Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top 10 Public Health Stories in 2016

The votes are in! These are the top 10 public health stories in Utah for 2016: 

#1 Uninsured Rate at Lowest Point in a Decade
New data from the Utah Department of Health show 8.8% of Utahns (265,100 residents) did not have health insurance during 2015. The figure represents the lowest uninsured rate Utah has experienced in more than a decade.

“There are likely several factors that have lead Utah to this point,” said UDOH Executive Director Dr. Joseph Miner. “The state’s healthy economy and low unemployment rate certainly play a role. Changes in health insurance that allowed more young adults to remain on their parents’ health plan and that offered health insurance subsidies to some lower-income families appear to be having a positive effect on the uninsured rate as well.”

The 2015 data show a continued decrease in the number of uninsured Utahns between the ages of 19-26. In 2011, 23.6 percent of these residents did not have insurance, but last year that number had decreased to just 12 percent. The number of uninsured Utahns who fit into the population targeted for Medicaid expansion, those between the ages of 19-64 who earn between 0-138 percent of the federal poverty level, has also decreased over the past several years.

#2 Zika Virus Arrives in Utah
As of November 28th, 678 people had been tested for Zika virus in Utah; with a total of 21 Zika-positive test results. Nine of these positive test results were in women who were pregnant; five of which have delivered infants with normal outcomes so far, two resulted in pregnancy loss, one was lost to follow-up, and one has not delivered yet. However, it was two unique cases that brought international attention to state.

The Salt Lake County Health Department announced the death of a county resident infected with Zika virus on July 8th, the first confirmed Zika-related death in the continental U.S. The deceased individual had traveled to an area with Zika. Ten days later, Utah health officials confirmed a new case of Zika virus infection in a family contact who helped care for the individual who died. The person had not recently traveled to an area with Zika and had not had sex with someone who was infected with Zika or who had traveled to an area with Zika. A CDC team was dispatched to Utah to help with the investigation. Extensive mosquito trapping as well as a community survey shows there is no evidence at this time that mosquitoes that commonly spread Zika (aedes species) virus are in Utah.

The Bureaus of Epidemiology, Maternal and Child Health, and Children with Special Health Care Needs are keeping a close eye on the situation and developed a Zika virus plan that includes guidelines on monitoring, testing, and educational outreach to the public. The Utah Public Health Laboratory recently became certified to perform Zika virus blood testing and will be ready to perform a more specific type of Zika testing.

The CDC recommends that women who are pregnant not travel to areas with Zika. They should also use condoms or not have sex with partners who have traveled to or live in an area with Zika for the duration of their pregnancy. Tips on Zika prevention are available at

 #3 Syringe Exchange Programs Have Go-Ahead to Start in Utah
Syringe exchange programs (SEPs), also called syringe services programs (SSPs), needle exchange programs (NEPs), or needle-syringe programs (NSPs), are community-based programs that provide access to sterile needles and syringes free of charge. The programs also facilitate safe disposal of used needles and syringes. SEPs are an effective component of a comprehensive, integrated approach to HIV and hepatitis C prevention among people who inject drugs. Most SEPs offer other prevention materials (e.g., alcohol swabs, vials of sterile water, and condoms) and services, such as education on safer injection practices and wound care; overdose prevention, including Naloxone distribution; referral to substance abuse treatment programs; and counseling and testing for HIV and hepatitis C. Many SEPs also provide links to critical services and programs, such as HIV care, treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) services; hepatitis C treatment; hepatitis A and B vaccinations; screening for other sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis; partner services; prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission; and other medical, social, and mental health services.

Syringe exchange programs became legal in Utah on March 25, 2016, when Governor Herbert signed House Bill 308 into law. The bill went into effect May 10, 2016, and states that agencies in Utah “may operate a syringe exchange program in the state to prevent the transmission of disease and reduce morbidity and mortality among individuals who inject drugs and those individuals’ contacts.” Rule 386-900 Special Measures for the Operation of Syringe Exchange Programs, sets forth operating requirements for entities conducting syringe exchange. As of November 10, 2016, agencies throughout Utah may enroll their Syringe Exchange Programs with the UDOH. The rule requires agencies conducting SEP to register with the UDOH and provide quarterly reports of activities to be analyzed and then reported annually to the Utah State Legislature, showing effectiveness and sustainability of the program. The UDOH will provide support, technical assistance, training and guidance to all Utah SEPs and will apply for, and distribute, funding as available.

#4 Utah Pharmacists Can Now Dispense Naloxone without a Prescription
On December 8, 2016, Dr. Joseph Minder, executive director of the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), signed a statewide standing order allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone, without a prior prescription, to anyone at increased risk of experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone is a safe and legal drug that can reverse heroin and prescription opioid overdoses by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain and restoring breathing in minutes. There is no potential for abuse and side effects are rare.

Six Utahns die every week from opioid overdoses. In 2015, 268 Utahns died from a prescription opioid overdose (such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, and fentanyl), 127 died from illicit opioids such as heroin, and 10 deaths involved both prescription and illicit opioids; an average of 33 each month (13.5 per 100,000 population). An estimated 80% of heroin users start with prescription drugs. Utah ranks 4th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths.

#5 Updated Utah Air Quality Recess Guidance for Schools
The average adult breathes 20,000 liters of air a day. During inversion months, poor air quality can trigger asthma attacks. The primary pollutant of concern during the winter months is particulate matter (PM) 2.5. The elderly, immunocompromised, and children have been identified as sensitive groups to air pollution and special precautions should be taken during poor air quality days to reduce their exposure. 

