- California Healthline Original Stories 4
- Senate Approves Landmark Mental Health Bill As Part Of 21st Century Cures Act
- Grab Bag Of Goodies In 21st Century Cures Act
- Slowing Down Hospital Discharge Requires Fast Action
- Delivered 'Like A Pizza': Why Killer Drug Fentanyl Is So Hard To Stop
- Public Health and Education 3
- S.F. Taps Into Underutilized Federal Funds To Help Disabled Homeless
- Light Therapy Offers Flicker Of Hope For Alzheimer's Patients
- Obesity Epidemic Linked To Drop In U.S. Life Expectancy For First Time In Decades
- Quality 1
- Turning Patients Into Profit: Psychiatric Hospital Chain Under Fire For Questionable Practices
- Women's Health 1
- In Culture Shifting Toward Bottles, Some Moms Who Want To Breast Feed Are Struggling
Latest From California Healthline:
The U.S. Senate passed a landmark bill to help millions of Americans suffering from mental illness. (Liz Szabo, 12/7)
A breakdown of winners — and a few losers — in the sprawling Cures Act approved by the House. (Sydney Lupkin and Steven Findlay, 12/7)
Seniors who feel they’re being rushed out of the hospital can file an appeal to halt the process but they need to act fast. (Judith Graham, 12/8)
Just a few grains of pure fentanyl is enough to kill most users. But law enforcement sources say stopping the supply of the deadly synthetic opioid from China and Mexico is very difficult. (Martha Bebinger, WBUR, 12/8)
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Summaries Of The News:
The scale is based on factors such as mortality rate, infections caused at the hospital, wait times for care and the efficiency of call centers.
San Diego Union-Tribune:
San Diego VA Hospital Is A 3 Out Of 5 In Secret Rating System
The San Diego VA health care system is a three out of five on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ own rating scale. The VA’s rating system, which has been secretly in place for several years, was revealed in a USA Today story on Wednesday after the newspaper obtained internal VA documents. ... In California, the Los Angeles VA health care system was the lowest performer, with a one rating. Only 10 of the VA’s more than 140 health care systems scored the lowest rating. Seventeen facilities rated a five — none of them in California. The bulk of VA medical systems scored twos and threes. (Steele, 12/7)
Internal Documents Detail Secret VA Quality Ratings
The Department of Veterans Affairs has for years assigned star ratings for each of its medical centers based on the quality of care and service they provide, but the agency has repeatedly refused to make them public, saying they are meant for internal use only. USA TODAY has obtained internal documents detailing the ratings, and they show the lowest-performing medical centers are clustered in Texas and Tennessee. (Slack, 12/7)
San Francisco has committed counselors, doctors and lawyers to its sweeping efforts to get more people enrolled with the Supplemental Security Income program.
San Francisco Chronicle:
For San Francisco's Disabled Homeless, Federal Benefits Remain Elusive
As cities like San Francisco struggle to fight homelessness, SSI represents a critical pot of money that can help save people from the streets while significantly relieving local budgets. But across California, thousands of people who are homeless or living in temporary housing are not enrolled in SSI even though they are likely eligible because of a disability, including mental illness. (Alexander, 12/6)
In other news —
Did The Emptying Of Mental Hospitals Contribute To Homelessness?
Earlier this year, we asked for your questions on homelessness. More than 1,300 of you responded and we answered many of your questions in our first round of reporting. There was one topic that kept coming up again and again as we sorted your questions. This week on the podcast, we answer listener Debbie Ow’s question: “Is the situation as bad as it is because of the closure of mental health facilities in our state?” (Placzek, 12/8)
Four-Legged Medical Care Helps San Francisco’s Homeless
The saying “dogs are a man’s best friend” is just a phrase, but to those living on the streets and battling housing insecurity, it can be the honest truth. For people who are contending with homelessness, their companion animals are the world to them. They are their family, their children and their sense of security. But getting proper medical care for their animals can often be even harder than getting it for themselves. (Hosea-Small, 12/7)
Research has shown that immune cells that are a key part of the brain’s cleanup crew can be activated by flickering lights.
