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Flames prospect Tyler Parsons opens up about his mental health struggles: ‘I finally spoke up’

Tyler Parsons​​ was in a dark place. The darkest, actually. And the rising sun was doing nothing to brighten his mood.

Completely undone by anger and anxiety and depression, he was slumped in the passenger seat of his mom Kim’s car and bound for Detroit Metro Airport on the Fourth of July.

But Parsons never reached his destination.

Because Kim – upon hearing an emotional outburst from her son, including chilling rants about suicide, about his desperate need to make the pain stop – was so alarmed, so upset, so scared, that she immediately pulled over.

Parked near the airport, planes flying overhead, she told Parsons that she would not be dropping him off.

Meaning the young man would miss his early-morning flight to Calgary, where he was scheduled to participate in the Flames’ development camp.

“He goes, ‘I have to go, Mom,’” said Kim. “I said, ‘I don’t care. You’re not going. Call the guys who sent you the ticket and leave them a message that you’re not getting on a plane.’ That’s exactly what we did. I called the (Flames) and said, ‘I’m not putting him on a plane … when he’s feeling like this. And then for him to be in a hotel room by himself for a week? No.’ We turned around and we went home.

“That was kind of the breaking point.”

Parsons doesn’t dispute the stunning sequence of events. In fact, he was the one who broached the topic the other day.

“It’s super hard to explain,” he said. “But people who have been in that state, they would know. I don’t think if I went on that plane it would’ve been good. I would’ve freaked out. I felt like a monster.

“I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me. I’m better now. But before all this happened, I thought mental health and all that stuff was a bunch of bullshit.”

Over the course of two candid conversations, Parsons offered details of his breakdown following his first season of professional hockey. And later, on a team-mandated day off, he phoned to say he was willing to answer more questions.

That’s how adamant he is that his struggles be publicized.

“I’m not going to sit back here and hold it in when my words, my story, can change somebody else’s life,” said Parsons. “If I can help somebody get out of that state, possibly save their life … because there were many times when I was in that state that I didn’t want to be alive.

“Especially in this position as a goaltender, you get hit in the head a lot and things get knocked loose sometimes. It’s OK to feel like that. Sometimes we’re only human and we slip into those thoughts, kind of get into our own heads. Then the mental health issues start.

“One thing builds into another. You start with a small issue, and it seems to just build up and build up and build up till it becomes physically and mentally painful.”

As soon as the Flames learned of Parsons’ troubles, they’d issued another plane ticket – “They were all in,” said stepdad Al Williams. “Not one person was mad” – and made it clear that they would provide the full spectrum of support.

Which they did. 

When Parsons finally made the trip to Calgary for the camp, he stayed off the ice. Productively, he began sitting down with mental health professionals.

“That’s when things started going in the right direction … it was my first step to getting better,” said Parsons, who turned 21 earlier this week. “Those problems can be eliminated like that” – he snapped his fingers – “and more people need to open up about it. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, talk to someone. I finally spoke up. I felt like I had a thousand pounds lifted off my shoulders.

“Recognizing it and kicking it in the butt right away is real good to do.”

Parsons himself discovered he wasn’t alone after watching Daniel Carcillo’s video about head trauma and treatment. It stopped him cold.

“He was in the same boat as me – he had a concussion that pushed him into a mental health state,” said Parsons. “That was a changing point. I don’t know if you saw it or not, but that video pretty much explains exactly how I felt.”

He said that he, too, has suffered concussions, including one last season. (“As an athlete, I know you’re not supposed to put your injuries out there. But this isn’t an injury. This is your life.”)

With the Flames’ blessing, Parsons spent a week in the summer with a chiropractic neurologist in Chelsea, Mich., finetuning his equilibrium and vision. He continues to do the prescribed exercises.

“I came out of there feeling amazing, better than ever,” he said. “I’ve never had a better mentality in my life.”

Relaxing after an on-ice session at the Saddledome, Parsons was chatty and confident, engaged and upbeat. It was almost enough to make the details of his difficulties, critical only months ago, seem far-fetched. He agreed.

“I feel great. I feel better than ever – 100,000 per cent,” he said. “If I wouldn’t have opened the doors and started talking, I wouldn’t be sitting in this chair right now doing this interview. I probably wouldn’t be playing hockey.”

A highly regarded prospect, Parsons endured a challenging rookie campaign in the Flames’ system. He played primarily for the ECHL affiliate in Kansas City, but he also stopped pucks in Stockton of the AHL.

When he returned home to Detroit, he was in rough shape.

“Him and I have always been super close and I noticed him distancing himself from me,” said Kim. “I was (thinking) maybe he’s at that age where he’s becoming a man and he doesn’t really need Mom, that he doesn’t want to text Mom all throughout the day. That was hard for me.

“I thought maybe it was just the stress of playing, with so much weight on his shoulders. I was, ‘OK, he’s going to be home and he’s not going to have the stress of hockey.’ But when things came to a head and he said everything that he was feeling at that point, that’s when we realized it was more than just stress or him just growing up.”

Remarkable is Parsons’ about-face this past summer. If he wasn’t fine, do you think Mom would have turned him loose for another winter away from the nest?