On June 13, 2016 the Utah Department of Health Asthma Program hosted the "Air Quality and Health Summit." The purpose of the summit was to ensure the Utah Air Quality Recess Guidance was based on current evidence and supported by schools, health professionals, and community members. The event included a variety of expert led presentations, moderator led discussion, and was attended by 53 stakeholders representing 27 different organizations in the community.  The result of the Summit was an updated Utah Air Quality Recess Guidance that better aligns with Air Quality Index (AQI) recommendations and colors.  The Guidance now recommends the following:
  • When PM2.5 levels are below 35.4 (green and yellow zone), all students can go outdoors for recess.
  • When PM2.5 levels are between 35.5-55.4 (orange zone), sensitive high-risk students and students with respiratory symptoms should remain indoors for recess.
  • When PM2.5 levels are above 55.5 (red and purple zone), all students should be kept indoors for recess.

#6 Teen Birth Rate Reaches Historic Low 
The Utah teen birth rate continued to fall in 2015, reaching a historic low of 17.6 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19.  Considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be a “Winnable Battle”, a goal of reducing teen pregnancy by 20% between 2010 and 2015 was set. The rate of teen birth in Utah declined 37% in this period.  While no one factor can explain why teen pregnancy rates are declining, evidence supports that teen pregnancy prevention education efforts and increased access to contraceptives has led to teens using more reliable forms of contraception.  Another contributing factor may be teens mirroring the trends of delayed childbearing in women ages 20 and over.  

To address teen pregnancy in Utah, two education programs, abstinence only and personal responsibility, are conducted with adolescents. To find out more about these programs and where they are located, visit

#7 Electronic Cigarette Substance Rule Set in Place
Since 2011, Utah has seen a sharp increase in the use of electronic cigarettes and other vape products. Current use of electronic cigarettes and other vape products among Utah youth has grown five-fold, from 1.9% in 2011 to 10.5% in 2015. Among Utah adults, electronic cigarette and other vape products has remained unchanged, from 1.9% in 2012 to 4.8% in 2014.

Effective December 31, 2016, R 384-415, Electronic-Cigarette Substance Standards, seeks to regulate electronic-cigarette substances at the point of sale between the retailer and the consumer. The regulation takes the form of standards for: (1) labeling; (2) nicotine content; (3) packaging; and (4) product quality. As stated in Utah Code 26-57-103, the sale of electronic-cigarette substances that fail to meet these standards will be prohibited. The purpose of enacting regulatory standards for these products is to attempt to limit the increased number of nicotine related poisonings in the state. Labeling standards seek to better communicate nicotine toxicity to the consumers. Standards for nicotine content set a limit for the concentration of nicotine in an electronic-cigarette substance. Packaging standards are intended to make child entry to the product more difficult. Product quality standards prescribe requirements for eventual product approval by the FDA and a restriction on the sale of certain products.

#8 Harmful Algal Blooms Plague Utah Waterways
In July 2016, a large harmful algal bloom was discovered along the eastern shore of Utah Lake. Although algae are a natural part of many freshwater ecosystems, under the right conditions they can proliferate to create large algal blooms. High levels of nutrients in the water, combined with warm temperatures, abundant sunlight, and calm water, can promote rapid algal growth, resulting in the extensive, bright-green blooms. These blooms can contain harmful cyanobacteria, a type of bacteria (often referred to as blue-green algae) that produces toxins that can pose risks to humans, wildlife, domestic animals, and fish.

The Utah Department of Health and Utah County Health Department (UCHD) closed Utah Lake to the public on July 15, 2016 due to the harmful algal bloom. State and local health departments have the legal authority to close public places, such as a lake, to protect the health of the public. While the UCHD has previously issued advisories regarding algal blooms on Utah Lake due to public health concerns, this is the first time the entire lake has been closed. Additional warnings and closures of bodies of water – the Jordan River canal system, Scofield Reservoir, Mantua Reservoir, Big East Lake, Box Lake, and McClellan Lake – were closed in the weeks and months following. Coordination with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and state and local agencies was essential for testing water samples and informing the public about the algal bloom.

#9 Statewide Health Assessment
UDOH collaborated with Intermountain Healthcare and the Local Health Departments to conduct a Statewide Health Assessment. Data on more than 100 health indicators, broken out, where possible, by geography, age, sex, race, ethnicity, income, and education as well as trends over time were reviewed. Twenty-seven community input meetings were held around the state to gather views on the health issues of greatest need and disparity for a particular area. Other needs assessments conducted by community or health agencies were reviewed. A prioritization methodology was decided upon and applied to the data and information gathered. The top priorities were then taken to a broader Utah Health Improvement Plan Coalition that consists of state and local health agencies, Tribes, partner agencies, and health systems for further review and prioritization. The Coalition also assisted in the public health system strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis. Three priority areas have been prioritized as a result of this process and the collaborating partners are developing a Utah Health Improvement Plan to work towards improvement in these areas.
  • Reducing obesity and obesity-related chronic conditions
  • Reducing prescription drug misuse, abuse and overdose
  • Improving mental health and reducing suicide
This is a new level of collaboration and it is hoped that collective efforts may contribute to greater levels of improvement.

#10 Medicaid Expansion Update
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) gives individual states the option to expand Medicaid to new adults earning up to 138% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Without expansion, there is a gap in coverage for adults who do not currently qualify for Medicaid and are ineligible to receive benefits and subsidies through the federally facilitated marketplace. After years of deliberation and research, state leaders have developed a plan for a Utah-specific approach to reduce the number of the uninsured adults in the state.

