Community Health

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

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Plenty of Responsibility, But No Required Training, for In-Home Caregivers

Oliver Massengale took over as his brother’s full-time caregiver six years ago. He says he hasn’t had time for himself in years. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Oliver Massengale took over as his brother’s full-time caregiver six years ago. He says he hasn’t had time for himself in years. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Born just a year apart, Oliver Massengale and his brother Charles grew up together. Now, in a two-story home in Compton, they are growing old together. But Charles Massengale, 71, can do little on his own.

The former tree trimmer has severe brain damage from a 30-foot fall, as well as dementia, diabetes and high blood pressure. Six years ago, Oliver took over as his brother’s full-time caregiver. He’s paid about $10.00 an hour by the state.

It was not a job he was trained to do.

“I didn’t have a clue,” said Oliver, a retired grounds manager at a college. “I was just so afraid of what I was doing.”

He constantly worried –- about giving Charles the wrong medication, about him getting bedsores, about his blood pressure. And he had no idea how easily his brother could fall over. One day, he was cooking and Charles was on a stool at the kitchen counter. Continue reading

It’s Union vs. Union in Proposed Hospital Sale

O'Connor Hospital in San Jose is one of the six hospitals operated by Daughters of Charity that is being sold. (Courtesy: O'Connor Hospital)

O’Connor Hospital in San Jose is one of the six hospitals operated by Daughters of Charity that is being sold. (Courtesy: O’Connor Hospital)

By April Dembosky

Unions are sparring every day this week over the fate of six safety-net hospitals in California, showcasing how splintered the health care labor movement has become.

At issue is the same of the financially-distressed hospitals currently owned by the nonprofit Daughters of Charity. The leading buyer is for-profit Prime Healthcare.

The state attorney general’s office is hearing testimony at each of the six hospitals this week before it approved or denies the sale. Because the hospitals are owned by a non-profit, the state is tasked with making sure the sale to a for-profit company benefits the public interest.

Unions are divided over whether Prime is the right candidate for the job. Continue reading

Lack of Oversight for In-Home Caregivers Can Lead to Neglect and Death

Linda Maureen Raye at her sentencing at the Riverside County Hall of Justice. Raye pleaded guilty to elder abuse that led to the death of her mother. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Linda Maureen Raye at her sentencing at the Riverside County Hall of Justice. Raye pleaded guilty to elder abuse that led to the death of her mother. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Yolanda Farrell lay mostly paralyzed in a nursing home, unable to feed or dress herself, when her homeless daughter persuaded her to move out.

“Essentially neglected to death” by her own daughter.  

Linda Maureen Raye, who relatives say had been living in her car with her dog, used her mother’s Social Security to pay for a one-bedroom Riverside apartment and took over as Farrell’s sole caregiver in 2010.

Over the next two years, according to police and court records, Raye, 60, took her elderly mother to the doctor once. As her mother’s health declined, Raye stopped cooperating with a nurse sent to advise her on preventing bedsores.

Yet in 2012, Raye was hired officially: She began collecting about $900 a month from taxpayers under the state’s in-home care program for poor people, according to law enforcement authorities. Continue reading

Keeping A Watchful Eye On Farmworker Health

Ephraim Camacho, a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance, hands out brochures on the Affordable Care Act, heat illness, and wage theft at a farmworker health fair in Huron, Calif. (Jeremy Raff/KQED).

Ephraim Camacho, a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance, hands out brochures on the Affordable Care Act, heat illness, and wage theft at a farmworker health fair in Huron, Calif. (Jeremy Raff/KQED).

Editor’s note: California’s farmworkers face a litany of health hazards on the job: working bent over and carrying heavy loads of produce is hard on the back, hips, and knees; long hours in the sun can mean heat exhaustion, or worse. Employers don’t always provide the state-mandated access to shade, drinking water, and restrooms. The state’s regulatory agencies can’t keep a very close eye on such a large area.

To help fill this gap in enforcement, community health worker Ephrain Camacho drives the back roads with a pair of binoculars, pulling over wherever he sees a crew of workers to make sure they have the workplace protections they’re entitled to. As part of our community health series Vital Signs, we followed him to a health fair near Fresno to learn more about his work and about farmworker health.

By Ephraim Camacho

We call it ‘reading the land.’ You park on the side of the road and observe. The first thing we look for is the porta-potties, drinking water, and the shade.

