Despite Increased Visibility, Challenges Persists For Transgender Community

I wrote and produced this story for broadcast and for CapRadio.org. Full story here.

STORY: Stories of high-profile celebrities, like Caitlyn Jenner, have catapulted transgender issues into the national spotlight. Still, the increased media coverage hasn’t provided a full picture of the challenges transgender men and women face on a daily basis.

Rates of unemployment, poverty and homelessness are higher in the transgender population. Discrimination is common and one study found that suicide attempts among the trans population is 41 percent, compared to the general population’s 4 percent.

These sobering statistics show there’s more work to be done, says Rachael Hudson, the operations manager at the Gender Health Center, a resource space for Sacramento’s LGBT community. The center has a special focus on helping transgender clients.

“We’re just starting, the visibility is just step one,” says Hudson, a transgender woman…… MORE HERE

Butte Fire Grows To 14,700 Acres; More Evacuations Ordered

I was among a team of digital staff who started and continued to update this blog after a wildfire exploded overnight to more than 14,000 acres. The updates continued for several days. Full story here.

September 10, 2015 – Original Post: In the foothills, wind and triple digit heat boosted the Butte Fire to 4,000 acres just hours after starting. The blaze jumped from Amador into Calaveras County and took out key power infrastructure — a massive hydro-electric system on the Mokelumne River.

PG&E is waiting for fire crews battling the blaze to contain it before they can restore power to about 17,000 people. Deb Harrigan is with PG&E. She says they’re applying lessons learned earlier this fire season to the Butte Fire.

“We’ve got a fire down in the Fresno area — the Rough Fire — so we have lots of folks dedicated to that effort. And we absolutely take those lessons and apply them in these situations,” says Harrigan.
Currently at 30 percent contained, the Butte Fire started Wednesday afternoon. PG&E says power could be restored tonight.

Use Of Force Project

I collaborated with a reporter to collect and visualize data around use of force numbers among 22 law enforcement agencies in Sacramento. I ended up reporting on a web story on the lack of consistent data around use of force.

Experts: Data On Policing Practices Inconsistent Throughout U.S.
Calls for greater police accountability have grown louder in recent years. Yet experts say there’s not enough consistent data to get the full picture of policing practices in the U.S. and whether they’re unfair toward certain communities.

A Look At Use Of Force Data: 22 Law Enforcement Agencies
Capital Public Radio filed California Public Records Act requests for details on use of force incidents with 22 law enforcement agencies in the greater Sacramento region. We found each department tracks the data differently.

Sacramento Received More Water Waste Complaints Compared To Most Suppliers In California

I wrote and produced a spot story for broadcast. I also wrote the web story, created the tables and produced the map.

Story: Sacramento received 3,100 water waste complaints in the month of April — the most out of nearly 400 agencies in the state.

Even when taking into account population, Sacramento still ranks high for water complaints in April, according to the Department of Water Resources.

“I think the Sacramento community is more aware of what’s happening. We’ve done a great job of educating the public,” says Rhea Serran, a spokeswoman with the Utilities Department.

She says that focus on education has resulted in a more vigilant public.

“They have been very helpful to let us know what’s happening in their communities and, but we also want to embrace that it’s not just about them letting us know that their neighbor is watering, but they’re educating themselves on ways that they can save water in and out of their home,” she says.

Water Waste Complaints

Undocumented Students Find A ‘Safe Space’ At UC Davis Center

I wrote and produced this story for broadcast and for the website. Full story here.

Story:  A bill that passed the Assembly Wednesday would require some of California’s public colleges to create resource centers for the state’s growing number of undocumented students. Advocates say a center that opened at UC Davis last Fall could serve as a model.

UC Davis sophomore Jesus Flores Rodriguez is a typical college student. He just finished three midterm papers by pulling an all-nighter.

“I’m a strong believer in that you have to get at least one hour of sleep to be efficient throughout the day, but I had to get my work done,” he says.

He always has enough energy for his internship at the AB 540 and Undocumented Student Center. AB 540 is a 2001 state law that allows in-state tuition for anyone who attends a California high school for three years, among other requirements.

Rodriguez’s job is to work with high school students, with uncertain immigration status, make the transition to college. Being undocumented himself, he understands that students have many questions.

“You’re dealing with financial circumstances, and at the same time, it’s academic,” says Rodriguez, a double major in political science and psychology. “A center specifically for undocumented students is necessary in that, other resource centers, as much as they provide, it’ll never fill that gap for undocumented students.” ……. MORE HERE

Two Deputies Dead, Suspects Captured In Shootings Of Three Officers And One Civilian

When two deputies were shot in Sacramento County, I started this blog on CapRadio.org. As the manhunt for the suspect continued through the afternoon, I kept this story updated with the latest information. Read the full story here.

