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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Summer lunch program going hungry

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
March 27, 2008

San Francisco will dig into its own pockets this summer to provide healthy lunches and snacks for children who might not otherwise eat – even though federal reimbursements are supposed to cover the cost.

During the summer months, more than 100 children eat lunch each day at the Visitacion Valley Boys and Girls Club. Many of them wouldn’t otherwise get a midday meal, according to site manager Shalom Kimble.

“Their parents are low-income, and having to feed them that third meal was breaking them,” Kimble said. “When they’re fed, they have more stamina, there’s less fighting and they’re happier.”

The city’s Department of Children, Youth and Families serves more than 200,000 lunches each summer, plus year-round snacks, in recreation centers and programs throughout the city. To pay for those meals, the department receives a receives a $2.75 reimbursement per meal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to spokeswoman Jill Fox.

The USDA increases its school lunch reimbursement, which also goes to summer lunch programs like DCYF’s, to keep up with the cost of living, according to department spokeswoman Jean Daniel. It was $2.56 per meal in 2006, and $2.64 per meal in 2007.

“The law says that payments shall equal the full cost of food service operation, including obtaining, preparing and serving food,” Daniel said.

However, at San Francisco prices, that barely covers the cost of food, leaving a $141,028 shortfall, spokeswoman for the department. Kitchen staff with the San Francisco Unified School District prepare and serve the meals, and they have to be paid, Fox said.

The DCYF will compensate this year by pulling money from the Children’s Fund, a property-tax set-aside approved by voters in 1991 that guarantees money for city youth programs, Fox said. However, if the USDA’s reimbursement went farther, that money could be used for other initiatives, she added.

In order to qualify for the federal reimbursement, lunches must meet nutritional standards set by the USDA, which include low-fat, balanced meals rather than high-fat, sugar-laced foods, according to Fox.

“The cost of all commodities has gone sky-high in the past 18 months,” due to higher fuel prices and other factors, according to Dana Woldow, co-chair of the San Francisco Unified School district’s student nutrition and physical activity committee.

“San Francisco cafeteria workers are the highest paid in California, and probably the world, because it is expensive to live here — you can see why the meal program runs a deficit,” Woldow said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 27, 2008 at 5:17 PM

Beef could soon return to lunch menu

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
February 11, 2008

Schools could find out as soon as today whether beef is allowed back on student lunch menus following a national scare in which beef from cows linked to mad-cow disease could have entered the food supply.

The California Department of Education recommended Jan. 30 that schools avoid using all beef products from the Westland Meat Company after investigators from the U.S. Department ofAgriculture found that employees in a Westland slaughterhouse mistreated so-called “downer” cows, which are too sick to walk.

Although the USDA had no evidence that the cows — thought to be a potential source of mad cow disease — had entered the food supply, it and the CDE recommended the hold until investigators could rule out any contamination, said Phyllis Bramson-Paul, director of the nutrition services division of the CDE. “We should know a lot more [today].”

San Mateo County Office of Education leaders said they had no way of knowing how many local districts heeded the hold, but many districts individually removed all beef off menus, even products that didn’t come from Westland.

“Our nutrition director went through our products and found eight [packages] from Westland’s distributors,” said Joan Rosas, spokeswoman for the San Mateo-Foster City School District. “But she decided to put no beef on the menu until she heard clearance from the government.”

The Redwood City School District also removed all beef from school menus, substituting ground chicken for ground beef and making other lunchtime substitutions, said Raul Parungao, chief business official for the district.

Linda Carrozzi, director of nutrition services for the South San Francisco Unified School District, rejiggered menus in ways such as offering cheese pizza instead of pepperoni.

“Even though the word is Westland only, we like to make sure our kids are safe,” Parungao said.

By contrast, the San Francisco Unified School District kept beef on menus because its supplier, Preferred Meal Systems, knew for certain that its products did not come from Westland, said Dana Woldow, co-chair of the district’s nutrition and physical activity committee.