During the 2016 Legislative Session, House Bill 437 passed and directed the Utah Department of Health’s Medicaid agency to implement a health coverage improvement plan (known as the 115 waiver). Based on funding and approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) the program is designed to provide Medicaid coverage for the following adults:
  • Parents with dependent children earning up to 60% of the FPL
  • Adults without dependent children earning up to 5% of the FPL who are: chronically homeless;involved in the justice system through probation, parole, or court ordered treatment needing substance abuse or mental health treatment; or Needing substance abuse treatment or mental health treatment.
Public hearings on the health coverage improvement plan took place in April and May 2016. The final plan was submitted to CMS on July 1, 2016 and if approved, will begin enrolling new members on January 1, 2017.

Other public health stories that received honorable mentions:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Utah Pharmacists Can Now Dispense Naloxone without a Prescription

(Salt Lake, UT) – Today, the executive director of the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) signed a statewide standing order allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone, without a prior prescription, to anyone at increased risk of experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone is a safe and legal drug that can reverse heroin and prescription opioid overdoses by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain and restoring breathing in minutes. There is no potential for abuse and side effects are rare.

“Opioid overdose can be reversed and death prevented by timely administration of naloxone,” said Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the UDOH. “As authorized by state law, this standing order is intended to increase access to naloxone for those who might be at risk of an overdose or who might be in a position to assist somebody at risk of an overdose.” Naloxone can be administered via a nasal spray (commonly known as Narcan®) or intramuscular injection.

Six Utahns die every week from opioid overdoses. In 2015, 268 Utahns died from a prescription opioid overdose (such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, and fentanyl), 127 died from illicit opioids such as heroin, and 10 deaths involved both prescription and illicit opioids; an average of 33 each month (13.5 per 100,000 population). An estimated 80% of heroin users start with prescription drugs. Utah ranks 4th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths.

Those at highest risk of an opioid overdose include individuals who:
  • Are taking high doses of opioids for long-term management of chronic pain
  • Have a history of substance abuse or a previous non-fatal overdose
  • Have lowered opioid tolerance as a result of completing a detoxification program or recently being released from incarceration
  • Are using a combination of opioids and other drugs such as benzodiazepines (Klonopin, Valium, Xanax) or alcohol
  • Are unfamiliar with the strength and dosage of prescription opioids and the purity of street drugs like heroin
  • Are alone when using drugs
  • Smoke cigarettes or have a respiratory illness, kidney or liver disease, cardiac illness, or HIV/AIDS
During the 2016 General Legislative Session, Rep. Steve Eliason sponsored House Bill 240, Opiate Overdose Response Act, passed authorizing the Utah Department of Commerce and UDOH to implement a standing prescription drug order to dispense naloxone. Additional laws passed in recent years expanding access to naloxone and providing protections for bystanders to report an overdose without fear of criminal prosecution for illegal possession of a controlled substance or illegal drug.

“This important policy will save lives and give people’s sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, a second chance at life and hopefully help them step out of substance abuse once and for all,” said Eliason.

While not mandatory for pharmacies to participate in the standing order, those that do are encouraged to voluntarily register with the UDOH. Additionally, Utah Administrative Rule 156-17b-625 requires pharmacists dispensing naloxone under the standing order to report annually to the UDOH the total number of single doses of naloxone dispensed and the name of each naloxone product dispensed along with the total number of single doses of that particular product.

"Providing naloxone more quickly to the Utah public may be the difference between life and death for those struggling with opioid use disorders. The Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing appreciates the strong support of Governor Gary Herbert, the Utah Legislature, the Department of Health, and others in making naloxone available to protect our citizens,” said Francine A. Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce.

To learn more about naloxone and the standing order visit For information on opioids, visit  

# # #

Media Contact:
Tom Hudachko, UDOH
(o) 801-538-6232 (m) 801-560-4649
Jennifer Bolton, DOPL
(o) 801-530-6646 (m) 801-652-8322

Friday, December 2, 2016

Untreated Tooth Decay Still a Problem for Many Utah Children

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Nearly two-thirds (66%) of Utah children between the ages of 6 and 9 experienced tooth decay in 2015, according to a new study conducted by the Utah Department of Health (UDOH).  The survey collected information on various factors including access to dental care, tooth decay, urgent treatment needs, and sealant placement.

State Dental Director Dr. Kim Michelson says, “Unfortunately, this rate has increased significantly since the 2010 survey (52%) and surpasses the Healthy People 2020 objective of 49%.” Findings also indicate that nearly one-fifth of Utah children (19%) have untreated tooth decay and a few (1.5%) need urgent dental care.  Dr. Michelson adds, “This means these children were experiencing tooth pain or infection.”

Unfortunately, poverty and lack of dental insurance have long been shown to affect oral health status. Nearly one in six children in Utah lack dental insurance coverage. Survey results also indicate that one in 25 children experienced an issue during the previous 12 months that required dental care but their parents couldn’t afford the treatment. About 66% of parents said their child had been to the dentist in the last 6 months, but a little more than 2% had never been to a dentist.

One bit of good news is a significant increase in children having sealants present on at least one permanent molar tooth.  In 2015, nearly half (45%) of the children had sealants present compared with 26% in 2010.

Although dental decay is preventable, it remains the most common chronic childhood disease.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tooth decay is four times more common than asthma among children between the ages of 5 and 19.  

“We know oral health diseases are largely preventable yet we are moving in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Shaheen Hossain, the primary author of the report. “Along with increasing the access to needed services, we still need to educate parents on the importance of oral hygiene, nutritious diets with fewer sugary beverages, and getting routine dental care.”

The UDOH Oral Health Program (OHP) promotes dental decay prevention methods such as dental visits, sealants, fluoride, and other methods including early intervention education. For more information or a copy of the complete report, contact the OHP at 801-273-2995 or visit

Media Contact:
Anne McKenzie
Oral Health Program

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Report Highlights Utah’s Top Languages

(Salt Lake City, UT) – The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) recently released a new report listing the top 20 languages spoken in Utah. Reports for the six most populated counties in the state – Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington, and Weber counties – were also released and list the top 15 languages spoken in these counties.

