August September 2013 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Mon, 22 Jul 2019 14:31:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 When It Comes to Health, Kathleen Cares Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:47:27 +0000 Read more..]]> Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (née Gilligan) on the future of American health care, her father’s influence, her Irish heritage, and other topics.

“I’m a descendant of Irish immigrants. My great-grandmother worked as a maid in the home of William Howard Taft, before he became president. Decades later, the grandson of the president and my father, the grandson of the maid, served back-to-back to represent the same district in Congress. Now, that is the American dream. It’s my story, and it’s the story of millions of others.”

Thus spoke Kathleen Sebelius addressing the Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado in 2008.

When Sebelius made that speech to the delegates in support of Barack Obama, she was the very popular governor of Kansas. (Time magazine had named her one of five top governors in the country.) But because of Kansas’s term limits law, her second term as governor was her last. On April 28, 2009, she officially resigned and was sworn in as the 21st Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and charged with leading the department’s some 65,000 employees.

Since assuming office, Secretary Sebelius has taken on the gargantuan task of re-shaping the U.S. health care system and leading the efforts to implement the historic Affordable Care Act. Making Obamacare work is an effort that she recently compared to the struggle for civil rights. There is no better person for the job.

Born Kathleen Gilligan in 1949, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sebelius (her husband Gary Sebelius is a federal judge, and they have two sons, Ned and John) earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington, D.C.’s Trinity College and a master’s in public administration from the University of Kansas in 1977. While it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that she would run for political office, Sebelius and her three siblings grew up in a family concerned with education and politics, and her father, John Joyce “Jack” Gilligan, left her quite a legacy to live up to.

Jack, who served as a gunner in the U.S. Navy in WWII (he was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action at Okinawa), received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and went on to become a Xavier University English literature professor. But he also was interested in politics, a passion instilled by his father, Harry, who ran the family’s funeral service business and served as chairman of the Charter Committee Reform Group. So in 1953, when Jack was approached to run for Cincinnati City Council, he did so and won. After serving for 10 years, in 1964 he was elected to Congress as a representative for Ohio’s 1st District, serving from January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1967. He narrowly lost his re-election bid to Robert Taft, Jr., when the Republican controlled Ohio General Assembly redrew his district to favor Republicans. (As irony would have it, Jack’s grandmother had worked as a maid in the Taft household.)

Undaunted by his loss, Jack remained active in politics and won the election for the governorship of Ohio in 1970, defeating Republican Roger Cloud, serving from 1971 to 1975 and implementing reforms in education, mental health and environmental concerns.

He went on to serve as a fellow of the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., and in 1999, at age 78, he was elected to the Board of Education of the Cincinnati Public Schools, a position he retired from in 2008. At 92, he remains active and vocal on politics.

Buoyed rather than intimidated by her father’s formidable career, Kathleen moved to Kansas with her husband in 1974 and quickly found her footing. She served for eight years as a representative in the Kansas Legislature and eight years as Insurance Commissioner before being elected governor, making her and her father the first father/daughter governor pair in the United States.

And like her father, who remains proud of his signature achievement, enacting the state income tax, which now accounts for about 40 percent of Ohio’s budget and which supports state and county services and schools, Sebelius is proud of her time as governor.

“I came in and the state was broke, lots of people were out of work, and there was lots of hand-wringing about how we could move forward. Having turned the state around and now being back in positive times is a pivotal moment that allows us to move forward and do better things,” she said, speaking on her gubernatorial achievements to Harvard Political Review, May 29, 2007.

When she was nominated to the job of Secretary of Health, Sebelius received many ringing endorsements. “She has an excellent mind, she makes decisions carefully and well, and her obvious empathy for the plight in which so many Americans find themselves will serve them and our country well,” Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee said, hailing Sebelius in a New York Times article as an “absolutely first-rate” selection for the post.

One loud note of dissension came from the Church. Sebelius, who is Roman Catholic, is pro-choice, and this did not sit well with the Church hierarchy. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann publicly prohibited her from receiving Communion. Sebelius has said that this was “one of the most painful things I have ever experienced,” but affirmed that her position was that of upholding the rights of an inter-faith constituency.

Now, less than three months before insurance marketplaces open for enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, Sebelius is making a heightened effort to raise awareness of the law by speaking to community leaders, news talk shows and conferences across the country. She comes across as relaxed, quick-witted and has a good sense of humor (catch her interview with Jon Stewart on YouTube).

Speaking at the NAACP convention in Orlando, Florida, on July 17, she called on the group (who have publically supported the Affordable Health Care Act) to start spreading the word and help educate individuals in their respective communities on how to get health insurance coverage and better understand the law. They should approach it with the same passion as they did in the fight for civil rights.

“You showed it early in the fight against lynching and discrimination. You showed it by showing that inalienable rights are secured in the courtroom and at the ballot box,” she said. “You showed it by supporting a health law 100 years in the making.”

