Central Valley


Is Pollution From Asia Making the Central Valley’s Bad Air Even Worse?

(David McNew/Getty Images)

Advocates say the San Joaquin Valley Air District should focus on sources it can control, like farming machinery. (David McNew/Getty Images)

By Alice Daniel

California’s Central Valley grapples with some of the dirtiest air in the nation. The culprits range from its vast agriculture industry to trucks on Highway 99. But one local air district is tagging a source far away: Asia.

“The world in so many ways is getting smaller in respect to what we always thought was our own backyard issue: ozone,” says David Lighthall, the health science advisor for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Lighthall is one of the organizers of an ozone pollution conference starting Tuesday where scientists from California, China, Colorado and other places will discuss trends in global ozone.

Scientists say pollutants from fast-growing Asian countries like China are blowing across the Pacific Ocean and increasing ozone levels in vulnerable areas that include parts of California. But how much of a difference that foreign — or “transboundary” — ozone makes in the Central Valley is debatable. Continue reading

Fresno Considers Ending Health Services for the Undocumented

Fresno residents demonstrate their support for a county health program that covers care for undocumented immigrants (Courtesy: Fresno Building Healthy Communities)

Fresno residents demonstrate their support for a county health program that covers care for undocumented immigrants (Courtesy: Fresno Building Healthy Communities)

Update: Fresno County’s Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to end the contract providing care to the poor and to undocumented immigrants. 

Original Post:

Brandon Hauk’s job is about to get a lot harder. The health of about 7,000 patients he helps at Clinica Sierra Vista in Fresno is in the hands of the county board of supervisors – they are set to vote Tuesday whether or not to shut down a program that covers specialty care for the undocumented.

Hauk doesn’t want to think about how he’s going to explain that to people when their primary care doctor says they need to see a cardiologist, pulmonologist, or endocrinologist.

“What do you say to somebody that has chronic illness and we can’t refer them out? Sorry?” says Hauk. “I mean, how can you tell someone that has abdominal bleeds, I’m sorry, but we can’t help you.”

Fresno’s Medically Indigent Services Program was set up decades ago to provide health coverage for the poor, and later, the undocumented. But now that the Affordable Care Act has gone into effect, the county says it doesn’t need the program anymore. Now tens of thousands of uninsured Fresnans have health coverage through Obamacare. More than that, the county says it can’t afford to keep the program going. Continue reading

In Fresno, High School Program Aims at Lack of Provider Diversity

Graduating seniors from the three Doctors Academy sites in Fresno. Dr. Katherine Flores, founder of the academy, stands in the front row. (Courtesy: Doctors Academy)

Graduating seniors from the three Doctors Academy sites in Fresno. Dr. Katherine Flores, founder of the academy, stands in the front row. Flores grew up in a farmworker family. (Courtesy: UCSF Fresno)

By Alice Daniel, California Healthline

Stephanie Huerta grew up in a farmworker family in rural Caruthers, 15 miles southwest of Fresno. Her parents are from Mexico and neither had the opportunity to finish high school — or in her mom’s case, middle school.

‘You can have a dream but if you don’t have the tools to attain that dream, you’re really stymied.’

At 14, Huerta got pregnant and gave birth at the beginning of her freshman year in high school. Huerta was a very good student and, with the help of a counselor, she got through that school year even while caring for an infant. Her sophomore year, a new program called the Doctors Academy started at Caruthers High School. That was seven years ago, and it changed Huerta’s life.

“Looking back it was the best decision I could have made,” said Huerta, now about to become a college graduate. “I would have still been in Caruthers, maybe going to city college. I would have been pregnant again because that’s the cycle quite honestly. And I would have been too scared to go anywhere,” she added.

Continue reading

Central Valley Community Fights for Clean Drinking Water

(Alice Daniel/KQED)

Isabel Solorio (left) and Carrie Bonner talk about water issues outside the Lanare Community Center. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

By Alice Daniel, KQED

There are no streetlights here in Lanare, no sidewalks, no sewer system in this tiny, rural enclave of 600 smack dab in the middle of farming country in the Central Valley.

There is a community center and on this night, many locals are here dancing and eating.

“Tonight I make salad and my friend makes beans, and I make beans so just, you know, everybody help,” said Isabel Solorio.

Many people stopped drinking the tap water years ago because it has high levels of arsenic.
Solorio is the president of a local group that holds fundraisers twice a year to support the community center. The group also advocates for clean drinking water –- something Lanare doesn’t have. Lanare did not come out of an organized planning process. Like many unincorporated communities in the San Joaquin Valley, the town arose out of the fields surrounding it.

