Tag Archives: California

How wildfires can threaten your health

By the time Thomas Dailey woke up on Tuesday, smoke from the Mendocino Complex Fire had drifted 150 miles south to his pulmonary practice in Santa Clara, staining the sunrise blood red.

For many Californians, the crimson sky was another reminder of the 19 wildfires burning across the state, a larger and more destructive threat than in recent years. It could become the worst fire season in state history.

info graphic for article, How wildfires can threaten your healthFor Dailey, a pulmonologist who has treated asthma patients for 29 years, it also signaled a growing health risk for his patients and the public. As wildfires burn through forests, vegetation and homes, they expel smoke and toxic pollutants, sending fine particulate matter into the air.

“It’s pretty sobering as soon as you see that,” said Dailey, whose asthma patients at his Santa Clara office recently began complaining about tightness of breath when they go outside. “You know there’s a lot of particulates in the air.”


A push for mental health care at colleges: Depression and anxiety ‘really eat up our kids’

Felicia Mello, CALmatters

When student leaders from 23 California State University campuses came together last fall to set priorities for the academic year, improving campus mental health services received more nominations than any other issue. It beat out even that perennial concern, tuition costs.

Cal State Student Association president Maggie White said she’s not surprised.

“We’re seeing wait times at counseling centers that are exceeding two or three weeks, people turned away after a few appointments because they’ve exceeded the maximum allotment, and students not feeling comfortable going to counselors because no one looks like them or reflects their experience,” White said.

graph showing California college enrollment related to demand for mental health services

As the stigma attached to mental health care fades, California students are increasingly clamoring for more on-campus services that can help them cope with anxiety, depression and the stresses of a contentious political climate and rising living expenses. Several bills pending in the California Legislature would set aside resources for mental health care at the state’s public colleges and universities.

Mental health advocates say on-campus care is especially important because people often first experience psychological problems during their young adult years.

“It’s so much the age when serious mental illness manifests itself, and here we have these institutions that could absolutely be identifying this early on,” said Deborah Anderluh, a spokesperson for the Steinberg Institute, which lobbies for more funding for mental health treatment.


California online community college announces first health care pathway


California’s health care providers have a workforce challenge. The state is going to need 11,000 medical coders between now and 2024—that’s about 1,600 job openings a year.

keyboard graphic for article, California online community college announces first health care pathwayThe proposed California online community college has announced its first partnership to establish a program pathway in the health care industry to meet needs like more coders.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare West & Joint Employer Education Fund met with reporters Tuesday to discuss the agreement.

The statewide online community college has been proposed by Governor Brown to help California’s stranded workers, those who lack job credentials and skills because they are unable to attend colleges because of family and work responsibilities.

If approved by the Legislature this summer, the college is expected to be activated by 2019.

Medical coders start at $30 per hour and can make as much as $50 per hour. Their task includes reviewing medical charts and assigning codes for insurance billing.

“These are attractive jobs to enter the health care industry,” said Rebecca Hanson of the SEIU UHW-West & Joint Employer Education Fund.

Lorraine Maisonet of Elk Grove, California was on the conference call. She works for Dignity Health and commutes two hours to work every day. She doesn’t have time to go to school but indicated that an online college would let her learn at her own speed when she could.

Alma Hernandez is the executive director of SEIU California, which represents more than 700,000 members. She said that many workers are stuck in dead-end jobs and don’t have access to the education opportunities that are already available. She also pointed out that the for-profit colleges that offer similar certificate programs are expensive and often result in workers being in debt.

“This is responding to the needs of California workers,” she said.

Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley indicated that the system is working on other pathways as the system focuses on how to help California workers improve their economic mobility and rebuild the state’s middle class.


California’s Quest for Healthy Eating Habits in the Workplace

By Cindy Baker | 01/12/12 12:00 AM PST

cup of pencils with a bananna California’s doctors are pushing the new year forward with some freshly developed workplace nutrition standards that could potentially change the way state workers and their families “treat” themselves throughout 2012 and beyond.
The 35,000-member California Medical Association, the doctors’ statewide lobbying and communications arm, has long sought better eating habits in California schools, offices and work spaces. Now, CMA’s Sacramento-based headquarters has decided to tackle the state’s nutrition issues at its own front door.
Rather than stocking ubiquitous vending machines with the familiar candy bars, cookies, chips and other heart-stopping treats, the CMA will provide its own employees with fresh, health-conscious fruit and vegetable-based snacks. In fact, the vending machine is being tossed out entirely. The association hopes the change catches on statewide.

