Community Health

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


Working with the Dying in California Prisons


Reverend Lorie Adoff has trained over 130 inmate-volunteers to sit with and support dying prisoners at California Men’s Colony, a minimum- and medium-security prison in San Luis Obispo. After training inmates for eleven years, Adoff retired in 2013. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Many people hope to die surrounded by friends and family. But for prison inmates death can be unusually isolating. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we hear from retired hospice chaplain Lorie Adoff. More than a decade ago, she helped launch a project called Supportive Care Services at the California Men’s Colony — a prison in San Luis Obispo. The program trained inmates serving life sentences to sit with other men dying behind bars.

By Lorie Adoff

First of all imagine, it’s very, very stark. There is nothing pretty about a hospital in prison. Nothing.

But I have discovered, working with the dying in prison, there is transformation. 

They have the opportunity to have family come and visit them on a limited basis. A lot of times because they’ve been there so long though, they don’t have anybody who it matters whether or not they die in prison. They’ve been in prison for 30 years or 40 years and who cares? So, dying alone is a very, very real situation in prison.

Before Supportive Care Services, there really wasn’t anything in place to be with the dying inmates. Patients who were dying in the hospital would be put in a room. A nurse would check on him periodically, until he died. Continue reading

Measles Cases on Rise Statewide

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 California Department of Public Health says that California has 32 confirmed cases of measles so far this year. At this time last year, only three cases had been reported.

The cases are reported in both Northern and Southern California. Measles was declared to be eliminated in 2000 in the United States and CDPH says that many cases are linked to travel to parts of the world where measles is circulating. Of the cases reported so far this year, seven people had traveled to the Philippines where a large outbreak of measles is ongoing, two had been to India and one had traveled to Vietnam.

Health officials recommend that anyone planning travel outside of North or South America and has not been vaccinated to make sure they get the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine before they go. Continue reading

DEA Investigating CVS Over 37,000 Missing Pain Pills



Drug enforcement officials are investigating several CVS pharmacies in California over missing prescription painkillers – pills state officials fear may have ended up on the black market.

The company could face up to $29 million in fines as a result of the investigation.
Investigators in the Sacramento office of the Drug Enforcement Agency are specifically interested in finding out what happened to more than 37,000 tablets of hydrocodone, a narcotic typically sold under brand names like Vicodin and Norco. The pills were reported lost or stolen by four CVS stores in Fairfield, Dixon, Turlock, and Modesto, according to the DEA’s warrant applications.

“Investigators believe there will be numerous record keeping violations related to the dispensation of controlled substances within CVS,” wrote Brian Glaudel, the DEA investigator who requested the four warrants, which were served on the stores last May. “The requested inspection is warranted to protect the public health and safety.” Continue reading

High Levels of Lead Found in Soil Near L.A. Battery Recycling Plant

The Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. (Photo/Chris Richard)

The Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. (Photo/Chris Richard)

By Chris Richard

Tests of homes and schools near a battery recycling plant east of Los Angeles have detected elevated lead levels, prompting state officials Monday to caution the public against exposure and to order expanded testing.

Both neighborhoods surveyed exceeded the state’s “health screening level” for lead of 80 parts per million. One home topped 580 parts per million, according to a testing report.

Residents are cautioned to keep children away from bare soil and to wash hands thoroughly.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has given Exide Technologies until March 21 to develop a plan for additional testing of the 39 homes and two schools included in the original study, as well as a wider area.

This announcement follows testing last month in Boyle Heights and Maywood, just east of downtown Los Angeles. It marks the DTSC’s first discovery of widespread ground contamination in residential areas near Exide’s plant in Vernon. Continue reading

Giving Birth in Prison: One Woman’s Story


Natasha Smith, 37, plays with her children at her grandfather’s home in Huntington Beach. A unique program allowed Smith to live with her two youngest children while she served a four-year prison sentence. (Susan Valot/KQED)

Editor’s Note: In the past three years, more than 250 California inmates gave birth. Natasha Smith had her youngest daughter, Lydia, while at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla. The mother of four was serving time for drug possession and grand theft. This month, as part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we’re bringing you personal stories of health care behind bars. Smith talks about reuniting with her baby — seven years ago — in a program that lets mothers serve their time outside of prison. There were once several such programs in the state. Now, only one Southern California facility remains. Reporter: Susan Valot

By Natasha Smith

I had a normal delivery, a vaginal delivery, so I got 48 hours. And then at the end of the 48 hours, I had to either arrange for someone to come pick up my child or she would go into the [foster care] system. So, I actually had Lydia’s father’s mother come and pick up the baby. And I didn’t really know her. It was very emotional handing over your baby to somebody you never even met.

