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Pittsburgh Healthcare Professionals, Patients Target Pre-Diseases And Prevention

On today’s program: lawmakers scramble to fill a $71 billion gap in pension funding for public school teachers and state workers; a new strategy is being used to bring back forests on former minelands across Pennsylvania; and a conversation on pre-diseases and preventing diabetes.

Pennsylvania's pension pain
(0:00 – 12:20)

There was a time not that long ago when pensions for public school teachers and state workers were fully funded, says reporter Mike Wereschagin. But after years of generous benefit packages, a statewide decline in contributions to the fund, and the 2008 financial crisis, the state pension funds have been whittled down, resulting in a $71 billion gap between what employees have been promised and expected state revenue that some lawmakers say needs to be fixed now. Wereschagin reported on the state of Pennsylvania pensions for The Caucus. He joins The Confluence to discuss the long-term effects of an anemic pension fund, the politics at play in the issue, and possible solutions.

Making forests out of mineland
(13:17 – 17:52)

Throughout Pennsylvania, hundreds of acres of land have been deep-mined, strip-mined, and then compacted with bulldozers, creating miles of land on which native trees and grasses cannot take root and decimating forests. The Allegheny Front’s Andy Kubis explored a new, more aggressive approach to bring back forests on formerly mined lands. The forestry reclamation process involves bulldozing deep into the land to break up compacted soil, allowing moisture to soak into the ground, which helps trees and native grasses grow. Although the approach has only been in use for about ten years, and it will take close to 50 years before these new forests mature, Kubis reports that the trees are an indicator of the quality of these formerly mined sites. If the trees are growing well, the land is healing, which could result in an “ecological do-over.”

Doctors take new approach to diagnoses
(17:56 – 38:58)

Many people who develop diseases like diabetes and hypertension do not know that they’re developing them or that they’re at risk until after they are diagnosed. But a growing community of both healthcare professionals and patients is pushing people to seek medical attention before the symptoms begin. Joining the program for a conversation about pre-diseases and diabetes prevention are:

  • Dr. Raghu, a cardiologist and hypertension specialist with the Allegheny Health Network;
  • Diane Battaglia, a nurse who has been leading a diabetes prevention class with UPMC since 2010;
  • Karen Bryant, a writer who has attended the UPMC class for several months; and
  • Oliver Morrison, a reporter for PublicSource whose recent piece on America’s metabolism explores chronic issues and how to prevent them.

While diagnosing potential diseases early cannot always prevent them, Dr. Tadikamalla says that doctors want to stop people from getting diseases like diabetes before they occur. He recommends that those who are concerned about pre-diseases talk to a physician.
90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca, and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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