“He’s always been a happy-go-lucky kid, a go-with-the-flow type of kid,” said Kim, “but he’s more motivated, more positive, than I’ve ever seen in his entire life, I’d say. Absolutely incredible.”

Armchair psychiatrists may feel compelled to draw a straight line from Parsons’ upbringing – being the son of a teenaged single mother, growing up in some of the roughest neighbourhoods of Detroit, facing financial hurdles – to his mental well-being.

Kim scoffed at the notion.

“He was more loved than anybody,” she said, voice cracking. “I love that kid with my heart and my soul. He’s my life, you know, and he always has been.”

Parsons, too, refused to make the connection.

“No, no, no, no,” he said. “My background hasn’t led to anything that’s happened to me. I think my background helped me into a stronger person.

“If I didn’t have that … I don’t know if I’d be making this phone call right now.”

But when he takes a seat in any dressing room – with the usual sprinkling of small-town kids and farm boys, of Europeans and U.S. college players – he knows his story is unique.

Right from the start.

Kim, pregnant in Grade 12, had always been a high achiever – National Honor Society, homecoming queen, student council. “And then there was Tyler,” she said, with a laugh. They lived with her parents and her two brothers, who are only a few years older than Parsons.

Contact with the father, 17 years old at the time of her pregnancy, was minimal.

“Tyler knows his dad,” said Kim. “But, growing up, Al was Tyler’s dad – he was the father figure.”

Al entered the picture when the boy was 6. And while Parsons speaks reverentially about his stepfather – affectionately (and accurately) known as Big Al – their relationship was a work in progress.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Parsons, grinning. “I did not like my mom having any boyfriends, so I would set up little traps in the house just to try to hurt him, so he’d get out of there. I’d put spikes in the carpets, so he’d step on them. All kinds of stuff, just to get him away.

“I don’t think I talked to him for a long time. Never said anything to him. Then one day, we were sitting in the dining room, and he got up and stubbed his toe, and I just absolutely started dying laughing. I think I loved seeing him in pain.

“That was the ice-breaker. From there, we started kicking it.”

Al was there when Parsons was a roller-hockey defenceman. He was there when the kid tried goaltending. (Borrowed gear. Shutout. Naturally.)

He was there when the boy, at 9, pulled on skates for the first time – and the adjustment wasn’t only Tyler’s.

“I was more of a football guy,” said Al. “I just jumped (into the world of minor hockey) feet-first and grew to love it. It was something new. When the ball got rolling, we just fell in love with it.”

Registration fees, however, are not cheap. Nor are pads or supplementary ice sessions or goalie coaches or hotel rooms or restaurant meals. Costs ran to $11,000 some years, according to Al.

(“I look back now,” said Kim, “and I’m like, ‘How did we afford to do that?’” Added Al: “Me and Mom haven’t even been on a honeymoon yet. Our family vacation and our honeymoon were hockey tournaments. But we wouldn’t trade it for nothing. It’s been one hell of a ride.”)

Along the way there had been hard choices.

Travel baseball or travel hockey – but not both.

Continue living in an apartment and enroll in AAA hockey? Or move into a house and hang up the skates?

But hockey trumped all, even when cash flow was a trickle.

“Around here, you don’t play hockey unless you have money,” said Kim. “It’s more of a wealthy-people sport. A lot of kids make the team because Mom or Dad is doing business with so-and-so or Mom or Dad is doing this for the team. There was nothing I could do to buy Tyler’s way onto the team. He had to work and earn everything that he had. It says a lot about him.”

To keep the kid on the ice, Al, a long-haul trucker for a construction firm, took on extra shifts – not that he bitched about it.

“I’d work 13, 14 hours a day and hurry up and get home and drive him right to practice, stay at practice, come home, go to bed,” he said. “I’m going to these hockey games with my girlfriend and my girlfriend’s kid and (my buddies are) like, ‘Why are you spending so much time with this kid? He’s not yours.’ And I’m like, ‘What does that matter? He’s a kid. He’s a great kid. I want to be there. I want to be there for him and support him.’

“Eventually, all the phone calls stopped – ‘Hey, Al, you want to go out on the weekend?’ – because they knew what I was going to say. They all learned what my first priority was.”

Parsons remembers the time Al’s pickup was stolen out of his grandparents’ driveway. Gone were a cherished keepsake – the dog tags of Al’s grandfather – and all of the 12-year-old kid’s equipment … in the middle of the season.

“My parents didn’t have any money to buy me new pads – it definitely sucked,” said Parsons. “So two coaches … got me the best pads they could get me. I was grateful for that. My parents were young and they worked their butts off to put food on the table and to pay for my hockey.

“We lived paycheque to paycheque. For goalie gear, my parents did the best they could – I thank them for that. I’d come to the rink and all these kids would have these nice things. But I liked using the old stuff – it’s easier if you use the new stuff. Taking that harder route is better and it makes you a better person.”

The harder route, in that area of Detroit, included the schoolyard. Fortunately for Parsons there was a handy mentor – Al, who happens to be barrel-chested, shaven-headed, bushy-bearded, tattoo-sleeved, street-hardened.

As someone who served as a bouncer for 13 years at some of the city’s rowdiest bars, as someone who, by Parsons’ estimate, has put up his dukes a couple of hundred times, he let his stepson know how to carry himself when things turned nasty.

