Monthly Archives: March 2013

State Seeks Return to Full Control over Prison System Mental Health Care

By Julie Small, KPCC

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

More than a decade ago, a federal judge appointed a special master to oversee mental health care in the California state prison system. Since then, California has spent billions of dollars to improve psychiatric care for inmates. On Wednesday, the state will formally ask to have that oversight ended. But a high suicide rate among inmates is complicating the state’s petition.

Experts hired by the state and by the court say there are  fundamental problems with how the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation handles suicidal prisoners.

The experts say things go wrong as soon as an inmate is labeled suicidal. While waiting for a psychiatric assessment, the prisoner is placed in a holding cell the size of a telephone booth.

Despite the billions spent overall on mental health care, the suicide rate in California’s prisons has been going up.
Jane Kahn, a lawyer who represent inmates in lawsuits against the prison system, says male prisoners are often stripped “and left just in their boxers.”

“The biggest concern is that prisoners will not report that they’re feeling suicidal if they’re held in these kind of settings,” Kahn adds. “We think it’s one of the many factors that explains this high rate of suicide within our system.”

And despite the billions spent overall on mental health care, the suicide rate in California’s prisons has been going up. Over the past 14 years an average of 31 prisoners a year have killed themselves -– a rate higher than the national averages for federal and state prisons as a whole. Continue reading

Quick Read: Nine Facts about Marriage and Childbirth in the United States

Not sure which of the nine facts was most interesting/surprising. Was it:

#2 — we are very near the tipping point when most births will happen out of wedlock?


#3 — the majority of unwed mothers are not teen mothers, but women in their 20s?

Read ‘em all.

Some fascinating facts, graphs and insights from Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America , a new report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and the RELATE Institute.

Read more at:

Put That Baby Spoon Down: Doctors Say Infants Fed Solid Food Too Soon

Forty percent of mothers surveyed reported giving their baby solid food before the baby was four months old. (Andy Peters/Flickr)

Forty percent of mothers surveyed reported giving their baby solid food before the baby was four months old. (Andy Peters/Flickr)

A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control finds that mothers (the CDC surveyed only mothers) are giving their babies solid food too early, despite guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In the survey, or more than 1,334 women, just over 40 percent of mothers gave their babies solid food before they were four months old.

For years, the AAP had recommended that babies be at least four months old before being given solid food. But last year, it recommended that babies be breastfed — exclusively — for six months, before “complementary” foods are given. Now we see that many mothers are not even waiting the full four months.

From USA Today:

Understanding parents’ motivations is important, because a number of health problems are associated with the early introduction of solid foods, says study co-author Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These findings “don’t offer a full understanding why, but they give us some insight,” she says.

Continue reading

Immigration Reform, Maybe; But Long Wait for Health Access by the Undocumented

By John M. Gonzales, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Fred Bauermeister is executive director of the Free Clinic of Simi Valley, which has been providing health care to undocumented immigrants for years. (Lauren Whaley/CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

Fred Bauermeister is executive director of the Free Clinic of Simi Valley, a health care provider to undocumented immigrants for years. (Lauren Whaley/CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

Clinic director Fred Bauermeister has watched them pass through his doors for decades: chronically ill, uninsured men, women and children, who have delayed medical care because they are in the country illegally.

Now, immigration reform may bring health benefits to millions of formerly undocumented people — although there may still be a years-long wait after they attain legal residency.

But first — the immigration reform piece: a bandwagon of endorsements last week by Congressional Republicans have aligned with vows by President Obama and Senate Democrats to establish comprehensive immigration reform. A road to citizenship for people who entered the country illegally seems more assured by the day, but what is less clear is how the health care landscape of California, and the nation, would also change.

Would California’s estimated 2.5 million undocumented immigrants become eligible for health benefits? How would an already burdened health care system absorb them? Continue reading

Quick Read: When Removing the Uterus, Leave the Ovaries

A new study of more than 30,000 women who had a hysterectomy shows an overall higher risk of dying if women have their ovaries removed than if they leave them intact. The study looked exclusively at women who had a hysterectomy for “benign disease.” This is part of the large Nurses Health Study, a group of women that researchers have followed for 28 years. The study was published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Researchers found that women’s risk of ovarian cancer diminished when their ovaries were removed, but their risks of dying from other, more common causes rose. Based on the results, “it looks like, if given a choice, you should keep your ovaries,” said Leslie Bernstein, a professor at City of Hope cancer center, who was not involved in the study.

