Beth Winegarner's news articles

San Francisco Bay Area community news

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

iPads for School Lunches: SFUSD Woos Applicants with Prizes

leave a comment »

By Beth Winegarner
August 22, 2012

In public schools, there is such a thing as a free lunch. In San Francisco, it might even come with a free iPad.

Roughly 62 percent of local public-school students qualify for meal subsidies, but their parents have to file paperwork to make it happen. When they don’t, the San Francisco Unified School District loses money — $250,000 last year, for example.

Now, school leaders have dreamed up a new way to reel in applicants: prizes. This year, everyone who applies for meal subsidies will also have the chance to win fancy gadgets and memorabilia such as an iPad 2, an iPod Touch, a football signed by 49er Frank Gore, iTunes gift cards, and more.

It’s potentially a cheap fix for an expensive — and labyrinthine — problem. It goes something like this: Kids from a four-person clan that brings home $42,648 per year can eat at school for free. In turn, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gives schools just under $3 per lunch for every student who qualifies. But if a kid doesn’t apply, and then lunches for free, the school eats $3.

Some years, feeding kids who don’t pay for lunch or apply for subsidies has cost the district $1 million, says Dana Woldow, who chaired the district’s nutrition committee for many years. “We discovered this was a problem the first day there was a nutrition committee [in 2002],” she says. Nobody knew what to do about it.

There are a number of reasons eligible families might not sign up. Some undocumented families may fear that filling out the forms might tip off immigration officials. (It won’t). Or, the application may get lost in the tidal wave of paperwork families face when their child enters school, says Woldow.

It’s tough to nail down how many eligible students aren’t registered, since meal applications are the district’s only way of gauging families’ income levels, says district spokeswoman Heidi Anderson. But in San Francisco, where minimum wage is $10.24 an hour, every last clam from the government matters.

Money shortages are covered “out of the general fund, and is money that could be applied toward any number of unmet funding needs — including offering more menu choices to our students,” Anderson says.

SFUSD isn’t the first to try prizes. Baltimore City Schools recently gave away tickets to see Jay-Z,Kanye West, and Disney on Ice to families who filled out free and reduced-price lunch applications, though district spokeswoman Edie House Foster couldn’t say how many more applications they attracted. Locally, the prizes were either donated or obtained at no cost, Anderson says.

So far, it seems to be working: This year, 6,000 families applied before school started, which is unusual, Anderson says. Prizes will be awarded Sept. 1.

This article originally appeared in the SF Weekly.

Advertisements

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 22, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Occupy Bohemian Grove: Protesters Bond at Creation of Care

leave a comment »

by Beth Winegarner
July 25, 2012

When Mary Moore began protesting Bohemian Grove’s annual schmooze-a-thon and its nuclear repercussions in 1981, Occupy mastermind Micah White hadn’t even been born. But as Occupy’s twentysomethings joined Moore’s silver-haired Bohemian Grove Action Network under the redwoods to hear a firsthand account of the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown and its aftermath, chanting “no nukes” suddenly seemed relevant again.

Every summer, 2,500 members of the exclusive Bohemian Club descend on the 2,700-acre redwood grove in Monte Rio for two weeks of “arts, music, theater, lectures, and fellowship,” according to spokesman Sam Singer. Critics have long decried the potential for backroom deals at the grove; in 1942, portions of the Manhattan Project were allegedly planned at the encampment.

“These are the elite men of the corporate, financial, military, and government worlds,” Moore says. “We’re worried about how their policies affect you and me. And we want to tell people how they make decisions — this isn’t how you learned it in civics class.”

Occupiers from Reno, Nev., Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, and across the Bay Area turned out on July 14 for the first Occupy Bohemian Grove event, dubbed “The Creation of Care” in opposition to the club’s “Cremation of Care” bonfire. Between protest songs, marching bands, and poets were a panoply of perspectives: Code Pink spoke out against the proliferation of drones; Project Censored lambasted corporate media.

