Monthly Archives: February 2012

ouRXperience: Methyl Iodide Debate; Harbor-UCLA Renovation; Mental Health in Hmong and Free Dental Clinic

Residents voting on improvements to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center at public meeting in Carson last October. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

Residents voting on improvements to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center at public meeting in Carson last October. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

Editor’s Note: KQED produces ouRXperience, a blog from community correspondents, to enrich coverage of health issues across California.

Recently, ouRXperience featured posts from four California communities:

  • Patricia Carrillo in Salinas wrote about local reaction to the lawsuit challenging the state’s approval of the fumigant methyl iodide to use on strawberry crops.
  • From Wilmington, Anabell Romero, described how community members are contributing to the Master Plan for the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center renovation.
  • Changvang Her told about the challenges of providing mental health care in the Merced Hmong community where “mental health” translates to “damaged brain.”
  • and from San Bernardino, Bobbi Albano brought us the story of a free dental clinic and how one man got the help he needed.

Aging is a Part of Life, Not a Disease

(Patrick: Flickr)

(Patrick: Flickr)

Researchers and health advocates have long been encouraging people to make their end-of-life wishes known. While most people say they want to die a natural death at home, few actually put those wishes into writing.

But at least equally important is thinking about how to enjoy quality of life while aging. A new book seeks to help people address these questions. Kaiser Health News interviewed Nortin Hadler, the author of “Rethinking Aging.”

I especially like the book’s tagline: “Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society.” Hadler is concerned about the medicalization of aging. “We’re taught and marketed that all changes in appearance and in function in older people are forms of disease that demand treatment,” he told Kaiser Health News. “But often, that isn’t true. Much that is termed a disease is a normal aspect of this time of life and needs to be viewed as such.” Continue reading

Law Seeks to Stop Fake Prescription Drugs

By: Sarah Varney

(Eric: Flickr)

(Eric: Flickr)

The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration last week that sixteen California clinics and physicians were sold bogus vials of the cancer drug Avastin did not surprise regulators and researchers who study the counterfeit drug trade.

Indeed, it was after fake AIDS drugs were discovered in California that state legislators passed the “e-pedigree law” mandating that all prescription drugs carry an electronic tag. The tag could be scanned to show where the drug was first manufactured and every stop along its way to market.

Since the law passed in 2004, biotech and pharmaceutical trade groups fought to delay its implementation. They argued, successfully, that the electronic track-and-trace system would up-end global drug manufacturing. Continue reading

Lack of Primary and Preventive Care Sends Thousands to Hospital

By Bernice Yeung, California Watch

(Bastian: Flickr)

(Bastian: Flickr)

Better access to primary health care and prevention programs could have kept thousands of California adults out of hospitals, according to a new statewide analysis.

According to new data released last week by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, there were more than 335,000 adult hospitalizations in California that could have been avoided if the patient had seen a doctor sooner.

According to the state agency, so-called “preventable hospitalizations” are an indication of systemic shortcomings related to access to quality primary care. Continue reading

Money for Prevention Is First to Go in “Doc Fix”

Building bike & pedestrian paths saves almost $3 in medical costs for every dollar spent in building the trails. (Moyan Brenn: Flickr)

Building bike & pedestrian paths saves almost $3 in medical costs for every dollar spent in building the trails. (Moyan Brenn: Flickr)

The debate over the extension of the payroll tax break has dominated headlines. But as part of the same package deal was an agreement on the so-called “Doc Fix.” That’s the Washington shorthand for finding a way to avoid a 27.4 percent cut in fees to doctors who see Medicare patients. Naturally, doctors were not enthusiastic about having their fees cut so drastically.

Lawmakers figured out a “Doc Fix” but at the cost of the Prevention and Public Health Fund–part of the health care reform law. The deal is not yet final, but it looks like lawmakers will slice $5 billion–or about one-third of its total funding. Public health advocates had fought hard against these cuts, but to no avail.

“I know we’re at a place where difficult decisions have to be made,” said Mary Pittman, President of the Oakland-based Public Health Institute, “but it just doesn’t make sense that all of the difficult decisions end up focused on prevention. If we’re to change the way we think about health and we’re trying to find a way to reduce cost, all directions point to prevention.”

The goal of the Prevention Fund is to provide communities around the country with billions of dollars over the next ten years to invest in effective prevention efforts against heart attacks, cancer and strokes and to reduce tobacco use as well as prevent obesity.

Continue reading

FDA Warns California Clinics of Fake Avastin

By Kamal Menghrajani

(Courtesy: Genentech)

(Courtesy: Genentech)

A counterfeit version of the cancer drug Avastin may have made its way into clinics here in California. The medicine is used to treat colon, lung, and other cancers, but several physicians may have unwittingly been giving patients a useless knock-off.