According to the 2010-2014 American Community Survey, one in seven Utah residents speaks a language other than English at home and one-third of these speak English less than very well. The reports are intended to assist agencies providing health programs and services to limited English proficient (LEP) clients and patients.

The top five languages spoken in Utah are English, Spanish, Chinese, German, and Navajo.

“People may be surprised by the diversity of languages spoken in our state. We hope the reports bring attention to the language barriers faced by many of our fellow Utahns as they try to navigate the healthcare system,” said Brittney Okada, with the UDOH Office of Health Disparities

The reports are intended to help healthcare providers better comply with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) standards. The CLAS guidelines were developed to ensure the delivery of culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare and services.

“The reports can help providers and health programs better understand their patient and client population, plan for language services, evaluate their current language services, and improve patient and client interactions,” said Okada. “Effective and meaningful communication is essential to health services.”

The Utah Language Data Report and six county language reports can be found at under Translation and Interpretation Resources.

# # #

Media Contact:
Brittney Okada
UDOH Office of Health Disparities
(385) 315-0220

Monday, November 21, 2016

Traveling to a Warmer Climate for the Holidays?

(Salt Lake City, UT) – While mosquito season has wrapped up in Utah and most other states that experience freezing temperatures in the winter, active Zika virus transmission is still occurring in many areas around the world. If you’re planning on leaving the snow and cold weather behind for the holiday season, Utah public health officials encourage you to thoroughly research the area you’re planning to visit. And, a good place to start is with information available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. The CDC maintains a list of the countries with active Zika transmission at

“We are receiving calls from people going on cruises to the Caribbean wondering about Zika,” said Julia Robertson, with the Utah Department of Health. “People need to remember that Zika is still active in the Caribbean and other parts of the world and need to prepare for those trips accordingly if they chose to travel to those areas,” added Robertson.

Zika virus is transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). Travelers heading to warmer climates where those mosquitoes continue to be very active are encouraged to pack accordingly to prevent mosquito bites.  Pack clothing that will protect you from mosquito bites including, long-sleeved shirts and long pants sprayed with permethrin, enough EPA-approved insect repellent with DEET for everyone travelling to last your entire trip, and condoms to protect you and your partner.

Most people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. But a pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus that can result in severe birth defects, such as microcephaly (small head and brain) and other severe brain defects that may lead to long-term developmental problems. Infection during pregnancy can also increase the chance for miscarriage, eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth. 

It is not yet known how often Zika infected pregnancies will result in problems. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus, and no specific medical treatment for those who are infected.
The CDC recommends special precautions for the following groups:
Women who are pregnant:
If you or your partner live in or have traveled to a Zika-affected area, either use condoms (or other barriers to prevent infection) or do not have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) during your pregnancy.
Women who are trying to become pregnant:
Before you or your partner travel to or after returning from a Zika-affected area, talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant and the risk of Zika virus infection.
If you have had possible exposure through recent travel or unprotected sex with a partner infected with Zika virus:
Zika symptoms – Wait at least 6 months after your symptoms start before trying to get pregnant.
No Zika symptoms – Wait at least 8 weeks after you may have been exposed to Zika before trying to get pregnant.

For women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant and have questions about Zika virus, contact the MotherToBaby program at 1-800-822-2229, text 855-999-3525, chat live or email, or visit

Media Contact
Charla Haley

Monday, November 14, 2016

Recognizing the Critical Health Care Provided by Rural Hospitals

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Since 2010, 71 rural hospitals across the country have closed, in part due to changes in policies which tend to reward hospitals that do a large volume of business. Fortunately, Utah’s rural hospitals have managed to escape a similar fate.

“Utah is one of the states in which a rural hospital has never closed,” said Dr. Don Wood, Director of the Office of Primary Care and Rural Health (OPCRH) Utah Department of Health (UDOH). “The hospitals and providers serving Utah’s small towns, farming communities, and frontier areas work hand-in-hand to address their health issues, and they provide some of the best medical services in America,”  added Wood.

Due to the critical services that are provided in Utah’s rural communities, Utah Governor Gary Herbert has declared November 13 - 19, 2016 as Rural Health Week in Utah, and the Office of Primary Care and Rural Health is celebrating with several activities, including its annual Rural Photo Contest (information on the contest can be found at and e-book Utah Community Star Stories. Through the declaration, the Governor calls for increased promotion and enhanced collaborative efforts to continue to improve the health of those who live, work, and play in rural Utah. 

As part of Utah Rural Health Week, UDOH will recognize three Utah rural hospitals that have ranked nationally for the quality of the services provided during the year. Those facilities
include Gunnison Valley Hospital in Gunnison, Utah, Milford Valley Memorial Hospital in Milford, Utah, and San Juan Hospital in Monticello, Utah. They are being recognized for their outstanding patient care.OPCRH offers programs that support the financial stability and improved quality of services in rural areas, particularly among Critical Access Hospitals (hospitals with up to 25 beds), Small Rural Hospitals (hospitals with up to 49 beds), Rural Health Clinics (primary care access points, especially for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries). One of these programs is the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, which aims to improve quality of care and financial stability of hospitals and prevent closures.

For more information about rural health in Utah visit

# # #

Media Contact:
Owen Quinonez
Community Health Specialist
Office (801) 273-6620
Cell (801) 560-5935

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

SUBWAY® Restaurants Participate in Great American Smokeout: College students in Utah encouraged to support tobacco-free campus policies

(Salt Lake City, UT) – As part of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and local SUBWAY® restaurants are partnering to end tobacco use at Westminster College on Thursday, November 17.