Which, on one occasion, meant slapping out a bully, who was two years older and picking on a friend.

“Just going through that stuff as a young kid, it helped me mature and just see the world in a different way,” said Parsons. “Look at some things kids go through – like the passing of family members, living in bad areas – and then you have people who never have to deal with that. They grow up, rich family, and they never really have to have those problems.”

All the while, Parsons, sparkling in net, was moving up the ranks.

When he turned 15, he decided to audition for the big time – the Little Caesars minor-midget outfit. At the last minute, though, he had a change of heart.

“Tyler’s like, ‘I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go,’” Kim recalled. “And I was, ‘Why don’t you want to go? This is what you’ve been talking about doing.’”

The truth eventually emerged.

“He basically didn’t want us to go broke trying to afford hockey.”

But right around then, Al landed a better job, getting the graveyard shift for Chrysler’s in-house trucking company, meaning they could afford top-flight hockey and their own house.

“It all worked out the way it was supposed to,” said Kim. “We told him, ‘Go and try. If you make a team, we’ll do whatever we need to do to make it work.’ So that’s what we did.”

Not only did Parsons make it, he led the squad to the state tournament. This appeared to be shaping up as a turning point – the moment a kid muscles his way onto the hockey map. Instead, it was nearly the end of goaltending period.

“I hit a wall,” Parsons explained. “I wasn’t talking to any (junior or college) teams. I had it in my head, ‘I’m just going to win the state championship and call it quits and go join the military.’ I would love to fight overseas. It gives me chills just thinking about it. The life I lived kind of coded me for that.”

Little Caesars did earn the crown. But before Parsons could enlist, Mark Hunter, in town scouting for the London Knights, was introduced to Al.

“I’m like, ‘Holy crap. No way,’” said Al. “We talked and he wanted to invite Tyler to camp. They invited us up to a hockey game (in London) in the playoffs. So we went and as soon as we walked into that arena, Tyler looked at us and said, ‘I’m playing for this team.’”

That, of course, is exactly what happened.

An amazing turn of events for the player. But hell on the folks. Vividly, Al can remember driving the boy to his billets in London and saying goodbye.

“Mom fell apart,” Al said. “It was rough, it was rough. I tried to be strong, but you drop him off the first night and you’re pulling away, at 16 years old, man, that was hard, really hard. But we were fortunate, London’s only an hour and 45 minutes away from us, so we could go there pretty much any time we wanted. But to have him not at home? Mom struggled with it for quite a while. After knowing he was OK and taken care of, it made it easier for me. I don’t know if Mom ever got over it.”

In the OHL, Parsons showed off abundant puck-stopping talent – often with Al and Kim in the stands. They attended every home date, and also ventured into Sarnia, Windsor, Plymouth, Saginaw, Erie, and Barrie to get an eyeful of their boy.

Impressively, they deadheaded from Detroit to Red Deer – a 32-hour journey in Al’s truck – to see Parsons win the 2016 Memorial Cup. (The Flames drafted him four weeks later.)

Off the ice, Parsons admitted there had been an adjustment, shifting from Detroit to London. “A different country, the atmosphere was different.” 

He laughed.

“A lot safer – you could come out of your house and walk down the street and not have to worry about anything,” he continued. “A lot of people I met had a lot of worries and they’d talk about their problems. And it was like, ‘You don’t even know’ – just because I had to fend through it at such a young age.

“It’s more safe, more civil, I think, in any area of Canada. Health care’s different – it’s free here. A lot of families I grew up with, if someone dies (after a significant stay in the hospital), they lose their house. I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff happen in my life. I’ve seen a lot of terrible things happen to good people.

“Problems in your life are what molds you. I’ve been through so much in my life in such a short span that it grew me as a person.”

No amount of strength, though, can power a person through a mental health battle. Combatting depression cannot be a solo pursuit.

For Parsons, the symptoms had been something out of the ordinary, which is why his mood swings after the conclusion of the 2017-18 season were so jarring.

“When we saw this different behaviour, we were like, ‘Whoa. What is going on?’” said Kim. “I was trying to find an answer, ‘What is the reason?’ I started questioning myself. You start questioning everything.”

And when your son began to talk about suicide?

“I felt helpless. I felt completely helpless,” said Kim. “I can’t even put into words how I felt. It was heart-wrenching. Then I’m a nervous wreck. I don’t want to leave him alone. If he’s not answering (his phone) …

“That, as a parent, was probably my worst nightmare – it was my worst nightmare. Those couple of months were the worst couple of months of my entire life.”

Added Al: “It was horrible. He was never a sad kid. He was never depressed. He was always laughing, joking, screwing around. It was not him. After last season, the injuries he was dealing with, the pressure, he probably reached his limit. He just, more or less, had a breakdown.”

The lesson, according to Parsons, is simple – speak up. “I told my parents, got my treatment, got everything. I came a long way.” And he’s not ashamed of his plight. Rather, he’s embraced the role of messenger.

“Oh my god, yeah, it’s amazing,” said Kim, who manages a home for people with special needs. “Him wanting to help other people … it’s inspiring.”

