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Low-Wage Living Takes A Physical And Mental Toll

Illustration by Christina Lee, text and data by Oliver Morrison
By some measures, about 101,000 workers in the Pittsburgh metro area were unemployed or underemployed as of August 2017, according to the Census Bureau. But even with more jobs available, wages have been slow to rise.

On today’s program: An update on the MRSA outbreak at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; the director of physician services at Gateway Rehab discusses last year’s drop in fatal opioid overdoses; a deep dive on the pros and cons of ozone; and how low-wage jobs compound challenges for Pennsylvania workers.

UPMC Childrens’ MRSA Outbreak infects patients and staff 
(0:00 – 05:44)

Twelve people at UPMC Children’s Hospital--including six newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit--are being treated for MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection. UPMC officials say only one patient is currently showing symptoms, but tests are still pending for others.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease physician from John’s Hopkins University Center for Health Security, says staph bacteria lives on the skin of healthy people, making it easy to transmit. He says the public shouldn’t be worried.

“This is something that hospitals have been dealing with for decades,” Adalja said. “I suspect that what you’ll see is a very proactive approach from the hospital to this problem, and hopefully it will be ended very soon.”

Adalja discusses vulnerable populations, symptoms and treatment options.

Rehabilitation after addiction takes collaboration
(05:45 – 14:55)

Allegheny County saw a 41% drop in overdose deaths in 2018, which professionals credit in part to the availability of the opioid overdose reversal drug, Naloxone.

The newly-named medical director at Gateway Rehab, Dr. George Lloyd, says a collaborative approach--including the incorporation of medication assisted treatment over abstinence--is also a large part of the change.

Ozone is good—as long as you’re not breathing it in
(15:37 – 20:17)

According to the EPA, Allegheny County is now exempt from 1990s regulation requiring residents to use a “summer blend” gasoline that would ideally reduce air pollution during the hotter months. It was intended to curb ground-level ozone, which has links to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

90.5 WESA’s Liz Reid spoke with Carnegie Mellon University environmental engineering professor Peter Adams about the differences between ozone formation on the ground and up above in the ozone layer.

Low-wage living comes with obstacles
(20:18 – 37:30)

Pennsylvania’s new state budget signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday did not account for a raise in minimum wage. Despite a dip in national unemployment rates and a booming stock market, not all Pennsylvanians are profiting. reporter Oliver Morrison and his colleagues have been documenting those realities in a new series, “Low-Wage Living.” Morrison joins Ilyssa Manspeizer, executive director of LandForce, and Jeff Shook, associate professor of social work at the University of Pittsburgh, to talk about Pennsylvania’s low wages and the psychological impact of financial stress over time.

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca, Avery Keatley 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.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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