“It was a lot of labor camps, they call them,” said Carrie Bonner, a Lanare resident still tall and strong at 89. “Cotton chopping, picking and cutting grapes. … Whatever season it was, that’s what they would do.” Continue reading

Recruiting – and Retaining – Doctors in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Maureen Williams (L) seen here with her daughter Carol Baskin, is 95 years old. Williams recently moved away from Firebaugh, but she returns to see Dr. Oscar Sablan. "He saved my life several times," she says. (Photo: Lisa Morehouse)

Maureen Williams is 95 years old (seen with her daughter Carol Baskin) moved away from Firebaugh recently to be closer to family, but she returns to see Dr. Oscar Sablan. “He saved my life several times,” she says. (Photo: Lisa Morehouse)

By Lisa Morehouse

In 1999, in the tiny town of Five Points, 29 farmworkers accidentally entered a field that had just been treated with dangerous organophosphate insecticides. They started vomiting. The labor contractor in charge bypassed local hospitals and brought the crew to his own doctors 50 miles away in the town of Firebaugh. He simply trusted Marcia and Oscar Sablan more.

“We have seen a lot of other cases,” said Oscar Sablan, an internist, “and so we were familiar with the symptoms and we knew what to do.”

They had lots of atropine on hand, a drug used to treat poison victims if they go into respiratory or cardiac arrest. The farmworkers stripped and lined up to rinse the pesticides off in the clinic’s shower, built just for this type of incident. But with so many patients, Oscar Sablan had to recruit help.

“The firemen in town were able to get a kiddie pool and at least wash the people down,” he said.

Firebaugh is surrounded by crops, and the Sablans estimate that 75 percent of their patients work in the fields, like that labor contractor.

Marcia Sablan, who specializes in family medicine, explained, “He knew he could come here. He knew that we would take care of him, so be brought those 29 people over here.”

Patients have relied on the Sablans and the Sablan Medical Clinic for more than 30 years, since the couple moved to Firebaugh as young physicians in the National Health Service Corps. They say they wanted to practice where they were needed. Continue reading

Small Farmer In Central Valley Takes His Strawberries ‘Farm to School’

By Rebecca Plevin, Valley Public Radio

Pao Saephan's strawberries are just days away from being fully ripe. (Rebecca Plevin/Valley Public Radio)

Pao Saephan’s strawberries are just days away from being fully ripe. (Rebecca Plevin/Valley Public Radio)

Pao Saephan crouches down in his sun-drenched field. He cups a red jewel in his hand. In a few more days, his strawberries will be fully ripe. He’ll pick them once they are rosy red from stem to tip.

“We want all the strawberries, to be full ripe, full flavor, with 100 percent sugar in them,” says Saephan.

In the past, he would sell the fresh berries at his roadside stand, in the small town of Reedley, southeast of Fresno.

The goal is for children to “experience fresh produce and make healthy eating choices over a lifetime.”
But this year, he will sell the bulk of his berries directly to the Fresno Unified School District. He says he is thrilled to share the fruits of his labor with Central Valley students.

“We have farmed a long time, but this is my passion, to be farming something that feeds local,” says Saephan.

Saephan is the first small farmer to sell his produce directly to Fresno Unified. He could pave the way for other small farmers to begin selling their produce directly with the school district.

Jose Alvarado, food services director for Fresno Unified notes that the district is located in the “produce and vegetable capital” of the world. “We have been taking advantage of that,” he says, “but now it’s taking it to another level, from the farmer, when the occasion is right, and it meets our needs. Strawberries were just a natural for us.” Continue reading

Rural Husband and Wife Doctor Team Reflect on Careers in Medicine and Public Service

For more than three decades, Drs. Marcia and Oscar Sablan have served the tiny Central Valley town of Firebaugh. In an affectionate portrait today, the Los Angeles Times describes a couple who made a plan to work for three years in a rural area and walk away from all their medical school debt. As Marcia Sablan mentioned last week in a panel discussion in Fresno, she and her husband moved from Hawaii and arrived in Firebaugh in July on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year.

The couple never left Firebaugh, and today they are fixtures in the community. But what I found particularly interesting was the couple’s recognition that medicine only goes so far, as reporter Anna Gorman describes in the Times article:

… (A)s they built up their medical practice, the Sablans say, they realized that they could do only so much in the exam room. For example, they would tell their diabetic patients to exercise, but there were few places to do so. So they turned to politics. “I just saw that was the only way change could be made,” says Marcia Sablan, who is still on the city council. Continue reading

Temperatures, Smog Soar in Central Valley — as Statewide Track Meet Starts

Farming in the Central Valley is a major contributor to the area's smog. (Photo: Getty Images)

Farming in the Central Valley is a major contributor to the area's smog. (Photo: Getty Images)

California’s Central Valley sadly boasts some of the dirtiest air in the country and the as the temperature goes up, the air quality usually goes down.

Right now, The Weather Channel shows it’s 102 in Clovis, a town northeast of Fresno. EPA’s AirNow site says the air quality for all of Fresno County has nudged into the “unhealthy for everyone” category. At this level the site says “everyone may begin to experience health effects.”

And today is especially important in Clovis, because the city is hosting the prestigious CIF State Track and Field Championships. Scores of athletes from across the state will be competing in air that could make them ill.

But it doesn’t stop there. From the Fresno Bee: Continue reading