Like many hockey fans, Kim watched TSN’s documentary about Joe Murphy, homeless in Kenora, Ont., after a seven-team career in the NHL. “I want to go find him and help him.” Of the Flames, though, she has no complaints.

“I couldn’t ask more from an organization,” she said. “I hear nightmare stories … but the Flames organization, I can’t even explain how grateful I am for the way they stepped up when he reached out and needed it.”

And now, even though their son is once again gone – September to May, destination unknown – he is actually, in a manner of speaking, back. His parents’ relief is unmistakable.

“Now? He don’t hold back. He’ll let you know how he feels,” said Al. “Man, he’s been a totally different person – for the better. Unbelievable.”

Parsons remains instantly recognizable – that hasn’t changed – because tattoos decorate much of his slender body, including one side of his neck. Featured are multi-coloured tributes to his mother and his great-grandmother. Drawn on his right hand is a skull.

Rubbing the knuckles, he said that it stands as a reminder, an acknowledgement.

“It represents my dark side, it represents the bad stuff I went through. It’s part of me – I went through it and it might be gone, but it’s still part of me. All in all, it’s been a crazy life. A lot of life lived in a short time.

“Most people think all these bad things in their life are happening to them. I think how people got to look at it is, the bad things in your life are happening for you. When you realize that, it really changes your perspective on life.”

(Top photo: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

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NFL Hall of Famer: We’re fighting for health benefits, pay for all ex-players

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NFL Hall-of-Fame member fighting for benefits, salary for retired players

Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson is making waves with his latest play: threatening a boycott of the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies unless Hall of Fame members get health insurance and an annual salary.

Dickerson recently sent a letter to that effect to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL Players League executive director and the Pro Football Hall of Fame president.

On Thursday, the former Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts running back told CNBC the initial request is for Hall of Famers because of their name recognition. However, he said, he is fighting for all players.

“We’re not trying to leave any of our brothers behind,” Dickerson said on “Power Lunch.” “I want health benefits for every player that ever played in the National Football League.”

The letter, obtained by ESPN earlier this week, has generated some controversy.

It was signed by Dickerson on behalf of the Hall of Fame Board and listed 21 members, including Lawrence Taylor and Marcus Allen. However, it also included John Randle, Jerry Rice and Kurt Warner – who have all distanced themselves from the letter.

Dickerson admitted his mistake in including Rice and Warner, who he said supported the cause but are not board members.

In the letter and in an interview with CNBC, Dickerson targeted Goodell’s estimated $40 million annual salary.

“Meanwhile, many of us Hall of Fame players can’t walk and many can’t sleep at night. More than a few of us don’t even know who or where we are. Our long careers left us especially vulnerable to the dangers of this violent sport, especially those intentionally hidden from us,” he wrote.

While Dickerson did not state a specific salary request in the letter, he recently told TMZ he thinks they should get about $300,000 a year.

He argues the health benefits and pay are a drop in the bucket for the NFL, which he said in 2017 generated $14 billion in revenue.

He also compared the NFL with Major League Baseball, which gives its players health insurance for the rest of their lives.

The NFL did not immediately return a request for comment.

The league does offer some players five years of medical, dental and prescription drug coverage, up to $5,250 in reimbursement for some joint replacement surgery, two free visits with a psychiatrist and preferred access to top-tier neurological treatment providers. Players also have a pension.

Dickerson said that’s not enough.

“Take care of the guys that have made the game as great as it is,” he said.


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First-time Medicare enrollees: A wrong move on this additional coverage could cost you

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Hispanic woman celebrating birthday with family

If you’re about to turn 65, put your birthday party planning on hold: It’s time to start shopping for insurance that will supplement your Medicare coverage.

Medigap, a type of health insurance coverage, fills out the areas where your Medicare policy falls short, including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. Some of these policies cover extras, such as health-care expenses during travel abroad.

You would purchase Medigap to supplement Medicare A and B, which cover hospital and doctor’s visits. Medigap plans are distinguished by letter (A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M and N) and each plan offers different benefits.

This is what Medicare does and doesn’t cover

If you purchase a Medicare Advantage plan instead, you are not eligible for Medigap.

You have six months from when you first sign up for Medicare to buy a Medigap policy and do so without the insurance company pulling up your health-care record and possibly levying higher premiums due to your medical history.

This is known as the guaranteed issue period.

“Most people have only one period in which they’re guaranteed issue for Medigap. Look at it as a long-term policy for your time in Medicare.”
-Gretchen Jacobson, associate director, program on Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation

Federal law also includes guaranteed renewability on Medigap policies, meaning that as long as you pay your premiums, the insurer can’t cancel your coverage.

If your group coverage at work has ended and you’re past age 65, you can sign up for Medicare Part B as part of a special enrollment period. At that point, you can also sign up for supplemental coverage.

Because the sign-up window for Medigap is so time-sensitive, those who are turning 65 need to start thinking about which plan is right for them.

“As you’re approaching eligibility, do you want to go with Medicare Advantage or a supplemental plan?” said Steve Vernon, an actuary and president of Rest-of-Life Communications.

“Later on, you might not pass medical underwriting, and you might be excluded,” he said.

Here’s what you need to know about shopping for Medigap coverage.

A variety of plans

Click the image below to view the different attributes of Medigap plans.

