Community Health

From rural California to urban neighborhoods, where you live affects your health


Male in Life, Female in Death: The Story of Christopher Lee’s Death Certificate

Christopher Lee lived his life as a man, but after he died by suicide, the death certificate listed his gender as female.

Christopher Lee lived his life as a man, but after he died by suicide, the death certificate listed his gender as female.

By Matt Levin

Death certificates are typically pretty boring documents. A box for name, a box for date, a box for place and time, for cause of death. A bureaucratic afterthought to help family and friends settle the affairs of a deceased loved one.

“I looked at it, and it said ‘female’ on it. And I asked her, ‘Why does it say female? He was male.’”
A death certificate was not on the forefront of Chino Scott-Chung’s mind as he waited for the ashes of his best friend, Christopher Lee. Lee, 48, had committed suicide in December 2012, and Scott-Chung was still reeling from the death of the friend who had served as best man in his wedding.

After receiving the ashes, Scott-Chung prepared to leave when the employee from the Oakland cremation services company handed him Lee’s death certificate.

Scott-Chung immediately noticed something was wrong. Something that Christopher would never have consented to if he were still alive. Continue reading

How The Stigma of HIV Can Linger and Keep People from Care


Lenworth Poyser (left) works with a colleague at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Poyser is a health educator for a project focused on reaching young, gay men of color who are HIV-positive. (Susan Valot/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Lack of health insurance isn’t the only barrier to getting medical care. The stigma and fear around HIV can keep people from seeking help. As part of our ongoing health series Vital Signs, we hear from Lenworth Poyser. He was homeless and living with HIV. Now, Poyser helps young HIV-positive men support each other through a group at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. 

By Lenworth Poyser

When I first came out, when I was still in Texas, I left my mother’s house. At the time I was 18. What she was basically saying is: You can be in this house, just don’t be gay in this house. And I couldn’t do it. So, I threw my clothes into a trash bag and got out.

My sister had invited me to move out to L.A., move out to L.A. And, when HIV hit, I was like, “Oh, life is too short.” So, I decided to just do it. Continue reading

San Francisco’s Elderly Chinese Suffer from Nursing Home Closure

Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital closed in February. (Vinnie Tong/KQED)

The Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital was home to 35 elderly Chinese immigrants. Only two found a new place in San Francisco. Some have passed away since the move.  (Vinnie Tong/KQED)

By Vinnee Tong

Too often people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about who’s going to take care of them at the end of their life.

It’s not hard to imagine why: It’s scary and stirs up all kinds of emotion.

People appreciated Mission Bay because it was familiar, geared to its Chinese-speaking residents.

At the same time, financial pressures can make the whole topic even harder to deal with. For starters, if you need a bed in a home with full-time care, the decent ones are hard to find and cost a lot.

That’s why the closure of one small place in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood is being felt so acutely. The Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital served a community of elderly Chinese, most of whom didn’t speak English. Now the building’s been sold, its occupants scattered, and the city’s supply of affordable nursing home beds is even smaller. Continue reading

School Nurses on Front Lines to Raise Vaccine Rates

(Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

Robyn Ettl, Grass Valley Unified school nurse, gives a vision test to second grader Chase Littlejohn at the Grass Valley Charter School. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

In her 33 years as a school nurse, Robyn Ettl has listened, sometimes quietly, sometimes not, to parents in rural Nevada County explain why their children don’t need vaccinations against contagious and potentially fatal diseases, including polio, diphtheria, measles and pertussis.

Parents must now meet with health provider before opting-out of vaccines for their children.

Now, with nearly a half a million children in California registering for kindergarten in the fall, school nurses like Ettl are more invested than ever in a delicate task: trying to change the minds of parents intent on opting out of school-entrance immunizations.

Under a state law that took effect Jan. 1, parents may no longer simply file a letter to opt-out of vaccines. Instead, they are required to consult with a health practitioner –- doctor, naturopath or credentialed school nurse –- before they’re allowed to obtain what’s known as a “personal-belief exemption” from their child’s required immunizations. Continue reading

Why is Fort Hood Shooter’s ‘Mental Health’ Constantly Reported?

Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

To state the obvious, the shooting at Fort Hood is a tragedy. But in press reports the alleged shooter, Ivan Lopez, cannot be mentioned without reference to his recent evaluation and treatment for mental health issues.

As NPR correctly points out, the fact of the shooter’s treatment could not have predicted that the violent event would have occurred. Worse, the press reports wrongly scare people into thinking that mental illness is easily linked to violent behavior.

It’s not. From NPR:

One national survey in 2006 found that most Americans — 60 percent — believed people with schizophrenia were likely to be violent. But the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders are not violent. In fact, another study found they are far more likely to be the victims of violence, and that 1 in 4 experience violence every year. Continue reading

New Report Finds Dramatic Racial Disparities for California Kids

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Many children of color in the state face different health and education opportunities from the earliest years.

That’s according to a new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report looked at factors like birthweight, access to preschool and, later, reading and math proficiency. The researchers then created an index that weighted these and other social markers to measure a child’s opportunity to thrive later on.