“I want you to listen to the voice of Fukushima,” said kimono-bedecked Chieko Shiina, through a translator. The crowd paid rapt attention as Shiina described her life before what the Japanese call “3/11” — the day a 9.0-magnitude earthquake shook the island, leading to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

For more than a decade, Shiina grew her own food, bartered with neighbors, cooked on a wood stove, and chased fireflies with her grandchildren in the summertime. After the meltdown, her garden and firewood were contaminated. Her stove became “like a tiny nuclear power plant in my home.”

Local children developed chronic nosebleeds, colds, and diarrhea, which doctors dismissed as stress-related. Shiina wants to open a clinic to treat survivors like them.

“Every day we are living in uncertainty,” she said. The audience — baby boomers and millennials alike — erupted in a “no nukes” chant, fists pumping.

Of course, the Bohemian Club and its protesters operate in completely separate spheres. The club’s lecturers have included nuclear physicist and Manhattan Project founder Edward Teller, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. “The Bohemian Club is neither for nor against nuclear power,” Singer says. “It doesn’t take stands.”

This article originally appeared in the SF Weekly.

Written by Beth Winegarner

July 25, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Posted in Health, Sonoma County

Surprise: BART Elevators Are Filthy and Poorly Serviced

leave a comment »

by Beth Winegarner
July 11, 2012

Every night when Juma Muhammad comes home, his wife scrubs his wheelchair’s wheels with bleach before he rolls through the door. It keeps him from tracking human waste across the floors where his 16-month-old son plays, but it doesn’t protect him from skin infections he believes come from riding BART’s germ-ridden elevators.

Bathrooms in 12 BART stations — including four along Market Street — have been locked since 9/11. Instead, some folks use BART’s elevators as Porta-Potties, grossing out wheelchair-users, cyclists, parents with strollers, and anyone else requiring the lifts.

Muhammad, who regularly rolls through Civic Center station, wears latex gloves in the elevators but still got a severe facial infection after touching the buttons.

“This is a big public-safety issue,” says Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco (ILRCSF). “They say if there’s a problem to call the station agent, but they’re left dirty. It’s obviously not a priority.”

BART has 22 to 33 service workers on duty at any time, four of whom are assigned to the downtown stations. One of their jobs is to scrub the elevators twice daily, plus whenever they’re fouled, says spokesman Jim Allison.

“Nowhere is the quality of your work showcased better than in the elevator, where there is a virtual ‘captive audience,'” says a page from the BART service workers’ handbook. “John Q. Public should be able to ride our elevators without worrying about stepping on trash, foul odors, or rolling over unknown substances.” Mopping, deodorant soaps, and Lysol ensue.

The problem actually predates the 2001 terrorist attacks. Berkeley’s Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) led a class-action lawsuit against BART in 1998 over elevators’ frequent breakdowns and feculence.

“When we brought our case, 50 percent of the time, people who needed to use the elevators were encountering filth,” says Larry Paradis, DRA’s executive director. “They had floors rotted out from all the urine.”

These days, BART doesn’t track how often elevators are defiled or unavailable during cleanup. It does offer free tokens for the public loos on Market Street — another condition of the DRA settlement. Although there are eight restrooms within walking distance of downtown stations, they’re frequently broken or dirty.

ILRCSF has pushed for more cameras in elevators, helping BART police catch tinklers in the act. Violators face a $250 fine and up to two days of community service, Allison says.

It may be security theater, but BART plans to keep the bathrooms closed indefinitely. Meanwhile, Muhammad has dealt with the problem his own way: His wife now drives him to work.

This article originally appeared in the SF Weekly.

Written by Beth Winegarner

July 11, 2012 at 10:23 PM

More San Francisco women choosing home birth despite the higher cost

leave a comment »

by Beth Winegarner
Special to the Examiner
January 29, 2012

Rita Kearns lies back as her midwife measures her gravid belly. Maria Iorillo presses a fetoscope to Kearns’ side and finds the baby’s heartbeat. “It’s perfect,” she says, passing Kearns the earpieces.

