Tag Archives: California Center for Health Care Reporting

Overcoming cautious officials to tell stories of mental illness

Many of you will already be familiar with “Mental Breakdown,” the CHCF Center for Health Reporting and Modesto Bee joint effort to illustrate the impact state and county budget cuts have had on people in California diagnosed with mental illnesses. One of the series’ most striking components is multimedia specialist Lauren M. Whaley’s “Faces of Mental Illness,” one of the Bee‘s most-viewed photo galleries of all time. A gallery which, Whaley writes in a must-read post on her blog, “almost didn’t happen.”

screen-shot-2012-06-09-at-62544-pmThe gallery was made up of portraits of men and women from the Stanislaus, Calif., chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, all of whom, Whaley writes were eager to pose, “enthused by the possibility of showing that mentally ill people were regular people, people who could hold jobs, go to school, parent and teach.”

Everything was ready to go, until someone noticed her setup. Every health journalist will be able to guess what happens next.

The county nurse insisted that we call her higher-ups to get permission to take the portraits. She was nervous we were violating a confidentiality agreement that I didn’t know existed.

I needed to get permission to get the participants’ permission.

The implication: These people are incapable of consenting.

Fortunately, thanks to her contacts and editor, this particular showdown had a happy ending.

My editor smoothed things over with the county. We typed up a permission slip so each person I photographed put down in writing that they knew we would publish their portrait in the Modesto Bee and online. They were all perfectly comfortable with the permission slip. They just wanted to know when the story would run. They wanted to know when their pictures would be in the paper, when their story would be told.

And, for a nifty postscript, don’t miss the story’s comment section, where a NAMI official named in the post checks in from her Facebook account to say that she hopes it will help folks “understand how frustrating it is for family members who find it difficult to communicate with mental health professionals.”

Normalizing Mental Illness: One mom’s hope from CAhealthReport on Vimeo.

Calif. program of bundled dental care for children gets a checkup

About 18 years ago, California implemented a program of “geographic managed care” for children’s dental coverage in Sacramento. Now, in partnership with The Sacramento Bee, Jocelyn Wiener of CHCF’s Center for Health Reporting provides an exhaustive report card on the program and its outcomes.

In her centerpiece, Weiner writes that “the state pays private dental plans in Sacramento County a monthly fee – currently about $12 – for each Medi-Cal child assigned to them. The amount paid is the same whether or not the child sees a dentist.”

Last year, Wiener writes, the state paid almost $20 million to the five plans it works with in the capital city. In exchange, “The plans are obligated to provide 24-hour emergency care for children with severe dental problems, to schedule all other appointments within a month, to see at least 38 percent of enrolled patients each year and to report that data to the state.”

State data may be skewed, some of Weiner’s sources said, because Sacramento dentists are less likely to overtreat, and less likely to report when they do treat, since they get paid their lump sum regardless. Nonetheless, the numbers that are out there paint a discouraging picture.

In fiscal year 2010-11, only 30.6 percent of more than 110,000 Sacramento children with Medi-Cal – the government insurance program for the poor – saw a dentist, according to state data. By comparison, nearly half of their Medi-Cal peers statewide visited a dental office. That year, the county ranked third worst in terms of the percentage of kids who got care in the state – above only rural Alpine and Trinity counties. During the three previous years, it was the state’s lowest performing children’s dental system, state numbers show.

The state is working on ways to improve the program, but for now long times and access issues persist. For more context, see Richard Kipling’s piece on how San Diego county is succeeding in providing dental care to children despite similar geographic challenges.

National crisis in oral health

A hearing and a report released this week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, put a spotlight on dental health and the lack of access and care many Americans experience. According to “Dental Crisis in America (PDF):”

  • More than 47 million people live in places where it is difficult to access dental care.
  • About 17 million low-income children received no dental care in 2009.
  • One-fourth of adults in the United States ages 65 and older have lost all of their teeth.
  • Low-income adults are almost twice as likely as higher-income adults to have gone without a dental checkup in the previous year.
  • Bad dental health impacts overall health and increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and poor birth outcomes.
  • There were more than 830,000 visits to emergency rooms across the country for preventable dental conditions in 2009 – a 16 percent increase since 2006.
  • Almost 60 percent of children ages 5 to 17 have cavities – making tooth decay five times more common than asthma among that age group.

In a statement prepared for the hearing, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he is “working on legislation to make affordable dental care for our seniors a reality once and for all.”

Cover this topic for AHCJ

This is just the kind of story and report that AHCJ will be tracking and writing about as part of its new “core topic” on oral health. We’re currently looking for a journalist to lead the oral health core topic, a job that will include writing and assigning tip sheets and stories about the subject as well was writing regular blog posts to help journalists cover this important topic.

Calif. organization names AHCJ members to staff

The new California HealthCare Foundation’s Center for Health Reporting has announced its editorial staff. The Center, a grant-funded organization led by Michael Parks, has hired five AHCJ members:

  • Editor-in-chief: David Westphal
  • Managing editor: Richard Kipling
  • Senior writer: Emily Bazar
  • Senior writer: John Gonzales
  • Senior writer: Deborah Schoch

The Center started as a pilot project in 2008 with “Sowing Hope,” a series in the Merced Sun-Star that Kipling and Schoch worked on. Since then, the organization has taken on several other projects.

Parks told me in 2008 that the California HealthCare Foundation decided to fund the pilot project because it believed coverage of health policy in the state was flagging. According to this week’s release, “The Center is funded by a three-year, $3.285 million grant from the California HealthCare Foundation, an Oakland-based independent, non-profit philanthropy whose mission is to improve the health and health care of all Californians.” Parks said he aims to complete at least 50 major projects during that period.


Calif. foundation backs new model; will be hiring

The board of directors of the California HealthCare Foundation met over the weekend and approved funding to create the California Center for Health Care Journalism. For the past several months, the center has been a pilot project managed by former Los Angeles Times editor Michael Parks. The Foundation’s initial commitment of $3.46 million will fund the effort for the next three years at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications.

Michael Parks

Michael Parks

The center has been focusing on reporting partnerships with media in California to help deepen coverage of health care and health policy. AHCJ previously reported on a partnership with the Merced Sun Star. Over the next few months, USC will oversee the hiring of an editor in chief, managing editor, senior writer, reporter and multimedia editor, to be based in Los Angeles or Sacramento.

And a heads-up to AHCJ members:

Spencer Sherman, the foundation’s director of publishing and communication, will be attending Health Journalism 2009 in Seattle this week. He’s willing to meet with journalists interested in applying for one of those jobs as time allows. Send him a note of interest at ssherman@chcf.org.