The intention of the law is to deliver affordable health care to the nation’s most vulnerable populations, including young children, the elderly and those with disabilities.  Under the Affordable Health Care Act, 32 million Americans are eligible for coverage, but only if they sign up for it. (One report stated that in order to keep insurance premiums down, at least 30 million need to be enrolled).

Under the law, Sebelius is also carrying out policies that put a new focus on wellness and prevention, support the adoption of electronic medical records, help recruit and train more primary care health providers, and implement reforms that are intended to end the insurance industry’s worst abuses.

On this last point, Sebelius’s past position as Kansas’s Insurance Commissioner has served her well. Under her leadership, the HHS has formed a partnership with the Department of Justice to stamp out health care fraud. HHS claims that already this joint venture has returned record sums to the Medicare Trust Fund.

The department is also working to build a 21st century food safety system that will prevent outbreaks before they occur. And it is collaborating with the Department of Education to help states increase the quality of early childhood education programs.

Secretary Sebelius also leads the nation’s emergency health response to crises and natural disasters, including the Haiti earthquake, the Gulf oil spill, and the Joplin, Missouri tornado. And as America’s top health official, she continues to work on global health issues like polio, HIV/AIDS, and the growing costs of chronic disease around the world.

Her department is looking into gun violence prevention programs. While Sebelius is known to be a moderate on gun control, in her speech to the NAACP she talked about gun violence and referred to the case of Trayvon Martin, saying the teenager’s death was a tragedy. “But so are the tragedies of all the children we have lost because of gun violence before and since Trayvon was killed each and every day.”

Forbes has named Secretary Sebelius one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. The New York Times pegged her as most likely to be the first female U.S. president, which would be only the second time in the history of the nation that a Roman Catholic was elected to the highest office in the land.

With the clock ticking on Obamacare implementation, Sebelius is on the road, visiting with doctors and nurses and other health care professionals. Congress has repeatedly rejected the Obama administration’s request for extra funding to set up the Affordable Care Act, leaving Sebelius’s HHS with the burden of implementing the plan. Operating on what some have called a shoestring budget, Sebelius has been criticized by Republicans for lobbying for financial support from financiers with connections to health care corporations. It is an unusually tight corner for the secretary to find herself in. She made a name for herself when she refused campaign contributions from health care corporations when she was running for governor.

Unbowed by criticism or a meager budget, Sebelius is taking the implemention of Obamacare to the people, talking to as many community leaders as she can. We are grateful that she took the time to answer some questions from Irish America.

What are the biggest changes to health care Americans should be aware of? How else would you like to see the system progress?

The biggest change is that for 85% of Americans who have insurance, their coverage and benefits will be stronger than ever. Already millions of Americans have received critical preventive screenings for free. Millions of previously uninsured young people have gotten coverage on their parents’ plans. Starting in January 2014, insurance companies can’t deny you coverage if you have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or heart disease.  Women will no longer have to worry about being denied coverage of benefits or charged more just because they’re women or because of pregnancy or breast cancer. Millions of American families have received more than $1 billion in rebates from insurance companies, who now have to spend most of your premiums on your actual care, rather than on other expenses, such as CEO bonuses and marketing.

And what’s exciting is that, for Americans who don’t have insurance, or for folks who buy insurance on their own but don’t like it, better options are around the corner when the new Health Insurance Market place opens for enrollment October 1, with coverage that starts as early as January 1. All you have to do is visit to find a plan that fits your budget and needs.

In addition to giving millions of Americans better options for coverage, we’re also making important progress in turning the corner toward a health care system that focuses on wellness and prevention, instead of sickness and disease. There are incentives in the law that help providers coordinate care better and help hospitals reduce errors and costly readmissions. We’re also seeing technology driving health care innovation, like electronic health records that more doctors are using to deliver better care that patients can understand, take with them, and keep minor injuries and illnesses from developing into bigger, costlier ones.

What are you most excited about right now, with all the different reform elements in motion?

What’s exciting is that millions of families and small businesses – many of whom don’t have insurance or are looking for a better deal – will have access, some for the first time, to quality, affordable options in just a few months. The new online Health Insurance Market-place at will provide millions of families and small businesses a new way to find health coverage that fits their needs and their budgets. All plans in the Marketplace must cover a set of essential health benefits, including doctor visits, prescription drugs, and mental health services. Discrimination based on gender or pre-existing conditions will be outlawed. And many individuals, families and small businesses will qualify for a break on the costs of their monthly premiums.

For the first time in history, in every state insurance companies will have to compete for business based on price and service – not lock out, dump out, or price out of the market anyone who might get sick. And the Marketplace will provide Americans with security and peace of mind knowing that they don’t have to worry about losing coverage if they’re laid off or change jobs.

And in just a couple of months, we have the chance to help our family, friends, and neighbors finally find that security and peace of mind. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to spread the word.