“We’re always advocating for public health,” says CMA spokeswoman Molly Weedn. “This is a new year and with the introduction of new legislation and new laws, this is a good place to start.”

The decision for the entire CMA office to switch from sugary staples to natural nourishment has literally been an “organic” process.  What started as CEO Dustin Corcoran’s private interest in promoting a healthy lifestyle for his own family has slowly grown into a carefully thought-out investment within his work environment, too.

“First we did it at home and my kids really like it,” says Corcoran. “We want to set a healthy example. For the CMA, it just occurred to me that that’s part of what our mission is. It seems very logical that we ought to walk the walk.”

Once a week, the locally-based company Farm Fresh To You will be delivering fruit and vegetable baskets that are meant to encourage “free-range snacking” for CMA employees. The delivery service is widely available to many northern California home and business sites, offering a variety of options in quantity and frequency of delivery. Particular requests for certain kinds of shipments are possible, but are greatly based on seasonal availability, which has forced some culinary creativity.

“It just looks cool,” adds Weedn. “We get a big basket of fresh new things in and wonder what we’re getting next. People get excited!”

But trying to get California’s growing waistline to trim down isn’t exactly a new item on the state’s menu.
In 2003, then-Sen. Deborah Ortiz developed the California Childhood Obesity Prevention Act that was intended to ban sodas, high fructose juices and other “sugar drinks” from all high school, middle and elementary school campus vending machines within the state. But in a watered-down version of itself, the act was approved into law the following year after high schools were made exempt from this new law.

“We know that there have been efforts made in the past when it comes to promoting healthy eating,” says Weedn.  “And CMA actively works with other groups like the California Center for Public Health Advocacy to take a look at some of the existing legislative efforts.  We want to extend these kinds of ideas to other community members and organizations in the greater Capitol network. We want to challenge what’s possible.”

The prohibition of trans-fat, caloric menu labeling and even statewide requirements regarding individual food service handler registration are all consumption-related legislation created by California lawmakers just within the last few years.
Some may say that the litigious and social influence to eat better is stronger than ever. But the vending machine industry isn’t backing down to this kind of legal pressure. If anything they’re embracing it.

“It’s not surprising when some groups decide to collectively make healthy choices for their office,” says National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) spokeswoman Jackie Clark. “But there’s also been a huge movement for having foods available (in a vending machine) that are better for you.”

Clark is quick to point out that the vending industry wants people to be making more healthful choices as an afternoon snack. While trends for healthy eating come and go, NAMA has worked to form nationally-recognized nutrition standards including the “35-10-35” program, the “Balanced for Life” Initiative and the “Fit Pick Program” as just some of the ways that vending machine organizations can compete with consumers changing dietary needs.

“It’s not the machines themselves, it’s what you put in them,” continues Clark. “You can still have healthy living incorporated within the workplace, but there are lots of reasons to use vending machines to do so.”

In fact, vending machines have come a long way.  Clark says today’s automatic dispensaries are the most “green option” available, noting that the majority of machines are as energy-efficient as ever.  They can properly store a wide variety of sustainable choices for the finicky palate. “We also have over 2,000 organizations who actively utilize our programs with over 30,000 machines in use,” says Clark. “That provides jobs for a lot of people.”

The CMA recognizes the role that vending machines and their suppliers can play within California’s struggling economy.  But by utilizing the proximity of local farms and the freshness and availability of their wares, CMA’s CEO believes its office is making the right choice.
“We consider this a long-term investment in our people,” adds Corcoran.  “It might cost more to have fresh, healthy food delivered than it would be to stock up on chips, cookies, candy and whatnot. Sometimes that’s what people go to because that’s all that’s available. But this is cost-effective for how we operate; it’s a value to offer these kinds of alternatives to our employees.”

This kind of inner-office change isn’t meant to fulfill any kind of collective resolution for the new year; it’s a small but serious step to change people’s lives. Some CMA employees are already seeing the results. Nick Birtcil is taking this new eating alternative to the next level and making it part of his everyday life. In the few months that he’s decided to make the change, Birtcil has already lost 40 pounds.

