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Sonoma disability center staff weighs in on abuse claims

January 31, 2013, 11:09 AM | Amy Julia Harris, California Watch

Anna Vignet/California Watch Patrick Leslie, a chaplain at the Sonoma Developmental Center, speaks about the facility's need for good publicity at a public forum. 

SONOMA – California’s largest full-time care center for the severely disabled needs more staff and accountability to correct major internal breakdowns that led to dozens of cases of alleged patient abuse, staff members said Wednesday at a public forum.

The Sonoma Developmental Center, one of five state-run board-and-care facilities, has been in crisis mode since last month, when the center lost its primary license to operate for repeatedly exposing patients to physical and sexual abuse and shoddy medical care.

Katrise Fraund, a longtime senior psychiatric technician at the Sonoma Developmental Center, said the scandal has clouded the typically high quality of care offered at the institution, whose patients have cerebral palsy, severe autism and other intellectual disabilities...

State disability center forfeits funding over abuse

January 18, 2013, 5:17 PM | Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch

Mike Kepka/San Francisco Chronicle A placard marks the Corcoran Unit at the Sonoma Developmental Center, which has been the site of 11 alleged sex assaults since 2009.

California's largest board-and-care center for the developmentally disabled will surrender more than $1 million a month in federal funding for failures to protect patients from abuse and provide quality medical care, state officials announced today.

In December, state regulators cited the Sonoma Developmental Center for numerous violations that put patients with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities at risk of serious injury and death. Regulators have threatened to close a major portion of the century-old institution, now home to more than 500 patients.

The state Department of Developmental Services, which operates the institution, this week agreed not to seek reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid for services provided at its most troubled residences. The state singled out four out of 10 residential units at the Sonoma facility...

Former patient claims confidentiality breach in Prime Healthcare lawsuit

January 18, 2013, 12:05 AM | Lance Williams, California Watch

Monica Lam/California Watch Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding 

A former Redding hospital patient has sued the Prime Healthcare Services chain for disclosing her medical files to hundreds of people without permission.

In a lawsuit filed last month in Shasta County Superior Court, Darlene Courtois, a retired teacher's aide, accused Prime of repeatedly violating patient confidentiality laws in a frantic effort to discredit a 2011 California Watch news report about the hospital chain’s billing practices.

As part of that effort, the CEO at Prime’s Shasta Regional Medical Center sent emails to all of the hospital’s 785 employees disclosing details of the then-64-year-old diabetes patient’s confidential files, the lawsuit says.

The CEO also showed her medical files to the editor of the local newspaper in a successful effort to dissuade him from publishing the story, the suit says.

California Watch had interviewed Courtois for a story about a reported outbreak of a rare form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor at the Redding hospital...

'Parent trigger' strikes again in California

January 16, 2013, 12:59 PM | Natasha Lindstrom, The Hechinger Report

Courtesy of Parent Revolution The 24th Street Parent Union members have been working since for months to collect signatures for a "parent trigger." 

LOS ANGELES – The first time Amabilia Villeda tried to fix her children’s school, she joined several dozen fellow parents and teachers in a protest outside 24th Street Elementary.

That was three years ago. Villeda and the rest of the loosely organized group believed the struggling school just a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles needed a jolt. They collected a couple hundred signatures from parents and community members who decided the first step toward improving the abysmal test scores and poor campus climate should be to oust the principal, Villeda recalled.

But they didn’t make much of an impact. None of the school or district officials really seemed to notice, Villeda said, and the effort folded quietly.

The 41-year-old mother of three expects Thursday to be different. That’s because she and fellow parents have formed their own union, spurred to action by California’s so-called “parent trigger” law and the well-funded education advocacy group...

School discipline reform groups question plans for armed security

January 15, 2013, 8:03 AM | Susan Ferriss, Center for Public Integrity

Nick Ut/Associated Press Los Angeles police Sgt. Frank Preciado and Officer Wendy Reyes watch children arriving at Main Street Elementary School. 

As the White House considers proposals to allocate federal money for armed guards in schools, prominent school discipline reform groups have issued a report denouncing the idea as a misguided reaction to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Placing more police in schools has significant and harmful unintended consequences for young people that must be considered before agreeing to any proposal that would increase the presence of law enforcement in schools,” says an issue brief [PDF] released Friday by the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools and other organizations.

