State of emergency

State of emergency

Shortly after 5 a.m. today, Pasadena city officials declared a state of emergency due to extremely high Santa Ana winds, which toppled trees and knocked down power lines, resulting in at least one fire.

No casualties were reported as a result of overnight winds reaching speeds of 75 mph, according to the Pasadena Police Department. A visual inspection of some properties in Old Pasadena struck by fallen trees showed damage to some structures, but an estimate had not been established.

Shortly after 11 a.m., police reported 47 incidents of power lines knocked down by fallen trees. The LA Times reported that 42 Pasadena homes were “red tagged,” or deemed uninhabitable, by building inspectors. Another 200 structures were under investigation.

About 4,000 Pasadena residents were without power today, and Altadena experienced a total blackout.

Parts of San Marino, South Pasadena, Glendale and Highland Park also reported going without power. Arcadia also declared a formal state of emergency.

Pasadena library branches were closed and classes at Pasadena City College were canceled. The Times reported that half of the residents of South Pasadena were without water.

Countywide, 330,000 people lost electrical power, according to estimates reported by City News Service.

Pasadena’s Emergency Operations Center was activated early today, with officials assessing the city street by street. Officials in Pasadena, Arcadia and Glendale closed schools due to the high winds. According to an advisory, Arcadia schools will remain closed until Monday. Pasadena school officials will decide later tonight whether to open schools Friday.

Schools in Alhambra, San Marino, San Gabriel, Monrovia, Azusa and Glendora were also closed today, according to ABC news.

A shelter for displaced families has been established at Robinson Park Center, 1081 N. Fair Oaks Ave.

The powerful winds were expected to return tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

“The priority right now is clearing the streets and restoring power,” Pasadena city spokeswoman Ann Erdman said in a prepared statement. “Pasadena Water and Power crews are responding as quickly as possible; they are not responding to downed cable TV lines.”

Police reported receiving emergency calls from residents who could not contact elderly neighbors, clogging the city’s 911 emergency phone system. There were 248 calls for service from 11 p.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. today.

“We are asking Pasadenans to please stay indoors if at all possible and use the appropriate numbers, and to check on elderly neighbors,” said Pasadena Police Lt. Phlunte Riddle. “Please don’t use 911 unless it is a life-threatening emergency.”

The city has established two information lines: (626) 564-0199 and (626) 564-0299. Also visit cityofpasadena.net.

State of emergency

State of emergency
With millions in budget cuts on the horizon — likely to force Pasadena Unified School District administrators to lay off even more teachers, custodians, librarians and support staff members — dozens of area residents assembled for a “State of Emergency” rally Tuesday morning.  
 
Teachers, parents, elected officials and administrators who gathered at Lake Avenue and Del Mar Boulevard in Pasadena held signs and shouted “save our schools” as drivers honked their horns to show support. The rally was held in solidarity with thousands of people across the state doing the same thing in the first of two scheduled protests this week. 
 
On Friday, thousands are expected to gather in Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles to protest the cuts, part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, set to be released Monday.
 
“This is a wake-up call for the community and our public officials,” said Pasadena Education Foundation member Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College and the father of two children attending public schools. “We can’t solve this problem by ourselves. We can’t put all of our hope in the governor. If the public got the chance to vote on increasing spending, they would vote yes. We have to wake up the state. We are laying the groundwork to building a movement.” 
 
Similar protests were held in San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento. In that city, 65 protesters were arrested Monday for allegedly refusing to leave the state Capitol after it closed at 6 p.m. 
 
Locally, the district could lose $750 per student a year in state funding and have to let go of up to 100 teachers, in addition to the 150 teachers that were laid off last year. Over the past four years, the district has been forced to cut $32 million. District officials say Brown’s budget, as proposed, would force them to cut $15 million more.
 
Last year’s cuts to the state budget resulted in the layoffs of 30,000 teachers in California, which already has the lowest staff-per-student ratio in the nation. 
 
Educators are imploring lawmakers to extend temporary tax increases, which are due to expire June 30. On Monday, the California Federation of Teachers unveiled a radio ad singling out GOP state senators who oppose the tax extensions.
 
“They’ve already had lots of cuts,” said Eva Webb, whose two children attend McKinley School. “It’s not helpful at all and they need to do something different.”
 
