Community Health

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

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Students Struggle to Access Mental Health Services on UC Campuses

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. In the last six years, the number of students seeking health at counseling centers has increased 37 percent across the UC system. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students throughout the University of California system are having trouble accessing mental health care, and health services directors are raising alarms that increased staffing and funding could be warranted to meet demand.

“The increased need for mental health services on our campuses is outstripping our ability to provide those services,” said Dr. John Stobo, senior vice president for health sciences and services for the University of California. “It is a major problem. It’s not only a problem for UC, this is a national issue.”

In the last six years, the number of students seeking help at university counseling centers has increased 37 percent, according to data presented at UC Regents board meeting on Thursday.

“This is real. Students are having difficulty accessing mental health services on campus,” said Dr. Gina Fleming, medical director for the UC Self-Insured Health Plans. “They’re waiting longer to get an appointment. They’re having fewer appointments within the course of therapy, and more are needing to be referred off campus.” Continue reading

SF Supervisor Proposes Funding Better Access to HIV Preventive Drug

The FDA panel approved Truvada, an antiretroviral drug for use by healthy people to prevent HIV infection. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

Truvada is a drug approved by the FDA to prevent infection with HIV. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

By Heather Boerner

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos announced Thursday that he would introduce a supplemental budget request at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday for $807,000 to help bring a treatment to prevent HIV infection to those who could benefit from it. The treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, consists of taking Truvada, an antiviral drug, every day. If the request is approved, San Francisco will follow the state of Washington in providing drug assistance for PrEP.

The goal is to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections. Dr. Robert Grant, a professor at UCSF’s Gladstone Institute and a lead researcher in determining the efficacy of Truvada in preventing HIV infection, said at a hearing at City Hall Thursday that informal estimates suggest that if just 6,000 San Franciscans at high risk for HIV infection were to take Truvada, the number of new infections in the city might drop from about 400 a year to 50..

Today, fewer than 1,000 San Franciscans are taking Truvada for HIV prevention. Continue reading

State Health Officials Say Enterovirus Now Sickening Children in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

State health officials have confirmed that a strain of virus that has been causing respiratory illness in children in other parts of the country is now spreading in California.

Four children — three in San Diego County and one in Ventura — have recently been discharged from the hospital after contracting enterovirus D68.

In a call Thursday afternoon with reporters, officials with the California Department of Public Health said that after a Centers for Disease Control warning earlier this month to be on alert for cases, the agency called for hospitals to send specimens from any children hospitalized with severe respiratory illness. That testing uncovered the four cases.

The children, who are both boys and girls, range in age from 2 to 13.

Enterovirus is in the same viral family as the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, health officials said. Symptoms can include fever — although they hastened to add that fever may not be present. Runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and body and muscle aches are common. Some children may have difficulty breathing, especially children with a history of asthma. There is no vaccine against enterovirus.

Health officials said that more cases are anticipated after more testing is completed. “It’s a very good chance in the next week or so that we may identify several other places in the state that have positive cases right now,” said Dr. Carol Glaser with the agency’s center for infectious diseases. “Our lab has been receiving several dozen specimens throughout the state just in the last few days, and that work is ongoing.”

The illness is usually not severe, but health officials say parents should seek prompt medical attention for children with breathing difficulties, especially children with asthma. Three of the four Southern California hospitalizations were in children with asthma.

No deaths from enterovirus D68 have been reported nationally.

S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading

Autism Benefit Finally a Reality for Children on Medi-Cal

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism and has benefited greatly, Wilson says, from Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, now covered by Medi-Cal. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

By David Gorn

California health officials Monday are launching a new benefit for thousands of children with autism who are covered by Medi-Cal, California’s low-income health program.

“He’s doing things other kids can do. And it’s those little moments, it makes you just so grateful.”

That makes California the first state in the nation to implement new federal standards on autism care.

The new benefit includes coverage of the clinical standard of care for autism treatment — Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA therapy. That treatment has shown significant results for a cross-section of children with autism.

Of the 5 million children on Medi-Cal in California — that’s roughly half the state’s total children — there are an estimated 75,000  who likely have autism spectrum disorder. Of those children, experts expect about 12,000 children to access the new benefit, based on utilization figures from programs in other states. Continue reading

Remaining Uninsured Face Challenges in Cost and Simply Signing Up

Leaburn Alexander works two jobs and does not have health insurance. Here, he is on the start of his 3-hour commute home from the job he works as an overnight hotel janitor. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

Leaburn Alexander works two jobs and does not have health insurance. Here, he is on the start of his 3-hour commute home from the job he works as an overnight hotel janitor. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

By Lisa Morehouse

When the Affordable Care Act rolled out last fall, Californians enrolled in both Covered California and expanded Medi-Cal in high numbers. But there are still millions in the state without health insurance. Undocumented people don’t qualify for Obamacare benefits. Many others still find coverage too expensive, or face other obstacles in enrolling.

One of those people is Leaburn Alexander. I meet up with him at 6 a.m. as he is finishing his shift as the night janitor at a hotel near the San Francisco Airport. He clocks out just in time to catch the hotel’s shuttle back to SFO, where he will catch a bus.

“Right now I’m on the beginning of my commute,” he tells me. “After an eight hour shift, my commute is like 2 and a half hours.”

I accompany Alexander on his commute to East Palo Alto, about 20 miles south. It actually takes three hours, on the hotel shuttle plus three more buses. He does this commute 5 days a week. Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
Continue reading

First Death Reported from the Napa Quake

The magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Aug. 24. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Aug. 24. (Craig Miller/KQED)

A 65-year-old woman who suffered a head injury when a television struck her during last month’s earthquake in California’s wine country has died — the first death attributed to the magnitude-6.0 quake, sheriff’s officials said.

Laurie Anne Thompson was at her Napa home during the Aug. 24 earthquake when she was hit, according to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office. She did not go to the hospital until the next day when she felt dizzy and experienced a decline in mental function.

Sheriff’s officials said she died Friday at a hospital of an intracranial hemorrhage.

“Her condition continued to deteriorate over time and, unfortunately, she passed away,” Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike said. Continue reading

UCSF’s First Undocumented Medical Student Begins Training

Jirayut "New" Latthivongskorn, a newly-minted medical student at UCSF.

Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn, a newly minted medical student at UCSF. (Courtesy: Jirayut Latthivongskorn)

By Mina Kim

I first met Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn a little over two years ago. He was completing his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and had dreams of going to medical school.

But he had no idea if he’d ever get there. Latthivongskorn is an undocumented immigrant.

His parents brought him to the U.S. from Thailand on a tourist visa when he was 9 years old, and the family never left. Continue reading

Stanford Terminates Anthem’s Contract; Anthem Uses KQED Data to Cite Stanford’s Cost

The Anthem Blue Cross headquarters in Woodland Hills, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The Anthem Blue Cross headquarters in Woodland Hills, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Effective Monday at 12:01a.m., Stanford Health Care terminated its contract with Anthem Blue Cross. Anthem says that roughly 10,000 of its policyholders have used Stanford services in the last year.

In a statement, Anthem said it had requested that “Stanford agree to a two-week extension of the terminated contract at existing rates.” Both parties say negotiations are ongoing.

Stanford had notified the insurer on Feb. 28, Anthem says, that it intended to terminate the contract.

The sticking point appears to be the duration of the contract. Both sides say that they reached agreement on rates for a two-year contract, but Stanford seeks a three-year contract. Because no agreement has been reached on the third year, and because Stanford did not extend its current contract, no contract is in force. Continue reading