much more important as a barrier to infection than previously recognized, particularly in preterm infants whose skin is underdeveloped,” says Darmstadt. “The good news is that treatment is available to strengthen the function of the skin as a barrier in these vulnerable newborns.”

Andrea Muizelaar on fashion, anorexia, and life after ‘Top Model’
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Andrea Muizelaar on fashion, anorexia, and life after ‘Top Model’

Monday, November 26, 2007

In the 18 months since Andrea Muizelaar was crowned winner of the reality TV series Canada’s Next Top Model, her life has been a complete whirlwind. From working in a dollar store in her hometown of Whitby, Ontario, to modeling haute couture in Toronto, she had reached her dream of becoming a true Top Model.

But at what cost? Unknown to casual television viewers, Muizelaar had been enveloped in the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, which inevitably became too much for her to bear. She gave up modeling and moved back to Whitby, where she sought treatment for her disorder, re-entered college, and now works at a bank. Where is she now? Happy and healthy, she says.

Recently Andrea Muizelaar sat down with Wikinews reporter Mike Halterman in a candid interview that stretched to nearly two hours, as she told all about her hopes and aspirations, her battle with anorexia, and just what really happened on Canada’s Next Top Model.

Contents

  • 1 Andrea’s beginnings
  • 2 Andrea on her road to modeling, and America’s Next Top Model
  • 3 Experience on Canada’s Next Top Model
  • 4 The message she wrote to her fans on her facebook group
  • 5 Her brief modeling career
  • 6 “Happy and healthy”
  • 7 Source
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Stolen minibus recovered 35 years after theft
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Stolen minibus recovered 35 years after theft

Friday, November 6, 2009

A 1965 Volkswagen minibus that was stolen in 1974 has been recovered by customs agents in Los Angeles. The vintage minibus was in pristine condition, valued at $25,000, and was found during a routine inspection of a shipping container scheduled for departure to The Netherlands. A routine computer database search on its vehicle identification number flagged it as having been stolen from a vehicle upholstery shop in Spokane, Washington on July 12, 1974. A custom restoration business in Arizona was attempting to deliver it to overseas clients last month when authorities intercepted the vehicle.

“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?”

The theft appeared on the National Insurance Crime Bureau database, which is used by border authorities and contains all stolen vehicle records. Most police databases remove unsolved vehicle thefts after five years.

The California Highway Patrol does not suspect the restorer of wrongdoing, according to investigating officer Mike Maleta. Possession of the vehicle apparently changed several times. Police in Spokane have not yet located the rightful owner, whose identity has not been released to the press. Maleta hopes that a trail of registration documents and interviews will uncover the thief.

“[The restoration firm owner is] a victim himself. He was an innocent purchaser…”

The Allstate insurance company paid $2500 shortly after the theft occurred and wants to take possession of the vintage minibus. Allstate spokeswoman Megan Brunet expects that after the necessary paperwork is processed the firm will sell it at auction.

‘Fascinating’ and ‘provocative’ research examines genetic elements of bipolar, schizophrenia
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‘Fascinating’ and ‘provocative’ research examines genetic elements of bipolar, schizophrenia

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Last week, Nature Genetics carried twin studies into the genetics of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. This special report examines the month’s research into the illnesses in detail, with Wikinews obtaining comment from experts based in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom ahead of the U.S. Mental Illness Awareness Week, which starts tomorrow.

Eleven genetic regions were identified; seven of these were for schizophrenia and five of those were hitherto undiscovered. The parallel studies, conducted separately, examined more than 50,000 people worldwide and identified two genetic loci associated with both diseases.

Little is known about the two illnesses, each of which affects around 1% of people and is treated with strong medication. Bipolar sufferers experience extremes of mood – depression and mania, hence the previous name “manic depression” for the illness. Schizophrenia is associated with hearing voices, chaotic thoughts, and paranoia. There is no known cure.