According to Board of Education Vice President Ed Honowitz, there are no plans at this time to close schools or place another parcel tax on the ballot.
 
Last year, the school board closed Loma Alta and Burbank elementary schools in Altadena after voters failed to approve a parcel tax that, if approved, would have pumped an additional $7 million a year into the district. 
 
 “We’re basically building a budget around an assumption that we will be dealing with $15 million in cuts,” Honowitz said at Tuesday morning’s rally. “Because the tax extensions did not get on the ballot, the question is will they suspend Proposition 98? If they do, we will be looking at the full $15 million. If not, it will be closer to $9 million. Either way, we are looking at major reductions in student intervention programs, major support staff and custodial layoffs and librarians.”
 
Enacted in 1988 as an amendment to the California Constitution, Proposition 98 establishes an annual funding level for grades K-12 and community colleges based on state general fund revenues. Proposition 98 can only be suspended by two-thirds vote of the Legislature. 
 
“I think the state has decimated public education and this is going to cut below the bone,” said Board of Education member Tom Selinske. “We are struggling to try and figure out how to keep more adults in kids’ lives, especially the ones who need it most. These cuts make it harder for us to do that.” 
 
Former write-in school board candidate Cushon Bell said the rally was a positive event, but more has to be done to protect public education.
 
“A rally is, on some levels, appropriate, but it is not enough,” said Bell who visited Washington, DC, last month as part of the Mom Congress, which brings together mothers from around the country to discuss education reform issues and programs for teachers and schools. 
 
“We have to step up our game and engage with our elected officials and get savvy about what we are doing. It’s not enough to say no more cuts. We have to have a plan. We need to get serious,” Bell said. “Are we really using the resources we have as effectively as we can? I think some parents need to go to Sacramento, but you have to go with more than ‘Don’t cut public education,’ because they will blow you off. We have to get educated about the budget and what the state spends on other programs.” 
 
The cuts, protesters and school officials agreed, could also hamper the educational progress that schools in the district have been making over the past several years. The PUSD scored 758 on the Academic Performance Index (API), based on standardized testing, up 18 points from last year. With a score of 1,000 being highest, Pasadena schools this year were 42 points shy of the state’s 800-point target average for all California schools. 
 
“If you look at what’s happened in the last three-to-four years, there have been all of these state cuts planned and the only institution that has actually realized the cuts has been public education,” said PUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz. “A lot of the cuts that were slated for other public agencies, for balancing the budget, never materialized. Public education has taken a disproportionate level of cuts over the last three years. There is absolutely no way we can take further reductions … We are at that point where this will impact our students’ progress. I think this is a defining moment. There is no way we can continue the progress. There is no way we can continue to reduce the dropout rate. Kids need adults who can provide them attention and personalized instruction,” Diaz said.
 
“Last year I took 150 adults out of the system. If we have to take another 150 adults out of the system, how can we ask teachers and others to really connect with kids who are struggling? They won’t have the time to do it,” Diaz said. “When you ask who the budget cuts will hurt, they will hurt the kids who are doing the worst right now and the kids who rely on public education for their future.”

State of emergency

State of emergency

Paramedics call it “hugging the wall.”

It’s what they do when they find a hospital emergency room is too busy to receive the patient they’ve brought in; they get off to the side and tend to the patient until he can be admitted to the emergency room.

In ERs across the country, hugging the wall has become standard practice. At Huntington Hospital, in the only remaining ER in Pasadena, it takes an average of 26 minutes before a 911 patient can be admitted and the ambulance is available again.

That only covers the instances when ambulance units get in the door. For an average of 214 hours each month (30 percent of the time), Huntington’s ER is in ambulance diversion mode, when the ER is full and ambulances that would normally come to Huntington are instead sent to nearby hospitals in Glendale
or Arcadia.

Walk-in ER patients have gotten used to waiting, too. Wait times at Huntington’s ER can extend up to six or eight hours during the busiest times in the afternoon, according to Jeanette Abunis, clinical director of Huntington’s emergency department.

With demand for care rising as the number of ERs falls, the overcrowding at Huntington is not uncommon.