“I’ve been overweight my entire life,” sighs Birtcil. “As I got older, I started getting all of the problems that come with being a big guy – the heartburn, fatigue, high blood pressure, it all goes together. One day I went to give blood and I wasn’t allowed to, my blood pressure was too high. I couldn’t do it and I’m only 24. I finally realized that something has got to change. ”

After an “immediate” increase of healthier dietary choices, along with consistently tracking his caloric intake and regular trips to the gym, Birtcil is excited about his 2012. He even has a chart in the shape of his former self in his CMA workspace so that his coworkers can track his results. “Everybody has been really encouraging and it’s extremely helpful to see CMA moving in a direction that gets rid of the junk food, that moves towards fresher options,” says Birtcil.

“Just having the fruit there and not having a vending machine full of bad choices is extremely motivating. Our group always advocates healthy living. Now we’re talking the talk and walking the walk,” he said.

It’s not easy to make personal changes, let alone keep an entire office accountable, but it’s worth the effort.

“It’s been exciting and inspirational to be on this journey,” concludes Corcoran. “To have the Capitol community rally around something like this … I think it’s cool.”

California DWC Launches JET File!

photo of a California Deptarment of Workers' Compensation jet aircraft
Get me to court on time!

The Division of Workers’ Compensation debuts a new fast, flexible and reliable electronic filing option for the workers’ compensation courts called, “JET File.” Designed and built in conjunction with external users for those annually filing 100 or more of any one of the six most common court forms, JET File offers many advantages for claims administrators, representatives, lien claimants and self-insured employers. JET File will also produce a broader impact on the workers’ compensation courts by reducing the amount of paper received at the division’s 24 district offices.

“It is important to encourage more participation in electronic filing as a way to improve the efficiency of EAMS and the service we provide,” said Christine Baker, acting director of the Department of Industrial Relations. “In talking with our constituents and stakeholders, it was clear that we had the same goals, and these mutual interests resulted in working together to make JET File a reality.”

DWC has built the receiving end of this new filing option and large filers can now decide how to connect to it by choosing one of three JET streams:

  • JET stream 1: Use vendor developed software. In this stream filers purchase software from an authorized vendor and use that software to JET File directly
  • JET stream 2: Use the services of a third party filer. In this stream filers use the services an authorized third party filer (TPF) who files on their behalf
  • JET stream 3: Create their own JET stream using technical specifications posted on the DWC Web site. Users of this stream create their own JET Filing mechanism so they don’t need to buy software or use a TPF. This is for the tech savvy entities that want maximum control of their filings.

In addition to breaking the paper barrier by eliminating associated wait times and costs, benefits for JET Filers include:

  • Ability to submit one or many documents in a single transmission
  • Receive electronic response of success or errors
  • Receive case number electronically upon successful submission of an application
  • Holds and reprocesses DORs for up to 15 days to get a court date
  • Use OCR forms or e-forms (if in the e-forms trial) as needed.

Continue reading California DWC Launches JET File!

Heat Illness Training is Front Burner in CA

A heat index chart

Heat Illness Prevention in Agriculture Gets Focus in California

Cal/OSHA, the Nisei Farmers League, and 23 other agricultural organizations are teaming up for this years “Heat Illness Prevention in Agriculture” training events.
The free sessions began recently in Fresno, Calif., and will continue throughout the spring and summer at locations across the state. The goal is to reduce heat- related fatalities and gain a greater level of compliance in the agriculture community through training programs for growers, farm labor contractors, and supervisors.
The training will provide information about employers responsibilities under Californias Heat Illness Prevention Standard and will explain changes made to the regulation last August that are now in effect.
Cal/OSHA said its outreach, education, and enforcement have led to a measurable increase in the number of employers who are complying with the regulations, up from 35 percent in 2006, to 76 percent in 2010. As a result, heat- related deaths have declined from 12 in 2005 to two last year.
John Duncan, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal/OSHA, said the heat illness prevention outreach effort is one of the most successful safety education efforts in Cal/OSHAs history.
It is clear that our heat illness training and enforcement efforts are saving lives and resulting in increased compliance among employers,” Duncan said. “Our efforts thus far have laid the groundwork to carry this training initiative forward and to expand this type of collaboration into other industries. These efforts will continue until we reach everyone who works out in the fields, on construction sites, anywhere out in the elements.”
Cal/OSHA and its partners in agriculture conducted more than two dozen heat illness prevention training seminars in California last year. Some 1,600 agriculture employers and supervisors attended the training events that are held in both English and Spanish. Those employers passed the information on to an estimated 400,000 workers.
Every year since we have been offering this training, we find more farm supervisors and labor contractors complying with heat illness regulations. More employers are giving the provision to workers of water, shade, and training the full attention it needs,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh. “There is no doubt this outreach effort is having a positive impact, but we still have work to do in order to reach our goal of making worker safety and health have the prominence in workplace culture that we all want to see.”
In 2005, California became the first state to develop a safety and health regulation to protect workers from heat illness.