If we see that there are not enough toilets, or that they’re lacking drinking water, or even drinking cups, we enter the field and talk to the employer about voluntary compliance. Continue reading

FDA Proposes Lifting Lifetime Ban on Gay Blood Donors

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a policy change that would end a 31-year ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The ban was put in place at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic when little was understood about the disease. Under the proposed change, gay men who have not had sexual contact in a year would be allowed to donate blood.

In a statement, the FDA said that “it will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact.” Officials say the change is motivated by research. Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom already have similar policies in place.

The FDA has been considering the move for some time. Earlier this month, Ryan James Yezak with the National Gay Blood Drive told KQED that he thought that any ban was discriminatory, but said that the move toward one year, instead of a lifetime ban, was a step in the right direction. Continue reading

Challenges to Mainstream Health Care in Oakland’s Underserved Communities

Sownai Saetern and Jan Tracie check blood pressures as Kimberly Nichole waits in line at the EOLA Health Fair in Oakland. (Adizah Eghan/KQED)

Sownai Saetern and Jan Tracie check blood pressures as Kimberly Nichole waits in line at a health fair in Oakland, put on by nursing students at Samuel Merritt University. (Adizah Eghan/KQED)

By Adizah Eghan

It’s not your normal health care setting: Reggaeton is thumping from a space where people are doing Zumba. Food is available – for free.

“He’s a white doctor, he just wouldn’t understand,” one woman’s grandmother told her.

It’s the annual health fair held at the East Oakland Leadership Academy, a charter school serving inner-city K-8 students. The health fair is organized by nursing students at Samuel Merritt University, and it serves a dual purpose: serving the Oakland community and recruiting people of color to SMU’s nursing programs. The federal government classifies East Oakland as a medically underserved area.

Foot traffic is low, but the fair is filled with liveliness. For the past 11 years, EOLA has provided food and health care to the community through events like this fair.

“Health is always a concern for us” says Laura Armstrong, EOLA’s founder and executive director. “Getting the information out to everybody and providing a local place close in the neighborhood for them to come is just something that we do. It’s all about the community.” Continue reading

Berkeley Recruits ‘Panel of Experts’ for Soda Tax Implementation

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Last month, voters in Berkeley made the city the first in the country to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. On Monday, the city moved forward on implementing one of the  requirements of the measure, staffing its “panel of experts.”

Berkeley is soliciting applications for people to serve on this panel, which will advise the City Council on “how and to what extent the City should establish and/or fund programs to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley.”

In other words, the panel will advise the council on how to spend the soda tax revenue. Continue reading

Video: San Francisco Homeless Veterans Get Permanent Place to Live

By Katie Brigham

At 58 years old, Clarence Cook finally has a place of his own to call home.

Living on the streets of San Francisco since 1997, the Army veteran has been in and out of jail for more than three decades while battling a heroin addiction.

Today, Cook has been clean for six months. Earlier this month, he become one of the first 30 residents to move into 250 Kearny — a single-room-occupancy property on the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District that has been newly renovated to house 130 homeless veterans. Continue reading

Video: Meet 72-Year-Old Rollerblader Frank Hernandez


Editor’s note: For seniors, exercise is an important way to prevent injury and retain independence. But it can be difficult to come up with a routine that works for you. Frank Hernandez of the Central Valley town of Delano solved that problem by turning to rollerblading. He’s now 72 and shows no sign of stopping. We visited the skatepark with Hernandez as part of our community health series Vital Signs.

By Frank Hernandez

When I first started I would rollerblade the skate paths, then I said, “I need more than this.”

I used to look at the X-Games, and I saw the rollerbladers back then in the 90’s, and I said, “Oh, I’m going to do that someday.” Continue reading

Whooping Cough Infections Unusually High Among Latino Babies

Babies get their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. (Kenneth Pornillos/World Bank via Flickr)

Babies get their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. (Kenneth Pornillos/World Bank via Flickr)

By April Dembosky

Public health officials are trying to understand why Latino babies are contracting whooping cough at much higher rates than other babies.

California is battling the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years. Nearly 10,000 cases have been reported in the state so far this year, and babies are especially prone to hospitalization or even death.

Six out of 10 infants who have become ill during the current outbreak are Latino. Evidence explaining this is inconclusive, but experts have a few theories that range from a lack of Spanish language outreach to Latino cultural practices. Continue reading