To get ready for October 1 when the marketplace opens for enrollment, people can visit today to sign up for information and updates. It’s not your typical government website – it’s much easier to use and understand.  And it’s the best way to find out about those benefits that will be available as early as January 1, 2014. There’s a web chat feature to help answer your questions – just like what you see when you’re shopping online. And if you don’t have access to a computer, there’s a 24/7 customer call center ready to answer your questions in 150 languages.
We know lots of people need information. We can all do our part to help them find it, so I hope you join me in spreading the word about

Your father was serving in the House of Representatives when Medicare was originally passed in 1965. Many middle-aged Americans are worried that it won’t be around when they reach retirement age. What do you think?

My dad is 92 years old now – and Medicare is there for him, just as it was for the countless seniors who are able to enter their golden years with basic security of health care. And after recently turning 65, I signed up for Medicare Part A and it’s certainly a personal issue for me now. And let’s be clear. The Affordable Care Act actually strengthens Medicare, and adds years to its solvency. For our seniors it’s closing the Medicare donut hole – saving more than six million seniors hundreds of dollars on prescription drugs. The law also provides free, critical wellness and preventive screenings, like prostate cancer screenings and cholesterol checks. The law also roots out waste and fraud in Medicare, saving taxpayer dollars from wasteful insurance subsidies and reinvesting those savings back into the system. Medicare is stronger than ever – and it will remain a  source of peace of mind, security, and a guaranteed benefit earned after a lifetime of hard work.

Do you think that the national focus can be shifted towards prevention rather than treatment?

Yes. Making sure people have access to affordable health insurance is key to the preventive care they need to stay healthy. And the Affordable Care Act goes one step further in trying to make it even easier for Americans to get the preventive care they need by eliminating co-pays and deductibles on many recommended services. After all, you’re more likely to get a blood pressure or diabetes screening or mammogram when you don’t have to pay a co-pay. You’re more likely to talk to your doctor about ways to stay fit and work on your diet when your insurance company covers the cost of the appointment.

And we’ve worked really hard on a first-of-its-kind National Prevention Strategy, which guides our efforts to help individuals, families, and communities promote healthy lifestyles and improve health outcomes. From reducing tobacco  use to fighting obesity, we’re engaging public and private sector partners to find ways to address the chronic diseases – such as heart disease and diabetes – that can reduce health care disparities, and control the cost of care while we improve the quality of it.

How did your father influence you? What did you learn from his political career and from growing up with a father in politics?

My father first ran for office in Ohio when I was 5 years old. He served in City Council, in Congress and as governor and was an active leader on civil rights, anti-war efforts and always looked out for “the least of these” – those most vulnerable in our society who needed to have a policy champion. He went right from military service in World War II to community and public service. He taught my siblings and me that public service was an important way to make a contribution to our communities and that it was important to have a strong moral code as a guidepost, even if our positions were unpopular. He loved serving in Congress when some of the most important social legislation was passed, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act.

Do you know where in Ireland your ancestors are from? Have you been to Ireland, and if not, are you planning a visit?

Both my mother and my father have roots in Ireland, in counties Sligo and Cork. My father’s family name is  Gilligan, and his mother was a Joyce. My mother’s family name is Dixon. I have been to Ireland a couple of times, but not recently. I would love to return sometime soon.

How do you keep healthy?

I have been very fortunate to be born in good health and not get sick very often. I exercise regularly, try to eat a healthy diet, get some sleep and try to find ways to reduce stress, though it doesn’t always work! My health motivation is that if I feel better, I’m able to be a better worker, and I’m able to do much more of what I like to do.

Secretary Sebelius and her father, former Ohio governor Jack Gilligan A January 1971 portrait of Ohio's new first family, printed in the Columbus Dispatch “With Gov.-elect John J. Gilligan and his wife, Katie, are their four children (from left): John (a Dartmouth College senior); Ellen (a high school senior); Kathleen (who graduated from Trinity College last June and since has been working in her father’s campaign); and Donald (a teacher at Bishop Hartley High School).” ]]> 0 16462
The First Word: Sláinte! Good Health Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:46:47 +0000 Read more..]]> “What’s exciting is that millions of families . . .will have access, some for the first time, to quality, affordable options in just a few months.”  
    – Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius

As the national debate on Obamacare takes center stage we thought it an opportune time to interview Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius, née Gilligan, and to focus on health issues that affect everyone, but maybe the Irish a little bit more.

We looked to writers to contribute personal essays on mind, body and spirit, with rewarding results. Molly McCloskey writes about what it was like to grow up with a brother who has schizophrenia. Malachy McCourt writes on being sober for 28 years. April Drew tells of a friend’s suicide attempt, while Emma Graves Fitzsimmons contributes a piece about her brush with skin cancer – a must read for all fair-skinned members of the clan. In our history section one of the eminent physicians profiled is Dr. Thomas Patrick Fitzgerald, the father of dermatology, who was the first to research the effects of UV rays on different skin types.

