Texan Dentists are Using Alternative Techniques to Treat Children with Autism


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When a family receives an autism diagnosis, there are a lot of big decisions to make: choosing the right therapy, finding a supportive school and doing everything you can to create a safe home environment. And then there are the challenges that don’t come to mind right away, such as how to take a specific-needs child to the dentist.

Adela Herrera has been taking her son to the dentist since he was a toddler. “My sister’s actually a dental assistant, so that was convenient for us,” Herrera says. “But it was still kind of hard because early on we had to take him to the hospital, so those experiences kind of brought fear every time he saw someone in scrubs.”

“Yes, it was scary when I got there for the first time,” says 15-year-old Jonathan Herrera.

Adela Herrera says when you have a child with autism, getting them to the dentist can rank low on your list of priorities. Herrera says that children with autism often don’t go until they are in their teens and complaining of tooth pain.

“Say your kid doesn’t go to the dentist for a year or two years, they have a lot of cavities and some of them end up needing caps and a lot of work so, it’s not like they just go for a cleaning and something very minor,” Herrera says. “By that time, they need more work, so with all that they have all the drills and the water and all that, and with their sensory issues it’s hard, it’s very hard.”

 It took a few visits for Jonathan to sit down in the dentist’s chair without being strapped down.

“I already understand the doctors will not hurt you, I know it’s gonna be fine, and just, it’ll be calm and peaceful,” Jonathan says. “Cause they won’t hurt you, that’s what my mom and dad told me,”

Dr. Amy Luedman-Lazar chose to open her practice in Katy, Texas, a city where one in 70 kids has autism. Many Texas families dealing with autism have moved to Katy because of the city’s special education resources.

While “Dr. Amy” treats all types of children, she’s well known for her gentleness with specific-needs patients.

“We know they do understand and they’re just as smart as their peers, they just don’t have a way to communicate with us,” Luedman-Lazar says. “So I’ll talk to them and say ‘Ok, this is what we’re gonna do today.'”

“We don’t restrain them, we’re not gonna hold them down, we’re not gonna use any shots, we’re just gonna look at your teeth and clean them. You know if there’s anything you don’t like along the way you can make a little noise and raise your hand and let us know.”

Luedman-Lazar has modified most of the standard dental office procedures. For instance, she hasn’t given a shot since she opened her practice, instead she uses a laser.

“When you use it on the tooth, it polarizes, we think, just the tooth nerve,” Luedman-Lazar says. “So that’s the same thing you’re doing when you give a shot, but you get the tissue and everything numbs the tongue.”

Luedman-Lazar also starts every visit at a tooth brushing station, where she coaches her patients on how to clean their teeth. She says a combination of patience and a well-stocked prize drawer is usually all it takes for her small patients to sit down and open their mouths.

Stressing It

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Social scientists are still unraveling the connection between income and health. Why are poorer people generally sicker? Is it lack of access to healthcare of education? Could it be genetic?

Researchers have made a disturbing revelation: poverty creates a type of stress that can affect our biology..

Science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff recently penned an op-ed in the New York Times on this subject. He joins Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa to talk about the relationship between poverty and stress.

Interview Highlights:

On the difference between stress and STRESS

“That’s the million-dollar question, but one of the main differences is whether you have some control over how you can react to the stressor. Let’s say your boss yells at you, there are ways you can deal with it, you can go take a run after work,  you can go complain about it with your family or friends, let off some steam. And all those things help you manage stress. And it seems that if you are poor you lack some of those ways of dealing with stress. Basically, in a sense, the whole world is yelling at you when you’re poor. We talk about this in terms of feeling, but what happens chronically is not just a feeling, actually, your stress hormones go up and your immune system changes in ways that change  the predisposition to heart disease, to various cancers, even to obesity and possibly dementia later in life. ”

On the long-term effects of poverty in children

“Scientists are finding they can still see the lingering mark of that early life stress decades later. They see it in how your genes express. Some people seem to be completely resilient, you can do whatever you want to them and they will still triumph, they will still rise. Other people are the opposite, they are very sensitive and a little bit of duress will destroy them. And some of appears to be genetic, but it’s the interaction of genes and environment that is important here.

On how toxic stress affects Latinos: 

“There is something called the Hispanic paradox. Where immigrants from Latin American countries seem to exempt from the rule of poverty correlating to poor health outcomes. But their children who are born in the United Sates follow the rule to the tee. Scientists have noted this for a few decades now and it’s been very puzzling, but also possibly revealing. One of the theories is…you still have some of the old coping mechanisms from the old country that help you cope with the negative consequences of being low-ranking and in some ways powerless in this country. In some ways living in an ethnic enclave, in el barrio, is healthy.”

Walgreens Cashes In On Department Stores’ Pain

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At the turn of the 20th century, drugstores were little more than a pharmacist and a soda fountain. If you wanted to go shopping, you went to a department store.

Now, that trend is reversing. Department stores are suffering and drugstores are booming.

