Thursday, June 30, 2016

Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey to Retire

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Utah’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Todd Grey, has announced his retirement following a 30-year career at the Office of the Medical Examiner (OME). Dr. Grey’s retirement is effective July 1, 2016.

Dr. Grey first joined the OME in 1986 as an assistant medical examiner and was promoted to chief medical examiner in 1988. During his career, Dr. Grey has performed approximately 8,860 autopsies and another 4,070 external examinations.

“The significance of Dr. Grey’s career in Utah can’t be overstated,” said Utah Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Joe Miner. “He has helped provide answers to thousands of families about what happened to their lost loved ones, has played a critical role in the prosecution of criminals, and has had an immeasurable impact on public health in the state.” 

Dr. Grey received his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his medical degree from Dartmouth. His career highlights include: Overseeing the design and construction of the current OME building in 1991, as well as a new building the office will move into later this year; changing state law to give the OME jurisdiction over motor vehicle-related deaths; and expanding the OME staff from two to six pathologists.

Dr. Grey is also widely credited for intitially identifying the epidemic of prescription drug related overdose deaths in Utah.

“Being able to sound the alarm about emerging public health threats has been one of the most important aspects of my career,” said Dr. Grey. “We’re uniquely positioned to identify trends in what is causing deaths – whether it’s suicide, prescription drugs, or communicable diseases – and to then work with our colleagues in public health to help implement programs that will hopefully reverse those trends.”

Dr. Erik Christensen will replace Dr. Grey as the chief medical examiner effective July 1, 2016. Dr. Christensen has worked as an assistant medical examiner in the OME’s office since August 2008. Prior to joining Utah’s OME office Dr. Christensen served as assistant chief medical examiner in Richmond, Virginia and Greenville County, South Carolina. He is board certified in anatomic, clinical, and forensic pathology. Dr. Christensen attended Brigham Young University as an undergraduate and received his medical degree from the University of Virginia.

One of Dr. Christensen’s top priorities as chief medical examiner will be improving turnaround time of OME cases. “Families are directly impacted when we fall behind with our caseload, as are law enforcement agencies, funeral homes and insurance companies,” said Dr. Christensen. 

For more information on the OME, visit

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Media Contact
Tom Hudachko
Utah Department of Health
(o) 801-538-6232
(m) 801-560-4649

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Take Precautions against Mosquitoes and Mosquito Bites

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Public health officials across Utah are reminding all residents who will be outside over the 4th of July holiday and the rest of the summer to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
When making plans to be outside, prevent mosquito bites by covering arms and legs and using an insect repellent with 20%-30% DEET, which is safe to use during pregnancy.
Find and remove any puddles of water or standing water around your home to reduce mosquito breeding sites, including in pet dishes, flower pots, wading pools, buckets, tarps, and tires.
Wipe out your birdbath every few days to keep mosquito eggs from sticking to the bottom.
Maintain your swimming pool to prevent mosquito breeding.
Report bodies of stagnant water to the local Mosquito Abatement District (MAD). Visit for a list of MADs.
Keep doors, windows, and screens in good condition and make sure they fit tightly.
Consult with an immunization travel clinic before traveling to areas that may have mosquito-borne illness such as Zika or dengue and take the necessary precautions.

So far this season, no locally-acquired human cases of any mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus (WNV), Zika virus, or chikungunya have been reported in Utah, and the mosquitoes that carry Zika virus aren’t currently found in Utah. Even so, Utah Department of Health (UDOH) epidemiologist Dallin Peterson warns, “Since there is no vaccine for humans for these diseases, taking simple precautions to avoid mosquito bites is the key to reducing your risk for infection.”  A West Nile virus vaccine is available for horses and officials recommend all horses be vaccinated against the disease.

While West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, not all mosquitoes carry the virus. The mosquitoes that carry the virus are typically out from dusk to dawn. But, this year there is an additional concern. Due to the spread of the Zika virus in other parts of the world, officials in southern Utah are also on the lookout for the mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus. Those mosquitoes tend to bite mostly during the daytime and are also the same type of mosquitoes that carry dengue and chikungunya. So, it is especially important to use insect repellent and cover your arms and legs when you are traveling to countries with these diseases.

