California First in Care of Undocumented, But That’s Not Saying Much

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, CaliforniaHealthline

Undocumented immigrants get better health care in California than the rest of the country — but that’s not saying much, according to a new report released Thursday by UCLA researchers.

“California is in the lead of a very sorry pack.”    

“California is in the lead of a very sorry pack,” said Steven Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and co-author of the report. “For California to stay in the lead, we need to keep innovating.”

It’s unclear how UCLA’s findings will affect SB 4 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill to provide full-scope medical coverage to the undocumented, which cleared the Senate Committee on Health this week and now heads to Senate Appropriations. Continue reading

Disneyland Measles Outbreak to be Declared Over

The outbreak sickened 134 Californians. (Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

The outbreak sickened 134 Californians. (Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

By Alicia Chang, AP

The state’s measles outbreak that began at Disneyland and reignited debate about vaccinations is nearing an end.

The outbreak will be declared over in California on Friday if no new cases pop up, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Disease investigators worked for months to contain the highly contagious disease that originated at Disney theme parks in December and spread to several other states and countries. In all, 134 people in California were infected.

The outbreak cast a spotlight on the small but vocal anti-vaccine movement. Many who fell ill in the Disneyland outbreak were not immunized or had only one of the two recommended doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Continue reading

Vaccine Exemption Bill Stalls in Sacramento; Vote Next Week

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A bill that would eliminate the vaccine personal belief exemption stalled before the Senate Education Committee Wednesday in Sacramento. Lawmakers were deeply concerned that the bill would bar too many children from school. The bill’s co-author, Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), asked the committee to delay a vote until next Wednesday after the committee chairwoman warned him he did not have enough votes to pass.

Pan said he will use the time to address their concerns, possibly adding amendments to the bill.

Under the bill, SB277, California would no longer permit any vaccine exemptions except a medical one, meaning virtually all children would have to be vaccinated in order to attend public or private school. Even home-schoolers who group together would be affected under the current language, one of the committee’s complaints.

While several committee members expressed their support for vaccines, they were worried that the bill goes too far. “I’m looking for the compelling state interest in doing something (this) draconian,” said state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). “If I’m reading the bill correctly, there’s nothing you can do if you choose not to vaccinate your child,” except home-school and then only with your own children. Continue reading

More Californians Visiting ER For Chronic Medical Conditions

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related  health problems -- and that number is rising.

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related health problems — and that number is rising.

Traditionally people think of a hospital emergency room as a place to go for injuries: someone gets in a car accident, has a heart attack, or falls out of a tree and breaks his leg. But the ER also plays a large role in treating medical patients.

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related health problems — and that number is rising, according to a study recently published in the April edition of Health Affairs.

“The study gives you kind of a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in the health care system overall.”

The study, led by the University of California, San Francisco, shows the rate of emergency room visits for non-injury related problems rose 13.4 percent in the state, from 10.1 million visits in 2005 to 11.9 million visits in 2011. The largest increase in non-injury related ER visits were for gastrointestinal diseases, abdominal pain and nervous system disorders.

Renee Hsia is a professor of Emergency Medicine and Health Policy Studies at UCSF, and the lead author of the study. She says hospital admissions rates are a window into California’s health care system.
Continue reading

Cow’s Milk Found in Breast Milk Sold Online

A recent study shows 10 percent of human breast milk purchased online is contaminated with traces of cow’s milk.

A new study shows 10 percent of human breast milk purchased online is contaminated with cow’s milk. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Most doctors agree that ‘breast is best.’ Breastfed babies have lower rates of respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma, digestive problems, childhood obesity, asthma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The public health message is being heard: in 2011 almost 80 percent of newborn U.S. infants were initially breastfed.

But sometimes mothers can’t breastfeed. They may not have sufficient milk production, or maybe their child is allergic to the ingredients in infant formula, so they seek an alternative: buying breast milk on the Internet.

“For an infant who is allergic to cow’s milk or failing to thrive because of formula, this is a huge public health problem.”

The FDA doesn’t approve. Breast milk purchased online isn’t always properly screened for infectious diseases, and it has a chance of being contaminated — with things like cow’s milk.