The latest research examined both the healthy and the afflicted, using computers to scan genomes. Inheritance was thought to be a factor from prior knowledge of the diseases as a familial trait, but the original desire had been to isolate a single faulty gene. Instead it has become apparent that the genetic factors are many; in the case of schizophrenia, at most around 30% of the genetic components are thought to have been identified.

If any single centre tried to undertake such a study, it would require millions of pounds.

The University of Chicago’s Pablo Gejman, a lead researcher on the schizophrenia study, explained to Wikinews in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires, Argentina that “One of the goals of genetic research is to find druggable targets” – to “find treatments at the root of the problem”.

Whilst noting that there is no guarantee the genetic code identified is druggable, Gejman named calcium-activated neurochemical channels in the brain as candidates for new drugs. The channels were linked to schizophrenia in the study.

Gejman explained that a genetic locus called mir137 “suggests an abnormality of gene regulation.” The diseases are so poorly understood that it is uncertain if they are in fact two components of a single spectrum, or even each comprised of multiple illnesses.

The new and “provocative data” gathered showed the significant loci identified were “not part of the pre-existent hypothesis.” Calling this “interesting”, Gejman added that the team found no evidence that dopamine receptors are involved; current drug treatments target dopamine receptors. The findings are “not related to anything we thought we knew [about schizophrenia],” he told our correspondent.

Quizzed about the possibility variations in the genetic factors involved in expressing the diseases explained the variation seen in symptoms, Gejman was uncertain. “We will have the answer, probably, only when we sequence the whole [human] genome.” He notes that the relationship between genotype and phenotype is unclear, and that “We know very little of the genetic architecture of schizophrenia and” other disorders.At the time the results were published, participating scientist Professor Rodney Scott from the University of Newcastle in Australia said “The strength of this research is in the numbers. The findings are robust and give us a lot of statistical power to identify the genetic determinants of schizophrenia.” Scott told Wikinews that “If any single centre tried to undertake such a study, it would require millions of pounds. Since it was a collection of data from across the world the costs were spread. In this era of financial difficulty it will become increasingly difficult to secure funding for this type of project even though the pay-offs will be significant.”

Gejman expressed similar sentiment. “The research budget is not growing, which makes [funding] difficult,” he said, though he felt the cost “is not prohibitive because of the benefits.” “I think that it was money well invested” and “very well spent for the future,” he said, adding that organisations in Europe and the US were aware of the importance of such research.

Gejman also agreed on reliability – the study is “Very reliable because of the sample size; that should provide robust results… [we] have worked with a much larger sample than before.” Scott told us it was “a highly reliable study” that has the potential to lead to new treatments “in the long run”.

Another point was the two genetic loci identified as common to both – how much support do they lend to the notion the diseases are linked? “Until more information is available it is really only suggestive,” says Scott. “Strong enough to say there may be potentially a common pathway that bifurcates to give rise to two diseases.”

The provision of specialist services for bipolar is very limited in the UK and the demand for our services is unprecedented.

“It is an excellent demonstration,” said Gejman “because you have the same chains that are common to both disorders, in fact not just the same chains but also the same alleles.” He stressed uncertainty in how strong the relationship was, however.

Scott said examining how the variation of genetic factors may translate into varied symptoms being expressed “certainly is a good target for future research”; “It is not known how many genetic factors contribute to either of these diseases but it is likely that not all are necessary to trigger disease.” “New questions will always arise from any major study,” he told our reporter. “Certainly, new questions about bipolar and schizophrenia are now able to be formulated on the basis of the results presented in the two reports.”

These weren’t the only studies to look at the two diseases together in September. The British Medical Journal carried research by a team from the University of Oxford and King’s College London that examined mortality rates in England for schizophrenia and bipolar sufferers. They found both groups continued to suffer higher mortality rates than the general population – whilst these included suicides, three quarters of deaths were down to ailments such a s heart conditions. General death rates dropped from 1999 to 2006, but sufferers below 65 saw their death rate remain stable – and the over-65 saw theirs increase.

