Monthly Archives: April 2012

California Prison Medical Costs Higher Than Average

By KQED Staff and Wires

California spends three times the national average on inmate medical care. (Getty Images)

As the state prepares to resume control of inmate medical care, it must find ways to reduce costs that are triple the national average, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said Thursday.

The federal receivership that has been in place since 2006 has greatly improved the medical care of state prison inmates but also has caused costs to soar, according to the report. California spends $16,000 per inmate for health care services, compared to an average of $5,000 in other states.

The analysis was released less than two weeks before the state and attorneys representing inmates must report to a federal judge with recommendations on when the receivership should end and whether it should maintain some oversight role.

The Legislature should create an independent board to monitor prison medical care to make sure conditions do not deteriorate once the state retakes control, the report said. It also recommends that the state experiment with contracting for medical services to cut costs. Continue reading

Teaching Hmong Shamans Western Medicine

A Hmong shaman blesses a pregnant woman during a traditional healing ceremony.

A Hmong shaman blesses a pregnant woman so that she will have a safe birth. (Photo: Shuka Kalantari)

A Hmong shaman dressed in an ornate red and pink costume is standing in a crowded living room in Winton, a small Central Valley town near Merced. She sways back and forth rhythmically as she shakes small ceremonial bells over a young pregnant woman. The woman sits quietly, with a rope lightly tied around her stomach. Her rope connects to another rope — wrapped around the belly of a newly slaughtered pig that lays on a sheet of plastic on the living room floor. For the next two hours, the shaman chants prayers to the spirit world, offering the slaughtered pig as a sacrifice in exchange for a healthy birth. Throughout the ceremony, the shaman’s husband burns pieces of paper money as offerings to the spirits.

Afterward, the pregnant woman and her family prepare for a feast. May Yang, the shaman, explains that this ceremony is the Hmong version of prenatal care. “This ceremony was to help the mother and baby,” Yang said through a translator.

“The shaman they can see spirits, whereas the doctor use CT, x-ray, and microscope to see disease or illness.”
More specifically, to help their souls separate. Yang explained that the slaughtered pig was an offering to the spirits so that they would assist in the birthing process. It’s part of their customs. Traditionally, in Laos, the Hmong were always more likely to visit a shaman than a doctor when they were sick or needed prenatal care. So when Hmong refugees began resettling to the Central Valley after the CIA’s Secret War in Laos, they didn’t go to the doctor.

The Hmong traditionally believe that if the body is sick, the soul is sick. So to heal the body, you must first heal the soul. Additionally, many Hmong were distrustful of western practices when they first arrived to the U.S., so they refused to get treated in hospitals, unless it was a crisis. That led to the Hmong filling up emergency rooms at local hospitals — and it left doctors struggling to understand how to treat them.

Continue reading

Report: Fewer Unhealthy Air Days in California

By Bernice Yeung, California Watch

California logged fewer unhealthy air days in 2011 than a decade ago, giving hope that air quality is improving. (Getty Images)

California air pollution reached unhealthy levels less often in 2011 than a decade ago, according to a report released this week by a state association of regional air district officers.

Compared with 2000, there were about 74 percent fewer days of “unhealthy air” statewide last year, data from the report [PDF] showed. Air quality can range from “good” to “very unhealthy,” and it is calculated based on local monitoring of four air pollutants regulated by the federal Clean Air Act.

The report found that ozone pollution has decreased statewide between 1980 and 2011; there have been smaller and more limited reductions in particulate matter emissions during the same time frame.

Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, said California is “ahead of the pack with regard to air quality and greenhouse gas control.” He said any reductions in ozone and particulate emissions could have positive effects on public health because these pollutants have been associated with cardiovascular or respiratory disease health risks.

The new report acknowledged that “despite significant improvements, air quality remains a major source of public health concern in large metropolitan areas throughout California,” especially in the San Joaquin Valley and the southern coast area surrounding Los Angeles. California has 35 regional air districts, which regulate businesses and industrial facilities. Continue reading

Quick Read: Why Was Warren Buffet Tested For Prostate Cancer?

Warren Buffet has announced that at age 81 he has early stage prostate cancer. The billionaire investor has decided to aggressively treat the cancer with radiation, but doesn’t intend to resign from his position as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. It is not uncommon for older men to have the disease, but many don’t treat it and most don’t die from it.

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times A day after Warren Buffett announced he had prostate cancer, the question on the minds of many men and their doctors is this: “Why was an 82-year-old man screened for the disease in the first place?” Mr. Buffett’s cancer was detected with a prostate specific antigen blood test, commonly called a P.S.A.

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Technology Enables Collaborative Doctor-Patient Relationships

By Eve Harris

The doctor-patient relationship has become more collaborative as patients use technology to better understand their health. (Getty Images)

Not very long ago, a patient’s medical chart was considered proprietary information belonging to a doctor or a hospital. But just as technology is remaking the rest of the world, it’s also contributing to remaking the relationship between your doctor and you.

More patients have access to their data now that more doctors are moving to electronic medical records. Emerging technologies are also driving change. People with diabetes might use mobile apps to keep track of blood sugar levels, for example. So, with all this data at a patient’s fingertips, how is the doctor-patient relationship changing?

“Patients, when they come to the doctor seeking health care, aren’t necessarily looking for ‘raw data’ – they have already looked it up online. Instead, they are looking for meaning,” wrote Dr. Robert Rowley recently. Rowley is a family practice doctor in Hayward … but he’s also the medical director of Practice Fusion, an electronic medical record company.