OSHA Seeks Employer Input On Adding ‘Ergonomics’ Column To Injury/Illness Logs

man in the ultimate ergonomic computer chair
Can I get one of these at Office Max?

Washington, DC (CompNewsNetwork) – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is seeking input from the business community on its proposal to add a column for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) on employer injury and illness logs, known as the form 300 log.OSHA is holding three teleconferences in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy to gather small business input on the proposal.

The proposal would require employers already mandated to keep injury and illness records to add the step of checking a column when recording work-related musculoskeletal disorders, also commonly known as ergonomic injuries.

Interested businesses that wish to participate in one of the teleconferences should contact Regina Powers at powers.regina@dol.gov by April 4 and indicate the teleconference in which they wish to participate.

Proposed Rule

The proposed rule covers only MSDs that employers already are required to record under the longstanding OSHA rule on recordkeeping.

Before 2001, OSHA’s injury and illness logs contained a column for repetitive trauma disorders that included hearing loss and many kinds of MSDs. In 2001, OSHA proposed separating hearing loss and MSDs into two columns, but the MSD column was deleted in 2003 before the provision went into effect. OSHA’s proposal would restore the MSD column to the Form 300.

Virtual Health Care May Be Better Than In-Office Visits

Doctor's hand reaching out of computer holding a stethoscopeA five-year study of HIV patients found a telehealth system, including a virtual pharmacy and community forums, to be as effective as in-office visits to the doctor. The study could mean increased virtual health care and cheaper medical costs around the world, especially for high-maintenance chronic illnesses such as HIV.

From autonomous robotic surgeries to advanced computerized diagnoses, many recent technological breakthroughs have benefited the medical industry and the patients it serves. Now, results from a five-year study have revealed an exciting conclusion: Virtual check-ups can be just as effective as, if not more than, in-office visits to the doctor.

In the study, a group of Barcelona-based physicians successfully treated 200 HIV patients via an online home care system called “Virtual Hospital.” The technology covers all aspects of managing the health of chronic HIV-infected patients, who require frequent and careful care. This month, PLoS One published the results, which found telehealth to be as effective as in-office visits.

Continue reading Virtual Health Care May Be Better Than In-Office Visits

Patients and Clinicians Must Share Healthcare Decisions, Say Experts

Clinicians have an ethical imperative to share important decisions with patients, and patients have a right to be equal participants in their care, say a group of experts.

doctor with mother and young son
So draw me a picture

In December 2010, 58 people from 18 countries attended a Salzburg Global Seminar to consider the role patients can and should play in healthcare decisions. Today, they publish a statement urging patients and clinicians “to work together to be co-producers of health.”

It comes as the government in England finalises plans to give people more say and more choice over their care than ever before.

The experts argue that much of the care patients receive is based on the ability and readiness of individual clinicians to provide it, rather than on widely agreed standards of best practice or patients’ preferences for treatment.

Results from the 2010 Cancer Patient Experience Survey seem to support this view. It found significant variations in the choice and information patients are given, and their involvement in decisions about treatment.

The experts also say that clinicians are often slow to recognise the extent to which patients’ wish to be involved in understanding their health problems, in knowing the options available to them, and in making decisions that take account of their personal preferences.

As such they call on clinicians to stimulate a two-way flow of information with patients, to provide accurate information about treatment, to tailor information to individual patient needs and allow them sufficient time to consider their options. In turn, they urge patients to ask questions and speak up about their concerns, to recognise that they have a right to be equal participants in their care, and to seek and use high-quality health information.

They also call on policymakers to adopt policies that encourage shared decision making and to support the development of skills and tools for shared decision making.

One of the signatories, Professor Glyn Elwyn from Cardiff University, says that despite considerable interest in shared decision making, and clear evidence of benefit, implementation within the NHS “has proved difficult and slow.”

Angela Coulter from the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making agrees and points to recent evidence showing that most patients want choice, but that many clinicians remain ambivalent or antagonistic to the idea. She believes the government’s new commitment to shared decision making presents a challenge to entrenched attitudes and the need for big change in practice styles.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


To Lose Weight & Prevent Stroke … Talk to Your Doctor Over Coffee


Back when smoking topped the list of America’s health woes, researchers found that smokers who had a brief conversation with a doctor — just a three minute chat that addressed their habit — were significantly more likely to quit.