Although USDA investigators will release Westland findings today at the earliest, a Friday news conference offered some signs of hope.

“To date, there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations that downer cattle entered the food supply,” said Kenneth Peterson, assistant administrator in the Office of Field Operations at the USDA, at a news conference last Friday.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 11, 2008 at 5:10 PM

Study pinpoints Bay Area cancer risk hot spots

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
May 26, 2007

Bay Area residents will soon be able to see where diesel-related air pollution is the worst — and understand the health risks associated with living in those areas.

In the Bay Area, 80 percent of air-pollution cancer risk comes from diesel fumes; freight trucks, ships and trains are significant sources of diesel emissions, according to the BayArea Air Quality Management District.

The district is currently studying where those emissions are worst, and plans to study the health risks — from cancer to asthma — of constant exposure.

Preliminary maps show hot spots — places with elevated levels of diesel fumes and acrolein, a pollutant that comes from burning fossil fuels — in northeastern San Francisco, western Alameda County and parts of Santa Clara County. Two spots along Highway 101 in San Mateo County — one in San Mateo and one in Redwood City — show high levels of diesel-related air pollution.

“This kind of particulate matter exacerbates heart and lung conditions,” said John Millett, spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency. “We’ve seen a correlation between [these emissions] and things like emergency-room visits and heart attacks.”

While the district’s Community Air Risk Evaluation study, released this month, ultimately aims to zero in on the health risks associated with living in a diesel-polluted environment, the district only has regulatory control over stationary sources, such as industrial sites, according to spokeswoman Karen Schkolnick.

However, the EPA has enacted new rules under the Clean Air Act that have converted all of California’s diesel fuels to low-emissions varieties as of this year. Nationwide, all diesel engines must be low emission and use low-emission fuels by 2010, according to Margo Perez-Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the agency.

That’s good news for residents — particularly children and seniors — living in high-pollution areas, said Andy Katz, director of air quality for Breathe California.

“In southeast San Francisco or West Oakland, asthma rates are double what they are in the general population,” Katz said.

Reducing highway diesel alone is expected to eliminate 8,300 premature deaths, 9,500 hospitalizations and1.5 million lost workdays by 2030, Millett said. More could be spared by reducing emissions from trains and ships.

The new rules have been costly for the freight industry, adding an additional $10,000 to $15,000 to the cost of a $200,000 engine, according to Joe Sucheecki, spokesman with the Engine Manufacturers Association.

“We’ve always been supportive of new standards as long as they’re reasonable and we have enough time to meet them,” Sucheecki said. “We believe we can make these standards.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 26, 2007 at 5:03 PM

Medicare clients sue state over computer flub

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 27, 2007

A computer glitch caused the California Department of Health Services to stop reimbursing thousands of Californians for their Medicare premiums, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Monday.

The lawsuit, which represents clients in San Francisco and San Mateo counties along with 16 other counties in California, alleges that after DHS began using the CalWIN computer system to manage its Medicare rolls, thousands of low-income clients were accidentally dropped.

When that happened, clients stopped receiving medical-care reimbursements without any notice, according to Melissa Rodgers, directing attorney for the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, who filed the lawsuit.

For example, when San Mateo County began using CalWIN in October 2005, clients such as Juan Ledezma were dropped. Ledezma didn’t realize the problem until March 2006, when he received a $786 bill from Medicare; he is on a fixed income of $830 per month.

“The old system was set up to keep people on unless they were no longer eligible [for reimbursements], in which case they were notified,” Rodgers said. “The new one was designed to cut people off unless they went in manually to prevent it, even if they were continually eligible.”

The California Department of Health Services became aware of the glitch shortly after clients began receiving unexpected Medicare bills, according to department spokesman Michael Bowman.

DHS has already ordered the counties to correct their automated systems, and has provided the Centers for Medicare Services with the names of clients who were accidentally discontinued so their premiums can be repaid, Bowman said.