Beginning at noon, representatives from the Utah way to quit tobacco cessation campaign will be encouraging students to quit tobacco cold turkey. Local SUBWAY® restaurants will also be passing out classic 6-inch turkey subs to students who pledge their support of a smoke-free campus policy.

“This year we’re encouraging the Westminster campus to go tobacco-free,” said Brittany Karzen of the UDOH. “Currently, Dixie State and BYU are the only smoke-free campuses in Utah and we would like to see Westminster College make the same decision.”

"Subway is excited to partner with the Utah Department of Health and be part of the Great American Smokeout again this year," said Jack Bickmore, local SUBWAY restaurant owner. "One thing we value at Subway is the importance of living a healthy lifestyle."

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 200,000 Utahns use tobacco; 9,600 of those are youth under the age of 18. Tobacco users in Utah can find free tips and advice on how to quit at

# # #

Media Contact:
Brittany Karzen
(o) 801-538-6917
(m) 714-267-3679

Monday, November 7, 2016

Utah’s Uninsured Rate at Lowest Point in a Decade

(Salt Lake City, UT) – New data from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) show 8.8 percent of Utahns (265,100 residents) did not have health insurance during 2015. The figure represents the lowest uninsured rate Utah has experienced in more than a decade.

The estimate comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a state-based cell and landline telephone survey that measures key public health indicators, including health care coverage.  

“There are likely several factors that have lead Utah to this point,” said UDOH Executive Director Dr. Joseph Miner. “The state’s healthy economy and low unemployment rate certainly play a role. Changes in health insurance that allowed more young adults to remain on their parents’ health plan and that offered health insurance subsidies to some lower-income families appear to be having a positive effect on the uninsured rate as well.”

 The 2015 data show a continued decrease in the number of uninsured Utahns between the ages of 19-26. In 2011, 23.6 percent of these residents did not have insurance, but last year that number had decreased to just 12 percent.

The number of uninsured Utahns who fit into the population targeted for Medicaid expansion, those between the ages of 19-64 who earn between 0-138 percent of the federal poverty level, has also decreased over the past several years. In 2011, 43 percent of these residents were uninsured, compared to 30 percent in 2015. Despite the improvement, this population’s uninsured rate is still much higher than other populations measured in the survey.
Access to health care is an important contributor to an individual’s overall health, but other factors, such as utilizing preventive and primary care and affordability are important as well.

“Utahns need to take the simple, yet critical, steps that can contribute greatly to their health,” said Dr. Miner. “Simply enrolling in a health care plan will not keep you healthy. But utilizing services like immunizations, cancer screenings, and annual physical exams will go a long way in preventing sickness and disease.” 

BRFSS health insurance data are based on a sample of approximately 5,000 Utah residents who were questioned about their insurance status. Several other surveys collect similar data, and rates may vary based on survey methodology and targeted populations.

Additional data on the estimated number of uninsured Utahns can be found by clicking here.  

# # # 

Media Contact:
Tom Hudachko
Utah Department of Health
(o) 801.538.6232
(m) 801.560.4649

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Utah Hospitals Show Some Improvement on ​ Healthcare-associated Infections

(Salt Lake City, UT) – The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) has released the 2015 hospital-specific report of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in licensed hospitals.* The report provides information on specific types of HAIs that are reportable in Utah, including central line-associated blood stream infections (CLABSIs), catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs), surgical site infections (SSIs) associated with colon surgeries and abdominal hysterectomies, Clostridium difficile (C. diff), and Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia infections.

Utah State regulation (Rule 386‐705, Epidemiology, Healthcare-associated Infection) requires the UDOH to collect and report data on HAIs. The Utah data are self-reported to the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) by each facility that is required to report HAIs by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Compared to national baseline data, patients in Utah facilities that reported 2015 HAI data to NHSN experienced:

51% fewer CLABSI
15% fewer CAUTI
9% more surgical site infections within 30 days of colon surgery
11% more surgical site infections within 30 days of abdominal hysterectomy
22% fewer C. difficile infections
35% fewer MRSA bacteremia infections.

“Utah continues to see improvement in reducing HAIs in areas such as CLABSI and CAUTI, but lags behind in surgical site infections associated with colon surgery and abdominal hysterectomy,”
​ ​
says Karen Singson, HAI Program Manager. “UDOH continues to work with facilities to ensure accurate reporting and focus on prevention strategies to reduce the potential for HAIs.”
The annual HAI report contains information for all infections required to be reported to NHSN by CMS according to the CMS Healthcare Facility HAI Reporting Requirements timeline. To read the entire HAI Report,

Patients can decrease the potential for contracting an HAI by following these recommendations:

Speak up for your care. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your care so that you may fully understand your treatment plan and expected outcomes. You will be able to recover easier, and your family and friends can be more helpful, if you know what is to be expected.
If you have an intravenous catheter, keep the skin around the dressing clean and dry. Tell your nurse promptly if the dressing works loose or gets wet.
Likewise, if you have a dressing on a wound, let your nurse know promptly if it works loose or gets wet.
If you have any type of catheter or drainage tube, let your nurse know promptly if it becomes loose or dislodged.
If you are having surgery, ask if you should shower with a germ-killing soap ahead of time.
Clean your hands properly and make sure everyone else around you does too.
If your room looks dirty, ask to have it cleaned.
Every day, ask if you still need your catheter or other device.
Ask about safe injection practices: One Needle, One Syringe, Only One Time.
Take medications only as directed.
If possible, ask your friends and relatives not to visit if they feel ill.

For more information about HAIs, visit

*Licensed hospitals include acute care, long-term acute care, critical access, rehabilitation, psychiatric, government and children’s hospitals. 