Oct. 24, 2014 – Original blog post:  The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is searching for two suspects they say is involved in the shootings of three deputies in Sacramento and Placer Counties Friday.

Police believe two heavily armed suspects, a man and a woman, were involved in the shooting of a deputy near the intersection of Arden Way and Ethan Way after 10 a.m. in the parking lot of the Motel 6.

Lisa Bowman with the Sheriffs’ department says the deputy was investigating what he considered to be a suspicious vehicle. She says as the deputy approached, someone inside the vehicle fired multiple rounds.

Three subsequent carjackings were reported following the shooting.

The suspects are believed to have carjacked a vehicle at Howe and Spanos Court, another on Dornajo Way and a third on Castec. Bowman says one of the carjacking victims was shot and is in surgery.

Authorities were looking for the last known vehicle that the suspects were in — a Red Ford F-150 with license plate 8J34411.

The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department say the red ford pickup may have been found in the city of Auburn. A search is underway near the American River Canyon Overlook Park, according to multiple media reports.

Medical Advocate Explains Viral Post On $55K Appendectomy Bill

I wrote this story after seeing a post on Reddit go viral. Original story posted here.

Story: Last week, a Reddit post by a man, who claims he was charged more than $55,000 for an apendectomy at Sutter Health General Hospital in Sacramento, went viral.

The man claims the procedure amounted to $55,029.31. Luckily, he is on his father’s insurance and most of the bill would be paid for. Still, the 20-year-old finds himself responsible for paying a $11,119.53 bill.

The post, which was picked up by national news and swirled around social media sites, garnered tens of thousands of comments and sparked debate about the high cost of care  in the United States.

zcypher: … $11,119.53 is still a ton at this time in my life…

I think you can see how outrageous some of these costs are. Such as the Recovery Room that I was in for maybe two hours. Or the Room and Board that I had for one night. Or maybe the $4,500 worth of anesthesia they supposedly used on me.

Pat Palmer, founder of the Medical Billing Advocates of America, says the situation described by the Reddit poster is a common one. Palmer explains the appendectomy bill in question is actually just a summary and hides additional charges that a patient could dispute.

“It’s not uncommon to see these prices,” says Palmer. “He’s received a bill $55,000 and he has no clue what he’s paying for.”

For example, the hospital charged the man about $6,000 for medical and surgical supplies. But, Palmer says, routine supplies and equipment are not billable items and would be factored into the price for the operating room — already a separate charge of about $16,000. Essentially, the patient might be paying twice for certain equipment, she says.

0103_Sutter Health

Image via zcypher / Reddit

In response to the post, Sutter Health released a statement saying there are many factors contributing to the cost of care including having to pay for patients who cannot pay for themselves, the investments needed for facilities and salaries for employees.

In addition, a Sutter Health spokeswoman told the Sacramento Business Journal that health care pricing is a complex issue that cannot be fully explained in social media.

Sutter Health does acknowledge that billing structures need to be improved.

Sutter Health agrees that an improved billing structure is needed in our nation’s hospitals—where published charges are more closely aligned with actual costs. And a more straightforward pricing system is only possible when reimbursement from government-sponsored patients covers actual costs.

Palmer advises consumers in a similar position to ask the hospital for an itemized bill and possibly enlist the help of a medical billing advocate to challenge the charges. An advocate would charge a percentage of the savings that a patient might get in the dispute.

Other Reddit users chimed in with their own nightmare experiences with medical bills.

Bigpulve: I had the unfortunate luck to have cancer when I was 20. I had no insurance due to taking a year off from college, so my parents didn’t cover me any longer. By the end of 2009 I was looking at 150k of bills, praying Medicaid came through. They did and paid everything in full. Though cancer stuff doesn’t stop when treatments over. After 09 I still racked up 50k in bills from scans, visits, blood work etc. I was forced to declare bankruptcy at 24 due to it.

ABC News, which picked up the story about the Reddit post, said researchers from the University of California San Francisco conducted a study in April and found that an appendectomy in the state can cost anywhere between $1,529 and $182,955. The researchers told ABC News that the huge variation in costs depends on the hospitals.A new study by National Nurses United, a nurses’ union, found some hospitals charge hundreds of dollars more than the actual cost of services provided.

On Monday, it was announced that a petition to put a healthcare pricing initiative on the ballot is circulating. The measure would prevent hospitals from charging more than 25 percent above the estimated cost of services provided to patients.