Los Angeles Times:
Flickering Lights May Illuminate A Path To Alzheimer's Treatment
New research demonstrates that, in mice whose brains are under attack by Alzheimer’s dementia, exposure to lights that flicker at a precise frequency can right the brain’s faulty signaling and energize its immune cells to fight off the disease. Light therapy for Alzheimer’s is miles from being ready to treat patients — even those with the earliest signs of the disease. But the new research has already prompted creation of a start-up company — Cognito Therapeutics Inc. — to approach the Food and Drug Administration about clinical trials, and to explore ways to deliver precisely calibrated flickers of light to human research subjects. (Healy, 12/7)
In other public health news —
Los Angeles Times:
Scientists Find Antibody That Hinders The Spread Of Certain Cancer Cells
Researchers in Spain have taken a key step in unraveling one of nature’s most malignant mysteries: How do cancerous tumor cells that establish a beachhead in one organ strike out in search of new territory to colonize? And more important, how might they be stopped? (Healy, 12/7)
Death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death.
Los Angeles Times:
Life Expectancy In The U.S. Was 36.5 Days Shorter In 2015 Than In 2014
The final numbers for 2015 are in and it’s now official: Life expectancy for Americans was shorter last year than it was the year before. A person born in the U.S. in 2015 could expect to live 78.8 years, on average. That’s 0.1 years — or 36.5 days — less than in 2014. The main reason for this decline is that eight of the nation’s 10 leading causes of death were deadlier in 2015 than in years past, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease and suicide all claimed more lives last year. (Kaplan, 12/8)
The Wall Street Journal:
Nation’s Death Rate Rises As Progress Against Heart Disease Stalls
Americans are dying from heart disease at a faster rate, stalling four decades of gains against the nation’s leading killer and driving up the U.S. mortality rate overall. The death rate from heart disease rose 0.9% last year, according to U.S. mortality data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death rate also rose 3% for stroke, the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Both changes, which researchers tie in large part to the rise in obesity and diabetes, helped push life expectancy down by one-tenth of a percentage point, to 78.8 years, according to the CDC. (McKay and Winslow, 12/8)
Republicans have been floating the idea to overhaul Medicare, while Democrats vow to defend it.
San Francisco Chronicle:
Democrats Relish Coming Battle Over Medicare
Democrats spoiling for a new fight after Donald Trump’s shocking presidential victory last month may have found the one they wanted. With Trump’s inauguration still six weeks away, Republicans already are promising to use their total control of Congress and the presidency to make major changes to Medicare, which for more than 50 years has paid health care costs for millions of seniors — Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats are convinced that fighting against changes in the iconic insurance program would put them on the side of the angels with many of the nation’s aging voters. (Wildermuth, 12/7)
Democrats Vow To Fight 'Tooth And Nail' Against Medicare Cuts
Democratic leaders on Wednesday vowed to fight “tooth and nail” against any Republican push to change Medicare so that it relies more on private insurers. “I say to my Republican colleagues: Turn back because we will fight you on this tooth and nail. We will win. You will lose,” Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the incoming Democratic leader said at a press conference. He was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), as well as liberal groups that were delivering to Republican leaders a petition against Medicare cuts with over 1 million signatures. (Sullivan, 12/7)
A BuzzFeed investigation reveals the extent to which Universal Health Services employees say they were told to go to maximize profits for America's largest psychiatric hospital chain.
Locked On The Psych Ward
A yearlong BuzzFeed News investigation — based on interviews with 175 current and former UHS staff, including 18 executives who ran UHS hospitals; more than 120 additional interviews with patients, government investigators, and other experts; and a cache of internal documents — raises grave questions about the extent to which those profits were achieved at the expense of patients. Current and former employees from at least 10 UHS hospitals in nine states said they were under pressure to fill beds by almost any method — which sometimes meant exaggerating people’s symptoms or twisting their words to make them seem suicidal — and to hold them until their insurance payments ran out. (Adams, 12/7)
“It’s a lot more difficult than what it looks like," one woman said.
A New Mother's Dilemma: Help With Breast-Feeding Not Always There
Lactation consultant Vicki Wolfrum, who died in October, said we no longer live in a breast-feeding culture. “Most young women giving birth today have only seen bottle-feeding," she said. "And they only know about schedules, and they really don’t know what normal, natural, instinctual breast-feeding looks like. ”That’s why many new moms need help with breast-feeding. (Goldberg, 12/8)
“It’s kind of like – ‘Where’s your other half?’ It’s going to take a little getting used to," the girls' mother said following the procedure.