You just kind of shut yourself down because it’s too hard to deal with: “Where’s my baby?” You just had a baby and your breasts are leaking. I mean, you’re lactating and everything else but there’s no baby. Continue reading

Survey: Alcohol and Tobacco Ads Target California’s Children

California’s kids are overexposed to ads for alcohol, tobacco and junk food. That’s according to a new survey from public health departments throughout the state. They sent hundreds of teens and young adults to thousands of corner stores throughout the state to record what kinds of products and advertising they find.

Twenty-two year old Luisa Sicairos saw shelves lined with products like marshmallow-flavored vodka, fried chips, and plenty of sugary drinks in her neighborhood in San Francisco. She says the young, slim models that appear in ads next to these products and on the labels send a mixed message.

“It’s still bombarding us with all this stuff on how we should look, and then they’re saying, oh, but you should be drinking soda,” she says. Continue reading

Contra Costa County Maps Schools by Vaccination Rates: Find Yours

The red dots mark a school or childcare facility where the vaccine opt-out rate is 10 percent or more.

The red dots mark a school or child care facility where the vaccine opt-out rate is above 9.9 percent. The statewide average is 3 percent. (Contra Costa Health Department)

In response to the troubling number of children whose parents opt out of vaccines for them, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) has published an interactive online map of vaccine rates for schools and licensed child-care facilities with at least 15 children at each site across the county.

“There’s not much wiggle room. We need about 90 percent of our community to be immune.”
The screen shot above shows the map. When you visit the site you can click on any of the dots, and a box appears to show you the name of the school, its address and rate of “personal belief exemptions.” While state law requires that every child be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, parents can opt out by filing a personal belief exemption (PBE), a signed statement that vaccines are against a parent’s beliefs.

Paul Leung, immunization program manager for Contra Costa Public Health, said the goal of producing the map was to increases awareness. “Many community members may not realize this dangerous, disturbing trend of parents choosing to skip vaccines for their children,” he said. “It not only puts these kids at greater risk of serious, dangerous diseases like measles and polio,” but it also puts others at risk, he said, including those who cannot be vaccinated, such as babies, and children or adults too sick to be vaccinated.  Continue reading

L.A. Officials Told Inspectors to Halt Nursing Home Probes

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Anna GormanKaiser Health News

In an effort to reduce California’s backlog of health and safety complaints at nursing homes, Los Angeles County public health officials told its inspectors to close cases without fully investigating them, according to internal documents and interviews.

The effort known as the “Complaint Workload Clean Up Project” has been going on since at least the summer of 2012, according to internal memoranda sent by email to managers and inspectors by county Department of Public Health supervisors.

Nearly one-third of the 1,286 nursing homes in the state are in L.A. County.

State and federal officials, who contract with Los Angeles County to inspect nursing homes on their behalf, said they are now investigating the matter. Contacted by a reporter, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement Sunday saying it did not approve the practice and has ordered Los Angeles County officials  to “immediately discontinue” it. The county’s approach conflicts with the policies and protocols of the California Department of Public Health, spokesman Anita Gore said in the statement. Continue reading

Life on the Street: Homeless Vietnam Veteran Fights Cancer


John Buckingham, 62, a homeless Vietnam veteran, stands outside of a San Francisco grocery store. He lives on the streets and is fighting cancer. (Nick Arce/KQED)

Editor’s Note: For the nearly three million Americans who served in Vietnam, more likely than death in combat was a post-war life on the street. On a single night in 2013, more than 15,000 homeless Californians were veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month hearing from homeless Californians. John Buckingham is a 62-year-old homeless Vietnam vet living with cancer on the streets of San Francisco. He talks to us about his battle with illness. Reporter: Nick Arce

By John Buckingham

You know, I can be walking and all of a sudden I’ll get this real heavy pain in my body. I mean, like an earthquake hitting the ground and my whole body shakes. And then, all of sudden, I won’t feel so hot. I’ll feel like these cold and hot flashes. And I’ll see things.

It’s all because of the war. Because of Agent Orange.

Continue reading

How Coverage of Richmond, El Monte Soda Tax Proposals Played Out

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond city councilman who introduced Richmond's soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012.  (Mina Kim/KQED)

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond City Council member  who introduced Richmond’s soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012. (Mina Kim/KQED)

In 2012, voters in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte soundly defeated proposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The ballot measures were widely covered by local, state and national press. Now, 15 months later comes an analysis of that coverage, a look at what themes were covered on both sides.

To be clear, the analysis comes not from a journalism school, but from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, a public health advocacy organization. BMSG looked at more than 200 news stories and opinion pieces — with nearly two-thirds of the coverage focused on Richmond.

Richmond and El Monte proposed similar taxes — a penny per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages — but for different reasons. In Richmond, the tax was placed on the ballot as a public health measure, to fight childhood obesity. El Monte (Los Angeles County) was facing bankruptcy and saw a soda tax as way to bolster funds for city services. “One of the key takeaways that we saw had to do a lot with how the opposition campaigns differed, based on the unique character of each of the cities that we studied,” said Pam Mejia, lead author of the study. Continue reading