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State Reverses Abortion Coverage Rule for 2 Catholic Universities

Santa Clara University's employee health insurance will stop covering 'elective' abortions next year unless state officials change their minds. (Michael Zimmer/Flickr)

The two universities affected by the move are Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara University, above. (Michael Zimmer/Flickr)

By Ted Goldberg and Lisa Aliferis

In a reversal, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is barring two Catholic universities in California from offering health plans to their employees that limit abortion coverage.

Previously, state health officials had approved plans used by Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles that did not cover any abortion procedures, unless they were “medically necessary” to protect the health of the mother.

But earlier this month, the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) said they were reviewing that approval.

The DMHC is now sending letters to insurance companies for both universities, requiring them to cover all abortions.  Continue reading

Sacramento Patient Does Not Have Ebola, Officials Report

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

A patient admitted to a Kaiser hospital in South Sacramento has tested negative for the Ebola virus, said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in a brief press conference Thursday evening.

Chapman said the results came in from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in the day. Chapman, Kaiser officials and Sacramento County health officials refused to answer other questions about the patient, citing privacy laws.

Earlier this week, CDPH called the patient “low risk” and said the testing was occurring out of an “abundance of caution.” Chapman said CDPH and Kaiser made the determination that the patient was low risk by following established CDC assessment tools, available to any health care worker.

Chapman stressed that Ebola is “a very difficult infection to spread.” It does not spread through air, food or water. The virus can only be spread through direct physical contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid, including blood and sweat.

There are no reported cases of Ebola in California. In West Africa, the disease has killed 1,350 people.

In Face of Ebola, California-Trained Doctor Treats Patients in Liberia

Shops remain closed in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

Shops remain closed in Monrovia’s West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola in Liberia. A doctor trained in California traveled last week to staff a Monrovia hospital. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

While Californians worry about a single possible case of Ebola, considered low risk, the hot spot for this outbreak remains in West Africa where 1,350 people have died, and another 2,400 people are sick with the illness. But what happens to people who get sick with something that is not Ebola?

Dr. James Appel was trained in the Inland Empire, at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He’s been working for Adventist Health International at hospitals in Chad for the last decade. Last week, Dr. Appel flew to Liberia to keep the doors open at Cooper Adventist, a small hospital in the capital, Monrovia, focusing on remaining available to patients with anything but Ebola. He talked Thursday morning with The California Report’s Rachael Myrow.

Appel described Liberia as “shutting down” around him. “There’s a curfew that’s been initiated. Many businesses are not open; all the schools are closed, government offices are closed,” Appel told Myrow. “So for example our hospital is not getting paid by the insurance companies, because insurance companies are closed. The whole economy is coming to a standstill.” Continue reading

Strong Support for Proposition 45 — Tougher Rules on Health Insurance Rates

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Helen Shen, Kaiser Health News

California voters are showing strong early support for a ballot initiative that would expand the state’s authority to regulate health insurance rates.

Nearly 7 of every 10 respondents indicated that they would vote in favor of Proposition 45, while 16 percent would vote against it, according to a Field poll released Wednesday.

Proposition 45 would give California’s insurance commissioner the power to veto excessive health insurance rate increases.

Health insurance rates in the state are currently overseen by the Department of Managed Health Care and the California Department of Insurance. Insurance companies are required to submit proposed rate increases for review each year by state regulators, who may declare rates unreasonable but cannot block them from going into effect. Continue reading

Sacramento Patient Being Tested for Possible Exposure to Ebola

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

By Lisa Aliferis and April Dembosky

Don’t panic, folks. Really.

A patient who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus is being tested at Kaiser’s South Sacramento Hospital.

The other key information here is that California Department of Public Health officials call the unidentified patient “low risk,” according to criteria established by the CDC that considers travel history, exposure to infection, and clinical features.

In a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, CDPH deputy Dr. Gil Chavez said the state has received no reports of any high risk patients. CDPH said the patient is being tested out of an “abundance of caution.”

In a statement, Dr. Stephen Parodi, director of hospital operations for Kaiser Northern California, said the unidentified patient is being kept in a specially equipped negative pressure room, and staff working with the patient are using “personal protective equipment.” Continue reading

Judge Orders Overhaul in Segregation for California’s Mentally Ill Inmates

All Inmates are shackled whenever they leave their cells. (Julie Small/KQED)

All Inmates are shackled whenever they leave their cells. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

Segregating prison inmates who repeatedly break the rules or turn violent against other inmates or guards is not new in California. For years the state has placed these inmates in special housing sections with multiple barriers between them and others.

Evidence that segregation ‘can and does cause serious psychological harm’ in inmates with serious mental illness.

But the practice of isolating inmates whose bad behavior may be part of a mental illness is under fire amid a rash of suicides and attempted suicides. The focus on this type of treatment comes against a backdrop of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades. Those lawsuits have exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now a federal judge says that kind of punishment poses too great a risk for inmates with serious mental illness who, he says, can and do worsen in segregation.  Continue reading

The Assisted Living Reform Bills That Died

By Polly Stryker

Taking some fresh air in the courtyard at Westchester Villa, an assisted facility in Inglewood. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Taking some fresh air in the courtyard at Westchester Villa, an assisted facility in Inglewood. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Last Thursday, August 14, was the day that bills still in the state Senate Appropriations Committee sank or swam. The Senate Appropriations Committee is where bills costing $150,000 or more go for consideration. If bills make it out of this committee, then bills are still in play and could make it to the governor’s desk, albeit with potential amendments along the way. If not, they die.

Going into the home stretch of this legislative session, 16 bills were on the table that, altogether, constituted the first major overhaul of the assisted living industry in nearly 30 years.

Two have already made it to the governor’s desk. AB1523 mandates liability insurance for all assisted living facilities. Advocates say liability insurance is one of the best ways to improve conditions in the industry. Operators whose violations make buying insurance too expensive will be simply forced out of business. The industry group California Assisted Living Association supported AB1523. AB1572 mandates facility operators allow and support resident and family councils at assisted living facilities. CALA supported that one as well.

Most of the rest of the bills are still swimming. But what about the bills that died?

Continue reading

California Prisons Begin ‘Use-of-Force’ Reforms for Mentally Ill Inmates

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury. Continue reading

Old Muni Buses Are Reborn as Mobile Showers for the Homeless

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people.

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people. (Lynne Shallcross/KQED)

By Lynne Shallcross

Showering is a daily routine that most of us probably take for granted. But for people living on the streets or in shelters in San Francisco, finding a shower can be one of the biggest daily challenges.

‘Then no one has to know you’re homeless unless you tell them.’

For the more than 3,000 unsheltered homeless people in San Francisco, there are only roughly 20 showers available — fewer if any are out of service. Then there are the logistics of sign-up lists, limited hours, waiting lines and figuring out how to get there.

Doniece Sandoval, a marketing and communications professional and South Texas native, had seen plenty of shower-less homeless in her two decades in San Francisco. But when she passed a young homeless woman on the street who was crying that she’d never be clean, Sandoval decided to do something about it.

So she hatched the idea for Lava Mae, a new service that provides showers in a retrofitted, retired Muni bus. Lava Mae, a play on the Spanish word for “wash me,” is in the pilot phase of its service. Continue reading