“We’re not the only ER experiencing these capacity issues,” Abunis said.

In fact, the situation at Huntington is better than most places in the county. A February report by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services found that the three county-run emergency rooms all had average wait times of more than nine hours.

“[Ambulance] units in Compton are waiting two to three hours [to admit patients],” said Ray Gordon, battalion chief of the Pasadena Fire Department’s emergency medical service. “There are a lot of other parts of the county that would love to only wait 26 minutes.”

Wait times at Huntington should improve, as the Pasadena City Council has approved an expansion that would more than double the size of Huntington’s ER, increasing the number of beds from 23 to 53. Hospital officials believe the expansion would allow the ER, which was designed to accommodate 30,000 patients per year but currently sees around 65,000, to treat up to 90,000 patients per year.

The expansion project, which would involve the construction of a new four-story tower on Fairmount Road, awaits approval by state agencies before work can begin. The hospital plans to fund the $65 million project, which is expected to take three to four years to complete and would not impact the hospital’s capacity during construction, entirely through philanthropy.

Gordon said the expanded ER at Huntington would be a great asset. But if current care demand continues, it would not be long before the expanded ER, too, would be overwhelmed.

“It will probably give us five or seven years of breathing room,” he said.

A federal Institute of Medicine report in 2006 found that the demand for emergency room care nationwide had increased 26 percent since 1993. More and more people are turning to ERs for care that had typically been provided by primary care physicians or at outpatient clinics.

“We have people coming in with bad head colds,” said Huntington spokeswoman Connie Matthews.

Much of the blame has been placed at the feet of uninsured illegal immigrants. Philip Chen, health deputy to County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said that in order to relieve overcrowding at ERs, “we have to solve the problem of illegal immigration,” before acknowledging, “There is no panacea.”

But Dr. Brett Eastman, co-author of the Institute of Medicine study, cautioned against that logic. He noted that, while the numbers of both legal and illegal uninsured residents continue to rise, they don’t account for the entire scope of the problem.

“One of the misconceptions is that they’re overburdened because of the uninsured, but the data showed that wasn’t entirely the case,” Eastman said. “A great deal of the crowding was caused by the ER being utilized by people with non-emergent conditions who were fully insured.”

Eastman said that ERs have in some ways become victims of their own success.

“Our ER physicians are excellent, and the American public now views the emergency department as a very efficient place to go for primary care,” he said.
Abunis agreed.

“People feel that, if they want an answer today, they’d come to the emergency department,” she said. “It’s viewed as a one-stop shop.”

In addition to the burden created by increased demand, ERs are constrained by capacity issues in the hospital in general. As the baby boomer generation ages, it becomes more common for the inpatient beds at the hospital to be full, meaning that emergency room patients who are ready to be transferred into the hospital often must remain in the ER.

“When the hospital gets backed up, there’re no beds at the inn,” Abunis said.

Meanwhile, the number of overall emergency rooms continues to decline.  Since 2000, 12 emergency departments have closed in Los Angeles County, with only three opening in the same period.

Hospitals are providing more uncompensated care to uninsured patients while Medi-Cal reimbursements continue to shrink in relation to costs, meaning most ERs are money-losers. Huntington Hospital provided more than $26 million in uncompensated and charity care last year, much of it in the emergency department.

“It’s like any business, when one department is losing money you try to make up for it in other departments,” said Matthews of Huntington Hospital, which reported $9 million in income in 2006.

With each ER closure, the strain on neighboring ERs increases. Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, which saw increased traffic after the closure of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in August, was recently reprimanded for its long wait times by federal regulators, who threatened to pull funding from the hospital. That threat has passed for now, but the underlying problem remains. Huntington Hospital officials say they started seeing about 50 more ER patients per day following the closure of St. Luke Medical Center in 2002.

There are some positives in Los Angeles County emergency care, including a highly coordinated regional trauma system that ensures victims of trauma — including car accidents, falls, gunshot or stab wounds — are taken directly to the hospital best suited to care for them and never diverted.

But the overall pressure on ERs shows no signs of abating. Gordon, the EMS battalion chief, said Pasadena residents are lucky to have a quality hospital in Huntington, and that its proposed expansion would be a blessing for the community.