Kearns, 43, is 41 weeks pregnant — one week past her due date. By now, many obstetricians would suggest inducing labor. Iorillo is content to wait. And, when the contractions begin, Kearns will give birth at home, as she’s done twice before.

She is one of a growing number of area women choosing to give birth at home. Local home births have doubled since 2005, even as overall births declined nearly 7 percent from 2007, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Many families choose home birth even though insurance companies frequently leave them holding the bag for some or all of the costs.

Families choose home birth for a variety of reasons, said midwife Michelle Welborn. Some fear hospitals and medical intervention. Others want a natural birth, or control of the birthing environment, Welborn said.

At hospitals, women often face doctors eager to accelerate labor, said Redwood City doula Sandra Caldwell. That can lead to complications, even Caesarean sections.

Others turn away from hospitals because they don’t appreciate rushed prenatal visits attended by a revolving-door cast of nurses and doctors. Gia Schultz, 30, was 22 and 30 weeks pregnant when she hired a midwife to deliver her son at home.

“Instantly knew I wanted her at my birth,” Schultz said. “She had an actual interest in getting to know us … our wants, needs and unique characteristics. In the hospital you didn’t have enough time for that.”

San Francisco’s midwives and home-birth supporters have worked hard to make The City a home-birth mecca.

They network through the Bay Area Homebirth Collective, offer birth classes and potlucks, and have fought to legalize home birth and encourage hospitals to embrace it.

When Iorillo came to San Francisco in 1985, it was illegal for her to deliver babies at home, despite her license from a renowned midwifery school. She served on the California Board of Midwives for 10 years, during which she saw two bills legalizing non-nurse midwives fail before the third passed in 1994.

Local midwives worked with UC San Francisco’s birth center to overcome the hostility many women faced when they told their obstetricians they were planning a home birth — hostility that often returned if they wound up transferring to a hospital during labor.

“We had doctors who think home birth isn’t safe, and I think the majority of doctors feel that way,” said Judith Bishop, a former home-birth midwife who now delivers babies at UCSF. “We wanted to make sure there isn’t a divisive feeling between hospital and home birth, that people don’t feel they’re treated badly for coming in, or that we treat them with less respect.”

When that happens, she added, women and midwives become reluctant to transfer, risking the health of both mother and child.

Now, the only San Francisco hospital where doctors may decline to accept home-birth transfers is the California Pacific Medical Center.

Spokesman Kevin McCormack said CPMC isn’t opposed to home births, but its obstetricians, who are independent practitioners, can choose not to back up patients planning home births. CPMC delivers nearly half the babies born here each year, and has a 29 percent C-section rate, just slightly lower than the state average of 32.8 percent.

California hospitals charge upward of $15,000 for an uncomplicated vaginal birth, and often $30,000 or more for a C-section. While health-insurance providers cover most or all of those costs, they routinely reimburse 50 percent or less for home birth, which costs just $4,000 to $6,000 — including all prenatal and postnatal care.

“It’s kind of amazing when you think about it,” Bishop said. “It would be so much cheaper for insurance companies not to pay the hospital bill, which is gigantic.”

Coverage for home birth varies depending on the insurance provider and the patient’s plan, noted Schultz, who now handles insurance billing for Rites of Passage Midwifery. Kaiser doesn’t cover anything. Others may pay anywhere from 20 to 50 percent — even 100 percent, if the stars align.

“The key is patience,” Schultz said. “Insurance companies always come back and say they won’t pay you; you have to go through the process of denial over and over.”

Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a collective of 1,300 insurers, said the coverage issues relate to patient safety. “The bottom line,” she said, “is the evidence has been pretty sparse on the safety of home births.”

But according to a 2005 British Medical Journal study of 5,000 American births, home birth has similarly low rates of infant and maternal mortality as low-risk hospital births. Other studies have echoed these findings.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is beginning to soften. In October, it met with midwives for the first Home Birth Summit in Virginia. “Instead of all the backstabbing and trying to squelch us out of existence, they had an open conversation about where we can find consensus,” Iorillo said.

