Kate O'Connell

Reporter, Innovation Trail, Finger Lakes

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail

Kate O’Connell comes to WXXI from Melbourne, Australia, and studied journalism at Royal Melboure Institute of Technology.

During her studies, Kate was a freelance journalist, reporting from Nepal and Haiti, and worked with the media team of the United Nations partner group, International Organization for Migration.

Kate's experience also includes work for the Shepparton News, Australian Broadcasting Company, Melbourne’s Channel 31, RRR radio and WIN television.

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Think of a large thermos, large enough to put a family in. That’s a passive house. Passive houses are buildings that rely on their construction, insulation, and the environment to heat them in winter and cool them in summer.

They’re popular in Europe, but there are only a handful of them in the U.S. and one of them belongs to a family in upstate New York, who are getting ready to take on their first winter in their passive home.

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Cities across the country saw strikes Thursday as part of a campaign by fast food workers to raise the federal minimum wage. The movement faces strong opposition both within and outside the fast food industry.

Walkouts were planned in at least 100 cities in support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, roughly $15,000 per year for a full-time job.

The fast food industry claims that raising wages would be difficult without bumping up the prices on their menus too.

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Getting your flu shot this year may do more than just protect you from a runny nose and sore throat. A study published earlier this year in the Journal for the American Medical Association suggests that flu vaccinations may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Dr. Charlie Lowenstein is the chief of cardiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in western New York. He says no one really knows why the flu can be bad for your heart, but there are some strong theories suggesting it can be.

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Many health care providers don’t know when their patients are admitted or discharged from the hospital or seen by an ambulance crew. That makes it harder to deliver comprehensive care.

To address this issue, the Rochester Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO) has set up a simple alert system that’s aimed at improving quality of care.

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New York is one of only two states in the country where all children 16 and older are treated as adults in the criminal justice system. This month the Raise the Age initiative kicked off a statewide campaign in upstate New York, renewing their effort to keep kids under 18 out of adult prisons.

Kyle Chambers was incarcerated in an adult prison when he was 16 years old, and spent his 17th birthday inside.

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A recent outbreak of polio in Syria has raised concerns over global effort to eradicate the disease. Although polio hasn’t been seen in the United States for years, the effects of the virus are beginning to reappear in the health care system through a condition known as Post-Polio Syndrome.

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It’s illegal to buy and sell organs in the United States, but a new study suggests paying people to donate kidneys could address the chronic shortage of available organs and be more cost effective than the current system.

The idea immediately raises the question; is there a way to buy and sell organs ethically?

In upstate New York alone there are more than 1,300 patients on the waitlist for a donated kidney. Some have been on that list for more than four years.

Kate O'Connell / Innovation Trail

The Innovation Trail is looking at how refugees have weaved their way into upstate New York's changing economy.

On a recent fall day, community health nurse Sarah Miner is welcomed warmly into the home of Somali refugee Abdalla. Miner works with HCR Home Care in Rochester and she’s been visiting Abdalla and his family for a while now.

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New Yorkers voted yes to Proposition 1 on ballots yesterday, authorizing seven non-Indian casinos to be built, mostly in the upstate region.

The amendment to the state constitution, approved 57 percent to 43 percent Tuesday, was proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration as a way to boost economic and job growth.

In Monroe County, the proposition was narrowly beaten by 460 votes.

Bill Reilich, chairman of the county’s GOP committee, voted no. He says gambling will not bring the economic development promised.

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The U.S. Coast Guard has released a proposed policy that would allow fracking wastewater to be transported on waterways around the country. The public has 30 days to weigh in on the issue, and one New York state group is strongly opposed to the plan.

Fracking wastewater contains a mix of chemicals as well as some radioactive materials, and currently isn’t approved for transport on the nation’s rivers and lakes.

Kate Hudson from Riverkeeper, a New York state clean water advocate group, says even though the policy is in its early stages, it raises some serious concerns.

Amid ongoing problems with the federal health insurance exchange website, New York is one of a handful of states where residents can successfully enroll through the state's health insurance marketplace, according to state officials.

Elisabeth Benjamin, a New York state health navigator, said the site did have some glitches in the first two weeks, but said now she is thrilled with the exchange's success so far.  

Copy machines can be found in every office, and most of us take them for granted. But 75 years ago, the technology that underpins the modern photocopier was used for the first time in a small apartment in Queens.

Inventor Chester Carlson used static electricity created with a handkerchief, light and dry powder to make the first copy on Oct. 22, 1938.

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The state Public Service Commission (PSC) has come under scrutiny in recent weeks with claims that there’s a lack of transparency in its proceedings.

The commission’s handling of plans for the future of two coal-fired power plants in upstate New York has been particularly criticized.

Opposing solutions for the Cayuga and Dunkirk power plants are being considered. The options are to either upgrade transmission lines or repower the facilities with natural gas.

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One of the key points of contention in the Affordable Care Act is the medical devices tax. Republicans want the 2.3 percent tax designed to help fund health care reform removed.