The Advancement Project, founded in 1999, has offices in Washington, D.C., and California and has worked with school districts and states to adopt alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. Dignity in Schools also is devoted to working with districts and advocating fewer suspensions and less involvement of law enforcement in school...

Writer looks for healthiest, happiest approach to childbirth

January 15, 2013, 6:05 AM | Marie McIntosh, California Watch

Kelly Sue DeConnick/ Flickr

Is natural always better? Bay Area-based writer Nathanael Johnson seeks to answer that very complicated question in his new book, “All Natural.” In this reported memoir, Johnson, a self-described skeptic, seeks to discover if a more natural approach to life makes one happier and healthier...

An excerpt from Nathanael Johnson's book, 'All Natural'

January 15, 2013, 6:05 AM | Nathanael Johnson, California Watch

There is, in fact, a vigorous debate over medical intervention in birth, and not just between the fringe and the medical establishment, but within the establishment. No one is suggesting that we revert to the practices of the 1900s, but many clinicians and scientists are warning that the medicalization of birth has gone too far. When I took a closer look at the data, I found one seemingly impossible statistic after another. Progress in reducing the infant mortality rate had advanced through the 20th century, but had stalled in the 21st century. This plateau, "has generated concern among researchers and policy makers," according to a 2008 brief from the National Center for Health Statistics. "The U.S. infant mortality rate is higher than those in most other developed countries," wrote the statisticians, "and the gap between the U.S. infant mortality rate and the rates for the countries with the lowest infant mortality [Japan, Sweden, Spain, and others] appears to be widening." In addition, the numbers of preterm and low birth-weight infants had actually risen (a part of this increase was due to a higher number of twins and multiples, perhaps from the rise of fertility treatments, but the increase remained when researchers only looked at singleton births)...

LA school police still ticketing thousands of young students

January 3, 2013, 6:17 PM | Susan Ferriss, Center for Public Integrity

Tami Abdollah/KPCC L.A. city councilman Tony Cardenas and L.A. Unified board member Monica Garcia join students protesting citations in February. 

Even as Los Angeles authorities continue efforts to reform school-discipline standards, fresh data show that police from the city’s biggest school district are continuing to ticket thousands of young students, especially minorities, at disproportionate rates that critics charge are putting them on a track for dropping out.

Citation rates for last year are little changed from 2011 data. Disclosure of the 2011 data this past spring led to federal civil rights scrutiny and promises that policies at the Los Angeles Unified School District would be reviewed, and likely changed...

Oakland school district mishandled federal money, state finds

December 21, 2012, 12:05 AM | Will Evans, California Watch

Michael Short/California Watch St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church and private school in West Oakland 

The Oakland Unified School District failed to follow federal regulations in doling out taxpayer money to benefit local private schools and must pay some of it back, a state review has found.

The state Department of Education cited Oakland Unified for not meeting federal requirements in its distribution of federal Title I and Title II money to provide teacher training and tutoring for struggling students at private schools. Private schools are entitled to a share of federal money, but public school districts are responsible for maintaining control of the funds.

The state found that Oakland Unified paid instructors who were not independent of their private schools, shipped materials directly to the private schools without taking an inventory and let private schools design their own taxpayer-funded programs...

Doctor pleads guilty to taking kickbacks in Medicare scam

December 21, 2012, 12:05 AM | Christina Jewett, California Watch

Lisa S./Shutterstock

A Southern California doctor has been sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to accepting $30,000 in kickbacks to fabricate Medicare claims for home health care services for seniors.

The sentencing of Dr. Whan Sil “Victoria” Kim of Hancock Park last week is the latest in a series of prosecutions targeting the Los Angeles Greatcare Home Health clinic, which the prosecutor in the case says was “almost a wholly fraudulent endeavor.”

Greatcare's owner, Hee Jung “Angela” Mun, a nurse, pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scam. Her plea says the clinic bribed Medicare patients to sign up for home care they didn't need and paid doctors to document $5 million worth of care, much of which was not provided...

Prime hospital abruptly stops billing Medicare for rare ailment

December 20, 2012, 12:05 AM | Lance Williams and Stephen K. Doig, California Watch

Monica Lam/California Watch

After billing Medicare for treating more than 1,100 cases of a rare affliction, a Prime Healthcare Services hospital in Redding abruptly stopped last year, state health records show. The change occurred soon after California Watch published a story about aggressive billing practices at the hospital.