The Health Plan of San Mateo was able to get roughly 100 of its clients re-enrolled in the reimbursement program by working cooperatively with the San Mateo County Human Services Agency, said Health Plan’s Carolyn Thon. The plan covered members who were dropped by Medicare in the interim.

“It took us awhile to realize the connection” between the CalWIN rollout and clients losing their coverage, Thon said. “Once we recognized what happened, we were able to resolve our members really quickly.”

In the suit, clients are seeking reimbursement for their medical bills as well as an assured fix for the glitch that disenrolled them, according to Rodgers. Although DHS is asking counties to fix the problem, it’s unclear whether the responsibility lies with individual counties or the DHS, according to Bowman.

No court date has been set in the legal proceedings.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 27, 2007 at 10:43 PM

Nutritional guidelines icing out bakesales

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 8, 2007

Bake sales were once the quintessential way to raise money for school activities. Now, thanks to new federal “wellness policies,” they may be going the way of the dodo.

Those policies require all schools in America to restrict students’ access to unhealthy foods during the school day. Those rules take effect this fall, along with two California laws effective July 1 that require schools to phase out sodas and fattening snacks over the next two years.

One unanticipated side effect is that such policies could spell the death of that time-honored tradition in which parents whip up a batch of cookies or brownies to raise money for their child’s next field trip.

“It has already started,” said Diane Go, president of the parent-teacher association for the Jefferson elementary and high schools in Daly City.

In the San Francisco Unified School District, officials and parents reached a compromise that allows schools to run 10 evening bake sales each year at events like back-to-school nights, where parents are more likely to supervise their children’s purchases, according to Dana Woldow, chairwoman of the San Francisco School District Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee. Baked snacks will no longer be sold in San Francisco’s schools during the school day.

“We found that kids were saving their lunch money and using it to buy cookies and brownies, and not telling their parents,” Woldow said.

Many high schools, including those in the Sequoia High School District, raise money for student activities by selling donuts and sweets from the student store. The district has not yet started implementing the new nutrition policies, and it’s unclear how much money in sales will be lost when the changeover happens, according to Kathy Soulard, treasurer for student fundraising at Woodside High School.

“Our students will sell $1,000 worth of candy, the Polynesian club sells candy leis, and a couple of times a year we do an all-school picnic with ethnic food sales,” Soulard said. “The policy is going to have a major impact.”

But with the new regulations, schools are already beginning to turn to other fundraising options, from “walk-a-thons” and “math-a-thons” to sales of stickers and toys. The loss of bake sales should not be mourned, according to Woldow.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 8, 2007 at 11:05 PM

New mercury source targeted

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
November 24, 2006

As mercury levels rise in Bay Area water systems, officials are targeting one of the neurotoxin’s primary sources: dentists.

As much as 60 percent of the mercury in the region’s wastewater comes from dental offices, according to studies from the Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group. However, wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to remove heavy metals such as mercury from the water. By 2010, mercury discharges at the South Bayside System Authority treatment plant could exceed allowable levels, according to a recent article in the authority’s newsletter.

In San Francisco, Palo Alto and the East Bay, laws requiring dentists to stop flushing amalgams have reduced mercury levels significantly, according to Karin North, member of the Bay Area Pollution Prevention group.

“We saw a 94 percent reduction in the average mercury concentration coming out of [dental offices] and a 64 percent reduction once it reached the sewer lateral, where you have multiple businesses feeding into it,” North said.

Now, roughly 1,500 Bay Area dental offices no longer dump mercury-laden materials, according to Teresa Pischay, policy analyst with the California Dental Association. In unregulated parts of the Bay Area, including San Mateo County, wastewater officials and the CDA are urging dentists to divert those materials voluntarily.

The elemental mercury contained in dental fillings is safe, but once it enters local waters — particularly the shallow waters in parts of the San Francisco Bay — it becomes methylated mercury, which can contribute to symptoms of mercury poisoning, including birth defects and brain damage, according to North.