And, of course, how could you have a Health and Wellness issue without the nuns? Many of the finest hospitals and nursing schools in the U.S. were founded by Irish nursing sisters. Mary Pat Kelly writes of their outstanding contribution, while Rosemary Rogers takes us to a nursing home for the aged that is run by Carmelite nuns.

I have an enduring image of visiting my mother in Nenagh Hospital and being struck by the high shine on the hospital floor, the crisp uniforms of the nurses, and being told by the formidable nun in charge  to stand up straight. I think there might even have been a sign that said  “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

I know my mother would have been interested to read our piece on Herbal Medicine, which has a long tradition in Ireland. I recall picking rose hips for a syrup she would make and dish out to us by the spoonful. Vitamins weren’t talked about back then. It was years later, when I picked up a bottle of Rose Hip Syrup in a health food store, that I understood that she was making sure we got our vitamin C.

No matter how diligent mothers might be or how well we care for our physical being, environmental factors and  genetic predisposition can make us vulnerable to illness. In my family it’s autoimmune diseases, the most serious being M.S. So naturally, one of the first experts we talked to was Dr. Noel Rose, the father of autoimmunology. We also cover celiac disease, which has a very high rate of diagnoses in Ireland, and learned of its association with other autoimmune diseases including hemochromatosis, which causes the liver to retain iron. The latter may actually have been a benefit during the Famine, writes Thomas P. Duffy, M.D., of Yale Medical School. He is one of many researchers who are finding links between starvation and its dire effects on later generations, including mental illness. Read more on this in Peter Quinn’s short but thought-provoking  piece, “Hunger and Its Children.”

Grief and grievances are also covered in this issue. My sister took a long trek on the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain to raise money for M.S. Ireland in memory of our brother David, and found it a healing experience. Meanwhile, Fionnula Flanagan advises that it’s time to let go of old grudges and welcome everyone back into the fold. Surely there’s healing in that!

One particular article I would call your attention to is “Reel Life Miracle.” It’s about Irish set dancing being therapeutic for people with Parkinson’s disease. To me the hero of this piece is not the doctor but the unnamed Co. Clare man he witnessed putting aside his walking aid and joining the dancers on the floor. By refusing to let his disease rule his life, and showing that while he couldn’t walk properly, he could still dance, he inspired a new therapy – based on Irish step dancing! –  which thousands of people will benefit from. Now that’s something to cheer about.

Sláinte!/Good health.

]]> 0 16501
Irish Woman With MS Loses Assisted Suicide Case Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:45:03 +0000 Read more..]]> Marie Fleming, a 59-year-old woman from Co. Wicklow in the late stages of Multiple Sclerosis, lost her case against the Irish Supreme Court to overturn Ireland’s laws on assisted suicide. The court announced in early May that it had unanimously rejected her constitutional challenge against the ban.

Fleming, a former university lecturer and mother of two, has made public her desire to die in her home at a time of her own choosing. With her MS at an adv-anced stage, Fleming is paralyzed from the neck down and is therefore unable to take her own life unassisted. Her grown children and her partner, Tom Curran, have expressed their support of her wishes, but, under Ireland’s current laws, could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted of aiding in her death.

Fleming first took her case to the Irish High Court in January, and, after losing, brought her appeal to Ireland’s Supreme Court in February. Suicide was decriminalized in Ireland in 1993, and Fleming contends that the current law discriminates against severely disabled people; that she should have the same right as any able-bodied citizen to take her own life, even if she needs assistance.

Chief Justice Susan Denham announced the court’s decision, that even though suicide is no longer a criminal act, there is no explicit right to suicide – assisted or otherwise – guaranteed by the Irish constitution. Fleming, who was not well enough to appear in court, was represented by Curran and other family members.

]]> 0 16506
Cigarette Packs in Ireland May Get a New Look Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:44:46 +0000 Read more..]]> Ireland is leading the way in the fight against smoking. This past May, the Irish Ministry of Health proposed legislation that would ban the use of cigarette pack branding. No more Marlboros or Camels on display. This would make Ireland the first country in the E.U. to pass such a ban, and the second country overall; Australia passed similar legislation in 2012. In recent years, Ireland has taken a strong stand against smoking. In 2004 the country was among the first to require smoke-free workplaces, in 2007 it put an end to selling ten-packs of cigarettes, and in 2009 it demanded graphic picture health warnings on cigarette packaging.

The Health Ministry estimates that over 5,000 people a year die from tobacco-related illness. The ban on cigarette branding would remove all traces of advertisement – including trademarks, logos, and graphics – from cigarette packs, replacing it with  a graphic visual warning and space for the company’s name in a generic font. Health Minister  Dr. James Reilly, said, “the introduction of standardized packaging will remove the final way for tobacco companies to promote their deadly product in Ireland.”

Tobacco manufacturers have countered, arguing that this measure will only increase the smuggling in of tobacco products and hurt the growth of small businesses. The ban proposal has been approved by the Irish cabinet (Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Ministers of State), and will be brought before the parliament as early as next year, while similar legislation is being introduced in Great Britain.

