Blake Farmer

Blake Farmer WPLN

Tennessee’s two-day waiting period to get an abortion is on trial this week in Nashville's federal court, and abortion rights supporters say the stakes are much higher than when the law took effect four years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled waiting periods of one day are constitutional, even they require two trips to the abortion clinic. But the abortion providers challenging Tennessee's law argue in a pre-trial brief that each previous case challenging a waiting period has depended on the circumstances in that state.


Blake Farmer WPLN

Vanderbilt cardiologists are finding some benefits in keeping things simple to reduce the risk of heart disease. Their study of a four-in-one pill was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Vanderbilt researchers had to make their own "polypill," as they’re known. They put three kinds of low-dose blood pressure medication and a cholesterol drug in a purple capsule.

And participants, like Lula Williams, 65, of Gautier, Miss., found it much easier to take as prescribed than her current cocktail of medication.


TN photo services

States have been divided over whether Purdue Pharma should be allowed to use Chapter 11 protection as part of a $10 billion settlement. But Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery says the state needs that money now to address effects of the opioid crisis, like funding addiction treatment and buying overdose reversal drugs.

"It’s not just the traditional dollar settlement on a claim that could sit out there forever and ever," he tells WPLN. "This has some real, public health urgency to it."


TN photo services

Tennessee’s Medicaid program is preparing to finalize the country’s first block grant application within days. The plan would reimagine the way the federal government funds health care for low-income Tennesseans, and according to TennCare officials, it envisions expansion of service rather than cuts.

The block grant proposal is not just a request for a lump sum, as critics feared. TennCare has come up with a formula that gives the state even more incentive and flexibility to keep medical costs down. That’s something TennCare has already done better than most state Medicaid programs.


Blake Farmer WPLN

Tennessee’s largest recipient of opioids from 2006 to 2012 wants a recount. A federal database found a pharmacy in Murfreesboro owned by state Sen. Shane Reeves sold 46 million pills over six years. But the company now believes that figure is way off.

TwelveStone Health Partners, which was known during the period as Reeves-Sain Extended Care, has done its own audit for the period covered by the database. The count came up with 2.5 million opioid pills — which is a fraction of the reported total.


Blake Farmer WPLN

State Senator Shane Reeves of Murfreesboro says he wasn’t surprised to see his pharmacy as the top recipient of opioids in Tennessee — more than double the next highest pharmacy in the state according to a Washington Post database.

Over a six year period, more than 45 million pain pills passed through what is now named Twelve Stone Health Partners. But Reeves also rejects that his business contributed to the opioid epidemic.

Asked to explain how the company became such an outlier on opioids, Reeves insists on giving a tour of the company's new facility.


Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital Vanderbilt

Electronic medical records are starting to talk back to doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The hospital is test-piloting a system where computers can analyze patient health data and spit out a brief summary.

Vanderbilt has been developing this digital assistant for the exam to solve a real sore spot across the health care system — distracted doctors.

Yaa Kumah-Crystal, a pediatric endocrinologist who specializes in clinical data, is leading the creation of VEVA, Vanderbilt's EHR Voice Assistant. And the hope is that physicians will actually look up from their laptops and really pay attention to the person in front of them.


There's a summer camp for kids with disabilities in Nashville that does things a little differently. Instead of accommodating the campers' physical challenges, therapists make life a bit tougher, in hopes of ultimately strengthening the kids' ability to navigate the world.

In modern medicine, the mind and body often stay on two separate tracks in terms of treatment and health insurance reimbursement. But it's hard to maintain physical health while suffering from a psychological disorder.

Chains, saws and old logging equipment litter the back field of Wendy Norris' family farm, near the county seat of Altamont, Tenn. Norris used to be part of the local timber industry, and the rusted tools are relics from a time when health woes didn't hold her back from felling hardwoods.

"I was nine months pregnant," Norris says. "Me and my husband stayed about 10 or 15 miles in the middle of nowhere, in a tent, for a long time."

Updated May 17, 2019, 6 p.m. ET

A lawsuit over how to distribute donated livers to dying patients took some startling turns this week.

The United Network for Organ Sharing is returning for the moment to an earlier system for distributing donated livers which it had changed on Tuesday, after a federal court in Atlanta threatened to hold the agency in contempt.

The new anti-abortion tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court has inspired some states to further restrict the procedure during the first trimester of pregnancy and move to outlaw abortion entirely if Roe v. Wade ever falls. But the rush to regulate has exposed division among groups and lawmakers who consider themselves staunch abortion opponents.

When a rural community loses its hospital, health care becomes harder to come by in an instant. But a hospital closure also shocks a small town's economy. It shuts down one of its largest employers. It scares off heavy industry that needs an emergency room nearby. And in one Tennessee town, a lost hospital means lost hope of attracting more retirees.

Nursing requires hands-on training. But research has found that university curriculum often goes light on one of life's universal experiences — dying. So some colleges have gone to new lengths to make the training more meaningful.

There's a sound near the end — the death rattle. People stop swallowing. The lungs fill up. There can be involuntary moaning.

"So you get all that noise. And that's really distressing for family members," Professor Sara Camp of Nashville's Belmont University says.

Rural hospitals close when they don't have enough paying patients to care for, but they're also dinged when the same patients show up over and over again. That puts outlying medical facilities in the precarious position of needing to avoid repeat customers.

Charlotte Potts is the type of patient some hospitals try to avoid. She lives in Livingston, Tenn. — a town of 4,000, tucked between rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau.

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