City, Homeless Advocates Clash Over Sacramento’s Camping Ban

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

STORY: Despite several arrests over the weekend, activists demanding the repeal of Sacramento’s camping ordinance, are back in front of city hall to continue their protest. They say many of Sacramento’s homeless are forced to sleep outside illegally. One man talks about the consequences of the camping ban for those like him, who have nowhere else to go.

Anthony Rodriguez, 48, faces a conundrum each night. He’s homeless and sleeps in a tent along Arden Creek in North Sacramento. But according to a Sacramento ordinance, laying out camping gear for consecutive nights within city limits is illegal.

He says he has no choice but to camp each night with his partner and their pet chihuahua.

“I don’t want to be out there in the cold, it’s not nice,” he says. “But like I said, some of us have to do what we got to do.”



Despite Increased Visibility, Challenges Persists For Transgender Community

I wrote and produced this story for broadcast and for 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 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. 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.