Media Contact:
Rebecca Ward
(o) 801.538.6682
(m) 801.352.1270

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Funding Provided to Help Communities Stop Sexual Violence: One in three Utah women experience sexual violence in their lifetime

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Studies in Utah indicate that one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime and that one in eight women and one in 50 men will experience rape. The costs resulting from sexual violence during a one-year period totaled nearly $5 billion, or approximately $1,700 per Utah resident. The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) recently awarded nearly $550,000 to 21 agencies across the state to implement primary prevention activities for sexual violence.

“Primary prevention aims to stop violence before it starts by addressing root causes, risk and protective factors, and instilling skills in young people that prepare them for healthy, positive relationships and interactions throughout their lives,” said Megan Waters, violence prevention specialist with the UDOH.

The one-time, one-year funding was appropriated during the 2016 Utah General Legislative Session to the UDOH from the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program. This funding, in combination with the state’s current Rape Prevention and Education Program funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has made it possible to extend the availability of sexual violence prevention programming to 28 of the 29 counties in Utah. Agencies receiving the TANF funding include:
  • Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse (CAPSA)
  • The Family Place
  • New Hope Crisis Center
  • Your Community Connection (YCC)
  • Weber State University
  • Davis Applied Technology College
  • The Confederated Tribe of the Goshute Reservation
  • Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake
  • The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake
  • Pacific Islander Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR)
  • Rape Recovery Center
  • South Valley Services
  • Talk to a SurvivorPeace House
  • Tricounty Health Department
  • Carbon County Family Support Center
  • Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center
  • DOVE Center
  • The Utah Navajo Health System
  • Restoring Ancestral Winds
  • Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA)
  • Prevent Child Abuse Utah
One example of how the funding is making a difference is through the Safe Dates program. Safe Dates is an evidence-based program designed to help teens recognize the difference between caring, supportive relationships and controlling, manipulative, or abusive ones. “For many of our teens, violence and abuse are unfortunately a part of their everyday lives,” said LeAnn Saldivar, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. “This funding is critical in helping our teens learn healthy and safe relationship skills; habits that they will carry with them into adulthood.”

One participant of the program who had a prior history of violence with gangs, law enforcement, and his own family has since graduated high school and come into good standing with the courts system – all things he once thought impossible. “We see first-hand the difference these programs make for our youth, leading them away from dangerous situations and on a path for a better future,” said Saldivar. With the funding, Safe Dates can now be used in all of the Boys & Girls Club teen centers in Salt Lake and Tooele counties.

The funded projects will bring primary prevention programs to underserved communities at high risk for sexual violence, including rural and frontier areas, tribal members, and LGBTQ+ communities. In addition, the funding supports the mandatory child sexual abuse prevention education that school districts must implement.

To learn more about the funded projects or for information on sexual violence prevention, visit

# # #

Media Contact:
Katie McMinn
Violence & Injury Prevention Program
(o) 801-538-6156 (m) 801-856-6697

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Exercise as a Tool to Treat Severe Joint Pain: CDC recommends exercise, not opioids, as way to reduce pain

(Salt Lake City, UT) – What if there was a safe way to reduce joint pain without the dangerous side effects of opioids? A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows there is insufficient evidence for and serious risks associated with long-term use of opioids for treating arthritis. Instead, experts recommend low-impact physical activity such as walking, biking, or swimming to help alleviate joint pain.

Nationally, 27.2% of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis report severe joint pain, a condition that can limit a person's ability to perform basic tasks. Severe joint pain was higher among those with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, fair or poor health, and serious psychological distress.

“Given the burden of severe joint pain, and that in 2015 roughly one in five Utahns reported they had arthritis, we recommend two hours and thirty minutes of moderate physical activity each week to help reduce pain, fatigue, and stiffness,” said Nichole Shepard, manager of the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Arthritis Program. “Medications can help, but there may be dangerous side effects from taking opioids long-term, including the risk of dependency, addiction, or even death.”

For those concerned about safely increasing physical activity without worsening their joint pain, community-based programs, such as EnhanceFitness, are available. EnhanceFitness is an hour-long program being offered at senior centers throughout Salt Lake County. The program is taught by certified instructors and provides a fun, relaxed, and safe way to get a great workout.

Lorie Finlayson, of Draper, was struggling from joint pain after a series of surgeries that left her in crutches. She started attending EnhanceFitness and saw major improvements physically, mentally, and socially. "I loved the music, the instructors, the interaction with others, and I could do the classes. That did so much to help me feel good about myself and my abilities. Three years later I'm still a regular at EnhanceFitness." 

Another EnhanceFitness regular, Joyce Jackson, 85 of Murray, mentioned her reluctance to rely on medication for relief from her hand and back pain. "Then I started exercising and saw so much improvement," said Jackson about her experience. "I will be the first to say to anyone to get up and move."

"Utah is very active and our rates of arthritis are low compared to other states," said Shepard. "However, we want people who already have joint pain to know that there are safe and effective classes to help get you back moving and reduce pain."

In addition to exercise therapies, the CDC also recommends the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, certain interventional procedures, acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of arthritis and severe joint pain.

A list of classes designed to lesson joint pain and help manage arthritis can be found at or by calling the Utah Health Resource Line at 1-888-222-2542. To download a copy of the CDC report, visit

# # #

Media Contact:
Rebecca Castleton

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

“Missing Moments” Families of teen crash victims share their grief

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Car crashes are a leading cause of death for teens in Utah and across the U.S. In 2015, 25 families were devastated to learn that their teenager had been killed in a motor vehicle crash on Utah roads. Today, they shared their stories to encourage others to drive safely.

Emily Roundy’s 15-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, was a passenger in a single vehicle rollover on May 2, 2015. Kaitlyn was with friends when the driver of the vehicle she was riding in swerved to miss a deer. The vehicle rolled off the road into a riverbed. Kaitlyn was not wearing a seat belt. She was ejected from the truck and killed instantly.