Though the benefits themselves are largely standardized from one plan to the other, insurance companies set the rates for coverage. The difference between the cheapest and most costly plan can be steep.

For instance, in New York City, there’s a 143 percent difference in premiums between the cheapest and most costly Plan F rate, according to the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance.

Prices can also vary from one state to the next. Click the image below for more details.

Whether any one plan is right for you will depend on your needs.

For example, Medicare Part B has an annual deductible of $183 per year, after which you must pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for your doctor services.

If you have Medigap C or F, these plans will cover your deductible. These two are the most popular Medigap plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Note that Medigap C and F will no longer be available to new enrollees starting on January 1, 2020, as plans will no longer be permitted to cover Medicare B deductibles. However, if you’re already covered by one of those plans by that date, you can keep it.

Other plans cover “excess charges” — the amount a doctor can legally charge that’s higher than the Medicare-approved amount. Medigap plans F and G will cover that expense.

Colorado retirement sledding

Premiums only tell part of the story. A plan that’s cheap now isn’t necessarily guaranteed to stay that way.

“Don’t just look at what the premium is now, but how it may rise over time, since most people tend to hold onto their Medigap plans for many years,” said Gretchen Jacobson, associate director, program on Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Insurance companies determine premiums using one of three different rating systems. Community rating doesn’t allow premiums to be based on the applicant’s age or health status.

“As you’re approaching eligibility, do you want to go with Medicare Advantage or a supplemental plan? Later on, you might not pass medical underwriting, and you might be excluded.”
-Steve Vernon, actuary and president of Rest-of-Life Communications

Issue-age rating allows premiums to vary based on your age when you buy the policy, but your premiums can’t rise automatically just based on age. Finally, attained-age rating determines your premiums based on your age at purchase and prices will rise as you get older.

States determine which premium rating systems are allowed.

“Policies may start with the same premiums, but rise differently over time,” said Jacobson. “Attained-age rated plans may see larger premium increases than the community-rated plans.”

Do your homework

Start doing your research before you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

What is the state law? Your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program can help you with questions about Medicare and Medigap. This is where you can find more about the different pricing practices and consumer protections in your locale.

What do I get for my premiums? Your monthly bill tells only part of the story. Know what you’re getting in the way of deductibles, foreign travel health-care needs and coinsurance.

What services do I currently use, and what will I keep using? Be sure that your plan meets your present needs and what you may require in the future.

“Most people have only one period in which they’re guaranteed issue for Medigap,” said Jacobson. “Look at it as a long-term policy for your time in Medicare.”

These retirees may see their Medicare costs rise by more than 200 percent

Darla Mercado


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85% of councils reducing public health budgets this year

More than eight out of ten councils (85%) have reduced their public health budgets this year, according to research by the Labour Party.

This follows a major Pulse investigation earlier this year, which showed nine out of ten councils had cut their budgets for sexual health, alcohol misuse and weight management services for 2018/19.

According to Labour’s analysis, councils are being forced to make £800m of public health cuts over the next six years, with £96.3m removed from the budget in 2018/19 compared to last year.

It found the worst-hit services are substance misuse and sexual health, which saw budget cuts in 114 and 95 councils respectively.

Compared with 2017/18:

  • 130 out of 152 local authorities (85%) reduced their public health budgets in 2018/19;
  • Sexual health was cut by 95 councils, with a £17.6m reduction in funding, and substance misuse was cut by 114 councils, with a £34m reduction in funding;
  • Public health budgets specifically aimed at children were cut by £25.9m;
  • Smoking cessation budgets fell by £3.1m and obesity budgets by £1m.

Labour warned that this comes as improvements in UK life expectancy have stalled, drug related deaths in England and Wales are at an all-time high, smoking rates among pregnant women are rising for the first time on record, and Year 6 child obesity rates are at a record high.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Local services which are there to keep people well and out of hospital are to be slashed in every part of England. The fact is these cuts to health budgets will leave people sicker, and in the long run will cost the NHS much more than they save.

‘These cuts are pushing us to a public health crisis. Ahead of the Government’s 10-year plan for the NHS, ministers must reverse these cuts because no plan for the NHS can work without a properly funded plan for prevention too.’

The news comes after Public Health England called for the NHS long-term plan to focus on prevention, and specifically obesity, cardiovascular disease and smoking.

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They Were Seeking Mental Health Care. Instead They Drowned in a Sheriff’s Van.

The family all stayed together, moving as a unit. Ms. Green had physical ailments, too, some of which led to seizures, making it hard to stay at a job. She loved working with children but worried that she could be holding a child when a seizure struck. She did not want to drive, either, given the dangers to her and others if she were to have a seizure behind the wheel.

Ms. Green had married and divorced, and she had four children — two girls, Rose and Erica, and two boys, Gad, who is now in kindergarten, and Otto, who died three years ago of bone cancer. He was 7 years old.

Everyone lived in the house in Myrtle Beach: Ms. Green, her parents and her children, all taking care of one another. “It was sort of symbiotic I guess,” Ms. Green-Johnson said.

When Hurricane Florence came, they split up: Erica, 17, took her grandfather far inland, so he would not lose the electricity necessary for his oxygen machine; Gad and his grandmother joined Donnela at her house; Rose and Nikki stayed together. The medication she had recently started taking for her schizophrenia seemed to be working, “opened her eyes,” Ms. Green-Johnson said, making that time all the richer.