While many dentists want to reduce the amount of mercury they’re flushing into local sewer systems, setting up the technology for proper disposal can be costly, according to Pichay. A unit that collects amalgam waste at the dentist’s chair can cost $800 to $900, plus $400 a year in maintenance costs.

“We are members of the community at large,” Pischay said. “[Diverting mercury] naturally falls into our responsibility as citizens.”

This article originally appeared in San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 24, 2006 at 2:00 AM

Biopharmaceutical firm to move jobs to Peninsula

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
July 12, 2006

PDL BioPharma, a biopharmaceutical company that develops therapies for life-threatening illnesses, will move its corporate headquarters from Fremont into 450,000 square feet of space in Redwood City in mid-2007.

PDL BioPharma has signed a 15-year lease at Pacific Shores, a 10-tower corporate campus on Seaport Boulevard in Redwood City. Themove will make them one of the largest biotech companies on the Peninsula, which hosts major players such as Amgen, Genentech and Elan.

The company is bringing approximately 500 employees when they move, according to spokeswoman Ami Knoefler. Many of those employees work on the Peninsula or in San Francisco, and the move is designed to put them closer to home while providing PDL BioPharma the room to expand and develop more products.

“The new site is centrally located in the Bay Area, which means it’s well-positioned for us to attract new talent,” Knoefler said.

The move is expected to create jobs both immediately and as the company expands, Knoefler said, though she could not say how many new positions would be generated.

The company hopes to add three new products to its lineup of treatments for autoimmune diseases, cancer and cardiovascular disease by 2010.

Redwood City’s financial team is still analyzing the financial boon PDL BioPharm will bring to the city, according to Economic Development Director Pat Webb.

“It’s always an economic benefit to fill vacant space with people who are working. This will add many new employees and hopefully they will choose to spend some of their money in the city,” Webb said.

It’s also good news for the Pacific Shores campus, which includes 10 towers but has struggled to find tenants. PDL is leasing two of the site’s 10 towers, including a 165,000-square-foot tower that has stood vacant since the site was built in 2000, and another 280,000-square-foot tower formerly occupied by Openwave, according to Brad Van Linge, broker for Cornish & Carey, which handles the site’s leases.

Other tenants include Openwave, Dreamworks PDI, Symantec and MyCFO, Van Linge said.

PDL BioPharm’s transfer to the Peninsula further cements the region as a hotbed of biotech activity.

“What’s bringingpeople to the area is the brain trust,” said Geraldine O’Connell, press secretary for Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Francisco, who chairs the California Assembly’s Select Committee on Biotechnology. “There’s a spirit and commitment to progress here.”

Peninsula biotech

PDL BioPharma

Employees: 1,000

Locations: Redwood City (coming in 2007), New Jersey, Minnesota and France

Products: Therapies for hepatorenal syndrome, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disorders and cancer


Employees: 18,000+

Locations: South San Francisco, Fremont, Thousand Oaks, six other states and 30 other countries

Products: Protein-based treatments for anemia, blood cancers, thyroid and kidney disease and autoimmune-based arthritis


Employees: 10,000

Locations: South San Francisco, Vacaville, Oceanside, Spain

Products: Chemotherapy treatments; therapies for psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma; and products that accelerate tissue growth


Employees: 2,000

Locations: South San Francisco, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, U.K., Ireland, Bermuda and Japan

Products: Drugs that reduce plaque buildup in the brain

Source: Company Web sites

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

July 12, 2006 at 10:23 PM

Report: County faces major nursing shortage

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
June 8, 2006

The high cost of living and low number of nursing-school graduates are leaving the Peninsula with a significant shortage of nurses, according to a report released Wednesday by a San Mateo County grand jury.