You may remember Avastin because it was considered a blockbuster drug for breast cancer treatment. That was until November of last year, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled its approval for treating the disease. However, Avastin is still widely used for other types of cancer.

Earlier this month, the FDA sent letters to 19 doctors around the country warning that they may have fake Avastin. Sixteen of these physicians are here in California, all of them in Southern California.

The FDA says these clinics purchased the medicine from a foreign supplier under the names “Quality Specialty Products” or “Montana Health Care Solutions.” Volunteer Distribution, a company based in Tennessee, funneled the fake vials out to clinics. The company was not licensed by drugmaker Genentech to provide Avastin, and some doctors’ offices were fooled. Continue reading

Disparity Between Preferences and Actions in End-of-Life Care

(Rosie O'Beirne: Flickr)

(Rosie O'Beirne: Flickr)

It’s a paradox of American health care that has been present for years, and a new study reinforces it: the overwhelming majority of Californians say they want to die a natural death, at home, but less than one in four has actually put their wishes in writing. This lack of clarity can leave loved ones and doctors to try to sort out wishes, often during a time of crisis.

The statewide survey is from the Oakland-based California HealthCare Foundation. While so few have put their wishes in writing, the poll also found that 82 percent of Californians said it was important to do so. Another paradox.

“When we juxtapose that to what actually happens to people,” said Kate O’Malley, senior program officer at the Foundation, “We realize there is a lot of work to be done in helping people find a way to state their preferences and make sure that their family members and their providers know what their preferences are.” Continue reading

Can Air Pollution Contribute to Dementia, Too?

By Susanne Rust, California Watch

(Mark H. Anbinder: Flickr)

(Mark H. Anbinder: Flickr)

It’s well established that dirty, sooty air is no good for your lungs and probably not great for your skin. But new research indicates it can damage your brain, too.

A study in the journal of the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that air pollution accelerates cognitive decline in women.

And with a new federal report showing Southern Californians are at the highest risk of death due to air pollution, this study adds to the growing body of grim evidence showing air pollution and healthy bodies don’t mix.

“We keep learning about more adverse effects (from pollution) than we thought possible,” said Jean Ospital, health effects officer with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, who was not involved with the current research.

“I’m not sure I find these results surprising,” he said, “but I’m also not sure I would have expected them if you’d asked me 10 years ago.” Continue reading

In Violent Neighborhood, 15 Minutes of Meditation Calms Students

Students at Visitacion Valley School in South San Francisco observe 15 minutes of quiet time every morning.

Students at Visitacion Valley School in South San Francisco observe 15 minutes of quiet time every morning.

By Kyle Palmer

On a recent morning at Visitacion Valley Middle School in South San Francisco, Principal James Dierke looked out over the school’s auditorium at more than 100 eighth graders. A restless din filled the large room. Bursts of laughter and errant shouts punctuated the buzz. Most of the students seemed disinterested in Dierke’s announcements about the spring’s impending graduation, upcoming field trips, and recent birthdays.

Then, Dierke struck a bell and said, “Okay, it’s quiet time.”

And just like that, a hush fell over the auditorium. Students straightened their backs and closed their eyes. Some bowed their heads. Others rested them on the backs of their chairs. The once-boisterous hall became silent and remained so for the next 15 minutes.

“Visitors are always amazed,” Dierke said afterwards, “but it works. It really is quiet time.”

“These kids hear gunshots on their way to and from school. That kind of stuff makes it hard to focus on algebra.”

“Quiet Time” isn’t just a slogan but a daily regimen at Visitacion Valley. The entire school—faculty, staff, and students—spend the first and last 15 minutes of every day in silence. Students are encouraged to use the time to meditate, but Dierke says students can simply clear their mind, think about schoolwork, or even sleep. Just as long as they are quiet.

“I’ve found that it makes people—students and teachers—more joyful,” Dierke said, “To have that time to reflect and be still is important.” Continue reading

Did Susan G. Komen Do the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason?

(Brandi Korte: Flickr)

(Brandi Korte: Flickr)

While the widely regarded Cancer Letter is usually available only by subscription at a hefty $405 a year, the current issue is available for free. It looks at the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. But the Cancer Letter is not concerned with the politics behind the story.

Instead, the Cancer Letter takes an extensive look at Planned Parenthood itself and why the organization is worried about screening mammography for the women it serves.

Remember, women who benefit most from mammography are post-menopausal, usually over age 50. Mammograms have been fiercely debated most for women in their 40’s. But no credible organization recommends screening mammograms for women younger than 40.

And how old is the population served by Planned Parenthood? Nearly 90 percent are 35 and younger, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson quoted in the article. Continue reading