“The best way to reduce your risk for any illness carried by mosquitoes is to use an insect repellent with DEET when you’re outside,” says Peterson. “Adults and children older than two months of age can safely use repellents that contain up to 30% DEET,” Peterson added. Repellents are not recommended for children younger than two months of age.

Mosquito surveillance in Utah is underway and will continue into the fall. For more information, call your local health department or visit The UDOH web site will be updated each Wednesday through October with available detection information. Information on the Zika virus is available at

Health care providers and women who are pregnant and have questions or are concerned about the Zika virus may call 1-800-822-2229 or text for information.

Media Contact:
Rebecca Ward
(o): 801-538-6682
(c): 801-352-1270

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Utahns May Now Compare Doctor Offices for Treatment of Diabetes and Bronchitis: All Payer Claims Database set to change health care in Utah

(Salt Lake City, UT) – For the first time, officials at the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) have been able to compare outcomes for two quality measures and primary care clinics by name using the All Payer Claims Database or APCD. The results show high compliance overall among primary care clinics with the use of the Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test to help patients manage their diabetes. However, avoiding the use of antibiotics when treating adults for acute bronchitis, when this treatment was not called for, was low. Both results were consistent with national data.   

“What makes this analysis notable is that for the first time, people will be able to look up their doctor's office and see how they stack up against other doctor's offices for these two measures. The measures showed significant variation in the state, with some clinics doing very well on one or both measures while others have ample room for improvement,” said Norman Thurston, Director of the UDOH Office of Health Care Statistics. “We hope Utahns will use it to make better informed health care decisions.”

Data from the APCD showed (note: higher rates are better for both measures):
  • HbA1c testing rates are high across all clinics. No clinic with 10 or more patients had a compliance rate less than 70%.
  • 68 clinics had an HbA1c testing rate of 100%, with an average of 5.3 patients per clinic.
  • Avoidance of antibiotic treatment for adults with acute bronchitis (AAB) rates were generally low. The average AAB compliance rate for clinics with 10 or more patients was 37.9% but some clinics had compliance rates as low as 5.9%.
  • 21 clinics had AAB compliance rates of 100% with an average of 3.7 patients per clinic.
These measures were selected after extensive input from stakeholders. HbA1c testing was selected because it shows how well a patient’s diabetes is being controlled. The higher its use among primary care clinics, the better. Avoidance of antibiotic treatment for adults with acute bronchitis is important because bronchitis is almost always caused by a virus and antibiotics are not effective for treating it. Both standards of care for these measures are well known, but it is generally believed that there is room for improvement. The analysis included 232 clinics large enough to be reported by name and 139 clinics that were reported by geography only, due to their small size.

The Utah APCD is the fifth operating APCD in the nation and consists of medical and pharmacy claims, as well as information about member eligibility and providers for all private health insurance payers covering Utah residents. As of 2014, the APCD receives information on more than 80 million health care services provided annually to Utahns.

“The real power of the APCD comes from the ability to analyze care provided to patients across payers, providers, and time. The APCD has the granularity to compare costs and quality by geography, patient groups, providers, payers, and virtually any other classification that can be defined,” said Thurston. “It is an essential tool to improve quality, reduce costs, and promote cost transparency.”

The Utah State Legislature gave the UDOH statutory authority to collect and analyze all health care claims paid on behalf of Utahns into the APCD in 2008, with a goal to fill critical information gaps needed to make effective health policy decisions and empower health care purchasers with knowledge about cost and quality. This report is also required by state law.

To download a copy of the complete data analysis visit Information on the Utah APCD can be found at

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Media Contact:
Norman Thurston
Office of Health Care Statistics
(o) 801-538-7052 (m) 801-386-3541

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Walk Your Way to Better Health: Free classes help relieve arthritis pain

(Salt Lake City) – Data from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) show that roughly 47 percent of Utah adults with arthritis limit their activities because of high levels of pain in their joints. With one in five Utah adults suffering from some type of arthritis, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) is encouraging the public to enroll in free wellness classes near them to better manage their arthritis pain and other chronic health conditions that limit their activities.