]]> 1 16510
Funding Approved for First Cross-Border Bridge Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:43:17 +0000 Read more..]]> The newest bridge in Ireland is as important for its symbolism as for its ability to carry cars, and both have Irish on each side of the border excited. When completed, the Narrow Water Bridge will be the first ever cross-border bridge connecting the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Funding for the bridge was officially granted by the UK’s Finance Minister in May.

The Narrow Water Bridge, which will span 2,165 feet across Carlingford Lough and link Counties Down and Louth, has been in various stages of development since 1976. But barring any unforeseen roadblocks, the handsomely designed bridge will be completed in 2015 at an estimated cost of £14 million, mostly financed by the E.U., with just under £3.5 million coming directly from the UK and the Republic of Ireland. When completed, the bridge will evoke two harps laid end-to-end with its dual cable-stayed towers.

While a public inquiry is still possible if local resistance is voiced or there are significant objections, the bridge project appears to have only supporters, with everyone from local councillors to Gerry Adams lauding the plan.

Councillor Gerald Mallon, chairman of East Border Region, told the BBC that “The Narrow Water bridge is a genuinely symbolic cross border project providing the first bridge linking Ireland and Northern Ireland and will provide a catalyst for both economic development and tourism within the region.”

Gerry Adams, TD, called it a “crucial investment project that can significantly enhance the local economies of communities on both sides of the border,” reported the Belfast Telegraph.

The two most popular areas for tourism in the region are the Mourne and Cooley Mountains in Down and Louth respectively. The Narrow Water Bridge is expected to significantly alleviate traffic congestion around Newry and cut about 45 minutes off the journey between the two counties.

]]> 0 16516
Irish Methodist Church Elects Its First Female Leader Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:42:21 +0000 Read more..]]> Reverend Dr. Heather Morris was installed as the new president of the Methodist Church in Ireland this June, becoming the first female to hold not only that post, but the first female head of any of Ireland’s four main churches. Dr. Morris was elected to the position last summer, and the confirmation took place at the church’s national conference in Carrickfergus on June 12th. She will serve the usual one-year term.

The 48-year-old reverend was born in Nigeria while her parents were doing missionary work, and was educated in Belfast and Dublin before following her father and grandfather into the Methodist ministry in 1992.

While English Anglicans have been tepid about allowing female bishops, a 2002 Covenant between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland that calls for mutual communion, united congregations, and even joint training of ministers “to encourage mutual understanding at all levels in our churches” has caused some to declare Dr. Morris to be the “first woman Bishop,” according to Sky News.

Dr. Morris pushes back on the import and influence of her gender, telling the Murnaghan Show, “I am happy to stand with where the Methodist Church in Ireland is” on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and physician-assisted suicide.

“I have said before that my election wasn’t an issue around gender. My experience has been one where, as a woman in ministry, I have been nurtured and encouraged to use the gifts that God has entrusted to me. I see this as just a natural progression.”

]]> 0 16521
“Rory’s Regulations” Will Fight Sepsis in New York Hospitals Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:41:09 +0000 Read more..]]> New York has become the first state in the U.S. to mandate a series of protocols to diagnose and treat sepsis before it turns fatal.

The protocols have been named “Rory’s Regulations” for 12-year-old Irish American Rory Staunton who died from an undiagnosed case of sepsis on April 1, 2012. Doctors failed to recognize that Rory was suffering from sepsis until it was too late.

Sepsis is a common but almost unknown killer. It is the single leading cause of death in intensive care units in the U.S. and kills over 200,000 Americans each year; more than lung cancer, stroke and breast cancer combined. However, public awareness of the dangers of sepsis is so low that a 2010 report found 70 percent of Americans did not even know it existed.

Sepsis is a dangerous condition caused by the body’s own immune response to infection. The body produces chemicals to fight the infection, but those same chemicals cause widespread inflammation, which can shut down the body’s organs.

“Rory’s Regulations” will require all New York hospitals to be proactive about sepsis and aim for early identification and treatment of the infection. The Regulations also call for increased patient communication and a “more meaningful” role for parents when their children are in the hospital.

Rory’s parents Orlaith and Ciaran and his sister Kathleen have worked tirelessly since Rory’s death to try and prevent more families from suffering from their devastating loss.

Their advocacy is a poignant tribute to Rory, who was a keen student of politics and social justice despite his young age.

The family has also launched the Rory Staunton Foundation (www.rorystaunton. com) which joined forces with the Global Sepsis Alliance in April in an initiative which aims to reduce sepsis deaths by 20 percent by 2020.

And they have had several meetings with the Senate Health Committee staff of Senator Tom Harkin with a view to holding the first ever national hearings on sepsis, which is now killing more Americans than AIDS.

Rory’s father Ciaran says the family will keep working to prevent any more deaths from sepsis. “If this had happened to Kathleen, Orlaith or me, Rory would be doing the same thing,” Ciaran says. “He was a true champion of the underdog and he never took no for an answer.”

