Tag Archives: los angeles times

Lopez columns on ailing dad spark discussions about end-of-life decisions

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

From his friendship with a cellist to his adventures with medical marijuana, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez often draws on highly personal material in his work. His latest series, surrounding the end of his father’s life, mines that vein even more deeply.  Lopez has initiated a community-wide conversation about death and dying through his columns, his profiles of several people confronting life’s end, and reader contributions, which have snowballed since the series began this summer.

New journalists’ resource on aging debuts

Core Topics: Essential coverage areas for health journalists

AHCJ has rolled out another Core Curriculum topic on its website. “Aging” is the second in a series of core topic subject areas the organization believes today’s health journalists will need to master to cover the beat well.

Colorado-based writer Judith Graham is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. She produces reporting guides, seeks out reliable resources, assigns stories and blogs regularly. She works with Pia Christensen, AHCJ’s managing editor/online services, to find the latest material, edit contributions and make the site as easy to navigate as possible.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

Dec. 28: Open the discussion on dying
What I’ve learned along the way is that we have to get past the fears and cultural taboos that prevent us from discussing death with loved ones. We need to make our wishes known in advance healthcare directives, sparing friends and family the psychological trauma of impossibly difficult decisions. We need more information on end-of-life choices and broad reforms of Medicare, which gladly pays for the tools of slow suffering in terminal patients — feeding tubes, hip replacements, etc.— but is stingier about paying for palliative care despite lower costs and higher patient satisfaction.

Dec. 18: Wishing for the right to make that final exit
Since I began writing about these issues in July, when my father took ill, I’ve had readers argue that how and when we die is not for us to decide, but is in the hands of a higher authority. I respect that view, but I’ve heard from far more readers who make a humane argument for options to avoid lingering and painful deaths. Many say that once they reach the point where they are simply being kept alive – as opposed to living – they want to have the choice of ending their suffering.

Dec. 14: Having to think about the unthinkable
Most people don’t like to plan for dying, but in our state of denial, we leave ourselves vulnerable to conditions we would never want. Arrangements for the end of life are essential.

Dec. 11: A terrible choice to ponder
Medical advances now keep people like my father alive in severely debilitated states, at ever-soaring costs to the public. Is that a humane, compassionate approach?

One doctor told me that our fragmented healthcare system has a built-in incentive to give my dad a feeding tube. The surgeon and hospital would get paid, the nursing home would benefit because Medicare would cover 100 more days and my family would be spared that cost. The only losers would be taxpayers, and maybe even my father, who has already been cut open, probed and filled with buckets of medication, only to become sicker, angrier and more depressed.

Dec. 4: Not ready to die, but prepared
The cancer that started 11 years ago has now ravaged the body of Freddie Ramos. It attacked a kidney first, then a lung, and the 57-year-old family man knows that death waits in the near distance.

He’s not ready to go, he says, but he’s prepared.

Nov. 27: Geriatric doctor doesn’t shy from tough talk
Gene Dorio, an old-school practitioner in Santa Clarita, insists families – and physicians – have honest discussions about end-of-life issues with those in failing health. Too often the difficult conversations are put off for too long.

Nov. 11: When death is certain, but dignity is not
For a senior, those two dreaded words – “broken hip” – are often the beginning of the end. Doctors said that without surgery, my father would probably die within three months. But surgery itself could kill him, given his weak heart.

Because of the morphine and dementia, it wasn’t clear that my father understood his options.

Aug. 13: Waiting calmly to die
The email from a reader in Westwood was short, to the point and disturbing.

“My life has been very full,” wrote Polly Berger. “But now it is getting very bad, and I want to go to that other world.”

Berger also said she wished there were more Dr. Jack Kevorkians around. I responded immediately, worried it was a cry for help.

July 17: Waiting in the dark with Dad
And so it goes, the slow, inexorable march to the place we all must visit. Watching, I find myself wondering why we’re so ill-equipped to accommodate, accept and talk about the fate we all are guaranteed.

We’re not very good at dying, or even aging. We dye our hair unnatural colors, pin back our faces and pretend nobody knows. We’ve got an obsession with youth and a phobia about death.

Ongoing: Matters of life & death
As part of the series, the Times invited readers to share their own experiences. Many have.

Lopez, author of The Soloist, was the keynote speaker at AHCJ’s 2008 Urban Health Journalism Workshop.

Calif. finds 3,500 nurses were disciplined elsewhere

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

California’s nursing board has confirmed what fans of Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber’s disciplined caregivers series for ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times already suspected, that about 3,500 California nurses had clean records there despite being disciplined in other states. You can find Ornstein and Weber’s report on these developments at ProPublica or the LA Times.

After last year’s report by ProPublica and The Times, California ran its list of 376,000 active and inactive nurses against a database maintained by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, to which nearly all states voluntarily report their disciplinary actions. Among the matches were nurses who had been disciplined by multiple states, sometimes for the same incident.

California officials said they couldn’t disclose the names of any nurses who turned up in the search until a formal disciplinary charge is filed. While those cases are pending, the nurses remain free to practice in California.

Of the 3,500 nurses whose records matched, “as many as 2,000 … will face discipline in California, officials estimate,” Ornstein and Weber write. “That’s more registered nurses than the state has sanctioned in the last four years combined.”