As the senior population booms and children develop more obesity-related health problems, the demand for nurses grows higher than ever. The greater Silicon Valley needs nearly 400 more nurses than are currently being trained, according to experts with the Silicon Valley Center for the Health Professions.

While hundreds of aspiring nurses apply, nursing programs at Cañada College and College of San Mateo have slots for just 100 students a year altogether.

Meanwhile, expensive housing continues to drive skilled nurses away from the Bay Area, according to the report.

Health care officials across the Peninsula agree with the grand jury’s finding and say they face ongoing problems achieving the state mandate of one nurse per five patients.

“It’s a shortage all the way through the pipeline,” said Dave Hook, spokesman for the San Mateo Medical Center, which currently has a 12 percent vacancy rate in nursing positions.

To make up for those vacancies — as well as cover sick leave and vacation time — the center spends an extra $3 million annually to hire temporary nurses and pay existing staff overtime.

The grand jury recommends that the San Mateo Community College District push harder to create a new training facility called the Silicon Valley Center for Health Professions and raise salaries for nursing instructors.

While local nurses make $80,000 to $100,000 per year, instructors make $60,000 to $80,000, according to the report.

The jury also recommends that the Peninsula Health Care District continue funding nurses’ training and that PHCD and the Sequoia Healthcare District help nurses obtain loans for housing.

“I think that’s something that is certainly deserves looking into, but it might be something that’s outside of our legal bandwidth,” said Stephani Scott, CEO of the Sequoia Healthcare District.

Sequoia Hospital maintains a relatively low number of nursing vacancies — about 2 percent, according to Nurse Leader Linda Kresge, but those vacancies cost an extra $2 million per year. The hospital recently recruited new nurses from Korea, a strategy that costs about as much as training nurses domestically, Kresge said.

Sequoia has been able to retain nurses by offering them flexible schedules, free insurance coverage for employees’ dependents and competitive salaries, according to Kresge.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

June 8, 2006 at 10:08 PM

Drug plan deadline looms for the eligible

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 15, 2006

To say that San Mateo resident Martha Greenough helped her father, Larry Wenrick, save nearly $8,000 a year by switching him to Medicare’s new prescription-drug plan would be telling only part of the story.

With tonight’s deadline for thedrug plan — known as Part D — looming, Greenough sat down at her computer and attempted to navigate Medicare’s Web site, something her 78-year-old father couldn’t do. But the process was confusing, even for Greenough, a bookkeeper. So she called consultant Esther Koch for help.

“I thought if you had all your information and you could list all your drugs, it would help you,” Greenough said. “But not at first.”

Koch, who has trained dozens of companies and other groups in the Part-D process since the enrollment period opened January 1, admits the new plan is complex. It’s designed primarily to help citizens with little or no prescription drug coverage, and offers a dizzying array of drug plans, pharmacies and eligibility requirements.

Signing up starts with knowing what plan you currently have — something many seniors don’t know, Koch said. About 25 million of those eligible for Part D already have coverage, meaning they don’t need to — and shouldn’t — switch to the Medicare drug plan.

“There are some pitfalls if you do it by mistake,” Koch said. Some confused enrollees have been kicked off their current health care plans when they signed up for the new prescription-drug plan.

Likewise, low-income Medicare beneficiaries who already receive drug benefits find that if they switch to Part D, they wind up paying more for the drugs they need, according to David Lipschutz, staff attorney with California Health Advocates.

Part D’s complexities have led to misinformation. He cited a recent study that found one-third of those calling the Medicare information hot line received faulty instructions.

As it stands, those who don’t sign up by midnight tonight will not have another opportunity to enroll before November. When they do, they will be charged a penalty of roughly 32 cents for each month they weren’t enrolled, Koch said.

As of May 7, 800,000 eligible Californians had not yet signed up, according to Medicare spokesman Jack Cheevers.