“Health care providers no longer tell people with arthritis to rest their joints as a way to manage their arthritis pain,” said Nichole Shepard, manager of the UDOH Arthritis Program. “Current research shows that physical activity relieves pain, fatigue, and stiffness from arthritis. Walking for just 30 minutes a day, five times a week, can make a huge difference in how your joints feel.”

Nearly 60 percent of Utahns with arthritis said their health care provider told them to exercise to relieve their pain, yet only 3 percent reported attending a self-management class to learn how to deal with their arthritis.

Veteran James Dracoulis recently completed a six week walking program called Walk With Ease at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System. “This program finally helped me break the motivational barrier I had with exercising and walking. The more I walk, the less pain I feel. It has increased my endurance and helped me to overcome my pain physically as well as mentally,” said Dracoulis. The program is offered as a self-guided or group course and has been shown to reduce the pain and discomfort of arthritis while increasing balance, strength, and overall health among arthritis sufferers. “Walk With Ease really means to walk with ease!”

Walk With Ease is just one of many evidence-based classes offered across the state to help relieve arthritis pain and teach participants how to manage their chronic health conditions. Classes are taught at local health departments, senior centers, clinics, hospitals, senior housing facilities, public libraries, and other community centers. Participants learn self-management techniques and skills needed in the day-to-day management of their ongoing health conditions. Research shows that the classes are also effective for caregivers.

“Exercise really is the best arthritis pain reliever,” said Shepard. “Start slow with a morning or evening walk around your neighborhood with friends, a spouse, or even your dog. Suggest walking meetings with co-workers or walk around inside your office building when the weather is bad. Reaping the benefits of regular physical activity doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.” 

To find a wellness class near you, visit or call the Utah Health Resource Line at 1-888-222-2542. The Arthritis Foundation also has information on arthritis education and physical activity classes, like Walk With Ease, on their website at or by calling 801-713-5722.

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Media Contact:
Rebecca Castleton

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to have a safe and fun Memorial Day with five easy tips


Memorial Day. The official start of summer!

Whether your planning a BBQ or hittin' the road for the weekend, our five easy tips are sure to make this Memorial Day weekend a safe and fun one.

Buckle up. Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the "100 Deadliest Days of Summer" as more and more of us are on the road. In fact, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety, the motor vehicle crash death rate nearly DOUBLES on Utah roads this weekend compared to the rest of the year. The best way to protect yourself and those in our car is to wear a seat belt. Every. Single. Rid. And for kids, make sure they're in a car seat or booster seat, according to their height and weight. Learn more about staying safe on the road at

Be water aware. Drowning can happen in seconds and is often silent. Unfortunately, it's all too common for a young child to wander off during a family gathering and fall into an open body of water, like a pond, stream, or pool. Designate a "child watcher" anytime you're around water. Put away distractions like phones and actively watch kids when water is nearby. And everyone should wear a life jacket when boating. Learn more about water safety at

 Beware the food "danger zone." Don't put cooked food on the same plates or surfaces that held raw meat or chicken. Cook burgers, steaks, chicken, fish, pork, and other meats to the proper temperatures. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Never leave food between 40-140 degrees for more than two hours; one hour if the temperature outside is above 90 degrees. Learn more about the food "danger zone" at

 Remember your DEET. Mosquitoes can transmit diseases like West Nile Virus and Zika virus. And different mosquitoes bite at different times of the day. The mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus are found in Utah. They are most active from dusk to dawn. The best way to avoid mosquito bites is to use insect repellent that contains DEET when you go outdoors. You can also wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks to avoid bites. Mosquito proof your home by removing standing water. Learn more about preventing West Nile Virus at

 Wear sunscreen. No one wants a fun weekend ruined by a painful sunburn! Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with at least SPF15 before you go outside, even on cloudy or cool days. Re-apply at least every two hours or immediately after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. Seek shade during peak sun hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And cover up with broad-rimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses. Learn more about sun safety at

(Original infographic below)