Problem nurses move from state to state

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber have, with the help of the Los Angeles Times‘ Maloy Moore, released the final installment in their nurses series (full series: ProPublica | LA Times), this one focusing on how “caregivers with troubled records can cross state lines and work without restriction.” They found that a large number of these cross-state issues could be prevented if state regulators took advantage of readily available information.

By simply typing a nurse’s name into a national database, state officials can often find out within seconds whether the nurse has been sanctioned anywhere in the country and why. But some states don’t check regularly or at all.

The failure to act quickly in such cases has grave implications: Hospitals and other healthcare employers depend on state nursing boards to vouch for nurses’ fitness to practice.

The reporters found an army of examples, from the disturbing anecdote they lead with to the 117 California nurses whose licenses had been revoked, suspended, denied or surrendered elsewhere or the 10 nurses who were disciplined in Rhode Island, yet operated with clear licenses in neighboring Massachusetts.

Most of these transgressions are recorded in a federal database, as well as in one operated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Both are incomplete, even though states are required to update the federal database within 30 days of a disciplinary action. And the federal database, while more complete, is rarely used, probably because it costs money while the state boards’ database is free. Some states only check these databases when licensing a nurse the first time, others rely on the nurses themselves to disclose their own problems. A handful check their nurse list against the database regularly, but they appear to be in the minority.

Lopez finds glamour in LA’s marijuana community

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has released his latest dispatch from medical marijuana’s front lines.

doc420
The Medical License page of Dr. Sona Patel’s site, Doc420.com. Patel specializes in medical marijuana recommendations.

This time, Lopez checks in with a physician who specializes in herbal medicine, worked as a model to help pay her bills to attend a Caribbean medical school, wears high heels and a lab coat in her ornate gold-and-maroon office, and writes about 15 medical marijuana recommendations a day.

“I guarantee a 100% refund if you do not qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation,” she announces on her Web site, Doc420.com. The really crazy part about Dr. Sona Patel? Unlike some of her peers, she spends about half an hour on each appointment and actually turns down some of her patients’ requests.

In two earlier columns, Lopez tells the story of how he got a recommendation to purchase medical marijuana after a brief visit to a gynecologist and how he then used that recommendation to join a cooperative and legally purchase marijuana.

Related

Lopez: Gynecologist gave me permit to buy weed

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about his trip to a clinic specializing in herbal medicine (known for “writing recommendations that allow folks to buy medical marijuana”).

reeferPhoto by Troy Holden via Flickr.

After explaining the back pain he’s suffered through for the past few decades, Lopez was issued a form announcing that “Steve Lopez was evaluated in my office for a medical condition, which in my professional opinion, may benefit from the use of medical marijuana.”

The doctor, who described himself as a gynecologist, billed Lopez $150 for the visit.

On Sunday, Lopez will publish a follow-up (his stories are archived here) about his marijuana dispensary shopping experience.

Related

Scans at LA hospital spewed 8x normal radiation

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

On Oct. 8, the FDA issued an alert recommending hospitals review CT scan radiation levels after dangerous doses were detected at an unnamed hospital. The Los Angeles Times‘ Alan Zarembo took over from there, finding that serious radiation overdoses at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai hospital had prompted the warning.

Zarembo followed up with a series of stories on the radiation and its aftermath:

CT
Heading into the CT scanner, photo by grewlike via Flickr.

Cedars-Sinai investigated for significant radiation overdoses of 206 patients

Zarembo leads with a summary of what exactly went down at Cedars-Sinai:

More than 200 patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center were inappropriately exposed to high doses of radiation from CT brain scans used to diagnose strokes, hospital officials told The Times on Friday.

About 40% of the patients lost patches of hair as a result of the overdoses, a hospital spokesman said.

Even so, the overdoses went undetected for 18 months as patients received eight times the dose normally delivered in the procedure, raising questions about why it took Cedars-Sinai so long to notice that something was wrong.

Class action filed for Cedars radiation patients

Zarembo checks with experts who say the class-action suit filed on behalf of victims has little chance of success because it’s difficult to prove damages, especially since they may not develop for years.

Cedars-Sinai head expresses regret for radiation overdoses

A quick-hit story in which the hospital details exactly what they’ve done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

4 patients say Cedars-Sinai did not tell them they had received a radiation overdose

Zarembo tracked down patients who said that, while they were contacted by the hospital concerning hair loss, they weren’t informed of radiation overdose or potential cancer risk.

Hospital error leads to radiation overdoses

Zarembo writes that the problem has been traced to a CT scanner reset in early 2008.

Cedars-Sinai radiation overdoses went unseen at several points

In one of the most remarkable moments, Zarembo writes that, before every single scan, technicians were shown a screen indicating, among many other things, the unusually high radiation level. The error was in plain sight the entire time.

Beginning in February 2008, each time a patient at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center received a CT brain perfusion scan– a state-of-the-art procedure used to diagnose strokes – the dose displayed would have been eight times higher than normal. No standard medical imaging procedure would use so much radiation, which one expert said is on par with the levels used to blast tumors.

Somebody should have noticed. But nobody did – everybody trusted the machines.

Related

The New York Times‘ Walt Bogdanich added a broader perspective on the story, adding an additional case and subtly weaving it into the debate about the dangers of medical screening.