“By 2006, the excess risk in these groups had risk to twice the rate of the general population, whereas prior to that it had only been 1.6 times the risk, so it increased by almost 40%,” said Dr Uy Hoang of Oxford. The study looked at every discharged inpatient with a diagnosis of either condition in England in the relevant time.

Hoang said at the time of the research’s release that doctors should devote attention to predicting and preventing physical illness associated with mental disorders. His study comes at a time when the UK has launched a “no health without mental health” strategy which does attempt to screen for physical illnesses coinciding with mental illnesses. The government aims to reduce the death rate of those with mental disorders.

Rodney Scott described this research result to Wikinews as “Possibly” connected to genetic association with other hereditary ailments, such as cardiovascular disease; he told us another possibility is that “The continued raised mortality rates may be associated with the diseases themselves.”

“We believe the NHS [National Health Service] and Department of Health need to do more to support research and service development for people with bipolar disorder,” Wikinews was told by Suzanne Hudson, Chief Executive of London-based British charity MDF The Bipolar Organisation. “The provision of specialist services for bipolar is very limited in the UK and the demand for our services is unprecedented.”

“A genetic test for bipolar would be a useful tool but the science and ethics are very complex,” Hudson told us, referring to the Nature Genetics genetic study. “Just because someone has ‘bipolar genes’ does not mean they might go on to develop it. Family studies of bipolar show that this is a likely outcome of genetics research in this area. Even if it were possible to accurately predict bipolar in this way, questions about how you treat that person are difficult. For example do you start medication that is not necessary at that point in time?”

“Current treatment is not satisfactory” because it does not always work and has “side effects,” Gejman told us. Robert Whitaker, a US medical journalist and book author, told an audience in New Zealand at the end of August that evidence suggests antidepressant drugs may make children and teenagers worse – “You see many become worse and end up with a more severe diagnosis, like bipolar illness,” and the suicide risk may increase.

Whitaker blames commercial interests. “The adult market appeared saturated, and so they began eying children and teenagers. Prior to this, few children and youth were seen as suffering from major depression, and so few were prescribed anti-depressants.”

One possible alternative, raised by a connection between depressive illness and inflammation, is aspirin and similar compounds. “The link between inflammation and mood disorders has been known for sometime and the use of aspirin and other drugs in depression is now becoming more common in the literature,” Hudson says. “Any new treatments for bipolar, which is a very complex and co-morbid illness, has to be a good thing.”

Professor Dr. Michael Berk, chairman of psychiatry at Australia’s Deakin University, recently gave a talk to just this effect. Speaking at this year’s Congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, held this past month, he also highlighted statins as a treatment. Recognising the link to physical ailments, he told an interviewer “The brain does not exist in isolation, and we need to understand that pathways similar to those that underpin risks for cardiovascular disorders, stroke, and osteoporosis might also underpin the risk for psychiatric disorders, and that other treatments might be helpful.”

Berk also touched upon speed of diagnosis and treatment; “Early interventions can potentially improve the outcome” of bipolar sufferers, he told his audience. MDF The Bipolar Organisation claim an average of ten years is possible before a person is diagnosed. “This clearly is an issue, if we believe that earlier diagnosis and treatment facilitate better outcomes,” Berk told Wikinews. Though he questions the effectiveness of currently-used drugs on advanced bipolar cases, he does not go so far as to say drugs are actively harmful. He told us “it appears that our best treatments work best earlier in the illness course; and that seems to apply to psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.”

Berk has already performed research using statins which suggests they can form a treatment. He now seeks funding for research involving aspirin. On funding, he tells Wikinews “psychiatric disorders comprise between 16% and 22% of the burden of disability (depending on who measures it), attracts[sic] just over 6% of the clinical budget at least in Australia and 3% of the research budget. Research as a discretionary spending item is at great risk.”

