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Take Charge of Your Sexual Health: Get Tested

OAKLAND POST — April is sexually transmitted disease (STD) awareness month. It is essential to know about STDs and how prevention and testing is critical to overall health. However, STD Awareness Month is not just about awareness but also about action.

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By The Oakland Post

April is sexually transmitted disease (STD) awareness month. It is essential to know about STDs and how prevention and testing is critical to overall health.

However, STD Awareness Month is not just about awareness but also about action. Bay Area health officials, including those in Marin County, are urging everyone who is sexually active, especially young people, to take charge of their sexual health. Young people and men who have sex with men are at particular risk and should get tested more often.

STD testing is now more crucial than ever because rates are continuing to rise, increasing steadily in Marin and statewide since 2013. Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis continue to grow, and syphilis has re-emerged as a significant public health concern. In California, 283 infants were born with syphilis in 2017.

Chlamydia, the most common STD in California, is easily preventable and treatable but can cause serious health problems such as infertility if left untreated. In Marin, between 2013 and 2017, chlamydia rates almost doubled, going from 405 cases to 757 annual cases. Most of these cases are in young women. National statistics estimate that one out of every two young people will have an STD before age 25.

“Quite often, someone can have an STD and not show any symptoms. The only way to stop the ongoing spread of STDs is for more people to get checked regularly and encourage their partners to get checked as well,” said Dr. Lisa Santora, Marin’s Deputy Public Health Officer. “Young women get tested routinely when they seek reproductive health care and birth control, but not enough young men seek the preventative care that they need.”

In Marin, there are many partners taking action to make sure everyone in the community has access to health care. The Marin Community Clinics (MCC) recently launched a drop-in STD clinic on Mondays and Thursday evenings from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 3260 Kerner Ave. in San Rafael. Additionally, it partners with local agencies such as Huckleberry Youth Programs, North Bay Community Services in Novato, and the School Wellness Centers in the Tamalpais Union High School District to bring health services to teens.

In an ideal world, everyone who needs STD checks would be routinely engaged in care, have insurance, and be able to approach the subject of sexual health with ease. However, there are many barriers to people obtaining health care and seeking preventative care including racial inequity, poverty, and stigma. In the case of an untreated STD, there can be some severe consequences.

Fortunately, there are many tools besides testing to prevent STDs, including HIV. Young people can get vaccinated for human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which is the most common STD and can cause cervical cancer. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), consisting of taking one pill a day, effectively prevents HIV. Additionally, practicing safe sex, using condoms and talking to partners about sexual health, are tried and accurate methods of STD and HIV prevention.

In Marin County, the Family Pact Program provides STD services free of charge. More information about health care services are at the HHS website.

This article originally appeared in the Oakland Post. 

Community

Urban Farm in East Oakland Teaches Youth Healthy Living, Strengthens Community Ties

Located at 1001 83rd Ave., it is a beautiful, positive space and experience for so many families in this area who are oftentimes cut off from nature and too fearful to allow their children to play outside. 

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 Acta Non Verba students stand by their harvest at the farm in East Oakland. Acta Non Verba Facebook photo.

Hidden within a dirty, violent, densely populated urban food desert stands an oasis for the fearful parents and bored youth of East Oakland. 

Alarmed by Oakland’s high school dropout rate and FBI ranking as the 6th most dangerous city in the U.S, Oakland mother and Navy veteran Kelly Carlisle decided to expand her urban farming from her balcony to a bigger plot of land. There she could fulfill her desire to teach children, youth and even adults about farming, food and nutrition using her skills as a Master Gardener. The added benefit would be a community whose ties became stronger. 

Carlisle was connected to Tassafaronga Recreation Center in East Oakland whose leadership wanted to create a farm on the land behind the center and so Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV) was born. 

Located at 1001 83rd Ave., it is a beautiful, positive space and experience for so many families in this area who are oftentimes cut off from nature and too fearful to allow their children to play outside. 

Families from the surrounding neighborhoods and greater community can benefit from a myriad of programs that the organization offers such as childcare, camping, instruction on farming, cooking and nutrition. 