“They had a hurricane party kind of thing there, the two of them,” she said. “They were really reconnecting, getting much closer than they had been.”

On Sunday, after the storm had passed, the family had all been reunited. On Monday, things were back to normal. On Tuesday, Ms. Green had her counseling appointment. And that night, Ms. Green’s sister heard on the news about a van, lost in the floodwaters.

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EmTech MIT: How AI and biomedical innovations are transforming health care


The way that doctors monitor breathing, detect falls, track movement and gait in patients with Parkinson’s or MS or analyze sleep requires invasive sensors and often needs to be done in a specialized setting. Other signs are simply too difficult to monitor so patients must write in a diary instead.

MIT professor Dina Katabi’s group has developed a prototype wireless device much like a WiFi router that uses a combination of radio signals and machine learning algorithms to monitor these physiological signs without wires–even through walls. In a presentation at last week’s EmTech MIT conference, Katabi described how the system works and some of the potential applications.

“We are all swimming in a sea of wireless signals, and every movement changes that electromagnetic field” because our bodies are primarily made of water and reflect these signals, Katabi said. The device sits in the background and analyzes these changes in the electromagnetic field using advanced machine learning algorithms to extract physiological data. Katabi claimed the system can measure breathing, heart rate, gait, sleep and a variety of other physiological signals throughout a home.

In a video demonstration, Katabi showed how the system, dubbed Emerald, can accurately track movement, detect a fall, and monitor heart rate with an accuracy of about 97 percent in comparison with an FDA-approved chest band, even for multiple occupants in a home. It can not only monitor sleep, but also distinguish between the different stages of sleep and diagnose sleep apnea, which can be indicative of disorders such as depression or Alzheimer’s.

Emerald is currently being tested in about 200 homes with both healthy individuals and patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, depression, Parkinson’s, and pulmonary disease. By tracking the trajectory of people in assisted-living facilities over time, it can generate data that provides lots of insights about mobility, the efficacy of medications, and overall mental and physical health.

The ultimate goal, Katabi said, is a “health-aware home” that is sits in the background and constantly keeps tabs on us for the doctor. “In the future, the health care should come to the patient in their homes,” Katabi said. “In fact, they should hardly ever need to go to a clinic or hospital.”

Emerald was just one of several talks last week on innovations in health care.

Sheng Xu, an assistant professor in the Department of Nanoengineering at UC San Diego, described another approach to less-invasive health monitoring. Stretchable electronics can capture a variety of physical and chemical signals, and send them wirelessly to a cell phone or the cloud, but these are literally skin deep. The Xu Research Group developed a stretchable ultrasound device that can see through the skin to capture more vital signs. For example, the device can be worn on the neck to monitor the carotid artery and jugular vein well below the skin’s surface.

Frequency Therapeutics has just started the first clinical trial of a so-called Progenitor Cell Activation (PCA) platform, a proprietary compound of small molecules that activates the inner ear’s cells to regenerate, or divide and form new sensory cells, potentially reversing hearing loss. Co-founder and vice president Will McLean said that the human body has some tissues that naturally regenerate, but nothing like the intestine, which completely regenerates its lining every five to seven days. Frequency Therapeutics developed small-molecule drugs that can control this process in the intestine. The cochlea happens to be a close cousin–it shares the same progenitor cell but it is not regenerative–so by using the same drugs, Frequency Therapeutics hopes to reverse hearing loss. Eventually, McLean hopes, the same techniques could be applied to other tissues such as the brain, eyes, muscles, cartilage, skin and hair,

James Dahlman, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, talked about the use of nanoparticles to deliver drugs to the right tissue. This “sounds like science fiction,” Dahlman said, but last month the FDA approved the first genetic therapy that uses nanoparticles to treat liver disease. The catch is that we can still only design drugs that deliver medicine to the liver and the current method for testing new nanoparticles isn’t scalable. Dahlman’s lab figured out a way to test thousands of nanoparticles at once in a single mouse using DNA barcodes and gene sequencing to track where everything went. They are hoping this technique will lead to the discovery of safer and more effective drug treatments.

Shinjini Kundu, a physician and medical researcher at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, developed a medical imaging technique called transport-based morphometry (TBM) that uses AI to spot latent diseases imperceptible to humans reviewing MRIs. In a study of 70 subjects, Kundu’s system was able to predict signs of osteoarthritis in healthy people up to three years before symptoms became visible with 86 percent accuracy.

Adam Marblestone, the Chief Strategy Officer at Kernel, talked about bleeding-edge efforts to develop new ways to record what is going on in the brain. The current approaches using invasive electrodes or MRIs aren’t scalable, he said. We can record only one thousand neurons and at the current rate of progress it would take until the end of the century just to record all the neurons in a mouse brain–let alone the 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Instead, Marblestone said, we need to completely rethink the physical interface to the brain–an effort that began with the Obama administration’s Brain Initiative.