“Hopefully it will carry us for several years,” he said. “But the unfortunate side of this is we’re at the tail end of a failed healthcare system. Until there’s a wholesale change in the way we do business, [the expansion] is a Band-Aid. It’s a very big Band-Aid, but just a Band-Aid.” 

State of emergency

WASHINGTON, DC – As lawmakers gathered for a joint session of Congress to hear President Bush’s fifth State of the Union address Tuesday, about 500 people led by the activist group World Can’t Wait tried to "drown out Bush’s lies" outside the heavily fortified US Capitol Building.

Facing a nearly $400 billion deficit, a critical election year, growing criticism over his domestic spying program and increasing dissatisfaction with the War on Terror, Bush’s speech was met with not just skepticism but also cynicism by many – and not just protesters – who heard him speak.

At a restaurant less than a quarter-mile from the Capitol, diners were unimpressed.

"We’ve heard this speech five times now," said Nate Johnson, a Washington resident. "It was funny to watch what the Democrats and Republicans applaud for. Even that is politically motivated."

Some felt the issue of Iran was out of place in the speech, in which Bush pleaded for renewed support for the war in Iraq and called on Congress to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act.

"There are nuclear threats all over the world," said artist and self-described revolutionary Hawah, who teaches in DC-area schools. "Why not bring up Syria or North Korea or China? His motive seems ambiguous."

Perhaps that ambiguity explains why the president’s overall ratings now hover around 40 percent – the lowest approval ratings ever for a sitting wartime president.

In cities around the country, including Los Angeles, protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the administration.

Josh Collins, an English teacher from Glendale, said he brought some of his students to the World Can’t Wait-sponsored protest at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, outside the CNN Building in Hollywood.

"We’re reading Orwell’s ‘1984,’ and I brought some of the students here as opposed to [them] just hearing the doublespeak and Newspeak and all the crap of this regime," said Collins.

In fact, the LA demonstration attracted a generally much younger crowd than previous demonstrations.

"A lot of young people are very much aware of how serious the situation is and don’t believe it’s possible to wait until the Bush term expires because every day there’s a new action contrary to the interests of the people of the United States. Bush is not serving the common good," said longtime anti-war activist Blase Bonpane.

"The more I learn, the more to the left I become. It’s the war, it’s the torture – the policies all over the world. It’s how many innocent people are dying for nothing. We should get out of Iraq right now, and it’s amazing how many people feel the same way," said Anne Goldin, 24, of West Hollywood.

World Can’t Wait organizer Adam Grimes, a 29-year-old TV actor who’s appeared in such shows as "CSI Miami" and "The OC," said, "There’s nothing I believe in more than eliminating these guys from office."

Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild, who hosts a program on KPFK 90.7-FM, said the PATRIOT Act and government eavesdropping have nothing to do with making us safer. "It has to do with making the ruling elite safer from us and what we’re doing tonight," he said.

Mari Riddle of Pasadena turned her 50th birthday party last week at the Avenue 50 Studio art gallery in Highland Park into a fundraiser for World Can’t Wait’s print-ad campaign, which last month placed ads demanding "Bush Step Down" in The New York Times.

"We’re different from most of the other rallies, which chip away at Bush with a single cause of some sort. We’re saying we have to repudiate his entire agenda and force him out with all of it," Riddle said.

Back in Washington, peace activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested and removed from the House gallery just before Bush’s address. She was wearing a shirt with an anti-war slogan, which she kept covered up until she sat down. After an ineffective warning, she was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, a misdemeanor.

Sheehan, who has considered a run for Democratic US Sen. Diane Feinstein’s seat in California, wants Bush not only impeached but also tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"During Bush’s speech, every time he says ‘terrorist,’ replace it with ‘me and my insane policies’ and it fits right in," she told the Weekly Tuesday in Washington.

Today, the Bush War Crimes Commission, initiated by Not in Our Name, is expected to announce "indictments" against the Bush administration at the National Press Club in Washington. Harry Belafonte and Michael Ratner will deliver the opening remarks.

State of emergency

State of emergency

Even if you really do eat an apple a day, accidents happen, and chances are some day you’ll end up in emergency care.

Good thing you’re living in the USA, where top-notch medical care, it seems, is just around the corner, right?