Berk’s research, in the past, has been funded by companies including GlaxoSmithKline. Hudson told Wikinews this did not concern her charity; in fact, they welcomed it. “We believe it is important pharmaceutical companies continue to invest in the development of new medications for bipolar. This is how it works in all other health specialities and mental health should be no different.”

“There is a need for greater education for mental health professionals and GPs [general practitioners] about bipolar [in the UK],” she told us. “As the national bipolar charity we receive many, many calls and requests from GPs and other health professionals for our leaflets and information sheets which is fantastic. We very much welcome opportunities to work together for the benefit of individuals affected by bipolar.”

Wikinews contacted the UK’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to discuss issues raised in this article, including future treatments, genetic screening, and mortality rates. NICE did not respond.

Might statins and/or aspirin improve treatment – might they be cheaper, perhaps, or safer? “This is an area of research promise,” says Berk, “however it is too early to make any clinical treatment claims; [all] we can say is that this needs to be studied in properly designed trials capable of giving a more definitive answer.” And what of possible explanations for the increased mortality rate observed in England? Should researchers look at whether bipolar influences more than just the brain, or if it is linked to other genetic conditions?

“For sure,” he told us. “There is new evidence that similar pathways contribute to the risk for both medical and psychiatric illness, both in terms of lifestyle factors, and biomarkers of risk.”

MDF The Bipolar Organisation provide support to those with bipolar and their friends and family: 020 7931 6480

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Chili Finger Incident
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Chili Finger Incident

Friday, May 6, 2005

On Thursday the 22nd of March, 2005, Anna Ayala, a woman from Las Vegas, claimed to have found a human finger in her bowl of chili at a Wendy’s restaurant located at 1405 Monterey Highway, just south of downtown San Jose, California, owned by Fresno-based Jern Management.. The finger, which probably belonged to a woman as it had a long and manicured fingernail, did not belong to any of the restaurant employees. The food supplies were seized by officials to be traced back to its manufacturers, while the restaurant was permitted to open again later with chili prepared from fresh ingredients.

Contents

  • 1 Aftermath
  • 2 Investigation centers on Ayala
  • 3 Twists and turns
  • 4 Ayala arrested
  • 5 Ayala transferred to San Jose
  • 6 Finger’s owner identified
  • 7 Recently Edited headlines

Wikinews reporter David Vasquez drove his car up to the drive-thru menu and found that chili was still on the menu, at a price of US$1.19 for a small serving. He also witnessed workers unloading supplies from a semi-trailer truck in the restaurant’s parking lot, and carting them into the back door of the establishment.

Initially, county health officials said Ayala was fine and the finger had been cooked, which would have killed any bacteriae in the finger. However, on March 27, officials admitted they were not so sure anymore. Tests were done on the finger to determine this. Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s health officer, said that even if the finger was still raw when Ayala bit into it, the risk was low that she would have become infected with anything. However, he advised that Ayala should undergo a series of precautionary follow-up tests.

Sales at Wendy’s went down because of the incident. Wendy’s International, Inc. (WEN) closed at US$39.43 on Thursday the 22nd, and as the stock exchange was closed for the Good Friday holiday, traders did not weigh in the stock until the next Monday.

By Tuesday the 5th of April, officials had still not succeeded in tracking down the owner of the finger. The fingerprint on the detached digit has been run through an FBI database as well as the local criminal database in Santa Clara County, but no matches were found. According to Rich Reneau, who was leading the investigation at the time, the fingerprint was marginal, and the likelihood of finding a match was slim.

Wendy’s stock did not go down significantly and was trading at US$39.37 that morning.

