Unions Fight Sale of Safety-Net Hospitals

Six safety-net hospitals owned by the Daughters of Charity Health System — four in the Bay Area and two in Los Angeles — are for sale. The company says it’s out of money and needs another organization to take over.

The mission of Daughters of Charity hospitals is to take care of the poor and needy. CEO Robert Issai says that three-quarters of the patients are covered by government health programs, which pay significantly less than private insurers.

“We’ve always had that 25 percent of commercial business to make ends meet,” he said.

But a lot of that dried up when the recession hit in 2008. People lost their jobs and their insurance. Then the government cut back too, slashing reimbursement rates. Continue reading

UC Davis Experiments with Fast-Tracking Medical School

(UC Davis Gateways Project/Flickr)

(UC Davis Gateways Project/Flickr)

By Pauline Bartolone, Kaiser Health News

Some doctors in California will soon be able to practice after three years of medical school instead of the traditional four. The American Medical Association is providing seed money for the effort in the form of a $1 million, five-year grant to UC Davis.

Student Ngabo Nzigira is in his sixth week of medical school and he’s already interacting with patients, as he trains under the guidance of a doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento.

In a traditional medical school, Nzigira wouldn’t be in a clinic until his third year. In this accelerated course, students can shave up to $60,000 off their education debt. Still, Nzigira initially had hesitations. Continue reading

Map: See What Different Providers Charge for Common Health Care Procedures

Here’s a truism: Health care costs are wildly variable and utterly confusing. That’s why KQED joined forces with KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com to launch PriceCheck. For the last six weeks we’ve asked you to submit your costs for common procedures. To compare apples-to-apples, we asked how much your provider charged, how much your insurer paid and how much you paid for common procedures. And you’ve responded!

You’ve showed us that back MRIs can cost anywhere between $255 and $3,700 in the Bay Area. And that screening mammograms range from $125 to $801.

We’ve also surveyed hundreds of providers for cash prices — also known as self-pay — throughout California. Now you can sort through our data below as well as search on our site. Please help us build our database by submitting your health care costs.

Continue reading

UC Berkeley Study: Sports, Energy Drinks as Unhealthy as Soda

Gatorade was one of the 21 beverages analyzed in the study. (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Gatorade was one of the 21 beverages analyzed in the study. (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Because of their very name, sports and energy drinks are often viewed by consumers as a healthier alternative to sugar-sweetened sodas. A study out Wednesday from UC Berkeley researchers disputes that view, finding that 21 popular beverages have high sugar content and other additives including caffeine and sodium, which may be harmful to children and teens.

“All of these beverages that are marketed to kids and teens … as if they’re healthy, are just packed with sugar,” said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy which commissioned the study.

In the report researchers at UC Berkeley’s Atkins Center of Weight and Health looked not only at sugar and caffeine in these 21 beverages but also scrutinized additives such as guarana, ginseng, taurine, gingko biloba and ginger extract. Continue reading

Long-Sought Autism Therapy A Medi-Cal Benefit, State Says

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

State officials Tuesday said autism therapy clearly is a covered Medicaid benefit, and they hope to submit a state plan amendment by Sept. 30 to start the process to make it a benefit for those under age 21, enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid.

According to René Mollow, deputy director of benefits and eligibility at the Department of Health Care Services, Medi-Cal children are entitled to applied behavior analysis — known as ABA therapy.

“Right now we’re working on the development of a state plan amendment. We want to engage the stakeholders in developing that,” Mollow said. “We’re looking to have it submitted at the end of September, and having it retroactive to July 1.” Continue reading

Online Information About Assisted Living Facilities Hard to Come By

Lorchid Macri, 70, says she couldn't find any information online when she had to find an assisted living facility for her mother in California. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Lorchid Macri, 70, says she couldn’t find any information online when she had to find an assisted living facility for her mother in California. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Lorchid Macri wasn’t sleeping. Her elderly mother was wandering out of the house in the middle of the night, forgetting to turn the stove off. Macri had to keep watch over her 24/7.

“Dementia is a cruel disease,” Macri says.

She says the stress of caring for her mother was overwhelming. It wasn’t until she landed in the hospital herself — losing the sight in her right eye for 10 days — that she was ready to confront the fact that it was time to place her mother in assisted living.

“It’s gut wrenching to put someone that you love and who has cared for you in a facility with strangers,” she says. Continue reading

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

California Prisons to Restrict Pepper Spray, Segregation of Mentally Ill Inmates

 Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

California prison officials proposed major policy changes Friday to curtail when and how correctional staff use pepper spray on mentally ill inmates or segregate them from the general prison population.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) planned to vest mental health clinicians with greater say in whether correctional staff may use force or segregate inmate patients. The agency also set strict time limits on the segregation of mentally ill inmates who had committed no serious violations or crimes in prison.

CDCR proposed these changes to comply with a court order issued by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton. Judge Karlton ordered the changes to California’s policies in April, after a lengthy evidentiary hearing. Continue reading

How Much for a Back MRI in the Bay Area: $255 or $3,700?

(Getty Images)

People can easily save $1,000 or more just by going to another facility, sometimes only a few minutes drive away. (Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In June, KQED launched PriceCheck, a crowdsourcing project on health costs. We’re working in collaboration with KPCC, public media in Los Angeles, and ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City startup looking at health costs.

Last week in our PriceCheck project, we turned to MRIs. We asked you, the members of our audience, to share what you have paid for a back MRI. The goal is to shine a light on the notoriously opaque world of health care costs.

One person saved $1,270 on a back MRI, just by asking.

What we’ve found is even more startling than the prices we already collected on screening mammograms. Most of our results so far are from the Bay Area, so I’m focusing on that variation. For a comparison looking at the entire state, check out this post from our ClearHealthCosts.com partner. Continue reading

Down to the Wire: Lawmakers Have 4 Weeks to Act on Assisted Living Reforms

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, in a retirement home corridor. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

(Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

By Polly Stryker

The assisted living industry in California is big business: More than 7,500 licensed facilities provide care for more than 175,000 people statewide. Starting Monday, and over the next two weeks, The California Report will bring stories about assisted living facilities in the state.

Assisted living is an alternative to more expensive — and often more institutional — care in a skilled nursing facility. In assisted living, staff help seniors with daily needs, such as meals, medicine-taking and bathing. The homes range from small mom-and-pop places with six beds to corporate chains with over 100 beds. A growing number offer dementia care.

But while these facilities are licensed, the laws regulating them have not had a major update since 1985, and California has lagged behind other states in updating its rules. Continue reading