So much so that Walgreens — one of the industry’s leaders — is experimenting with expanding its goods and services.

Publicity Move Or Something More?

The three-story Walgreens in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown district is one of 10 “flagship” locations. The 20,000-square-foot store has a health clinic with exam rooms staffed with a nurse practitioner, an extensive beauty boutique complete with a nail salon, and a cafe stocked with fresh food.

The store is impressive, but it is not the future of retail — at least not in its entirety. Walgreens Divisional Vice President Beth Stiller says the retail chain places its flagship stores in heavily trafficked areas to test new features individually.

“Flagship stores are really our playground,” she says. “It’s where the merchants in our business get to test new trends and innovations and new ideas and new product offerings. So it allows us to get to market quicker in more stores with new product lines.”

Stiller says Walgreens tests everything from new fixtures and products to entire departments in its flagship stores. Their strategic placement in populous neighborhoods helps generate sales data more quickly. This allows the company to roll out the ideas that work to the traditional stores more efficiently.

From Drugstore To Lifestyle Center

But to get consumers to try the new products and services, Walgreens has to persuade them to spend time exploring the store.

It is the same strategy department stores used to rely on: The more time you spend in a store, the more likely you’ll pick up a few things that were not on your shopping list.


“Now it’s really about trying to figure out how do we make it one-stop multiple shop,” says Marshal Cohen, a chief retail analyst at NPD Group, an industry research group. “In other words, offer the consumer all kinds of reasons to come into the store and ultimately stay in the store longer; the longer consumers stay in the store, the more apt they are to spend more money.”

Stiller says Walgreens has thought a lot about how to keep customers in the store longer. Every aspect of the D.C. store — from the in-store services to the lighting — serves this goal.

Walgreens starts creating what Cohen calls “a lifestyle center” by making sure the content of the store fits the surrounding community.

In the case of the D.C. store, the midday population of Chinatown is a mix of business professionals and tourists — two groups who want quick access to food. Stiller says Walgreens responded to this by putting a cafe stocked with fresh food options as close to the door as possible.

In the entire floor devoted to beauty there is a big emphasis on natural light. The soft, pink glow of the floor helps makeup look more flattering — and there is a team of smartly dressed beauty attendants to help you find your shade.

The big windows are completely unobstructed to make the most out of the natural light. Stiller says the store also uses undershelf lighting in the cosmetic and over-the-counter medication aisles to help customers read the packaging more easily.

Stiller says all of these little changes make the shopping experience more comfortable, and this creates an environment that people want to spend time in and return to, leading to bigger sales.

The New Department Store


The Walgreens flagship store looks and acts like a department store. The early allure of department stores was their wide product selection and pleasant atmosphere. Shopping was a form of entertainment.

In the 2000s, department stores started losing customers to big discounters like Wal-Mart and Target. Walgreens sees the trend as an opportunity to take a bite out of that market.

Its strategy is to replicate the convenience and affordability of big-box stores while mimicking the pleasant shopping experience of a department store.

Cohen, the analyst, says this plan is consistent with the shake-ups in the retail industry. The recession and the popularity of online shopping have meant that to get customers in the door, brick-and-mortar stores have to sell a memorable experience.

Cohen says big retailers “are exploring how to do it smaller and the smaller ones are trying to figure out how to do it bigger. So this is really about everybody trying to find growth and give convenience and services to the consumer to get them to come in, stay in and spend money,” Cohen says.

Hearing Aids: A Luxury Good For Many Seniors

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More than 30 million Americans experience significant hearing loss, but only a third of them get hearing aids.

There are a lot of reasons why someone who needs a hearing aid won’t get one: Some think their hearing loss is not that bad, others are too embarrassed to use them, and many people say they are just not worth the price.

Hearing aids cost an average of $1,500 per ear for a basic model, and unlike most technology, their price has not dropped over time.

What is worse: Most insurance companies do not pay for the devices. Even Medicare does not cover hearing aids — and the Affordable Care Act will not change that.

Some businesses see the hearing aid market as an opportunity. Costco has opened hearing aid centers in discount warehouses all over the country. Other companies have started selling their own brands of the devices directly online.

Ross Porter, the founder of online retailer Embrace Hearing, says hearing aids are only expensive because audiologists and distributors charge steep markups on them.

But Virginia Ramachandran, an audiologist with the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, says it is unwise to buy a hearing aid for the first time online. She says the device might be fine, but you will not know how to use it correctly.

“If someone gave you a laptop computer, and you have never used one before, you would not know how to turn it on, you would not know what programs or how to use them,” she says.

Ramachandran says the only way to make hearing aids cheaper is to have more consumers enter the market. That way, she says, some of the research and development costs incurred by the industry leaders could be divided among a larger group. (According to the National Institutes of Health, “Only 1 out of 5 people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one.”)

Besides, Ramachandran says, what really keeps people from purchasing hearing aids isn’t the cost — it’s the stigma.