Natural-birth centers forced to close doors

Home births are increasingly popular, but the sagging economy has hit natural-birth advocates hard, leaving pregnant parents with fewer choices.

St. Luke’s Hospital closed its “Homestyle” program — which offered in-house midwives and a more natural birthing model — in 2007 to help keep the financially strapped hospital from closing. Earlier this year, Sage Femme, The City’s only independent birthing center, shuttered its Capp Street facility after reimbursements from Medi-Cal and other insurance providers shrank.

Natural Resources, the 24-year-old shop that provides classes, birth-tub rentals and supplies for natural-birth families, narrowly escaped the same fate in November when it raised $48,000 through crowd-sourcing.

“It started with the economy,” said Natural Resources owner Cara Vidano. “Over time, our revenue has decreased.

Even with cutting costs, we haven’t been able to pay all our bills.” After failing to find a buyer for the struggling store, Vidano faced two choices: raise donations or close.

Sage Femme and its head midwife, Judy Tinkelenberg, delivered hundreds of babies in their 12 years in the Mission district. Tinkelenberg was the only midwife in San Francisco to accept Medi-Cal. The average client paid $3,820 to $4,500 for a birth at Sage Femme, including all prenatal and post-natal care. Until recently, Medi-Cal would cover almost $2,000 of that, but in recent years, their reimbursement dropped to less than $1,200 per birth.

“And, if the patient transfers to a hospital” — which 5 to 40 percent of home-birth moms do, depending on the midwife — “I don’t get paid at all,” Tinkelenberg said. “If I had cut Medi-Cal I don’t know if it would have been made up for with paying patients.”

For both businesses, the community — not the health care industry — is what may keep birth options alive.

Tinkelenberg is now attending home births and working with the Alameda-based Birth Options Foundation to raise money for a new birth center somewhere in the Bay Area.

For Natural Resources, the influx of donations “means we will be able to function again,” Vidano said. “If everything goes as planned, we will be in business for a while. This isn’t just a short-term solution.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 29, 2012 at 9:46 PM

SFPD’s Ugly History with Pepper Spray

leave a comment »

by Beth Winegarner
Nov. 30, 2011

When San Francisco Police came calling in June of 1995, 37-year-old Aaron Williams probably didn’t think it would be his last day on Earth. But as the pet-store-burglary suspect emerged from his house, a dozen officers piled on him. Police pepper-sprayed him, restrained him, and placed him face-down in a police van. Within an hour, he was dead.

That same month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California issued a sobering report on pepper spray, which had been legalized for police use in October 1992. By May 31, 1995, California law-enforcement officers had used it nearly 16,000 times, roughly 24 times per day. Twenty-six people had died — not including Williams — giving pepper-spray victims a 1-in-600 chance at death.

By October 1995, the San Francisco Police Department had updated its use-of-force policy, which details when and how pepper should be used. However, it appears that SFPD didn’t follow that policy six months later when officers picked up an incoherent Mark Garcia, then pepper-sprayed and hog-tied him. He died the next day, after suffering two massive heart attacks.

Since then, no one has died in SFPD custody following the use of pepper spray, according to Officer Albie Esparza. But with a wave of police pepper-spray attacks on Occupy Wall Street protests in Davis and across the United States, could it happen again?

“Davis was an eye-opener,” said Sean Seamans, a camper at Occupy San Francisco. “As with all ‘non-lethal’ items, as long as you put the ‘non’ in front, it gives you the excuse to use it liberally. And if you have asthma or respiratory issues, it puts lives at risk.”

Pepper spray, sometimes known by its formal name oleoresin capsicum, is a concentrated version of the substances that give spicy peppers their heat. In the human body, these substances release a brain-signaling compound called Substance P. Among other things, Substance P causes the airways to close, triggering uncontrollable coughing and making it difficult to breathe.

“Occupational Health Services, Inc., [a private research facility in Kansas City, Missouri], reported that because [oleoresin capsicum] caused the subject’s breathing passages to swell and constrict, the use of OC on persons with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma could, in rare instances, cause death,” according to the ACLU report.

