Author Archives: Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness.

Two Women on a Mission to Reform Assisted Living in California

Chris Murphy (L) and Christina Selder (R) of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform in San Diego conduct their crusade from a modest home office. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Christina Selder and Chris Murphy of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform in San Diego conduct their crusade from a modest home office. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Many of us dream of starting a revolution. Few of us make it happen. One of the most dramatic stories of the last year belongs to a loose collection of activists, working to reform assisted living oversight in California. Together with lawmakers, these activists launched 17 bills in Sacramento, 12 of which passed, 2 of which have become law, so far.

It’s a big story, but let’s break off one piece, involving a couple women in San Diego with a passion for raw data, strong coffee and home-baked muffins.

About a decade ago, Chris Murphy’s mom was suffering from Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She couldn’t live on her own. Someone suggested Murphy check out an assisted living facility, and so she took a tour.

“This is really a cool place,” Murphy says she thought at the time. “Maybe my mother would like to live here. I would like to live here. I was sucked in by the chandeliers, and by the garden, and by the apparent appearance of the facility.”

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Are The Proposed Assisted Living Reforms in California Enough?

CAPTION COMING (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

A “crime book” maintained by the San Diego advocacy group Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform. (RCFE is short for Residential Care Facility for the Elderly.) This book contains cases of what CARR calls “egregious neglect” at San Diego assisted living facilities. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Over the last 25 years, the number of assisted living facilities in California has nearly doubled. The homes are intended to care for relatively independent, healthy seniors, but that doesn’t describe a lot of the people living in them today.

“There’s been a seismic shift in the population they serve,” says Deborah Schoch of the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting. Schoch says the system was set up to meet the needs of people who could use some extra help with the tasks of daily living –- and it does. But many of those people need a lot of help.

The system, she says, is caring for people “who are frail, who may have dementia, who may be wheelchair bound, who may not be able to turn on their own in bed.”

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Crime in Assisted Living: What Happens After

Stacy Siriani's father suffered a serious injury while in an assisted living facility in San Diego. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Stacy Siriani’s father suffered a serious injury while in an assisted living facility in San Diego. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

When families place a loved one in an assisted living facility, there’s an expectation that if something goes wrong, there will be consequences. Mistakes will be addressed. If crimes are committed, they will be prosecuted. Or at least investigated by law enforcement.

But that’s not always what happens.

Take the case of Stacey Siriani of San Diego County. Her experience with assisted living began four years ago when she got an awful phone call from Houston. Her father was involved in an auto accident that left him brain damaged.

“It was very tough,” she recalls. Siriani is an only child; her father is a widower. There was nowhere else to turn for support.

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A Walk Through Assisted Living Facilities in California

TV lounge at Westchester Villa, an assisted living facility in Inglewood, near Los Angeles. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

TV lounge at Westchester Villa, an assisted living facility in Inglewood, in Los Angeles County. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

This week, lawmakers in Sacramento get busy on 15 bills that together constitute the most comprehensive overhaul of assisted living facility regulation in three decades. But for many Californians, it’s not even clear what an assisted living facility is. People often ask if assisted living is the same thing as a nursing home. It’s not.

In nursing homes, people get round-the-clock medical care from licensed nurses. Assisted living comes in because not everyone who needs help also needs that level of care. Sometimes that assistance doesn’t even involve a facility. Sometimes people can receive assistance and remain living in their own homes.

Say you’ve noticed your mother is walking with a new shuffle and dropping things, or that dad is mixing up his medications — and getting argumentative when you bring it up. Something is going on that must be addressed, even though your parent is still physically healthy and wants to be independent. Continue reading

Code Black: Young Doctors Still in Love with Medicine

Dr. Jamie Eng with patient in the documentary "Code Black."

Dr. Jamie Eng with patient in the documentary “Code Black.”

Don’t eat a sandwich before you sit down to watch the documentary “Code Black.” In one of the first scenes, we watch a team of doctors and nurses cut into a patient. It’s a bloody business, and the camera doesn’t turn away. That’s because this film is about the brilliant chaos of emergency care, and the people drawn to this work.

For all the debate over health care in America, it’s relatively rare to hear from doctors on the front lines, and even more rare to hear from young doctors about a field they’ve recently chosen to devote their lives to. “Code Black,” a documentary by a doctor when he was a resident at LA County’s USC Medical Center, delivers that perspective with punch and passion. It promises a look into “America’s busiest ER.” Continue reading

Patent Reform Plunged Into Deep Freeze

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Patent reform is a big deal in California, and not just to Silicon Valley tech companies. Any company that makes money off a patented idea or technology is keenly interested in what happens at the federal level – or doesn’t. 

“This news is devastating to the welfare of startups who will continue to face the threat of patent trolls.”

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has taken the patent reform bill off the agenda, lamenting in a statement the various industries that rely on patents could not come to terms “on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls.”

“I have said all along that we needed broad bipartisan support to get a bill through the Senate. Regrettably, competing companies on both sides of this issue refused to come to agreement on how to achieve that goal.” Continue reading

When Artificial Hips Go Bad: Thousands Sue over ASR XL by Johnson & Johnson Subsidiary

Michael Kelly, attorney for plaintiff Loren Kransky, holds up an ASR XL hip implant made by Johnson & Johnson during his opening statement to the jury at the trial of Kransky v. DePuy, at California Superior Court in Los Angeles, on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Michael Kelly, attorney for plaintiff Loren Kransky, holds up an ASR XL hip implant made by Johnson & Johnson during his opening statement to the jury at the trial of Kransky v. DePuy, at California Superior Court in Los Angeles, on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

In recent weeks, a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court has been diving deep into the world of artificial hips. They’re hearing the case of a Montana man whose hip implant went bad –- but they’re also laying the legal groundwork for what’s expected to be a massive settlement between the maker of the hip and more than 10,000 Americans.

De Puy, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson, stands accused of producing a defective design, failing to warn doctors and patients when word first came trickling back the hip was failing at high rates, and then moving too slowly to recall the product.

The ASR hip went to market in Europe in 2003; in the US, in 2005. Within a year or two of when it was first sold in Europe, concerns about the ASR began filtering back to J&J through surgeons. Continue reading