CapRadio.org: Disc Golf Helps Transform McClatchy Park

I produced the web and radio story about this Disc Golf course in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood.

0224 disc golf

Disc Golf Helps Transform McClatchy Park

On Saturday, the City of Sacramento will unveil a renovation project it hopes will improve one of Sacramento’s troubled neighborhood parks. One feature added two years ago has had a positive impact. It wasn’t a new basketball court or soccer field. It was a golf course . More specifically a disc golf course.

KQED State of Health: On-Campus Clinics, a Safety Net for Neighborhood Children

Fourteen-year-old Andrea Vizcarra visited her San Diego middle school’s health center because of a bad cough. But the nurse she saw didn’t stop there. Vizcarra learned she also had high blood pressure.

Then Vizcarra got information and plenty of it. She says after talking with the nurse, she began eating more vegetables and fruits and looked into physical activities, such as running on a treadmill and boxing, so that she can avoid getting sick later in life.

“I don’t want to have a health problem,” she said, “when I can prevent it right now.”

Vizcarra’s visit took place at Monroe Clark Middle School’s Health and Wellness Center, part of a network of K-12 on-campus clinics in San Diego that aims to make primary and preventive services accessible to children.

The network of centers grew out of a partnership between The California Endowment, Price Charities and two well-established community clinics: La Maestra Community Health Centers and Mid-City Community Clinic.

Together, these organizations mapped out a section in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood which include a high school, two middle schools and 10 elementary schools all within walking distance from one another. From there, they created a plan to provide health coverage to every child living in the area, from birth to age 17.

Two of the schools — Rosa Parks Elementary and Hoover High School — already had clinics. Monroe Clark’s clinic opened last year and Central Elementary School in 2010.  At all the health centers, children receive medical care with no co-pay.

“We’re establishing a whole system of care,” said Steven Eldred, with The California Endowment. ”It’s not just a clinic, but schools become a point of entry to a comprehensive safety net of services.”

The health centers at Central and Monroe Clark look just like any other community clinic. Patients can be treated for the flu, minor injuries or a sudden asthma attack. But there is also a focus on preventive services including immunizations, well-baby checkups and education for patients on managing chronic conditions.

“We’re trying to be proactive rather than be reactive. Once you have a disease, you have to respond and treat, but what we’re trying to do is prevent disease,” said Dorothy Zirkle, director of health services for Price Charities.

Doctors and nurses team with a school nurse, who acts as a care coordinator for ailing students.

In a community like City Heights, where a large portion of the population are immigrants and refugees, the school nurse is a trusted figure who can help families navigate the health care system, according to Zirkle.

The centers become a medical home for the students and their siblings.

“You’re able to invest more on patients, and you get to see them back,“ said KT Helgesen, a nurse practitioner with La Maestra Community Health Centers. “It helps build that credibility and that professional relationship with them. “

Patients also tap into mental health resources. If a nurse practitioner suspects a stomach ache or headache is related to an emotional issue, such as a troubled home life, the child is referred to a psychologist.

“Having a coordinated school health program … is about making sure a child has all aspects of their lives positively impacted,” said Andrea Karp, a psychologist with Mid-City Community Clinic.

Part of that coordinated approach includes nutrition education. A nutritionist comes to Central once a week to talk with overweight and underweight children — as well as their families — about food and proper exercise.  At Monroe Clark Middle School, the team works with children who are obese by checking on them on a monthly basis.

Donna Magden, a school nurse at Monroe Clark, said just the presence of the clinics has made a difference.

“I think everybody is just more aware of wellness and health by having the clinic on site,” she said.

The health centers are already making an impact, advocates say. They say that attendance is up at Central since its center opened in 2010 because kids do not have to skip classes to see a doctor and instead can get immediate medical care for minor issues at the school.

“The child spends less time missing school and spends a lot more time in the classroom,” said Helgesen.

Putting health clinics at schools is not a new phenomenon. But their role as a safety net in some communities is growing.

In late 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced  the release of $80 million to school-based health center programs across the country. An additional clinic will be added within the 13-school cluster in City Heights by the end of 2013.

Original story published here.

HealthyCal.org: Oakland teens learn, teach nonviolence

Long known as one of the most violent cities in California, Oakland is taking a novel step to try to reduce crime: empowering children to train one another in violence prevention.

A non-profit program trains high school students and then deploys them to middle schools in the city to talk to younger students about guns, gangs and unhealthy relationships. The hope is that a message of non-violence will have more impact coming from fellow teens.