Better think twice, warns the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), which last week rated the country’s emergency medical services a lousy C-minus in the first-ever comprehensive study of its kind.

In its National Report Card on the State of Emergency Medicine, ACEP found that in most places in the nation, hospitals are overcrowded, too many people have no health insurance, and infrastructures lack financial support.

ACEP examined the emergency health care situation in each state on four key criteria – access to emergency care, quality and patient safety, public health and injury prevention and medical liability environment – and none received an A.

While California actually came out on top with a B, it ranked only a C in terms of access to emergency care – not altogether surprising when you consider recent trauma center closures all over the county, including Pasadena, at a time when the number of patients is increasing.

In fact, the Golden State ranks last in the number of emergency rooms available to people. California also faces a shortage of nurses and available hospital beds, and the state spends less per person on emergency care than a lot of other places.

“A ‘B’ rating is deceiving,” said Carol Meyer, director of the LA County Emergency Medical Services Agency, a division under the County Department of Health.

Because ACEP scored California higher for public health and injury prevention due to seatbelt and car seat laws and got an A-plus grade for caps on medical liability, Meyer believes what really matters to sick people wasn’t weighted high enough.

“Our [low] scores for access and quality of care are raised by these other issues that are not immediately important to our patients. The report is a measure of some things that make it look better than it really is for the patient,” she said.

Meyer said one problem facing emergency care services in LA County is a lack of enthusiasm by medical staff. In addition to nursing shortages, essential ER specialists such as cardiologists, neurosurgeons and orthopedists don’t want to be “on call” because it disrupts their day-to-day office practices and costs them money.

“They’re called in to treat uninsured patients who have no form of reimbursement,” Meyer said. “In addition, if a doctor is called in during the middle of the night to take care of [emergency room] patients, he may be tired the next day when he returns to his office and regular patients.”

In the past two years, seven hospitals have closed in the area due to financial problems and hospital consolidations, as smaller trauma centers struggle to stay viable next to larger medical complexes.

The result: Patients wait up to six hours for emergency treatment. Ouch!

Since St. Luke Hospital in Pasadena closed in 2002, Huntington Hospital is one of a few trauma centers in the San Gabriel Valley. Originally created to accommodate 35,000 patients a year, Huntington helped about 60,000 people in 2004.

“We’re seeing 50 to 75 more patients per day since the closure of St. Luke’s,” said Bonnie Kass, Huntington’s vice president for patient care.

If its board of directors approve, Huntington will expand its ER in 2008, she said.

Pasadena Public Health Officer Dr. Takashi Wada believes the problems with accessing emergency care, as well as the closure of hospitals, is related to larger problems like health care financing and the growing number of uninsured.

According to Wada, about one-third of ER visits turn out not to be emergencies.

To fix the situation locally, the Pasadena Public Health Department is using part of a recent federal grant to create Pasadena Health Care Link, a 24-hour medical advice and resource call center where uninsured and underinsured members of the community can speak to a health care provider and connect to the appropriate services.

“We’re hoping that one of the outcomes is that people will now be able to get this advice and be channeled to outpatient clinics instead of using the emergency room inappropriately,” Wada said.

In the realm of public policy, it seems many were previously blind to the message of the ACEP report.

“The state Senate is just beginning to research the problems and solutions,” said Wendy Gordon, spokeswoman for Pasadena Democratic state Sen. Jack Scott. Spokespeople for state Assemblywoman Judy Chu did not return calls.

State Democrats, Gordon said, are looking at a “Back to Basics” plan for emergency room access led by Senate President pro-Tem Don Perata. But, “So far, there is nothing in print. That process is just getting underway. Senate Democrats will be looking into various options for addressing this issue in the next month-and-a-half.”

Still, there’s a lot for this state to be proud of, wrote Dr. Cesar A. Aristeiguieta, director of the California Emergency Medical Services Authority, in a recent email to the Weekly praising California’s A-plus injury prevention programs as “a benchmark for the nation.”

There are a lot of places, particularly in urban areas, where the system is under great stress, Aristeiguieta acknowledged.

“The challenge,” he wrote, “is finding cost-effective and sensible solutions that work for Los Angeles as well as Yreka.”

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