Read more at:

E.R. Docs and Gun Violence: Emotional Stories of Fatalities ‘Hard to Forget’

By Eric Whitney for Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News 

Denver emergency room physician Chris Colwell (Barry Gutierrez/For KHN)

Denver emergency room physician Chris Colwell (Barry Gutierrez/For KHN)

In Colorado, where more people die from gunshots than car crashes, the victims have a profound effect on the physicians who treat them. For some of the doctors on the front lines, the experiences lead to a strong opposition to guns, questions about gun laws and even activism.

Dr. Chris Colwell, an emergency department physician in Denver, says he sees gun-violence victims on a weekly basis. And when those cases are fatal, they are hard to forget.

“These are the injuries that the [patients] will come in, and they’ll look at me, and they’ll talk to me, and then they’ll die,” says Colwell, who’s been at Denver Health, the city’s biggest public hospital, for 20 years.

“These are the injuries that the (patients) will come in, and they’ll look at me, and they’ll talk to me, and then they’ll die.”
Colwell also treated casualties from two of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. He responded to the scene during the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School where 15 people died. He also treated victims of last July’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, where a dozen were killed and 58 wounded.

Often, Colwell will treat a shooting victim, and then treat the shooter after he or she has been caught by police. Colwell describes a case from a few months ago in which he treated a woman who later died — and then her husband, who fired the gun. Continue reading

What’s Up With the California Health Care Overhaul Bills?



While President Obama’s health care overhaul turns three on Saturday, many states are scrambling to get everything ready for the full rollout on January 1. California was the first state to pass legislation to set up a marketplace, and the Legislature has done a lot of work since. But there’s still a lot left to do — and fast.

To bring you up to date, three major sets of bills are before the Legislature in its Affordable Care Act special session. (Six bills total; Assembly and Senate have their own versions of three proposals).

Of those, two issues are key:

  • Reforming the individual market
  • Medi-Cal expansion (the state’s health insurance program for the poor.

As David Gorn of the CaliforniaHealthline reports, the California Legislature went on spring recess yesterday. These ACA bills are outstanding, much to the frustration of advocates. These special session bills take effect in 90 days, once they are passed. ACA proponents had hoped passage would have happened already. Continue reading

Report: 1 Million Californians Already Benefitting from Health Care Overhaul

By Mina Kim, KQED

President Obama signs health care reform law. (Photo: White House)

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010. (Photo: White House)

Saturday marks three years since the signing of the federal Affordable Care Act, and state health officials have been celebrating by touting the benefits of the health overhaul law.

On Thursday, the nonprofit group Health Access released a report that determined more than one million Californians have been able to get coverage through new options provided under the ACA. Those residents include adults with low incomes, people with pre-existing health conditions, and young people who can stay on their parent’s insurance plan until the age of 26.

“But much more is needed to be done,” said Health Access director Anthony Wright. Continue reading

Health Care Overhaul: Take the (Short!) Quiz

OK, this is not as much fun as “7 Ways to Lose Weight.” But since a national poll this week showed that a majority of Americans don’t understand how the health care overhaul (AKA: Obamacare) will impact them, it seemed like it was time to take a quiz. This one was put together by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and includes (short) helpful answers at the end.

It’s just 10 questions. Click on the box below to get started. Good luck!

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Continue reading

Sometimes Three Isn’t A Crowd: Group Appointments with Doctors

You’ve heard of group therapy for mental health issues, how about physical conditions?

By Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News

(Courtesy: Kaiser Health News)

(Courtesy: Kaiser Health News)

When visiting the doctor, there may be strength in numbers.

A growing number of doctors have begun holding group appointments — seeing up to a dozen patients with similar medical concerns all at once. Advocates of the approach say such visits allow doctors to treat more patients, spend more time with them (even if not one-on-one), increase appointment availability and improve health outcomes.

Some of the most successful shared appointments bring together patients with the same chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. For example, in a diabetes group visit, a doctor might ask everyone to remove their shoes so he can examine their feet for sores or signs of infection, among other things. A typical session lasts up to two hours. In addition to answering questions and examining patients, the doctor often leads a discussion, often assisted by a nurse.

“We tell people, ‘You don’t have to say anything,’ But give them 10 minutes, and they’re talking about their sex lives.”

Insurance typically covers a group appointment just as it would an individual appointment — no change in the co-pay amount. Insurers generally focus on the level of care provided rather than where it’s provided or how many people are in the room, says Edward Noffsinger, who consults about group visits. (His website is even called

Some patients say there are advantages to the group setting. “Patients like the diversity of issues discussed,” Noffsinger says. “And they like getting 2 hours with their doctor.” Continue reading