Ciaran will deliver the keynote lecture about Rory’s Regulations at the first Sepsis Summit Berlin, which will take place in the German city on Monday, Sept. 9. The conference has been organized by the World Sepsis Alliance in advance of World Sepsis Day on Sept. 13.

Kelly Fincham teaches journalism at Hofstra University on Long Island where she specializes in social and digital media.

]]> 0 16526
Study Shows Immigrants Give More to Medicare Than They Take Out Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:40:09 +0000 Read more..]]> As the United States Congress debates an immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants (which includes about 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants), Harvard researchers have published a study that challenges widely-held notions of the relationship between immigrants and the U.S.’s entitlement programs.

Published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs, the study shows that between 2002 and 2009, immigrant contributions to the Medicare program produced a surplus of more than $100 billion. In 2009, for example, immigrant payments into Medicare accounted for 14.7 percent of the total budget, while immigrants only used 7.9 percent, creating a surplus of $13.8 billion. This contrasts with the $30.9 billion deficit generated by the U.S.-born population in the same year. The study argues that because immigrant contributions tend to come from a younger, healthier workforce that simply doesn’t need Medicare services yet, their payments into the program are essential in balancing out the disproportionate use of its benefits by U.S.-born retirees. Thus, “Policies that restrict immigration may deplete Medicare’s financial resources.”

Lead author Leah Zallman and her team of co-authors drew some criticism for focusing only on a portion of Medicare, and, as the New York Times points out, it is also not clear how much of the surplus is generated by illegal immigrants who are not eligible for Medicare benefits even though they are paying into the program.

Still, similar studies on other programs have shown the same fact with regard to Social Security, where immigrants generated a $12 billion surplus according to the Social Security Administration itself. Studies like these seem to pave the way in convincing immigration reform critics of the economic benefit of allowing illegal residents to become citizens, which already has support in the Irish-American community and at the White House.

]]> 1 16533
Quinnipiac Opens State-of-the-Art Medical School Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:39:10 +0000 Read more..]]> The new Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut is attracting students in primary care medicine.

Dr. Bruce Koeppen didn’t just do a double take in 2009 when he first read the announcement that Quinnipiac University was planning to build a medical school. He took action. The Yale-educated Koeppen, then dean for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, called Quinnipiac president John L. Lahey and proposed himself as the school’s founding dean.

“I knew the time was right for Quinnipiac to provide the best medical education,” said Lahey, a 2012 Irish America Hall of Fame inductee who has served for more than a decade on the boards of several major medical institutions and corporations. “And I knew that Bruce Koeppen was the person most qualified to realize that vision,” he added.

Koeppen welcomes his first students to the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine on Quinnipiac’s North Haven, Connecticut campus in August.

“Building a medical school made a lot of sense for us,” Lahey said, noting that the university already has an emphasis on health professions programs including nursing, physician assistant, physical therapy, diagnostic imaging, occupational therapy, anesthesiologist assistant and radiologist assistant, among others. “Now is the time to combine these strengths for a more collaborative, compassionate and efficient health care system. It is time to add the doctor,” he said.

And Koeppen relished the opportunity to develop a program of medical education for the 21st century that would integrate formal classroom knowledge with clinical experience and a curriculum crafted to teach the fundamentals of clinical, behavioral and social sciences necessary to deliver world-class patient care.

He believes the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac, named for the world-renowned medical illustrator whose drawings and atlases have served students for decades, will prepare its graduates for a wide spectrum of career options.

Named a “Healthcare Hero” by Business New Haven, Koeppen has been praised for his work overseeing the development of the new facility, which will be formally dedicated in September, as well as for its innovative curriculum and its stellar founding faculty members. They are renowned researchers and experts in their respective medical specialties, but their primary focus is to teach medical students.

Developing a medical school at Quinnipiac was spurred, in part, by a 2006 nationwide call from the Association of American Medical Colleges for a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment by 2015. Predicting an alarming shortage of 150,000 doctors by 2025, almost a third in primary care, the AAMC called for the creation of new schools and expanded classes at existing schools

Retirement of baby boomer physicians, coupled with an aging baby boomer population, a preference among many younger physicians to work part time, and the prospect of adding millions to the insurance rolls under the government’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 are contributing reasons for the projected shortage.

With this urgent need for well-educated and highly trained physicians, the focus on medical education has never been greater. For the first time since the 1990s, there are now 18 medical schools in the United States in various stages of accreditation and development; 11 new schools of medicine have opened in the last five years.

Quinnipiac’s new medical school was designed to foster opportunities for interprofessional health care education. The 104-acre campus in North Haven (just a few miles from the university’s Mount Carmel and York Hill campuses in Hamden) also serves as home to the School of Health Sciences, the School of Nursing, the School of Education and other graduate programs. The School of Medicine is housed in the $100 million, 325,000-square-foot Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.