One interesting idea is to re-engineer the cells in the brain to act like a hard drive and record their own activity in a way that could be read out later. Those experiments are fine for researchers working with animals, but they aren’t suitable for humans for obvious reasons. Last year Marblestone joined Kernel, a $100 million startup backed by Bryan Johnson, founder of online payments company Braintree, that aims to develop a less invasive physical interface for neural recording to “accelerate our understanding of how the brain works and fix it when it doesn’t.”

Niki Bayat, is the co-founder and Chief Science Officer at AesculaTech, which has developed a smart material for medical devices that is a liquid at lower temperatures, turns into a gel when heated and becomes solid at body temperature. The gel is injectable, easily removable, and adapts to body shape. It can be inserted into the tear duct to release glaucoma medicine over an extended period. Bayat said that the company recently completed its first human trial showing that this is safe and effective treatment for glaucoma.

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New group wants annual health check for men

“One of the Alianse Vīriešu Veselībai’s (Alliance for Men’s Health, AVV) first challenges is to ensure that every male in Latvia receives a letter by mail from the national health authorities about getting a regular health check-up, including a check for cancer, similar to that received by females about screening for breast and cervical cancer,” the organization told LSM.

After several months of talks the NGO has been formed from six already existing men’s health organizations six organizations, with hopes that others may join in future.

“One of the core long-term goals of the AVV is to work on providing information on a continuing basis so
that the community becomes more aware about the importance of a prophylactic annual health check for everybody, including males, the target audience of our alliance,” AVV said.

The organization has recruited several public figures to support its effort including TV presenter and musician Valters Frīdenbergs, who has been receiving treatment for cancer despite still being a young man.

“Be a real man and go and get a check-up,” Frīdenbergs urged, in a bid to counter traditional reluctance by men to visit doctors.

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Winona Health & Y release new bldg. plans


Winona Health and the Winona Area Family YMCA have clinched a deal to build a $14.5-million facility on Winona Health’s campus, leaders for the two organizations announced yesterday. The brand-new Y building has been in-the-works for years, but Winona Health CEO Rachelle Schultz and YMCA Interim CEO Bill Soper said they have finalized the details of an agreement to construct the shared facility, a brand new Y building that will also house Winona Health’s Rehabilitative Services Department. Soil remediation work will begin this fall and a 12-month construction project will be launched in the spring, they stated.

“We’re excited,” Winona Health Occupational Therapist Kyann Brown said of the new facility in an interview earlier this year. She and her colleagues — in specialities ranging from speech therapy to cardiopulmonary rehabilitation — will get a 9,700-square-foot wing on the new building’s second floor, complete with a small pool dedicated to therapy and a small gym, a separate waiting room, and therapy rooms all specifically built for pediatric occupational therapy. Currently, Winona Health patients have to travel off-site to the current Y building for aquatic therapy. The new pool will be more convenient, and children-specific therapy rooms will have built-in equipment to serve young patients. The gym will allow parents to observe therapy without distracting from it, and the separate kids’ waiting room will allow youngsters to play without disturbing older clients. “The pediatric space will be sound-proofed, which is a big improvement,” Brown said with a laugh. It will be further away from the quiet massage-therapy sessions, too, Rehabilitative Services Department Manager Lucas Barbknecht added.

Winona Health started offering more pediatric therapy services within the last few years. “There’s a huge need,” Brown said. Brown spends part of her time working with children such as two-and-a-half-year-old Kane Martinka. Kane was born with a chromosome deletion that caused development delays, his mother, Beth Martinka, explained. “He couldn’t even crawl a year ago, which you wouldn’t believe,” Beth said. After regular therapy sessions, Kane is now walking everywhere and energetically grabbing play dough when Brown offers it. Beth said that some of her friends with special-needs children travel out of town multiple times per week for therapy sessions. “I couldn’t imagine,” she said, adding of the expanded pediatric therapy offerings Winona Health’s new space will provide, “It’ll be just so convenient having it here in town.”

YMCA and Winona Health leaders believe that by sharing the new space and working more closely together, they will be better able to reach their mutual goal of improving Winonans’ health and well-being. The YMCA has great programs that can help Winonans prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes, Schultz said. Often, after patients finish therapy to recover from an injury or a heart attack, they want to continue exercising to stay healthy, but sometimes, gyms can be intimidating, Winona Health staff explained. The new, shared facility will allow Winona Health and the YMCA to offer a seamless transition from therapy to daily activity, Schultz said. “It eliminates that barrier. They’re in the building already,” she added. Other times, patients may not be motivated to exercise on their own, but they might enjoy the camaraderie of the Y’s group exercise classes, Barbknecht stated.

Leaders for the two organizations want the new facility to be a community gathering place, as well. Right next to the new home of the Y’s free daycare program for members, there will be a big, open lobby where people can meet up or get coffee from an adjacent cafe. “We know the social part of being a member of the Y is as important as the physical part,” Soper said. For her part, Beth was excited about the opportunity for her and her other children to use the Y while Kane goes to therapy. She had already been occasionally driving Kane’s siblings to the Y during Kane’s therapy sessions. “Sitting [in the waiting room] for an hour-and-a-half when you’re four is kind of a nightmare,” she explained. Now, it is all in the same building.