The next day, on Wednesday the 6th, Las Vegas police searched the home of Anna Ayala. About a dozen officers conducted the search at Ayala’s home at Maryland Parkway and Serene Street at about 4 p.m. local time (23:00 UTC), according to witnesses at the scene. Ayala and other residents were handcuffed and brought out of the house. Ayala said that her teenage daughter, Genesis Reyes, had torn shoulder ligaments as a result of the search. The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a photo of Reyes wearing a sling in their Friday edition. In San Jose, police spokeswoman Gina Tepoorten confirmed to reporters that investigators had served the warrant in cooperation with Las Vegas police on Wednesday, but she refused to reveal specific details about the warrant. By that time, Wendy’s was offering a US$50,000 reward for information leading to the source of the finger.

Research by the Associated Press uncovered Ayala’s history of lawsuits. Ayala successfully won her suit for medical expenses against the national El Pollo Loco chicken-chain, a previous employer, after her daughter Genesis contracted salmonella poisoning, allegedly from eating at the restaurant. However, Ayala lost another suit against General Motors in 2000 claiming that a wheel fell off her car. She also started a sexual harassment suit against her former boss in 1998. A total of 13 lawsuits in California and Nevada had been filed. Ayala replied the focus should be on Wendy’s, and not her record of law suits. Nick Muyo, a spokesman for the San Jose Police department, said not to expect new information in the case for at least a week.

On Wednesday the 13th there was a potential new lead in the investigation. A spotted leopard had torn off part of a finger from an owner of exotic animals, Sandy Allman, in Pahrump, Nevada. The portion of Allman’s torn off finger was approximately the same size – 1 1/2-inches long. Pahrump is approximately 45 miles away from Las Vegas. Carol Asvestas, who owns an exotic animal sanctuary, told the San Jose Mercury News she witnessed the leopard tear off the finger. She reported the incident to a hotline run by Wendy’s offering the US$50,000 reward. Cindy Carroccio told the San Jose Mercury News that the finger was not reattached, and that the clinic “gave it back to her (Allman) in a little bag of ice.” On the same day the lead was announced, Ayala decided to drop her lawsuit against Wendy’s, due to emotional stress.

However, when Allman’s prints were sent to San Jose police, they didn’t match. Two days later, on Friday the 15th, Wendy’s doubled the reward to US$100,000. The company revealed that employees had passed polygraph tests. Wendy’s continues to claim that there is no evidence that the finger ever entered their supply chain, pointing to a lack of any accidents among the workers at their suppliers. Wendy’s tip line had received reports from across the United States, from “folks who either have lost a finger, or know somebody who lost a finger,” San Jose police Sgt. Nick Muyo told the Associated Press.

On Thursday the 21st of April, Anna Ayala was arrested at or near her home in Las Vegas on Thursday evening, in connection with the case, shortly after Wendy’s finished its own internal investigation. According to court documents, she has been charged with one count of attempted grand larceny related to the chili case, and one count of grand larceny in an unrelated real estate deal, and is being held without bail in Clark County, Nevada, pending extradition. A press conference by the San Jose Police and Wendy’s was held on Friday, April 22, at 13:00 PDT. The charge related to the case states the finger could not have been prepared at Wendy’s, where the chili is heated to 170 degrees for 3 hours. There is also an inconsistency in Ayala’s account of finding the finger and claiming it caused her to vomit compared with police saying there was no vomit at the scene. The incident has caused Wendy’s 2.5 million dollars worth of damages, which Ayala could be criminally responsible for. Until recently, the San Jose police had not accused Ayala of planting the finger herself.

The unrelated charge stems from an incident, also in San Jose, when Ayala allegedly received an $11,000 down payment on a mobile home she did not own.

Ayala was incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center, awaiting a fugitive review hearing on Tuesday, April 26, 2005, at 7:30 a.m. local time. She was processed and given inmate ID 01964047. Her case number was 05F07229X. Ayala waived extradition at the hearing, and her attorney said they were ready to come to San Jose to defend against the charges.