With the addition of medical students, the university will have a rich environment to train all its health care students in a new model that Koeppen compares to the pit crew of a NASCAR race team. “Each member of the crew has a specific expertise and responsibility for the care of the car. Substitute patient for car and you’re looking at a team of experts collaborating to care for a patient,” he said.

From a pool of several thousand applicants, the medical school’s admissions office sent acceptance letters to fill the 60 spots for the first year. Attendance is planned to grow to a maximum of 500 students over the next five years.

These 60 will be the first to use the all-digital “smart” classrooms, examination rooms and labs. The building has exam rooms, a gross anatomy lab, clinical skills assessment rooms, two simulated operating rooms, study rooms, a library, a fitness center and an auditorium. Students will do clinical work at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in nearby Bridgeport, the Netter school’s primary clinical partner. Other partners include MidState Medical Center in Meriden and Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, both in Connecticut.

Koeppen is particularly proud of the Medical Student Home program, or MESH, which is central to the school’s curriculum. MESH places new medical students into a professional setting only a few months into their first semester, primarily with doctors who specialize in general internal medicine, family medicine and general pediatrics.

“Part of our mission is to train the primary care workforce of the future,” Koeppen said. “By placing our students in these sites, they develop a positive mentoring relationship with their physician that will foster their interest, maintain their interest, and hopefully cause the student to seriously consider a career in primary care medicine,” he added. Other areas of emphasis will be global public health and rehabilitative medicine.

Under Koeppen, the school has already attracted well-known faculty members including Dr. Barbara R. Pober, an internationally recognized geneticist. Pober, a professor of medical sciences, comes to Quinnipiac from Harvard Medical School, where she was a professor of pediatrics and a geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Abayomi Akanji, a professor of medical sciences, will teach clinical chemistry and endocrinology. Akanji previously was a visiting professor of metabolic medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Other health professionals at Quinnipiac with Irish American links include Thomas C. Brady, professor of biomedical sciences, and Karen M. Myrick, assistant professor of nursing.

Fewer than 100 universities have both law and medical schools, further enhancing Quinnipiac’s national reputation. The university, founded in 1929, has 8,500 students enrolled in more than 70 undergraduate and graduate programs in business, communications, education, engineering, health sciences, law, medicine, nursing, and the arts and sciences.

Quinnipiac consistently ranks among the top regional universities in the North in U.S. News and World Report’s American Best Colleges issue and recently was ranked second in the category of universities that have made the most promising and innovative changes in academics, faculty, campus or facilities.

Of this latest addition to the growing university, Koeppen says, “If you aspire to be the kind of physician this nation needs in the coming decades, you will find no better place to accomplish your dream than here at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. We welcome all applicants who share our vision for the future.”

About Frank H. Netter, MD

The School of Medicine is named for the late Dr. Frank H. Netter, a world-renowned medical illustrator whose drawings and atlases have educated
medical students for decades.

Born in Manhattan in 1906, Netter was, in his 20s, a successful commercial artist whose work appeared in national magazines. His family, however, urged him to study medicine. As a medical student, he drew as a means to study, producing visual representations to help him understand and recall material. After a brief practice as a general surgeon, he traded his scalpel for a paintbrush and began a prolific career as a medical illustrator. In 1989 he published his landmark Atlas of Human Anatomy, which has been translated into 11 languages and is widely used by undergraduate medical students.

A major gift from Barbara and the late Edward Netter, Frank Netter’s first cousin, pays tribute to “Medicine’s Michelangelo” in the naming of the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University.

]]> 1 16538
Irish Eye on Hollywood Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:38:30 +0000 Read more..]]> The latest news and releases from your favorite Irish and Irish-American stars.

1. The news that The Sopranos star James Gandolfini died of a heart attack at the age of 51 shocked Hollywood and the millions of Americans who were reluctantly seduced by the New Jersey gangster Gandolfini portrayed. Gandolfini’s life was the ultimate immigrant success story (his father was born in Italy). The actor was even in his father’s homeland to receive an award when he passed.

The Sopranos had its fair share of Irish connections, some more flattering than others. For one, the famed Satriale’s pork store where Tony’s crew often congregated was, in real life, located right next to the Kearney Irish American club in New Jersey.

At the time of his death, Gandolfini had completed two final films, one of them entitled Animal Rescue, written by another son of immigrants (from Ireland), best-selling author and fledgling movie mogul Dennis Lehane.

Based on his own short story entitled “Animal Rescue,” the film will star Gandolfini as well as Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace.

“Animal Rescue” first appeared in the story collection Boston Noir. Lehane’s tale revolves around a heist as well as a killing, which eventually drags an ex-con back into the life of crime he is trying to leave behind. Look for Animal Rescue in theaters later this year or early next.

Lehane’s books Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island have already been turned into acclaimed films. He is also planning to re-team with Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in Shutter Island, to make a film called Travis McGee. Lehane’s book Live by Night is currently being turned into a film to be directed by Ben Affleck.

