Study looks at rural obstetrics

Birth is a challenge for rural hospitals, says a study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

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The challenge is present in the Northland. Both Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital and Cook County North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais have announced they'll be ending obstetrics services this summer.

The U of M study, published online last week in the Journal of Rural Health, found that hospitals with less than 240 births per year were more likely than busier facilities to rely on family physicians and general surgeons to perform deliveries. They also were more likely to have labor and delivery nurses who don't specialize in obstetrics, said a news release on the study from the school's Academic Health Center.

The Cook County hospital has averaged less than 10 deliveries per year during the past 13 years, said Kimber Wraalstad, the hospital's administrator.

Minnesota hospitals were not among the 306 included in the study, which was led by Katy Kozhimannil, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health.

About a half million babies are born each year in rural U.S. hospitals, according to the news release.

Distance between two points isn't a line

It seems obvious: The distance traveled to a Veterans Affairs medical facility ought to be calculated on the basis of road mileage, not on a straight line from the veteran's home to the facility.

But until last week, the VA used a straight line for its calculation.

In a news release. U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, cheered the VA's decision to use the more realistic number.

"In Minnesota, many of our veterans live in rural areas - greatly increasing their travel burden," Nolan said. "Anyone who has lived in a rural community knows that our roads wind, twist and turn around forests, lakes and cliffs. Measuring the distance a veteran must travel to receive care in the form of a straight line was not only inaccurate - it was unjust."

Going blue for autism

The Autism Association of Minnesota will light up Enger Tower for World Autism Day, which is Thursday.

The top of the tower will be lit in rainbow colors to represent the spectrum of autism conditions and the rest blue in honor of all living with autism, said Dena Filipovich of the Autism Association.

People can show their support by wearing blue every Thursday in April, purchasing a blue light bulb to display and/or printing off a puzzle piece from the group's website to hang in a window.

To get a puzzle piece or learn more, visit the group's websites at autismwalknorthland.com or autismassociationofnorthernmn.org.

Course offers wilderness medicine training

Training in wilderness medicine will be offered this June in Duluth.

Duluth Experience, a tour and events company, announced in a news release that it is hosting the workshop with Hartley Nature Center. Instructors from Idaho-based Longleaf Wilderness Medicine will provide training and certification in wilderness first aid June 6 and 7. Professionals seeking wilderness first responder recertification will add a third day June 8.

Both courses involve classroom and hands-on training in injury prevention, risk assessment and injury/illness treatment in remote environments.

Learn more at TheDuluthExperience.com.

Dodging balls, fighting drug abuse

A tournament sponsored by pharmacy students will be a chance to earn dodgeball glory while raising funds to address the problem of prescription drug abuse.

The event, hosted by the Minnesota Pharmacy Student Alliance, will take place from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. April 10 at the University of Minnesota Duluth Ward Wells Fieldhouse. It's open to UMD students, faculty and staff with space for up to 20 six-person teams. All proceeds will go toward presentations on preventing prescription drug abuse, outreach events and health fairs hosted by the pharmacy students.

The student group represents the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, which is located in Duluth and the Twin Cities.

More information is at mnpharmacy.org. Anyone wishing to donate to this event or have any questions should contact them at mpsaduluth@gmail.com.

Tax, enrollment help combined

Volunteers with tax expertise will be working alongside health insurance enrollment advisers in Duluth and other locations throughout Minnesota in April.

In a news release, MNsure - the agency that runs the state's online health insurance marketplace - said the idea is to provide "one-stop shopping" for people taking advantage of a special enrollment period.

That enrollment period, for people who have to pay tax penalties because they weren't covered in 2014 and who also haven't obtained coverage for 2015, ends April 30.

In Duluth, volunteers from the University of Minnesota Duluth will work with certified health insurance navigators from Insure Duluth from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and from 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays at the main branch of the Duluth Public Library, 502 W. Superior St.

To learn more, call (855) 366-7873 or visit MNsure.org.