About six months after it took control of the Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding in late 2008, Prime began billing Medicare for treating senior citizens it diagnosed with kwashiorkor, a dangerous nutritional disorder usually seen among children during famines in developing countries. At its height, the hospital's billing for the malady surged to nearly 70 times the state average.

The previous high rates of kwashiorkor diagnoses made the hospital eligible for about $6,000 in Medicare bonus payments for each of the more than 1,100 cases of kwashiorkor it reported over a two-year period, according to federal records. That’s $6.9 million in all.

Prime said in a statement that its Medicare billings are legal and accurate. It declined to respond to follow-up questions...

Prosecutors' opposition could limit release of third-strike inmates

December 19, 2012, 12:05 AM | Michael Montgomery, California Watch

oneword/istockphoto.com

State inmates serving life terms are starting to file resentencing petitions with local judges following the passage of Proposition 36, the ballot measure that overhauls California's controversial three strikes law. But opposition from local prosecutors and other factors could limit the number of qualifying inmates who actually get released.

Scott Thorpe, CEO of the California District Attorneys Association, said his organization is recommending that district attorneys file subpoenas for the prison records of inmates seeking a resentencing hearing so they can scrutinize everything from the offenders’ health and psychological profile to their participation in rehabilitation programs.

“We’re arguing that everything should be taken into consideration,” he said. “If they haven’t taken advantage of programs that were available to them, we’re saying that’s a relevant fact in determining whether this is a responsible person to go out into society."

Prop. 36 allows sentence reductions for inmates convicted under the original 1994 law if their third strike was not a serious or violent felony (as defined by the California Penal Code) and their prior convictions did not include rape, murder, child molestation or other grave crimes...

Video – Anaheim: A Tale of Two Cities

December 18, 2012, 11:20 AM | California Watch

Anaheim is the home to one of the most well-known and popular amusement parks in the world: Disneyland. It's also the home to a community whose anger at local police has boiled over recently, spilling onto the streets of Anaheim.

Watch Al-Jazeera English's video "Fault Lines," which, in its words, "examines the underlying causes of the recent unrest in Anaheim."

This video was featured on The I Files, the first YouTube investigative news channel, curated by the Center for Investigative Reporting, California Watch's parent company.

Emails reveal college officials knew they were overbilling state

December 18, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

pogonici/Shutterstock

Newly released emails and documents show which current and former senior administrators at the College of the Desert were aware that the district's enrollment figures were inaccurate and the college was overbilling the state – a deception that will cost the district $5.26 million in repayments.

A recent audit by the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team characterized the overbilling as potential fraud, though it did not name names.

Beginning in 2003-04, officials at the Palm Desert college used an inaccurate formula for counting enrollment that assumed most classes met for the exact number of hours listed in the catalog. By that calculation, every three-unit class provided 54 hours of instruction per semester.

But in reality, many three-unit classes met for 52 or 53 hours per semester.

The seemingly small discrepancy was significant because college districts receive the bulk of their state funding based on the number of instructional hours served. Applied over thousands of classes per year, the overbilling added up to millions of dollars that should have gone to other districts...

Report estimates health plan overbilled Medicare $424M

December 17, 2012, 6:27 AM | Christina Jewett, California Watch

Boris Bartels/Flickr

Medicare may have overpaid an estimated $424 million to PacifiCare of California’s Medicare Advantage plan based on risk assessments that in many cases made patients seem sicker than they were, according to a federal oversight agency.

Medicare Advantage plans send patient diagnosis codes to Medicare, which boosts plan rates if clients are affected by serious medical conditions.

A new report by the U.S. Health and Human Services inspector general says PacifiCare was paid extra for treating patients with cancer or a dangerous bloodstream infection even though medical records didn’t describe those ailments.

UnitedHealth Group, which now owns PacifiCare of California, disputed the inspector general’s findings, saying the review of 100 cases could not be generalized to hundreds of other claims.

“The audit does not follow Medicare’s own guidelines, standards or accepted methodology for validating risk-adjustment payments,” a statement by UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement says. “In fact, it differs significantly from (Medicare’s) adopted methodology. The OIG appears to have relied instead on...

Nonprofits seek influence with political giving

December 13, 2012, 12:05 AM | Amy Julia Harris, California Watch

UPDATE, Dec. 13, 2012: This story updates to add a comment from the executive director of the nonprofit San Francisco Food Bank.