2. A movie about Irish-American pundit Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book Killing Kennedy, about President John F. Kennedy, is being planned. Rob Lowe – the 80s hearthrob who recently played a stiff-faced plastic surgeon in HBO’s Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas – is slated to play President Kennedy in the film, which is being produced for the National Geographic Channel. The film will explore the lives of Kennedy and his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, from 1959 to that fateful November day in Dallas in 1963. Ginnifer Goodwin has reportedly signed on to portray Kennedy’s wife, Jackie, while Michelle Trachtenberg will play Oswald’s wife Marina. Killing Kennedy is filming now and is scheduled to be shown this November, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

3. Also slated for TV is a new CBS comedy about a Boston Irish clan called The McCarthys,  which will follow the trials and tribulations of a large Irish Catholic family. The McCarthy family includes a gay son, but tension arises not from the son’s sexual orientation, but from his desire to be less wrapped up in his whacky family’s life. The McCarthys was created by Boston-born writer and actor Brian Gallivan. The initial pilot for The McCarthys starred Irish American Bronx native Jack McGee (Rescue Me), but final casting decisions have not yet been made.

4. CBS is also looking to produce a sitcom created by Irish American comedian Jim Gaffigan. Gaffigan is an acclaimed stand-up whose deadpan riffs on life and fatherhood (he has five kids) have earned raves. Gaffigan has teamed up with TV and movie production veteran Peter Tolan (whose credits include Rescue Me with Denis Leary) to produce a sitcom revolving around Gaffigan’s family life.

5. Everyone was amazed in March when The Bible proved such a hit on the History Channel, drawing the biggest TV audience of 2013 to date. The ten-hour, $20 million mini-series was produced by Derry native and former Touched by an Angel TV star Roma Downey and her reality TV mogul husband Mark Burnett. Now, Burnett and Downey have announced they are going to produce a follow-up, tentatively entitled A.D.: Beyond the Bible.

This time around, Downey and Burnett are doing business not with a cable channel but with the NBC television network.

“I followed the development process of The Bible closely with Mark and knew that the story was far from over after Christ’s crucifixion,” said Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, in a statement.

6. Brendan Gleeson remains as busy as ever. While still laboring away (along with his son Domhnall) at a big screen version of the famously difficult Flann O’Brien novel At Swim-Two-Birds (which will also feature a slew of Irish acting talent), Gleeson is also scheduled to star in an upcoming Ron Howard film entitled In The Heart of the Sea. Fellow Irish thespians Cillian Murphy and Sam Keeley will also appear in the whaling epic. Based on the Nathaniel Philbrick book of the same title, In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of a tragic 1820 whaling ship, that many say inspired Herman Melville to write the American classic Moby Dick.

Gleeson will also appear later this year in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, alongside other Irish actors such as Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly.

7. Two of the well-received films with Irish talent to come out of this summer’s Galway Film Fleadh were The Callback Queen and Mister John. Irish actress Amy-Joyce Hastings stars as Kate Loughlin in The Callback Queen, set in the cutthroat London film industry. Kate must navigate the dicey world of sleazy agents and competitive fellow actors, once she lands a prized role in a highly anticipated film. Sean T. O’Meallaigh and Ger Ryan also star in The Callback Queen.

Meanwhile, aforementioned Dubliner Aidan Gillen (the mayor from HBO’s The Wire) has received raves for his leading role in Mister John, directed by the Irish team of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor. In Mister John, Gillen plays an Irishman out of his element in Asia, where his brother built a satisfying life for himself only to die suddenly. Unhappily married to an unfaithful wife, Gillen’s character begins falling in love with his brother’s widow. Mister John has been described as an intimate character study which painstakingly explores the hard realities of life, love and death.

8. A new documentary worth checking out is Evocateur:  The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, which explores Downey’s coming of age  and looks closely at the wild syndicated TV talk show that bore his name. He was born Sean Morton Downey Jr. in New York City in 1932. His father was a popular singer in the 1930s and 1940s, referred to as The Irish Nightingale. Downey Sr. also appeared on TV and in movies. One of his many songwriting hits was “That’s How I Spell Ireland.” Downey wanted to match his father’s achievements, working in show business as well as politics. Downey even worked for Irish-American political legend Bobby Kennedy. But most memorable about this movie and Downey’s life is the talk show that more or less invented trash talk TV– for better or worse.

9. Another interesting documentary making the rounds on the festival circuit is Our Irish Cousins, which began as a video diary of Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Houlihan’s book tour, but has since expanded into a broad exploration of the Irish diaspora and its impact on both sides of the Atlantic. For upcoming screenings, visit

10. For Netflix users out there, the BBC production of the Belfast-set mini-series The Fall is currently streaming, and stars Gillian Anderson and John Lynch, as the former X-Files star attempts to link several unconnected murders in Northern Ireland.

11. Finally, Fionnula Flanagan was in Galway in July for the 2013 Film Fleadh where two movies starring her were shown in Ireland for the first time – “Tasting Menu” (Spanish) and “Life’s a Breeze” (Irish).

]]> 0 16544