The findings were stark. On a scale of 0 to 1000 (with 1000 being the highest), Asian and Pacific Islander children in California scored 768, Whites 748, American Indians 529, Latinos 405, and African American children 395.

“A multicultural state needs multicultural solutions,” Nadereh Pourat, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research

The report gives this analogy for thinking about the results. Think about a power grid that brings power to an area. A “prosperity grid” offers critical links to help kids succeed – in this case whether someone in their household has a high school diploma, their parents income, and achievement levels at their school.

“The inability of children of color to connect to this network through their neighborhoods clearly has significant consequences for their healthy development and well-being,” the authors wrote. Continue reading

More Students with Serious Medical Needs — But Few School Nurses

Gabriella Dominguez, a transitional kindergarten student, follows a strict dietary regimen to deal with a congenital intestinal disease. (Courtesy: Dominguez Family)

Gabriella Dominguez, a transitional kindergarten student, follows a strict dietary regimen to deal with a congenital intestinal disease. (Courtesy: Dominguez Family)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

Five-year-old Gabriella Dominguez spends 20 minutes every hour in the back of her transitional kindergarten classroom consuming mini-meals she finds dreadfully unappetizing: no water, no sugar, no fat, the occasional cracker and lots of bland liquid nutritional supplements.

Born with Hirschsprung’s disease, an intestinal disorder, Gabriella is one of four medically fragile students at Willow Glen Elementary School in San Jose and part of a growing number of students who come to school with chronic and often serious health conditions.

The medical oversight that students like Gabriella receive at school is part of a “hidden health care system” that intertwines school nurses, educators and community health providers according to a statewide report released Friday. That system could be run a lot more efficiently and effectively, according to the report’s authors at the School of Nursing at California State University, Sacramento. Continue reading

California Measles Cases Jump Dramatically; 49 So Far in 2014

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images)

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images)

The state is reporting 49 confirmed cases of measles so far in 2014.

Last year at this time there were just four.

This is the first year since 2000, when officials declared measles eliminated in the U.S., that the number of cases in California climbed above 40. And it’s just April.

The California Department of Public Health says the highest number of cases – 21 – have been reported in Orange County. Other affected counties in Southern California include Los Angeles County with 10, Riverside with 5 and San Diego County with 4.

In Northern California the cases were spread out between Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo. Continue reading

Oakland Schools Help Parents Sign Up for Covered California

Gabino Pablo gets help with Covered Calfiornia enrollment as the deadline approaches. (Rachel Dornhelm/KQED)

Antonia Briones (left), an Alameda County Social Services Agency eligibility technician, helps Gabino Pablo (right) with Covered California enrollment as the deadline approaches. (Rachel Dornhelm/KQED)

The robocall went out this week to every parent of an Oakland public school student:

“Hello! This is the Oakland Unified School District calling to remind you that March 31st is the deadline for enrolling in health insurance … The OUSD Central Family Resource Center is here to help.”

The day after that call went out the Central Family Resource Center, housed in a small portable building. was swamped. Over a 100 calls came in and 30 families dropped by.

“We’re just getting flooded with calls and people dropping in asking for appointments so we’re all hands on deck trying to respond to the demand,” said Eliza Schiffrin, the center’s program coordinator.

Oakland parent Gabino Pablo came in to sign up for coverage for himself, and Medi-Cal for his 5 week old daughter. He said he knew the deadline was looming, but has no internet access at home.

“I don’t speak much English. I am Mayan, my second language is Spanish and it’s hard,” said Pablo. “A lot of people need help [signing up]. When I go home from here, I am going to tell people I know and send them over here.”

Pablo estimates that only 1 in 10 of the adults in his immediate community are signed up for health insurance.

Schiffrin says the center has taken their staff on the road, too, visiting individual schools to help people sign up.

Continue reading

Neighbors Skeptical of L.A. Battery Recycling Plant’s Clean Up Proposal

Doelores Mejia attended a recent public meeting in Boyle Heights where state Department of Toxic Substances Control officials described neighborhood lead contamination. Mejia says state officials should have closed the plant long ago. (Chris Richard)

Doelores Mejia attended a recent public meeting in Boyle Heights where state officials described neighborhood lead contamination. Mejia says regulators should have closed the plant long ago. (Chris Richard)

By Chris Richard

Operators of a battery recycling plant suspected of showering its neighbors just east of downtown Los Angeles with lead dust for decades have submitted new soil testing and remediation plans. According to the documents, the area  that incrementally increases the area to be surveyed will be incrementally increased and homes inhabited by young children and pregnant women will be specially vacuumed or have lead dust sealed.

The Exide plant has been cited repeatedly for leaking lead and arsenic into nearby residential neighborhoods.

Exide Technologies also may remove an undisclosed amount of soil from two yards already identified as hazardous to children.

At the same time, the company has received regulatory approval for more than $5 million in improvements to pollution-control measures at its plant in Vernon. That’s on top of $15 million the company has committed to anti-pollution measures since 2010.

In separate press releases regarding the ground contamination and the air-quality protection measures, senior Exide director E.N. “Bud” DeSart is quoted as saying the company is resolved to protect the public health. Continue reading