Despite the complex enrollment process, many people will benefit from Part D, Lipschutz acknowledged. “There’s no question it’s helped some people. And there’s no question it’s harmed some people.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 15, 2006 at 1:47 AM

As city mourns teen’s suicide, others call for bridge suicide barrier

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
December 2, 2005

Students, teachers and family packed Carlmont High School’s Little Theater yesterday for a lunchtime ceremony to celebrate the life of Carlmont senior John William Skinner.

The event made it clear just how many lives the 17-year-old touched, including friends, teachers, classmates, family and supporters from across the Peninsula. Skinner was found dead Tuesday on the rocks near the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge, where he appears to have jumped, according to the California Highway Patrol.

“It was wonderful to see the tremendous outpouring of community support,” said Mark Olbert, president of the San Carlos School Board. “It’s sad that a young person with all that talent and energy and brains and potential died.”

Shortly before his death, Skinner sent cell-phone text messages to a number of his friends, telling them goodbye and saying they could have some of his belongings, including his guitar and photographs, according to classmate Nicole Giron. More than one said that Skinner told them he had “found the meaning of life.”

“He was an amazing kid — that’s the tragedy of it for all of us,” said Linda Stevenin, communications director for High Tech High Bayshore, whose son was friends with Skinner. “He was a sweet kid, and very smart.”

The teen is survived by his parents, David and Lucia, his brother, Joe, a San Carlos Charter Learning School student, and his sister, Caroline, a Carlmont graduate. Funeral services have not yet been announced, but the family plans to bury him in his homeland, Guatemala, according to Carlmont Principal Andrea Jenoff.

Skinner was one of the first students to attend the Charter Learning Center, starting in third grade and continuing through eighth grade before starting at Carlmont. He was a math and science buff, as well as a musician and soccer player, and in recent years was designing a computer game with some friends, according to Stevenin.

He was highly academic and founded a peace-based club at Carlmont called the Doves, Jenoff said.

While the adults in his life admired Stevenin, his peers relied on him for support. “He always made people laugh, and he was always there if you needed him,” Giron said.

“He was the main one we would go to when we needed help,” his friend Richard Jackson told the Daily News Wednesday.

As friends and family continue to mourn, Skinner’s death brings home the ongoing debate over building a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge. While many argue that a barrier would mar the aesthetics of the landmark, local mental-health workers say it’s long overdue.

Earlier this year, the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California, representing 1,200 psychiatrists, convinced the bridge district board to embark on a $2 million study of a barrier; so far, $1.8 million has been raised.

Skinner was the twentieth person to jump from the bridge this year and the sixth under the age of 25 to do so, according to Mel Blaustein, president of the foundation. Eighty-seven percent of people who commit suicide by jumping from the bridge are Bay Area residents.

Bridge jumpers “tend to be impulsive,” Blaustein said. “They’re looking for a quick way out, but if you can prevent that, they’re usually happy to be alive.”

A recent study found that among 515 people who were pulled from the bridge during a serious attempt to jump, 94 percent did not subsequently commit suicide, according to foundation consultant Paul Muller.

“It’s been obvious in the psychiatric community for a long time that barriers are needed,” Muller said. “These deaths can be prevented.”

Teen suicides can inspire copycats
In the wake of a teen’s death, particularly from suicide, friends and classmates are more likely to become suicidal themselves, according to Michelle Joyce, manager of the San Mateo Crisis Center.

The crisis center is staffed by a number of teenage volunteers who counsel peers dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts and tough times, Joyce said. Some of those counselors will visit Carlmont High School next week to talk about warning signs, such as drastic changes in behavior, losing interest in hobbies, giving away prized possessions or increasing use of drugs and alcohol.

Counselors will also encourage frank dialogue about suicide. “A lot of times people shy away from the issue. We train our people to not be afraid to say, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?'” Joyce said.

The center offers a variety of resources for teens and families, including:
* A 24-hour hotline at (650) 579-0350
* An online chat Monday through Thursday, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., at
* Counseling for parents, with information at

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 2, 2005 at 10:02 PM