Gabriel Spitzer

Health & Science Reporter / Sound Effect Host / Assistant News Director

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.

Gabriel received his Master's of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and his degree in English at Cornell University. He’s been honored with the Kavli Science Journalism Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and won awards from the Association of Health Care Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. He lives in West Seattle with his wife Ashley and their two sons, Ezra and Oliver.

Gabriel’s most memorable KPLU moment was: “In just my second week here, I found myself covering the unfolding story of a mass shooting and citywide manhunt. It was a tragic and chaotic day, when the public badly needed someone to sort the facts from the rumors. It made me proud of our profession.”

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Washington State University

Horses have been used therapeutically for years, but new research from Washington State University provides some of the first scientific evidence that it works to reduce stress.

Under stress, the body produces a hormone called cortisol, which is supposed to rise and fall in a particular way over the course of a day.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

After a rocky start, Washington’s health benefits exchange is taking a victory lap. Officials say the exchange got the late surge in enrollments it was counting on, pushing up its final numbers.

The first open enrollment period of Obamacare ended in March, and now that the exchange has processed most of the stragglers, it has released new numbers: 164,062 people enrolled in private plans, with another 423,205 enrolling in Medicaid through March 31. Factor in those now required to use the exchange’s website to re-up their Medicaid, and the number exceeds a cool million.

Gabriel Spitzer

Tunneling beneath downtown Seattle likely won’t resume for almost another year, according to Seattle Tunnel Partners, the company managing the project.

Delays have mounted in repairing Bertha, the tunneling machine that has been at a standstill with damaged parts since December.  

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

The practice of offering relatively inexpensive health plans with bare-bones provider networks has created tension between making health care affordable and keeping it accessible. It’s set to come to a head this week in Olympia.

The growth of “narrow networks” in Washington comes as the Affordable Care Act limits the ability of insurance companies to control their costs. That’s made it harder to offer plans at a range of prices — something the companies want to do as they compete for comparison shoppers on the health exchanges.

Florian Muijres / University of Washington

New research out of the University of Washington shows that an insect with a brain smaller than a salt grain can take complex evasive action in flight. The findings could have value for engineers.

Consider the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. It’s — actually, wait. You really should click this soundtrack before you read any further.

Right. So, drosophila. You see them buzzing around your wine glass or your compost bin. Maybe you wave it away with your hand, and it seems to dart around to avoid the swat.

Washington state has been overpaying for health care under the Medicaid program, according to state auditors.

The audit found the state spent about $17 million more than it should have on free health care for the poor in 2010. The amount is a tiny, tiny part of the billion-dollar Medicaid budget. But the auditor found the overpayments could feed a vicious cycle, increasing each year.

Fred Espenak / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Puget Sound region won’t be the best place to take in the lunar eclipse in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. High clouds are likely to obscure the so-called “blood moon,” which flushes reddish in the shadow of the Earth.

University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass says the northwest Washington coast might fare better. And cloud breaks might give even Seattle-area moon-gazers a glimpse — if they keep looking.  

Courtesy of Dr. David Maloney / Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

The family of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has given Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center its largest-ever single gift.

The $20 million donation will fund research into cancer immunotherapy, a field that uses the body’s own immune system fight tumors. Fred Hutch president Dr. Larry Corey says the line of research is making huge strides.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Searchers painstakingly combing through mud and debris have confirmed the deaths of 29 people, though more have been found than the official tally reflects. Twenty people are listed as missing.

Father Tim Sauer, pastor of Catholic churches in communities on either side of the slide, said the first funerals are expected within the next several days.

Gabriel Spitzer

Midnight Monday marks the end of the first open enrollment period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. That means most people without insurance come Tuesday will have to wait seven months to sign up.

In spite of some outages, last-minute shoppers have mobbed the websites for state and federal exchanges. And they also showed up in person at King County’s public health headquarters for an eleventh-hour enrollment event.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

England’s health secretary has taken the unusual step of using a Seattle hospital to announce a major policy reform in his own country. The new patient safety policies are partly inspired by Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Washington Health Benefits Exchange

Washington’s health exchange is wrestling with how to accommodate people who have had trouble signing up for insurance. The March 31 deadline has been looming for months, as officials urge people to get covered or face a fine.

But considering the well-known problems at the state and federal exchanges, officials figured some people will need an extension. The question is who gets it.

Department of Health

The Washington state Department of Health says too many retailers are willing to sell tobacco to minors. The department reports 15 percent of stores failed compliance checks last year. 

Health Secretary John Wiesman says it’s the second year in a row with a high number, and this trend threatens some of the progress made in reducing youth smoking.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

One thing about the Affordable Care Act is that now we’re all expected to be informed consumers about buying insurance. If you’ve never done that, you might be surprised at all the jargon you’re supposed to know. And if you’ve waited until the last minute to enroll — most people have until March 31 to sign up and dodge the fine, it’s time to start cramming.

WSDOT

Authorities say the death toll from a massive landslide in rural Washington state has doubled to eight.

Snohomish County Sheriff's Lt. Rob Palmer said four more bodies were discovered late Sunday. Earlier in the day, authorities said one body had been found on the debris field. Three people were already confirmed dead on Saturday.

WSDOT

Eighteen people were unaccounted for a day after a terrifying wall of mud, trees and debris destroyed as many as 30 houses in rural northwestern Washington state and killed four people, authorities said Sunday.

Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said Sunday that crews were able to get out to the debris and found the fourth body buried in the mud. Hots said emergency responders and technical rescue personnel found "no signs of life" as they scoured the area.

Most Americans who still don’t have health insurance by March 31 could face a fine, and Washington’s health benefits exchange is hoping the looming deadline will help motivate people to enroll. But so far, the exchange is lagging behind its goals.

Massachusetts, which served as a template for the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to get insurance or pay a penalty, saw a huge rush just before the deadline. Exchange board member Phil Dyer says Washington needs a similar surge.

“Well, I feel like we’re behind the power curve. We’ve got a long way to go,” Dyer said. “Let’s wait and see if March gets us there, and then take a hard look at planning for Exchange 2.0.”

UMHealthSystem / Flickr

Washington’s Medicaid program saved more than $33 million last year, and a new report gives much of the credit to a big push to reduce emergency room visits.

ERs are a great place to treat real emergencies, but a very expensive place to do run-of-the-mill medical care. So the Health Care Authority, the agency that runs Medicaid, partnered with the Washington State Hospital Association, the Washington State Medical Association and others to adopt seven best practices aimed at ensuring ERs are used for their intended purpose.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Two people were killed inside a news helicopter when it crashed outside the KOMO-TV studios near the Space Needle in Seattle, sending clouds of black smoke into the sky during the rush hour at 7:40 a.m. Tuesday.

In addition to the fatalities, Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore said a man managed to free himself from one of the burning cars at the accident scene. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center for treatment of serious burns. The man, who was initially listed in critical condition, was upgraded to serious condition Tuesday afternoon.

Collin Tong

Consider the twin cruelties of having a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease: On the one hand, caring for him or her is non-stop responsibility, stress and expense. On the other, you have to watch the person you love slip away, or even worse, become a disoriented or even hostile stranger.

Seattle journalist Collin Tong experienced the long ordeal starting when his beloved wife Linda was diagnosed with the early-onset variety at age 51. Tong has edited a book, composed of stories from 23 caregivers, called “Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s.” And he shared with us a handful of the practical things he wishes he’d known before caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.

Elise Amendola / AP Photo

Drug overdoses, mostly from opiates, are the leading cause of accidental death in America. But there is an antidote, and it may soon be much more widely available on the Washington State University campus. 

For someone who overdoses on heroin or a prescription painkiller, a quick shot of naloxone could make the difference between life and death. In the past, this has meant an actual injection, which can be hard to administer for someone who isn’t trained, as well as carrying risks of blood-borne diseases.

A major south Sound hospital chain has agreed to give back pay to nearly 800 nurses.

The deal settles a class-action lawsuit filed by nurses against MultiCare Health System, the nonprofit entity that runs Tacoma General Hospital, Auburn Medical Center and others.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

President Barack Obama wants to expand a program pioneered in Washington to reform probation and parole. The new state law dramatically changed its approach to ex-offenders, and even the experts who back the new approach have been surprised at the promising results.

In the past, ex-offenders on probation or parole could often rack up a bunch of violation before they’d be punished. And by then the sanctions could be harsh: many months in jail.

The idea behind the new approach, called "swift and certain," is that a minor violation triggers an immediate but moderate punishment, such as a couple of days in jail for failing a drug test.

Brennan Linsley / AP Photo

Washington and Colorado are embracing their role as “laboratories of democracy” when it comes to drug policy, but as Washington’s marijuana consultant points out, “Dr. Frankenstein had a laboratory, too.”

Damian Dovarganes / AP Photo

More than one in five Washington adults are at high risk of falling prey to online scams, according to new research funded by the AARP.

Few would be surprised to hear that clicking on pop-up ads or opening emails from unfamiliar sources increases your risk of getting ripped off. But the AARP report, based on a survey of more than 11,000 adults nationwide, also identified some less obvious risk factors.

Washington’s health insurance exchange has ramped up its customer-service call center in anticipation of a big surge in enrollments this month. But callers should still hunker down for a long wait.

The Spokane-based call center got an average of more than 40,000 calls a day in January, but managed to answer just 15 percent of them. Of the rest, the vast majority got a message telling them to give up and call back later, while others hung up due to wait times that averaged 40 minutes or more.

University of Washington

A University of Washington research team has developed technology that could let people control devices with hand gestures. And the sensor doesn’t use battery power; it pulls electricity out of thin air.

Technology to read hand gestures already exists in devices like Microsoft’s Kinect. But most of it uses cameras or beams, which make it expensive and hungry for electricity.

Gabriel Spitzer

Officials overseeing Harborview Medical Center in Seattle have told staff by email they will not be closing or relocating the hospital’s clinics.

The fates of at least three primary care clinics on the main Harborview campus had been up in the air. Officials with UW Medicine, which runs the hospital, had said all along no decisions had been made. But staffers said they’d been told the clinics could close or move as early as this summer.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Family members of murder victims gathered in Olympia Wednesday to express anguish over Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to halt the state’s death penalty.

They testified before lawmakers considering curbs on the governor’s authority to grant reprieves. They told of their daughters and sisters, a mother, an aunt all taken cruelly from them. And they expressed outrage that they should be forced to pay, as taxpayers, for the killers to live.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

It's hard to imagine a more devastating diagnosis than ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. For most people, it means their nervous system is going to deteriorate until their body is completely immobile. That also means they'll lose their ability to speak.

So Carl Moore of Kent worked with a speech pathologist to record his own voice to use later, when he can no longer talk on his own.

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