The medical device industry has also lobbied extensively to have the tax repealed, claiming it will stifle innovation and result in job losses.

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Some abandoned prisons in the upstate area could become home to start-up companies under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Start-Up New York initiative.

The initiative aims to provide major incentives for companies to relocate, develop, or significantly expand in New York by offering state and local tax-free zones on university and college campuses.

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Three upstate wineries have come together to create an import-export company designed to increase Finger Lakes wine sales in Europe. The new company, called New York Wines, will be registered in Belgium and the partners are hoping it will help to increase sales at home as well as abroad.

John Martini, president of one of the vineyards, the Anthony Road Wine Company, says the costs associated with overseas shipping can be prohibitive for a single winery. But shipping produce from several wineries in bulk makes it cheaper at both ends, he says.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration is continuing its program for promoting upstate produce with new legislation that aims to support the marketing of New York wines. The new laws permit wine to be sold at roadside farm stands and expand wine trail designations along state roadways.

The use of surgical robots has increased by more than 400 percent in the United States over the past six years. But a recent study published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality suggests that there’s underreporting of complications resulting from robotic surgeries.

Robot-assisted surgery is a minimally-invasive method in which a small incision allows remote-controlled instruments to be inserted into the body. The instruments are then controlled during the procedure by the surgeon using a console.

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The number of parents opting out of having their kids vaccinated against whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is on the rise, according to a recent report. This is resulting in an increase in whooping cough cases statewide.

In 2012, New York state saw the highest number of whooping cough cases in decades, with more than 3,000 cases confirmed statewide.

New York state Office of Mental Health

New York state has one of the lowest suicide rates in the nation. But, that still translated into more than 1,600 deaths in 2011, and upstate rural communities have been identified as the most at risk.

Now the state Office of Mental Health has released a free iPhone app designed to extend the reach of their suicide prevention initiative.

It’s taken 13 years, but an upstate New York company, Logical Images, has finally received a patent for the software that runs its visual diagnostic system. The tool is used by physicians to lower the rate of diagnostic errors. Though the company says the patent was vital to their commercial viability and the protection of their product, not everyone thinks software should be patentable.     

Copper is an important aspect of proper nutrition, and vital for us to maintain a healthy body. But a group of upstate New York researchers have concluded too much copper in our diet could be a contributing factor in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Tap water coming through copper pipes, fruits, vegetables, red meat and nuts; these are all sources of copper that we consume on a daily basis.

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The U.S. frozen food market is on the rise, with expectations it will become a $70 billion industry within the next two years.

Last year, upstate New York got in on the action when France-based company Bonduelle acquired three facilities to expand their production of canned and frozen vegetables. They took over the floundering Allen's plants in March 2012, with the intention of repairing and developing the facilities.

Local growers are now set to benefit from the company’s expansion and investment plans.

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It’s been nearly a year since the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state health commissioner would conduct a review to determine whether hydrofracking could be done safely in New York. Since then, little information has been released on the ongoing study. Now, an anti-fracking group is suing the state to find out what exactly is being reviewed.

The 23-year-old Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association (SLPWA) filed papers in the New York State Supreme Court to demand that the public be allowed to know what exactly Cuomo’s health commissioner is reviewing.

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Mobile technology is driving the modernization of disaster relief and public safety response.  And, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, the rapid expansion of mobile devices and mobile driven data has already begun to save lives and alleviate suffering in disaster-struck communities.

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The vast majority of the state’s county-run nursing homes are losing money and facing a shaky financial future, according to the findings of a new study by the Center for Governmental Research.

As a result, most counties are looking for alternatives to deal with an aging population.

In recent years, six New York counties have sold or closed their nursing homes. As costs continue to rise, many others are considering privatization as a solution.

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Upstate researchers have found a way predict the likelihood of getting sick after visiting a particular restaurant. The system is called Nemesis and monitors tweets made by restaurant patrons on the popular social media website, Twitter. It then detects likely cases of foodborne illness in close to real-time.

Many people tweet on devices that are GPS enabled, and Nemesis uses this to figure out which restaurant they ate at. It continues to track their tweets for 72 hours after a restaurant visit, to detect whether or not they’ve become ill.

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Shipping lanes and ports along the Great Lakes are big contributors to the economies of upstate cities.  Federal funding to remove sediment and keep these shipping lanes open is available, but funds are limited and some of the smaller ports struggle to secure the money to dredge shipping channels on a yearly basis.

And, difficulty freeing federal funds has led one company to take matters into their own hands in western New York.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history. Half a century ago, hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington and gathered to hear Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Fifty years later, Del Smith, director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship in Rochester, says African-Americans have made a lot of progress, but the business community is still catching up.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the Finger Lakes on Tuesday playing host to restaurant owners and chefs from New York City and around the state.

The latest in a string of initiatives aimed at promoting upstate produce, the event was designed to showcase the region’s wines and foster downstate partnerships.

Cuomo says increased emphasis on the region’s quality produce has been a long time coming. But it’s proving to be good for business.

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