Local police don’t see it that way. “People do not die from pepper spray itself. There are other, associated factors,” such as alcohol or drug use, as well as the “hog-tie” or hobble restraint, Esparza said. “The pepper spray we use is nothing more than Tabasco sauce in a canister.”

Hmm. According to Tabasco’s website, its spiciest sauce — made of habanero peppers — is a bit more than 7,000 on the Scoville scale, used to measure capsaicin’s potency. Meanwhile, U.S.-grade pepper spray rates somewhere above 2 million on the Scoville scale, according to Scientific American.

While the ACLU report called for better tracking and oversight into police use of pepper spray, other agencies went further. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights — then based in San Francisco, demanded a moratorium on the practice, in part because of its potential lethality. No police departments took them up on the demand, according to Ella Baker spokesman Abel Habtegeorgis.

“You’re quicker to use things like that because you’re told that this is not lethal, when in all actuality, your haste in using them can prove to be deadly,” Habtegeorgis said. “If police are going to have these weapons that can be deadly, they should use the same precaution they would use for a gun.”

Eight Headwaters Forest demonstrators won a victory over the police use of pepper spray in 2005, when a Humboldt County judge ruled that officers used excessive force in swabbing the stuff into protester’s eyes. However, the precedent only applies within that county, according to Headwaters Forest Defense spokeswoman Karen Pickett.

“It’s way too limited,” Pickett said. Although the Headwaters trial focused on pepper spray’s potential to cause permanent eye damage, some court evidence showed that it can be fatal when people have respiratory problems.

No Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have died after being pepper-sprayed — and SFPD hasn’t used it on local protesters, according to Esparza and Seamans.

During a recent raid, “I had eight officers on me at one time, and pepper spray was threatened,” Seamans said. He keeps goggles and a respirator at hand, just in case.

“Officers don’t like to use force unless we have to,” Esparza said. “But when someone’s given a lawful order, it’s against the law for them not to follow those orders. If you do what the officer tells you, there’s no need for further escalation.”

This article originally appeared in the SF Weekly’s online news column, The Snitch.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 30, 2011 at 8:20 PM

Taco truck fighting police ouster

leave a comment »

by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
December 17, 2008

A taco truck at the center of a gustatory debate is fighting to remain in its longtime location next to John O’Connell High School, despite a law approved last year making such juxtapositions illegal.

Police revoked El Tonayense’s permit to operate the truck, located on Harrison Street near 19th Street, in September, but owner Benjamin Santana is appealing the decision, saying his establishment should be grandfathered in because it’s been there longer than the school has. That revocation is suspended, pending Santana’s appeal hearing, scheduled for Feb. 4, according to a report from SFPD Cmdr. Sylvia Harper.

The Board of Supervisors passed new rules March 20, 2007, banning all mobile food vendors from setting up shop within 1500 feet of public schools. In July of this year, police contacted vendors and found only three violating the rules; two agreed to move, but Santana dug in his heels, according to Harper.

Although O’Connell allows many of its seniors to go off-campus for lunch, more teachers than students nosh at El Tonayense, according to Assistant Principal Rick Duber.

“I’m often in the yard by the truck, and very few kids eat there,” Duber said. “It’s kind of expensive for the kids.”

However, some nutrition advocates say O’Connell students frequent the truck at lunchtime, loading up on high-calorie burritos and bringing back food for their classmates. One regular, Robert Bell, said kids pass him dollar bills through the fence to buy Cokes for them.

“If this truck is getting none of its business from O’Connell, why is the owner so reluctant to move?” said Dana Woldow, chair of the nutrition committee for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Police identified an alternate location for the El Tonayense truck around the corner at 2300 Harrison Street, according to Sgt. Wilfred Williams. Santana opposed the move on the grounds that he was operating at his current site before O’Connell moved to the neighborhood eight years ago, according to a report from SFPD Capt. Thomas O’Neill.

Santana could not be reached for comment.

Woldow challenged the nutritional value of the food, arguing that O’Connell has some of the worst scores on California physical-fitness tests – just 22 percent of ninth graders met all six fitness criteria on the 2007-08 test. But Duber said the food’s not that bad.