Searching for meaning in the doctor’s office, I was intrigued. In an interview, Rowley told me that the role of the physician is shifting to “somewhat of a coach, a trusted advisor.” For example, a patient may want to discuss their medication if new or dangerous side effects were recently reported in the news. In a situation like that, Rowley told me, “My role is more of an interpreter.” Continue reading

Quick Read: Medical Advance Could Yield New Approach in Heart Disease

KQED’s Quest reports on a “major discovery” from researchers at the Gladstone Institutes, which is affiliated with UC San Francisco. In a study published today in Nature, researchers report they have succeeded for the first time using a new genetic technique to repair — from within — the hearts of mice weakened by heart attack. Click on the link below to read the post or watch the video.

Video on Apr 18, 2012 by Gabriela Quirós fromQUEST Northern California Topics:Biology, Health, News, Video Science Education Collections:Biotechnology More than 5 million people in the United States live with damaged hearts that make it difficult to walk and carry out other simple daily tasks.

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Smoking or Schools: Which is More Important to Your Health?

(Raul Lieberwirth: Flickr)

Sorry, cigarettes are still terrible for you, but can a good school system lead to better health? (Raul Lieberwirth: Flickr)

Too often, we confuse health with health care. Health care comes from a doctor or hospital. But health comes from many places we don’t normally think of as health at all — things like good schools, safe neighborhoods and access to a variety of jobs. In other words, if you live in places without those things, you have a lower likelihood of enjoying good health.

Today, a new study from researchers at Stanford’s School of Medicine confirms that health disparities across the country have more to do with social factors than the color of your skin or where you live. In fact, the researchers say that some of these social factors even outweigh — gasp — the effect of cigarette smoking. (More on that later).

The study, Geographic and Racial Variation in Premature Mortality in the US, looked at counties across the United States and the likelihood of people living to age 70. Lead author Dr. Mark Cullen says this measure is a good alternative to looking at life expectancy, because it shifts attention to events that occur earlier in life. In particular, researchers found that educational opportunities, distribution of income and a mix of jobs accounted for better health outcomes across the population of a county. These “social determinants of health” as public health professionals call them, also explain health disparities between African-Americans and caucasians. “In most parts of the country,” Cullen says, “if African-Americans had the same advantages that their white counterparts had, almost ALL of the racial disparity would go away.” Continue reading

Quick Read: Health Care Pricing Still a Struggle for Consumers

In 2006, a new state law took effect to make it easier for consumers to find accurate information about health care prices. While many hospitals comply with the law by adding prices to a state-run website, few publish prices on their own websites … which is where consumers would be looking for the information.

Californians are still struggling to get straight answers about the cost of common medical procedures despite state efforts aimed at lifting the veil on medical pricing. As consumers shoulder a larger share of their healthcare costs, the ability to comparison shop is key to keeping that care affordable.

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Flame Retardants in Your Sofa: Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

The average-sized couch contains up to two pounds of flame retardant chemicals. (Frank Jania: Flickr)

The average-sized couch contains up to two pounds of flame retardant chemicals. (Frank Jania: Flickr)

Back in 1975, a pioneering law was passed to help prevent upholstered furniture from burning, as KQED’s Amy Standen reports. Technical Bulletin 117– or TB 117 as it’s known — is now the regret of many scientists. Call it the law of unintended consequences. From Standen’s post:

Manufacturers meet this law by treating the foam with several different kinds of chemicals, up to two pounds of flame retardant chemicals in an average-size sofa, according to Don Lucas, a flammability expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Even though the law is specific to California, it affects furniture sold across the country. Major furniture dealers sell California-compliant products in all 50 states, and Canada.

The problem … is that the chemicals don’t just stay inside the sofas. They turn up in household dust and can be detected in human blood and breast milkToddlers often have higher levels of the chemicals in their bodies than adults do. Continue reading

Tribal Clinic Uses Native Foods to Fight Diabetes

By: Patricia Leigh Brown, California Watch

Potawot Health Village in Arcata serves five tribes in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. (Photo: Bob Weisenbach)

Potawot Health Village opened in 2002 to serve Yurok, Tolowa, Wiyot, Hupa and Karuk Indians who live within in a 5,000-square-mile territory encompassing most of northern Humboldt and Del Norte counties

To walk into the central gathering space of the Potawot Health Village in Arcata, a multi-tribal health clinic, is to be made instantly aware of the concept of traditional native food as medicine. “Got Acorns?” reads a poster. “Got salmon?” “Got seaweed?”

Built, administered and owned by American Indians, Potawot is at the front line of a national resurgence among native peoples to address the link between the loss of ancestral native foods and disproportionate rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

California is home to more American Indians and Alaska Natives than any other state. Diabetes is a major community health issue for the 107 federally recognized tribes which live here. The statistics are sobering: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 1994 to 2004 the diabetes rate doubled among Native Americans 35 and younger. Teens fared even worse. For 15 to 19 year olds, the diabetes rates soared by more than two-thirds.

“We’re trying to re-establish the traditional ways we thought about food,” explained Paula “Pimm” Allen, the clinic’s traditional resource specialist, who comes from a long line of respected Yurok and Karuk healers and cultural practitioners. “Taking care of ourselves, our families, the community and the environment all are interconnected.

“We’re trying to re-establish the traditional ways we thought about food.”

Potawot Health Village opened in 2002 to serve Yurok, Tolowa, Wiyot, Hupa and Karuk Indians who live within a 5,000-square-mile territory encompassing most of northern Humboldt and Del Norte counties. The village also has five satellite clinics, including one in Weitchpec, an isolated Yurok village along the Klamath River that has yet to receive electricity. Continue reading