401kcalculator.org/Flickr

As executive director of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, Scott Staub raises money to give to the city’s libraries. In his spare time, he raises money to give to politicians.

Staub heads a political action committee that is attempting to increase the political clout of the nonprofit sector in federal elections. Most of the committee’s members are affiliated with charitable organizations.

“We want to be a political player in a positive way,” said Staub, chairman of the Association of Fundraising Professionals PAC, an umbrella organization for charitable fundraisers. “There are lots of interest groups, and we decided we needed to have a greater voice for philanthropy.”

The PAC was formed about a decade ago and since then has contributed $68,000 to politicians who support pro-charity causes, especially maintaining the charitable tax deduction.

Charities are prohibited from donating to political campaigns as a condition of their...

State threatens to shut down disability center amid patient abuse

December 12, 2012, 7:12 PM | Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch

Mike Kepka/San Francisco Chronicle The Sonoma Developmental Center in Eldridge is one of five state-run institutions for the developmentally disabled. 

The state's largest board-and-care center for the severely disabled lost its primary license to operate today, after repeatedly exposing patients to abuse and shoddy medical care.

State regulators cited the Sonoma Developmental Center, which houses more than 500 patients, for dozens of cases where patients were put at risk of injury or death. In issuing the citations, the state moved to shut down a major portion of the century-old institution...

Some counties requiring health workers to get flu vaccine

December 12, 2012, 4:01 PM | Katharine Mieszkowski, The Bay Citizen

UPDATE, Dec. 12, 2012: This story updates to include the position of the California Association of Health Facilities.

USACE Europe District/Flickr

In an effort to prevent health care workers from spreading the flu to patients this winter, county health officials are mandating that medical staff around the Bay Area receive vaccinations or wear a surgical mask on the job.

Health officials say flu vaccination rates among health care workers are dangerously low – 60 percent [PDF] of those working in California hospitals received the vaccine in the 2010-11 flu season, according to the most recent data available from the California Department of Public Health.

Officials hope the requirements will help prevent the spread of the virus to patients most vulnerable to its life-threatening complications, particularly the elderly, whose weakening immune systems may render the flu vaccine less effective.

However, county health officers say they have few resources to enforce the new orders, leaving it up to the discretion of hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers and other health care facilities to make sure their staffs are vaccinated...

Defense contractors fear fiscal cliff spending cuts will strike bone

December 12, 2012, 12:05 AM | G.W. Schulz, California Watch

The 621st Contingency Response Wing/Flickr

An estimated 1 in 4 jobs in San Diego County are tied to the military sector, and $32 billion in defense-related activities is linked to that area alone, more than the entire economic output of Panama.  

So what happens if tens of billions of dollars in defense spending is suddenly yanked? Defense contractors and other employers are worrying aloud about the answer as Congress and President Barack Obama quarrel over tax increases and budget cuts and the country edges closer to the so-called fiscal cliff.

The bureaucratic term for this doomsday scenario is sequestration, and while many have expected a smaller military, more profound downsizing has a lot of people nervous in California and elsewhere.

“The damage is already starting to happen,” said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers. “Many of our members are already seeing a slowdown in their sales, hiring and investment.”

Deep spending reductions were proposed last year as a way to force lawmakers and the president to address the federal government’s outsized budget deficit. If Congress and the White House take no action by Jan. 2, $500 billion in Defense Department cuts will automatically kick in over the next 10 years, with $55 billion of it expected in the...

Local jails may limit immigration holds to convicts

December 11, 2012, 12:05 AM | Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch

dem10/istockphoto.com

In the next year, many of California’s local jails might limit federal immigration “holds” to detainees with felony convictions, greatly reducing the number of people deported from the state solely for entering the country without permission.

Gov. Jerry Brown met with leaders from the California State Sheriffs' Association last week to discuss ways to give city police and county sheriff's departments discretion on immigration enforcement.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said he recommended legislation to amend state Penal Code 834b. The code mandates that law enforcement cooperate with federal agents "regarding any person who is arrested if he or she is suspected of being present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws."

Brown informed the sheriffs association that his office is working on draft legislation to that effect, Ahern said.

At issue is how local law enforcement should participate in Secure Communities, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program operating in most of the state...

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