“Most of it’s actually very healthy,” Duber said. “Much more so than McDonald’s or KFC.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 17, 2008 at 5:23 PM

District trying new tricks to get students to eat healthier

leave a comment »

by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
November 17, 2008

You can lead a student to the salad bar, but you can’t make him eat.

As San Francisco’s public schools have transformed their cafeteria menu options — kicking out the junk food and adding fresh fruit, salads and healthier meals — leaders have struggled to make those options enticing to kids.

This year, leaders have added two more ideas to the menu: more food options at the beaneries, and a district-wide point-of-sale payment system so kids don’t have to divulge whether they’re paying full price or getting a government reimbursement.

Almost 55 percent of SFUSD students qualify for federal free and reduced-cost food, earning the district a reimbursement on every meal those students eat, according to Ed Wilkins, head of district nutrition services.

That means the meals they get in school may be their healthiest meals of the day, according to Woldow. However, many of those students avoid the lunch lines so their peers can’t tell they’re not paying.

Over the next 18 months, the district will bring swipe-cards and networked payment systems to every school — at a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million – so students’ lunch status stays under wraps, according to Wilkins.

At the same time, the district is working to make cafeteria and beanery options more enticing, offering two or three menu options per day, according to parent Dana Woldow, the district’s school-nutrition guru.

“You can get sandwiches and wraps, chicken or vegetarian chow mein, hot soup, fresh fruits and vegetables,” Woldow said. Another bonus: larger-size entrees at the high schools, where growing teens complain they don’t get enough to eat.

The district has come a long way in six years, since the Board of Education passed a resolution ordering sales of junk food — candy, sodas and chips – out of the schools. Although it wasn’t scheduled to take effect until September of 2003, Balboa High School Principal Patricia Gray didn’t wait — and she saw immediate results.

“We saw a 50 percent drop in behavioral problems, like referrals and fights, or kids going to sleep in class from the sugar crash,” Gray said. Since then, healthier food – along with focused effort among teachers — has helped students boost Balboa’s state test scores more than 10 percent, according to Gray.

The district has also rolled out healthier grains, from brown rice to whole-wheat pizza crust, as well as hot breakfast at every school.

“Sure, it’s more expensive, but you can’t wait for participation to go up — you have to start by making the food better,” and then watch as kids catch on, Woldow said.

Kids opt for off-campus, less-healthy food

Chicken teriyaki over brown rice or a healthy sandwich wrap for $3 probably sounds like an ideal lunch to many San Franciscans, but plenty of high-schoolers still prefer going off campus for a taco, burger or slice of full-fat pizza.

The San Francisco Unified School District has worked to make its lunch options tastier and more enticing. But nutrition guidelines – which say school food can’t get more than 30 percent of its calories from fat, or more than 35 percent of its weight from sugar – often get in the way of flavor, officials say.

“If these kids want a real slice of pizza, they have to go up the hill,” said SFUSD nutrition director Ed Wilkins. “My pizza is never going to cut it.”

Six high schools have open campuses, and students take advantage of the opportunity to leave at lunchtime – whether their school offers top-notch cafeteria choices and salad bars or not.

“The cafeteria food is very unappetizing,” said Mary Hodge, a sophomore at School of the Arts, which doesn’t offer a salad bar. Hodge was returning from a lunch-hour trip to buy a bottle of Odwalla juice instead, while her friends picked up pizza at Round Table.

That makes drawing students’ interest in the campus lunch line an uphill battle.

At Lowell High School, students are working on a project where they compare the calorie and nutrition content of off-campus food to the on-campus counterparts, according to Dana Woldow, co-chair of the district’s nutrition committee.

Many students said nearby restaurants offer more choices – albeit at higher prices – while others said they simply enjoy the freedom.

“Even though the cafeteria food is OK, it’s nice to take advantage of the privilege of going off campus,” said SOTA sophomore Jan Lopez.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 17, 2008 at 5:20 PM