“I miss her walking through the front door, lighting up the entire room with her presence,” said Roundy. “Kaitlyn knew to wear her seat belt, but there was one time she didn’t and she was taken from us. Please protect your precious lives and wear a seat belt. Always.”

Teens have the lowest seat belt usage rate of any age group. In 2015, almost 60 percent of all teens killed on Utah roads were not restrained. “The simple decision to choose to wear your seat belt every time you are in a vehicle can and does save lives,” said Carlos Braceras, executive director with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). “If I could change a single behavior of every Utahn, it would be to make sure they are always buckled up, no matter what.”

This is the ninth year the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and UDOT have collected stories of teens killed in motor vehicle crashes. The book will be used by state and local agencies as a prevention tool to help drivers of all ages realize the impact their decisions have on others. The books will also be distributed to high school driver education classes throughout the state.

David “Buddy” Conner lost his 16-year-old sister, Cadee, in a crash on Mountain View Corridor, just a half mile from home. Cadee was a passenger and as the driver started to cross the intersection, the truck she was riding in was hit by cross traffic causing it to roll. “My sister was my best friend. If I could say one thing to other drivers it would be that you need to be aware of others around you on the road. You need to be aware of your surroundings and always be a defensive driver because just like that, you can flip someone’s whole world around. And for us, we don’t have a rewind button.”

Data from the Utah Highway Safety Office show that in 2015 teen drivers were two times more likely to have a contributing factor, such as failing to yield the right of way or speeding, in a fatal crash than drivers of other ages.

“Teen drivers are at a higher risk of crashing than other drivers often due to inexperience,” said Joseph Miner, UDOH executive director. “Policies such as the Utah Graduated Driver License laws are designed to help new drivers learn driving skills over time and gain the experience needed to become safe drivers. These laws as well as prevention efforts by our state and community partners have saved lives.”

“As a representative of those families with their loved ones in the book, we’re here to speak out. We’re speaking out to help other families get the chance to fathom how unacceptable roadway fatalities are. No one has to die on our roads,” said Conner.

To download a copy of the book Missing Moments: Remembering 10 Lives Lost on Utah Roads, visit or

# # #

Media Contact:

Jenny Johnson
Violence and Injury Prevention Program
(o) 801-538-9416 (m) 801-298-1569

Monday, October 17, 2016

NEWS ADVISORY - Families of teen crash victims share their grief


WHAT:    The Utah Department of Health and Utah Department of Transportation will hold a press conference to share stories of families who lost a child in a motor vehicle crash in 2015.

  In 2015, 25 teens were killed on Utah roads. Almost 60% of teen occupants killed were not buckled up. Nationally, crash fatalities are highest for 16 to 17-year-olds within the first six months after getting their license – and remain high through age 24. These families hope that as they share the now ‘missing moments’ in their lives and their messages of safety, that it will motivate others to drive safely.   

   Interviews available include:

  • Edward & Aubrey Conner and David “Buddy” Conner, parents and brother of 16-year-old Cadee Conner, killed in a rollover crash
  • Stu & Christine Anderson, parents of 16-year-old Maylee Anderson, killed after being T-boned by another vehicle
  • Brad & Emily Roundy, parents of 15-year-old Kaitlyn Hansen, killed after being ejected in a single vehicle crash
  • Kristen Bagley, mother of 16-year-old Cheyenne Bagley, killed after being T-boned by another vehicle
  • Dr. Joseph Miner, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Health
  • Carlos Braceras, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation
WHEN:    Tuesday, October 18, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
WHERE:    Marmalade Library
2nd floor
280 West 500 North
Salt Lake City, UT 84103

Parking available along 300 West and 500 North, as well at the LDS church house on 500 North.


Media Contact:

Jenny Johnson
(o) 801-538-9416
(m) 385-290-7826

Friday, October 14, 2016

Seeking Answers for Parkinson Disease: Registry aims to find genetic, environmental clues

(Salt Lake City, UT) – In March 2015, the Utah Department of Health issued a rule that required health care providers to report cases of Parkinson disease and related movement disorders via the Utah Parkinson Disease Registry. Now, more than a year later, 1,566 Utahns with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have joined the registry, sharing valuable information about their diagnosis.

“The Utah Parkinson Disease Registry is one of the first computerized registries of its kind in the country,” said Allyn Nakashima, state epidemiologist at the UDOH. “Public health surveillance of this kind is absolutely critical for not only understanding the genetic and environmental causes of PD, but to better understand the extent of the disease across the state and across different populations.” Although the registry is a collaborative effort with the University of Utah Department of Neurology and the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the UDOH will make registry data available to all interested researchers.

Parkinson disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative brain disorder following Alzheimer’s disease, yet basic information about it is missing such as whether it affects certain populations differently. PD often begins with tremors but over time can lead to muscle rigidity; and difficulty walking, talking, and completing simple daily tasks. The disease affects one in 100 persons over the age of 65 years. While there is no known cure for PD, advances in research are raising realistic hopes of halting progression, restoring function, and even preventing the disease altogether.

To date, approximately 21 percent of registrants reported symptoms of PD at age 50 or younger. Nationally, most individuals with PD are age 60 or older at the time of diagnosis. In Utah, among those in the registry, the average age of diagnosis was 64 years of age. Data from the registry showed the time from symptom onset to diagnosis was nearly three years. Although comparisons with other states about onset of symptoms to diagnosis is difficult to obtain, this time span was much longer than expected.

Rebecca Starks, outreach director for the Mountain West Parkinson Initiative at the UofU Department of Neurology encourages individuals living with PD or their families and caregivers to participate in the Utah PD Registry. “You don’t have to wait for your health care provider to enter your information in the registry. By participating, you are helping to provide important clues about the causes of the disease as well as helping to ensure adequate health care resources are available for all individuals impacted by PD.”