Teens on Target is an initiative led by the Oakland-based group, Youth Alive! Each year, 30 students at Castlemont Community of Small Schools study violence prevention before fanning out around the city to spread their gospel.

On a recent afternoon, students in an East Oakland classroom flipped through magazines searching for words to snip out of the pages. They cut out the words “Survival Guide,” “Beautiful,” and “50 reasons to have hope,” ready to be put into a collage. The idea was to find the right words and images to describe what they had learned over the past year.

In a city that consistently ranks high in homicides and violent crimes – there were 103 murders in Oakland in 2011, an increase from 90 the previous year – Teens on Target is one effort that advocates say is helping curb violence through education, advocacy and community building.

“(In the classroom), kids usually talk about history, math,” said Caheri Gutierrez, a violence prevention educator with Teens on Target. “We come in and we give them a space to talk about real stuff, real issues that are going on.”

In the first semester, participants delve into what causes violence, listen to speakers who have lost loved ones and talk about the city’s crime statistics. The teens also are trained in public speaking and encouraged to examine how violence has affected their lives.

During the second part of the school year, the teens move out to middle schools to hold workshops about the different types of violence and ways to prevent it.

It’s a win-win for all students involved, advocates say. The high school students, who are compensated with a small stipend, gain professional and development skills, as well as self-confidence.

“Once you’re in front of the kids, they’re all listening to you, so that makes me feel like I’m a good influence,” said Marianne Williams, a junior with Teens on Target. “No matter what’s going on at home, no matter what’s going on at school, it’s something I can look forward to doing, and you feel good.”

Meanwhile, the middle schoolers are more apt to take in the message of staying away from guns, gangs and drugs when it comes from older peers.

Middle school is the point at which kids decide what they’re going to be like in high school,” said Jennifer Almendarez, a junior. “It’s more likely they’ll listen to you because you’re actually in high school … you’re not just another adult pushing them around.”

Teens on Target was established in 1989 and has been recognized by both national and local leaders. It’s one of the three components of Youth Alive!

Since the early 1990s, Teens on Target has trained as many 830 students and presented the curriculum to more than 40,000 young people in Oakland and Los Angeles.

Demetria Huntsman, program coordinator for Teens on Target, said many of the students have experienced trauma in their lives but aren’t comfortable sharing that trauma, identifying it and seeking help.

She said students learn about decision-making and ways to alter behaviors – for example, staying away from people who carry guns – in order to stay safe.

“Anytime you hang out with anybody carrying a gun you are three times more likely to be injured by a gun. Period. That’s a statistical fact,” Huntsman said. “That statistic doesn’t say you love this person any less…but it is a true fact, and so now you have to make healthy decisions based off of that statistic.”

The high-schoolers also use their own stories to get the message across.

Briana Dunn, a senior and participant of Teens on Target, is a victim of gun violence. At the beginning of the academic year, while waiting for a bus after school, she was shot in the foot. Another boy, the primary target of the shooting, was also injured.

“I’ve seen violence in movies before but I never thought I would be in that position,” Dunn said.

Recovery is ongoing for Dunn. At nights, when she hears gunshots in the distance, her anxieties come back and it brings her to the moment when the bullet hit. But she says being part of Teens on Target and telling her story to middle schoolers has made her deal with the trauma.

Overall homicide rates declined in Oakland between 2007 and 2010. But 2011 saw a spike in murders compared to the previous year. Out of the 103 homicides in the city last year, about half of the victims were under 25 years old. Nearly all of those incidents involved a firearm.

What made 2011 particularly tragic were three instances in which the shooting victims included kids under five years old. The deaths sparked outrage within the community. They also became a part of discussions within Teens on Target.

“We’re not in a bubble of this violence prevention curriculum, we are really conscious of and are focused on (what’s going on) in the community,” Huntsman said.

The root cause of violence in the city, especially acute in the West and East Oakland neighborhoods, is hard to pinpoint, advocates say.

Huntsman said many of the high school and middle school students she talks to have stories of loved ones being shot or family members becoming victims of violent crimes. But the most disturbing of these stories are ones about how easy it is for kids to access guns.

“If you ask them who in here can get a gun, in five minutes, all of them will raise their hands,” she said. “It’s a reality that lets us know how prevalent weapons are.”

That prevalence is what Teens on Target is trying to fight against.

“To them, that’s just the way it is,” Huntsman said. “Once you educated them on all of these different areas of violence, they definitely become connected to the root causes and see that those causes really can be changed. It may not happen in their lifetime, it might take more work than they might have perceived, but it is possible.”

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