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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Budget weighs on lead removal

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 20, 2008

The Recreation and Park Department knows that nearly 140 of its facilities are contaminated by lead, but it says a tight budget means it will be years before cleanup is completed.

City agencies are required by the Department of Public Health to remove lead from buildings constructed before 1978. Recreation and Park fell behind, and in 2003, the department was required to step up its efforts and report quarterly to the Board of Supervisors on its progress, said Karen Cohn, a children’s health manager at DPH.

At the same time, DPH lobbied for an annual allowance of $200,000 to help Recreation and Park continue cleanup. However, “$200,000 doesn’t really do anything,” Cohn said.

Since 1999, the department has slowly made progress, removing lead paint and other contamination at 149 sites — but it has another 136 to go.

Among those sites are many city landmarks, including the Palace of Fine Arts, the War Memorial Opera House, 16 public libraries and the 84-year-old Kezar Pavilion, according to a report from Recreation and Park General Manager Yomi Agunbiade.

Kezar alone — which the U.S. Department of Public Health investigated after reports that employees were getting sick and dying of cancer from asbestos and lead contamination — required the department’s entire 2007-08 lead-cleanup allotment, part of 2008-09’s and another $241,000 in department funds, spokesman Elton Pon said. Paint replacement and other cleanup is due to finish in November, Pon said.

Ten other sites slated for lead cleanup in 2007-08 remain on the back burner, according to Agunbiade’s report.

Roughly 15 to 20 Recreation and Park employees work at Kezar at any one time. The U.S. Department of Health and HumaN Services investigated the gymnasium and offices in 2007 after a handful of former employees died of cancer and two current ones were diagnosed, but found no evidence that the presence of lead and asbestos were the cause, according to a report from investigator Elena Page.

“We know there should not be any exposure to lead — there is no ‘normal level,’” said Cohn, whose office handles more than 400 cases of lead toxicity in local children each year.

In addition to city workers, Kezar hosts youth basketball practices and games, and is the current home of the Bay City Bombers Roller Derby.

The presence of lead in the building “is common knowledge,” Bay City Bombers general manager Jim Fitzpatrick said. “There’s no concern from us — they say everything is being taken care of.”

By the numbers

149: Sites where lead abatement is complete (1999-2008)

Glen Park playground and recreation center
Duboce Park and Harvey Milk recreation center
South Sunset playground
Chinese recreation center
Golden Gate Park playgrounds

136: Sites where abatement is still needed

Palace of Fine Arts and Exploratorium
War Memorial Opera House
Justin Herman Plaza
Fort Funston
Japanese Peace Plaza and Pagoda

Total sites: 285

Source: Recreation and Park Department

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 20, 2008 at 11:21 PM

Posted in Health, Parks, San Francisco

Kindergartners face hurdles to better health

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 13, 2008

San Francisco may have a reputation as a health-conscious city, but a recent study found that kindergartners in local public schools were more likely to be overweight than kids their age nationwide.

A sample of 4,000 kindergartners entering school in the fall of 2007 showed that 18 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys were overweight, compared with 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys nationally, according to an Applied Survey Research study commissioned by First 5 San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District.

“There are plenty of kids who, by the time they’re 4 or 5, have a weight problem,” said Dana Woldow, co-chair of the SFUSD’s nutrition and physical activity committee. “And you’re going to see it most in low-income, Latino, Pacific Islander and African-American kids.”

Hispanic kindergartners composed 28 percent of last year’s student population, which also included 26 percent Chinese, 17 percent “other,” 16 percent white and 13 percent black students, according to the APR study. In addition, 54 percent of SFUSD students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch in 2007-08, meaning their families took in less than $39,000 per year, according to Woldow.

Researchers also found that fewer San Francisco kindergartners were at risk of becoming overweight when compared with the national average, but speculated that parents might have under-reported the weights of “borderline” children but were more straightforward when their children were obviously overweight, according to the study.

More children become overweight as they get into their preteens. While 13.9 percent of children ages 2 to 5 were deemed overweight nationwide, that percentage rose to 18.8 percent among children ages 6 to 11, then fell slightly to 17.4 among kids 12 to 19, according to Karen Hunter with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, officials are working hard to help kids shape up.

Public-school kids are required to spend roughly 20 minutes per day in some kind of physical activity or play, from hula hoops to somersaults or running games, according to Mark Elkin in the SFUSD’s health division. Their school-provided meals also must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition regulations, Elkin said.

Outside of school, children may stay outdoors because their neighborhoods are plagued by frequent violence, said Department of Public Health worker Christine Ngoette, who focuses on citywide fitness and nutrition policy.

“I would look at Sunday Streets as an example of how we’re trying to create environments that are conducive to getting outside and having fun,” Ngoette said.

How San Francisco compares nationwide

Kindergarteners in overweight category (95th percentile or more):

Boys: 18%
Girls: 20%

Boys: 13%
Girls: 15%

Average number of overweight children, nationwide:
Age 2-5: 13.9%
Age 6-11: 18.8%
Age 12-19: 17.4%

Sources: Applied Survey Research, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 13, 2008 at 11:17 PM

School asthma gains fall short of breathtaking

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
April 28, 2008

For the roughly one in five youths in San Francisco with asthma, getting through the school day can be like navigating a minefield of mold, dust and pollen that can trigger an asthma attack.

In 2002, three children died during asthma attacks in facilities owned by the San Francisco Unified School District, said Anjali Nath, advocacy coordinator with the San Francisco Asthma Task Force. One of the children was Armani Johnson, 4, who died in a restroom in Burnett Children’s Center after complaining of breathing problems.

“The teachers weren’t trained in pediatric asthma,” said Anjali’s mother, Natasha Madaris. “I think his death opened the door [for school employees] to realize that other kids have asthma — and the district is making progress.”

But although Madaris as well as city and nonprofit officials say the San Francisco Unified School District is making strides toward creating safe classrooms for children with asthma, it has fallen behind in filing emergency plans for those students, and has not yet claimed grant money to make classroom conditions ideal for asthmatic students.

The San Francisco Board of Education adopted plans in 2003 to make sure all students with asthma have a set of instructions on file in case of an asthma attack. While roughly more than 2,000 parents per year send those instructions to their schools, 275 have been entered into school databases, primarily due to lack of staff to perform data entry, Nath said.

“More than that have asthma,” Nath said. “The fact that we don’t have the data system is preventing us from having a full grasp of the prevalence.”

Bay Area youths age 5 to 17 have the highest asthma rates in the nation — 19.8 percent, compared with 14.2 percent nationwide — according to a 2005 survey from the Centers for Disease Control.

The district also has not claimed grant money for 29 San Francisco schools eligible for asthma-prevention funds under the Williams Settlement, which aims to give students equal access to education, said Karen Cohn, a children’s health manager at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Those funds would be used to step up prevention efforts — making sure classroom air filters are changed regularly, that ventilation systems are working, that schools use cleaning products that don’t irritate children’s airways and that animals aren’t kept in school, Nath said.

One significant improvement, however, was the district’s February hiring of a new part-time coordinator, who will train teachers, help write grant proposals and identify asthma risks in city classrooms, Cohn said.

Youth asthma facts

The breathing disorder affects children at school and inside the home.

» Asthma accounts for more than 14 million total school absences

» Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children

» 44 percent of all asthma hospitalizations are for children

» Asthma is the No. 3 cause of hospitalization for children

» The Asthma-related death rate for children under 19 has increased almost 80 percent since 1980.

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 28, 2008 at 4:58 PM

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