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics reveals 10 percent of breast milk purchased online is contaminated with cow’s milk. A team at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio anonymously purchased 102 samples of milk advertised as breast milk online. They found 10 percent of bovine DNA in 10 of the samples.

Continue reading

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

Doctors with Cancer Join California Movement for ‘Aid in Dying’

Dan Swangard, a 48-year-old physician from San Francisco, was diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of metastatic cancer. (Anna Gorman/KHN)

Dan Swangard, a 48-year-old physician from San Francisco, was diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of metastatic cancer. (Anna Gorman/KHN)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Dan Swangard knows what death looks like.

As a physician, he has seen patients die in hospitals, hooked to morphine drips and overcome with anxiety. He has watched dying drag on for weeks or months as terrified relatives stand by helplessly.

“It’s very real for me. This could be my own issue a year from now.”

Recently, however, his thoughts about how seriously ill people die have become personal. Swangard was diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of metastatic cancer.

To remove the cancer, surgeons took out parts of his pancreas and liver, as well as his entire spleen and gallbladder. The operation was successful but Swangard, 48, knows there’s a strong chance the disease will return. And if he gets to a point where there’s nothing more medicine can do, he wants to be able to control when and how his life ends.

“It’s very real for me,” said Swangard, who lives in Bolinas, Calif. “This could be my own issue a year from now.” Continue reading

Doctors Medical Center to Close in April, Barring Miracle

Stephen Scotty, who works at Doctors Medical Center's cardiac catheter lab addresses the board. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

Stephen Scotty, of Doctors Medical Center’s cardiac catheter lab, addressed the West Contra Costa County Healthcare District board Thursday night. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

By Andrew Stelzer

Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo will begin shutting its doors next month, barring an angel donor who can make up the hospital’s $18 million deficit.

The West Contra Costa County healthcare district voted Thursday night to begin giving employees two-weeks notice on April 7th, meaning operations would start winding down April 21st, and continue through June.

The hospital, which serves  the largely low-income residents of West Contra Costa County, has been in dire financial straits for almost 20 years. Voters approved parcel taxes in 2004 and 2011 to keep it afloat, but a third proposed tax in 2014 failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed.

Financial advisor Harold Emahiser said the problem is that 80 percent of the hospital’s patients are on Medicare or Medi-cal, which doesn’t pay enough for services rendered. Continue reading

Posthumous Brittany Maynard Video Supports Calif. ‘Death with Dignity’ Bill

State senators heard testimony today on a proposed bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it. The testimony included a video from Brittany Maynard recorded 19 days before she took life-ending drugs.


In the video, Maynard implored California lawmakers to legalize “aid in dying.” Maynard, who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, took lethal medication last year in Oregon, where the practice is legal.

“The decision about how I end my dying process should be up to me and my family under a doctor’s care. How dare the government make decisions or limit options for terminally ill people like me. Unfortunately, California law prevented me from getting the end-of life-option I deserved,” said Maynard, who died Nov. 1 at age 29. Continue reading

Frontline ‘Vaccine War’ Live Chat; Wednesday 3/25, Noon PT

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Frontline aired an updated version of its 2008 documentary The Vaccine War on Tuesday night. The film dives deep into the debate over vaccines. While the overwhelming majority of parents vaccinate their children, a small but growing minority either under-vaccinate their children or refuse vaccines altogether.

The debate has taken a new turn in the wake of the measles outbreak which started in Disneyland in December. Public health officials believe a still-unknown person infected with measles visited the park and spread it to others. As the outbreak took hold, a new front in the debate grew: that of people who are immune-compromised.

State of Health first told the story of Carl Krawitt the father of 7-year-old Rhett who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was two and a half. Because of the treatments Rhett underwent to fight his disease, prior vaccine protection was wiped out, and he had to wait until he had been in remission for a year before his vaccines could begin again. The Krawitt family has been arguing that those unvaccinated by choice should not be able to attend public school.

Frontline producers told the story of Rhett’s family in The Vaccine War.

Now, it’s your turn. On Wednesday (March 25) at noon PT, Frontline is hosting a live chat, and I’m honored to be the moderator. ‘Vaccine War’ producer and director Kate McMahon will take your questions, along with Carl Krawitt, and Dr. Arthur Reingold, Head of Epidemiology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Feel free to leave a question now and please join us at noon for the chat!