Conjoined Twins Erika And Eva Emerge From Marathon Surgery As Two Separate Girls
From one to two. In simplest terms, that was the jubilant result Wednesday for conjoined twins Eva and Erika Sandoval, who became two separate toddlers following a 17-hour marathon surgery at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. For their parents, Antelope residents Arturo and Aida Sandoval, it was an arduous ordeal, physically and emotionally, that encompassed tears, tension, prayers and hugs, along with the support of about 40 family members who gathered with them at the hospital. (Caiola and Buck, 12/7)
In other news from across the state —
Ventura County Star:
New County Hospital Wing Flooded In Ventura
Water that backed up through a sink Wednesday flooded an area that may surpass 5,000 square feet in a new wing being built at the Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura. The flooding occurred about 1:30 p.m. in the portion of the 122-bed wing that will house the emergency department, said Joan Arajujo, chief deputy director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency. The exact cause of the flooding is still being investigated. Tests will be conducted to make sure the water wasn't contaminated, but Araujo said she saw no visible evidence the flooding involved sewage. (Kisken, 12/7)
San Jose Mercury News:
Palo Alto Bans Smoking In Apartments, Condos
As part of a program to be administered and enforced by Santa Clara County, the city adopted upcoming rules for its 29 tobacco retailers that currently apply only to unincorporated areas. Such rules include a ban on tobacco containing additives — “an artificial or natural flavor or aroma,” such as strawberry, cinnamon, vanilla or mint, which county officials say is more enticing to youth and serves as a conduit to addiction. As part of the county’s effort to curb tobacco marketing aimed at youth, retailers in unincorporated areas cannot operate within 1,000 feet of a school. (Lee, 12/8)
San Jose Mercury News:
Marijuana Grower Eddy Lepp Released From Federal Prison After 10-Year Sentence
Free after eight years of federal imprisonment, one of the nation’s most celebrated cannabis convicts came home to California on Wednesday, walking off a United Airlines flight into the warm embrace of supporters — and a profoundly changed world. Charles “Eddy” Lepp, a defiant 64-year-old Vietnam vet and ordained Rastafarian minister, was convicted on federal felony charges in 2007 for doing something that California now considers legal because of last month’s passage of Proposition 64: growing marijuana. (Krieger, 12/7)
The legislation increases funding for disease research, addresses weaknesses in the nation’s mental health systems and vastly alters the regulatory pipeline for drugs and medical devices.
Los Angeles Times:
Senate Passes $6.3-Billion Medical Research Bill And Sends To Obama
Sprawling legislation to increase federal support for medical research, mental healthcare and controlling the opioid epidemic cleared the Senate easily Wednesday and is headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature, delivering a rare bipartisan breakthrough in the waning days of his presidency. The $6.3-billion bill — known as the 21st Century Cures Act — won large majorities in the House and Senate despite warnings from some consumer groups that industry-sought provisions to speed approval of new drugs and medical devices jeopardize patient safety. (Levey, 12/7)
If the law is dismantled it could wipe out benefits and protections for millions of Americans with mental illnesses. In other news, advocates launch a campaign to try to save the Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare Repeal Could Be 'Akin To Armageddon' For People With Mental Illness
Millions of Americans, including many struggling with opioid addiction, risk losing access to mental health treatment if Republicans make good on their promise to do away with Obamacare. Full repeal of the health law would gut major benefits and protections for what HHS estimates is 60 million people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders — creating barriers to treatment at a time when opioid abuse is epidemic, suicide rates are at a record high and there's a severe shortage of psychiatric beds. (Ehley, 12/7)
Liberals Mount Campaign To Save Obamacare
Liberal groups plan to mount a campaign to save Obamacare, sharing the personal stories of thousands of Americans who would lose health insurance in a last-ditch effort to block Republicans’ agenda to gut the law early next year. The goal of the campaign is to take back the narrative from Republican critics who depict the law as a government boondoggle by spotlighting how it has helped millions of Americans who wouldn’t otherwise have health insurance. (Pradhan, 12/7)
In other national health care news —
The Washington Post:
Trump Takes Aim At Drug Companies: ‘I Don’t Like What Has Happened With Drug Prices’
Biotech and pharmaceutical stocks rose after the election, reflecting investor optimism that a Trump presidency would mean less focus on drug prices. Not so fast, president-elect Trump said in his interview for Time 'Person of the Year.' “I’m going to bring down drug prices,” Trump told Time in an interview in his dining room after the election. “I don’t like what has happened with drug prices.” (Johnson, 12/7)
Trump Weighing FDA Chief Who Would Radically Change The Rules
President-elect Donald Trump is weighing naming as Food and Drug Administration commissioner a staunch libertarian who has called for eliminating the agency’s mandate to determine whether new medicines are effective before approving them for sale. “Let people start using them, at their own risk,” the candidate, Jim O’Neill, said in a 2014 speech to a biotech group. O’Neill, has also called for paying organ donors and setting up libertarian societies at sea — and has said he was surprised to discover that FDA regulators actually enjoy science and like working to fight disease. (Kaplan, 12/7)