The Y’s new building has been a long time coming. It was first announced in 2016, when Y leaders hoped to break ground in late 2017. This spring, Soper said the Y planned to break ground in August. He later acknowledged in July that the project was taking longer than expected and the construction timeline was still up in the air. When the Y struck a deal to sell its current building to Fastenal in late July, the sale proceeds boosted the fundraising campaign to over $13 million. Now, the Y and Winona Health have ironed out the details of their co-location agreement — an important piece of the project. Winona Health will lease the land to the Y for $1. The Y will lease Winona Health space inside the Y’s new building. For now, Winona Health’s contributions to the fundraising campaign will be counted toward its lease payment, but eventually the health care organization will start paying rent to the Y, according to Schultz.

Soper said the Y’s facility committee voted last week to finalize the design of the building and the Y’s plans to begin construction. “We’re planning for the soil remediation work to all happen this fall, and the actual building will start this spring as soon as we can get in the ground,” he stated.

“It’s been a big journey certainly for the Y and the [Y] board, and the staff, and Winona Health, and I think there was, from the Y’s facility committee, a sense of relief last week,” Soper stated. It’s happening.

“While it’s taken a long time, we think this is really important,” Schultz stated. “There were lots of different hurdles to go through … It certainly takes time to work through those things. Nobody walked away because it’s that important.”

The Y is still over $1 million away from raising enough funds to pay for the project, but Soper said that the Y’s fundraising committee will be working hard to raise the final portion. “They’re confident that they can close that gap,” he stated, adding, “We know there are some donors who will be excited to see the project get underway.”

For the YMCA, the new building will be slightly smaller than the current Y, but it will be a nice, new facility that Y leaders believe will attract more members. “We’re projecting that we’re going to pretty quickly jump to 7,000 members, compared to the 4,000 members we’re serving today,” Soper stated. Other Y leaders have said that the maintenance needs of the current Y building and the staffing and operational expenses its maze-like layout require meant that staying in the current Y building was not financially feasible for the Y. “This new facility is going to be so much more efficient from an operating perspective,” Soper said.

According to new floor plans released yesterday, the Y building will include a six-lane pool, a whirlpool, sauna, and steam room on the pool deck, a strength training and cardio workout facility, two basketball courts, two racquetball courts, one fitness studio, and a cycling studio. There will be numerous family changing rooms along with the men’s and women’s locker rooms, a family fun center, and space for childcare and a nursery. The new building will be handicap accessible, and Y leaders have some land set aside for a possible future expansion.

The Winona Area YMCA offers reduced-price memberships on an income-based sliding scale. For more information visit

Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.

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The appeal of the Functional Fitness MOT to older adults and health professionals in an outpatient setting: a mixed …

Lex D de Jong,1,2 Andy D Peters,3 Sheena Gawler,4,5 Nina Chalmers,6 Claire Henderson,6 Julie Hooper,6 Robert Laventure,5,7 Laura McLean,6 Dawn A Skelton1,5

1Centre for Living, School of Health and Life Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK; 2School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University, Perth, WA, Australia; 3Delivering Better Care Hub, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK; 4Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health, University College London, London, UK; 5Later Life Training Ltd, Killin, UK; 6Edinburgh Community Physiotherapy Service, Edinburgh, UK; 7British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health, Loughborough, UK

Purpose: To understand the views and perceptions regarding the Functional Fitness MOT (FFMOT), a battery of functional tests followed by a brief motivational interview, of both the older people undergoing it and the health professionals delivering it.
Patients and methods: Physically inactive older adults (n=29) underwent the FFMOT and subsequently attended focus groups to share their perceptions of it and to discuss the barriers, motivators, health behavior change, and scope to improve physical activity (PA) levels. PA levels were recorded at baseline and again at 12 weeks together with a post-intervention questionnaire concerning behavior change. Participating physiotherapists and technical instructors were interviewed.
Results: Most participants felt they had learned about their abilities and comparisons with their peers, had a change in perception about the importance of good balance and strength, and felt the FFMOT helped raise their awareness of local and self-directed physical activity opportunities. Most felt their awareness of the need for PA had not changed, but 25% of participants started a new organized PA opportunity. The health professionals perceived the FFMOT as being easy to administer, educating, and motivating for participants to increase their PA. Space, time, finances, and insecurity about having the necessary skills to conduct the FFMOTs were seen as barriers in implementing the FFMOT in daily practice.
Conclusion: Over half of those offered the FFMOT accepted it, suggesting it is appealing. However, most participants felt they were already active enough and that their awareness of the need for PA had not changed. There were positive perceptions of the FFMOT from both professionals and older people, but both felt the FFMOT could be held in a community venue. The overall findings suggest that the FFMOT is feasible in the clinical setting, but its effectiveness has yet to be determined.

Keywords: aged, health behavior, health services for the aged, physical activity, physical fitness, physical therapists

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Behind Your Rising Health-Care Bills: Secret Hospital Deals That Squelch Competition

Last year, Cigna Corp. and the New York hospital system Northwell Health discussed developing an insurance plan that would offer low-cost coverage by excluding some other health-care providers, according to people with knowledge of the matter. It never happened.

The problem was a separate contract between Cigna and NewYork-Presbyterian, the powerful hospital operator that is a Northwell rival. Cigna couldn’t find a way to work around restrictive language that blocked it from selling any plans that didn’t include NewYork-Presbyterian,…

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