She led a study in 2011 where she divided patients into three groups. The first group could receive their hearing aids for free through their insurance, the second group was partially covered, and the third group had to pay for them out of pocket. Researchers then noted how long it took a patient to get a hearing aid.

They found little difference between the groups with partial or no coverage — but there was a “significant decrease in both the age and degree of hearing loss” for those whose hearing aids were fully covered by insurance.

Dropping the cost of hearing aids can nudge a senior in the right direction, but there are always going to be people who would rather go without.

Ramachandran says that in European countries where hearing aids are covered by insurance, rates of adoption are not significantly higher than in the U.S. She says cost might be a way to stall.

“People genuinely perceive hearing loss as being associated with older age, so any excuse not to get them is a good one if it is something that you do not really want,” she says.

If seniors saw the devices as something as normal as eyeglasses, she says, they would be more likely to get them. This would expand the market and could eventually bring the price down.

The industry is already on it: Companies are in the market for aging celebrity spokesmodelsto make the pitch.

Local Artists Struggle To Find Affordable Health Care

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William Miller is using his studio in the Heights for some decidedly uncreative things. His health insurance runs out next month, and he has to figure out a way to make things work. He’s HIV positive and borderline diabetic, which puts him in a high risk pool. This is the first time he’s without a safety net.

He got laid off from his job as a graphic designer last year and now he pursues his art full time. He estimates he’d have to sell 9 paintings a month to pay for the level of care he has now.

“It’s expensive, there’s no other word for it, it’s expensive. You know, they used to say well make sure that your rent and other expenses are like 25 percent of what you’re bringing in. Well, you add healthcare to that and it’s double, triple that.”

He’s thinking about getting a part-time job at Starbucks just for the benefits. But that would take him away from his studio, so he’s looking for other options. He found Legacy, a community clinic in Montrose that’s willing to treat him.

They’re helping him apply for federal coverage under a grant for HIV positive patients. If that doesn’t work out, they have a sliding scale fee structure for their uninsured clients.

Kimberley Paulus is with Legacy. She says their Montrose clinic serves many people in Houston’s entertainment industry.

“The artist community is such an important part of Montrose and our culture here in Houston and an interesting component of that is oftentimes those people face difficult access to care. Many of our fine artists and musicians go insured or underinsured.”

Legacy has been operating in Houston for 30 years, it played a key local role in the 80’s AIDS crisis. Now they’re a federally qualified health center. They provide preventative care, dental, pediatric — the works.

They say they’re trying to combat the sick, starving artist stereotype. Legacy says the situation has gotten a bit better since The Affordable Care Act started kicking in. Young people can stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 and it’s easier to get coverage from a spouse. But for artists like Miller who don’t fall under those categories, it’s tough.

“Medicine costs so much, appointments cost so much, blood work costs so much, so do you decide to spend the money on that or the rent for your studio? Do you spend it on materials so you can sell more art — there always seems to be that trade-off.”

Freelancers in other cities have organized to buy health insurance as a group, but that’s yet to happen in Houston. For the meantime, the people behind Houston’s vibrant arts community are finding their own ways to get healthcare, even if that means staying uninsured.

Does A Hospital Really Need A Facebbok Page?

Photo Illustration by Gerald Rich, KUHF
Photo Illustration by Gerald Rich, KUHF

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A hospital isn’t a place any of us want to be. So who would “like” one on Facebook? 70,000 Houstonians do . St.Lukes, Texas Woman’s, MD Anderson — they’re all active on the site.

For the people behind these pages, it’s a full time job. Like Jason Lauritzen, he’s a social media specialist with The Methodist Hospital System.

He says it’s a full time job, “We do have a calendar of maybe content we want to share with people. We curate some information about health news and someone says, ‘Hey can you provide more information on that,’ or ,’Can you put me in touch with a doctor?’ We go out, and we do those things for them.”

Lauritzen says social media is part of a hospital’s brand. He wasn’t surprised when he heard a new study linked Facebook likes to quality.

The study found that out of 40 New York Hospitals, the ones with more Facebook likes also outscored their peers in traditional measures of care, like 30 day mortality rates and patient recommendations.

Paloma Luisi is one of the Healthcare Institute and Technology Lab researchers who conducted the study. She says the Facebook like is a power metric, “We can look at and see does this have any valid findings in measuring patient satisfaction and hospital quality. And we think that it might, but it deserves future research.”

But hospitals scrambling to put up a Facebook page should be careful. Dan Hinmon works with hospitals on their social media presence, he says the worst thing a CEO could do after reading this study is to tell a marketing director to go throw up a Facebook page. “Facebook can be powerful in terms of building good relationships with patients. But if you don’t do it right, the very opposite can happen. Patients can decide that you don’t really care and aren’t interested in them. And that can reflect on the entire quality of your hospital”

Hinmon says people who like a hospital on Facebook personally connect with one of its services. Cancer and maternity centers tend to get more traffic.

It’s still not clear what Facebook means for quality of care across the country, but hospitals are connecting with patients in a new way, long after they’re discharged.