Now the nation is smoking less, but a whopping two-thirds of Americans are overweight. Can doctors help patients shed weight, the way they have helped them kick cigarettes? A couple of recent papers suggest the answer is yes.

In one study, obese patients whose doctors talked to them about their weight did a better job at preventing further weight gain. In the other, patients who were told they were overweight by their physicians were more likely to want to do something about it.

However, fewer than half of overweight people and fewer than two-thirds of obese people in the second study had been told by their physicians that they wereoverweight.

“Physicians need to tell more overweight and obese patients that they are overweight,” the authors of the second study say. “This may help encourage them to change their behavior to lose weight and lower their risk for many diseases.”

So why aren’t more physicians talking to their patients about weight?

We asked Dr. David Katz, the founding director of Yale University Prevention Research Center, who told Shots some doctors feel it just isn’t their place. They aren’t confident in obesity treatments, aren’t trained to counsel patients about weight loss, and aren’t paid do so. And they’re afraid of offending patients.

“Doctors saying, ‘don’t you realize your fat and its bad for your health,’ is about as constructive as putting pins in a voodoo doll,” Katz said. “Sometimes I joke that if you make your patient feel one foot tall, and they are already overweight, their body mass index goes through the roof.”

To be constructive, doctors have to choose their words carefully. “Patients really feel that words like ‘fat’ and ‘obesity’ can be negative,” Dr. Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity told us. “Neutral terms like ‘body mass index’ or even ‘body weight’ are better.”

There’s one way to bring up the problem without fear of offense. “Blame it on the government,” Dr. Robert Baron, who directs the UCSF Weight Management Program, told us only half jokingly. “Say, ‘Your body mass index puts you in a range the federal government would call overweight.'”

Comparing patients to standardized definitions brings obesity into the realm of less stigmatized risk factors, such as high blood pressure.

Still, Baron stressed that weight loss may not be the answer for everyone. “We live in a society with all the wrong food choices, and all the wrong messages telling us to do all the wrong things,” agreed Katz. “This problem is not a clinical one, but I think clinicians need to be a small part of the solution.”


DALLAS – Women who enjoy a daily dose of coffee may like this perk: It might lower their risk of stroke.

Women in a Swedish study who drank at least a cup of coffee every day had a 22 to 25 percent lower risk of stroke, compared to those who drank less coffee or none at all.

“Coffee drinkers should rejoice,” said Dr. Sharonne N. Hayes, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Coffee is often made out to be potentially bad for your heart. There really hasn’t been any study that convincingly said coffee is bad.”

“If you are drinking coffee now, you may be doing some good and you are likely not doing harm,” she added.

But Hayes and other doctors say the study shouldn’t send non-coffee drinkers running to their local coffee shop. The study doesn’t prove that coffee lowers stroke risk, only that coffee drinkers tend to have a lower stroke risk.

“These sorts of epidemiological studies are compelling but they don’t prove cause,” said Dr. David S. Seres, director of medical nutrition at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

The findings were published online Thursday in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

Scientists have been studying coffee for years, trying to determine its risks and benefits. The Swedish researchers led by Susanna Larsson at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said previous studies on coffee consumption and strokes have had conflicting findings.

“There hasn’t been a consistent message come out,” of coffee studies, said Dr. Cathy Sila, a stroke neurologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

For the observational study, researchers followed 34,670 Swedish women, ages 49 to 83, for about 10 years. The women were asked how much coffee they drank at the start of the study. The researchers checked hospital records to find out how many of the women later had strokes.

There were a total of 1,680 strokes, including 205 in those who drank less than a cup or none. Researchers adjusted for differences between the groups that affect stroke risk, such as smoking, weight, high blood pressure and diabetes, and still saw a lower stroke risk among coffee drinkers. Larsson said the benefit was seen whether the women drank a cup or several daily.

“You don’t need to drink so much. One or two cups a day is enough,” she said.

Larsson, who in another study found a link between coffee drinking in Finnish men who smoked and decreased stroke risk, said more research needs to be done to figure out why coffee may be cutting stroke risk. It could be reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity, she said, or it could be the antioxidants in coffee.

Larsson and others point out that those who want to reduce their chances of a stroke should focus on the proven ways to lower risk: Don’t smoke. Keep blood pressure in check. Maintain a healthy weight.