To report a diagnosis of PD visit, Reporting by patients themselves is encouraged, but voluntary. The registry collects some identifying information in order to avoid double reporting by health care providers and patients. The form collects information such as demographic data, current address, birth data, and residence history. It is basic and should only take a few minutes to complete.

Individuals and families who want to learn more about PD including the latest treatment and medication options available, caregiving issues, and exercise programs designed specifically for those living with PD, may attend the Utah Parkinson Disease Symposium on Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. More information is available at the Mountain West Parkinson Initiative website,

# # #

Media Contact:
Jenny Johnson, UDOH
(o) 801-538-9416 (m) 385-290-7826
Rebecca Starks, UofU
(o) 801-585-2354

Friday, September 23, 2016

Report Illustrates Critical Shortage of Nurses in Utah Schools

(Salt Lake City, UT) – A new report from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) indicates the state does not meet the national recommendation of one school nurse for every 750 healthy students, or even one nurse for every school. In fact, the state’s ratio of one school nurse for every 4,318 students is one of the lowest in the country.

“Ideally, each student would have daily access to a school nurse, which can improve students’ health, safety, and their abilities to learn. But the bottom line is that Utah is woefully understaffed when it comes to nurses in the schools,” said BettySue Hinkson, school nurse consultant for the UDOH.

Over the past year the focus has been moving away from ratios in preference to student acuity, social determinants of the community, and health disparities. However there remains a heavy emphasis on student to nurse ratios, and according to the report, for each school in Utah to have a nurse, the state would need an additional 959 more school nurses at an estimated cost of $91 million dollars. To meet the national recommendation of one nurse for every 750 students, $68 million would be needed.

“Students are best able to achieve their educational potential when they are healthy. And for many kids, a school nurse is the only healthcare provider they see on a regular basis,” said Hinkson.

Many students have chronic health conditions which need may need interventions while at school. During the 2015-2016 school year, school nurses were responsible for the care of 21,455 students with asthma; 9,606 students with severe and extreme allergic reactions; 2,057 students with diabetes, and 2,372 students with a seizure diagnosis. Many of which had individualized healthcare plans (IHP) and emergency action plans (EAP) as well as a need for medication at school, such as an inhaler, glucagon, or epinephrine, in case of emergencies.

School nurses perform a variety of duties, such as helping students manage chronic health conditions; providing direct care; administering medications to students; developing IHPs and EAPs; training staff and students on a variety of topics from maturation to how to respond to anaphylaxis; and providing vision, dental, hearing, and scoliosis screenings. School nurses also provide essential care for medically complex, medically fragile, and nursing-dependent students.

To download a copy of the 2015-2016 Nursing Services in Utah Public Schools report, visit

# # #

Media Contact:
Dave Mecham
(801) 538-6654

Thursday, September 22, 2016

1 out of 3 Utah Adults Aged 65+ Will Fall This Year

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Every 58 minutes in Utah, emergency medical services personnel are dispatched to the residence of an older adult because of a fall. That means, that every week 179 Utahns aged 65 and older are treated in an emergency department. Sixty-one of them require hospitalization and three die, all due to complications related to a fall. The sad part is, falling does not have to be a normal part of aging.

“Older adults want to stay active, independent, and safe in their homes, but many worry about their risk of falling,” said Sally Aerts, falls prevention specialist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). “In fact, one out of three older adults will fall at least once this year. But falling is not a normal part of aging and older adults have the power to prevent a fall.”

Data from the UDOH show that falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injury-related hospital admissions in Utah, costing more than $104 billion in 2013 alone. Sixty-eight percent of Utahns aged 65 and older who fell sustained a fracture of some kind (nearly one-fourth of these were hip fractures). Other common injuries resulting from falls include: traumatic brain injuries (17%), spinal fractures (12.1%), and broken ribs (7.3%).

“Our goal is to help seniors remain healthy and independent. One fall can be the beginning of a downward health spiral that may include limited mobility, dementia from a head injury, and complications from major surgeries like blood clots and seizures. Even minor falls can impact a person’s sense of safety and well-being,” commented Aerts.

The majority of older adult falls which require hospitalization happened in the home, with 22.0% occurring in the bathroom, 14.7% in the bedroom, and 10.4% of falls occurring in the kitchen.

However, most falls are preventable when older adults remove hazards from their homes and increase their strength and balance. The UDOH recommends six basic steps to reduce the risk of falls:
  • Begin a regular exercise program. Exercise improves strength and balance, as well as coordination. Many of the state’s local Area Agencies on Aging and local health departments offer classes specifically designed to reduce the risk of falling. To sign up for a free class near you, call 888-222- 2542 or visit
  • Make your home safer. Remove tripping hazards like throw rugs and clutter in walkways and stairs. Install grab bars next to your toilet and shower.
  • Talk to your health care provider. Ask your doctor if you are at risk of falling. Your doctor also needs to know if you’ve fallen in the past so he or she can help you determine what prevention steps are needed to stay independent.
  • Have your health care provider review your medicines. Some medicines or combinations of medicines can make you sleepy or dizzy and cause you to fall.
  • Have your vision and hearing checked. Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Poor vision can increase your chances of falling. It’s also important that you can hear properly, as your eyes and ears are key to keeping on your feet.
  • Talk to your family members. Remember, falls aren’t just a seniors’ issue. Ask your family and friends for help in taking simple steps to stay safe.
Utah will join 48 other states in recognizing September 22, 2016 as Falls Prevention Awareness Day. For more information about how to prevent older adult falls, visit

# # #

Media Contact:
Katie McMinn
Violence & Injury Prevention Program
(o) 801-538-6156