On Friday, May 6, 2005, Ayala was transported to San Jose, California. Ayala was booked into the main Santa Clara County jail, and is awaiting arraignment. Ayala will likely be arraigned on Monday or Tuesday at the Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd.

On September 9, 2005, Ayala plead guilty to conspiring to file a false claim and attempted grand theft, and will be sentenced on November 2, 2005. She faces up to ten years in prison, and her husband faces up to 13 years behind bars.

Until the middle of May, the owner of the finger still had not been found.

But on May 13, 2005, police announced that they had identified the finger tip as belonging to an associate of Ayala’s husband [1]. The associate had lost his finger tip in an industrial accident at an asphalt company[2] in December, 2004. Police had received the information from an undisclosed caller to Wendy’s hot-line.

Photos related to this incident:

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Woman arrested in Wendy’s chili finger case and larcenous mobile home sale
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Woman arrested in Wendy’s chili finger case and larcenous mobile home sale

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The woman claiming headlines for allegedly finding part of a human finger in her bowl of Wendy’s chili late last month, was arrested Thursday evening at 8:45pm at or near her home.

San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis, declaring the arrest was part of an ongoing investigation, said Anna Ayala was arrested and charged with one count of attempted grand theft in the Wendy’s incident, and one count of grand theft in an unrelated home purchase transaction. She is being held under a $500,000 arrest warrant.

Chief Rob Davis describes the case as a CSI-type operation where forensics studying the finger found it to be inconsistent with conditions it would have experienced if it were cooked at 170 degrees for 3 hours according to Wendy’s food preparation standards. The loss in sales due to negative publicity for the chain could range into the millions, a loss for which Ayala could be held criminally responsible. Davis said, “… evidence suggests that the truest victims in this case are the Wendy’s owner, operators and employees here in San Jose, who have suffered financially throughout this investigation.”

Prior to her arrest, Wendy’s had recently concluded its own internal investigation that turned up nothing to explain the source of the finger. The San Jose police, who have not accused Ayala, 39, of planting the finger herself, did search her home on April 6 for evidence relating to a possible hoax. There are no reports evidence was found.

She has a history of filing suits for financial settlements. Cases involve the El Pollo Loco chicken chain over a claim her daughter got sick, a sexual harassment suit against her former boss in 1998, and General Motors in 2000. A total of 13 lawsuits in California and Nevada had been filed.

There is an inconsistency in the Ayala account of finding the finger and claiming it caused her to vomit compared with police saying there was no vomit at the scene. One larceny charge concerns $11,000 from the sale of a mobile home owned by her live-in boyfriend.

The two combined charges, which could result in a possible 6-year prison term, are against the backdrop of the Wendy’s chain offering a reward for information to solve the case, which has cost the chain millions of sales.

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SEPTA buys rail cars from NJ Transit to deal with crowding
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SEPTA buys rail cars from NJ Transit to deal with crowding

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

As gas prices have risen in the United States, the regional transport authority for southeastern Pennsylvania, SEPTA, has seen a sharp increase in ridership, which has caused overcrowding on the trains.

“As fuel prices have continued to rise, SEPTA ridership has steadily increased and is the highest in 18 years,” said SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey. Monthly ridership was 22 percent higher last month than a year ago.

“They have crushed loads on their rail lines, already where people are standing, and there’s not enough seats,” said Rich Bickel, the director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

“At peak times some railcars are standing room only and commuter parking lots are nearly full. All Regional Rail lines are running near full capacity and the train station parking lots are at about 90 percent capacity or more,” SEPTA spokesperson Felipe Suarez said.

While SEPTA awaits new Silverliner V trains from Hyundai Rotem, which begin arriving in 2009, it had hoped to lease eight rail cars from New Jersey Transit, at an agreed-upon rate of US$10,000 per month. However, due to problems with insurance and liability indemnification, the deal fell through, according to Casey.

SEPTA has entered a new agreement to purchase the eight rail cars from NJ Transit. The transit authority will pay US$670,000 for the cars and assorted supplies plus one additional inoperative car which will be used for spare parts. The rail cars will be operated using a SEPTA provided locomotive as they are not self-propelled.

The cars are being disposed of by NJ Transit because it has switched from single-floor cars to double-decker cars.

SEPTA is expecting to raise US$3.1 million by selling rail that has been out of service since 1981 at auction.

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California jury orders Skilled Healthcare to pay $671 million in damages
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California jury orders Skilled Healthcare to pay $671 million in damages

Friday, July 9, 2010

A California jury in a Humboldt County courthouse ordered nursing home operator Skilled Healthcare (SH) to pay $671 million (about €531 million) in a class action lawsuit from patients of SH’s 22 California facilities and their families. The jury found that SH failed to properly staff its facilities to comply with California state law.

The jury has not heard the case for punitive damages; however, it awarded the plaintiffs $613 million (about €484 million) in statutory damages. The remaining $58 million (about €46 million) was in restitution.

After the verdict was issued, Skilled Healthcare stocks plunged over 75% to a record low.

An official statement from SH says it “strongly disagrees” with the jury’s verdict. SH plans on filing an appeal to the decision. The company could possibly face bankruptcy because of this verdict.

One of the lawyers for the nearly 32,000 plaintiffs, Timothy Needham, claimed that inadequate staffing levels put SH’s patients at risk. He said, “The company knows that this lack of staffing causes a higher risk of problems for patients. Call lights don’t get answered, persons don’t get proper hygiene, persons don’t get their medications on time or the care they need.”

This lawsuit does not apply to SH’s facilities in Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.

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Australian health workers to close intensive care units in Victoria next week
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Australian health workers to close intensive care units in Victoria next week

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Members of Australia’s Health Services Union (HSU) will go on strike in Victoria next week in a dispute over stalled wage and career structure negotiations. Over 5000 physiotherapists, speech pathologists and radiation therapists will walk off the job next week, effectively closing the state’s 68 largest health services.

The strike will force the closure of intensive care units and emergency departments across the state.

It is feared the strike could continue into Easter.

National secretary of the HSU, Kathy Jackson said admissions would be crippled, while intensive care patients would have to be evacuated to New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia as hospitals will not be able to perform tests or administer treatment.

“When an ambulance shows up you can’t admit a patient without an X-ray being available, you can’t intubate them and you can’t operate on them,” she said.

“If something goes wrong in an ICU you need to be able to X-ray, use nuclear medicine or any diagnostic procedure,” said Ms Jackson.

Ms Jackson said the HSU offered arbitration last year, but the state government refused. “They’re not interested in settling disputes, they hope that we are just going to go away.”

“We’re not going away, we’ve gone back and balloted the whole public health workforce in Victoria, those ballots were successful, 97 percent approval rating,” she said.

The HSU is urging the government to commence serious negotiations to resolve the dispute before industrial action commenced.

The government has offered the union a 3.25 per cent pay increase, in line with other public sector workers but the union has demanded more, but stopped short of specifying a figure.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said the claim would be settled according to the government’s wages policy. “The Government is always willing and wanting to sit down and negotiate with the relevant organisations . . . we have a wages policy based around an increase of 3.25 per cent and, above that, productivity offset,” he told parliament.

The union claims it is also arguing against a lack of career structure, which has caused many professionals to leave the health service. Ms Jackson said wages and career structures in Victoria were behind other states.

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said he was not in support of the proposed strike and called on the government to meet with unions. “There could not be a more serious threat to our health system than has been announced today.”

“We now have to do whatever is possible to stop this strike from proceeding,” he said.

The opposition leader will meet with the union at 11:30 AM today.

Victorian Hospitals Industry Association industrial relations services manager Simon Chant said hospitals were looking at the possible impact and warned that patients may have to be evacuated interstate if the strike goes ahead.

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