The mission of (ANV) cannot be better summarized than by the people who have dedicated their lives to this cause, and according to their website, it is:

“Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV) elevates life in Oakland and beyond by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming. Founded and led mainly by women of color from the surrounding neighborhood and larger community, ANV creates a safe and creative outdoor space for children, youth, and families in East Oakland, CA. ANV engages and strengthens young people’s understanding of nutrition, food production, and healthy living as well as strengthens their ties to the community.”

This program begins with the youth at the planning stage, plotting the land, planting the seeds, cultivating the produce, and ends with the youth marketing it to customers and making the sales. The children get to experience every part of the process of farm-to-table nutrition, teaching them valuable skills and lessons that will help them as they grow into adulthood.  

Over the years ANV has taught hundreds of children these life skills which help make community ties with the help of sponsors, donors and volunteers. Visit the ANV website if you are interested in signing your children up for camp, childcare or any of the other programs offered.

If you are looking for a worthy organization to offer your time and/or money, please consider an investment in our urban youth through Acta Non Verba. 

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Community

Telehealth Increases Access to Care for Medi-Cal Patients – Let’s Keep It OPINION

Telehealth may not make for a good Norman Rockwell painting, but it does make for good medicine. It’s an improvement, a step forward that helps us get healthier and close gaps in care.

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Nearly a century ago, a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Doctor and Doll” was published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, a popular American cultural magazine.

It depicted an older gentleman wearing a suit, doctor bag at his feet, pressing a stethoscope to the chest of a little girl’s toy doll. A cluttered desk and worn chair sit atop a forgettable rug. It’s an old image of health care in America. A country doctor caring for his neighbors via a “house call.”

Of course, we know it was not that simple. Healthcare was rudimentary compared to today’s standards – that is if you had access to care at all. Average life expectancy reflected that. If you were born white in 1929 you would be lucky to reach your 60s. If you were Black, you weren’t likely to reach your 50s.

While things are far from perfect, at least they have improved. Healthy lifestyles and modern medicine have made living into your 80s commonplace. Significant racial disparities remain, but the gap is closing. And the number of people with health coverage has never been higher.  But while Medi-Cal (the state sponsored coverage for people who have low-incomes) now covers nearly 14 million people, many still lack appropriate access to care.

Access to care is a complex issue, but sometimes it’s as simple as geography. Taking an hours-long bus ride across town to visit the doctor isn’t practical for most people. Add lost wages, a lack of childcare, and the fact that you don’t feel good, and it’s downright impossible.

Solutions available in employer-based health insurance for years, like virtual care through an app or over the telephone, haven’t been an option for people on Medi-Cal.

Until the pandemic.

When the federal and state governments declared emergency last Spring, federally qualified health centers like WellSpace Health were able to provide care virtually via telephone and video, a practice that had been prohibited previously.

Virtual care is wildly successful. Over the past two weeks, 5,015 patients accessed care remotely rather than visiting our health centers. Half of primary care visits and 85% of behavioral health visits were virtual. According to a statewide survey of community health centers, which serve 1 in 5 Californians, there has been a 75% decrease in no-show rates since the implementation of telehealth. A study conducted by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network reported a significant number of patients from communities of color engaging in telehealth and having a high level of patient satisfaction.

As an internal medicine doctor and the chief medical officer WellSpace Health, it makes sense. Technology has given us the ability to conduct a modern day “house call.” We can go to the patient and break down significant barriers to care. If the patient requires a hands-on assessment or treatment, we can take that step. But frequently, especially in behavioral health, hands-on care is not necessary.

Our ability to provide virtual care under the emergency order will expire soon. Permanent authorization will require action by the Legislature and the governor through the budget process. Assembly Bill (AB) 32 by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D- Winters) provides the template for action.

In this budget cycle, the governor must take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address inequality in our health care delivery system. By adopting the provisions of AB 32 into the FY21-22 final budget, it will guarantee that all Medi-Cal beneficiaries – regardless of where they seek care – can use all telehealth modalities, including telephonic care, indefinitely.

Telehealth may not make for a good Norman Rockwell painting, but it does make for good medicine. It’s an improvement, a step forward that helps us get healthier and close gaps in care.

It even brings back the house call.

Dr. Janine Bera is the chief medical officer for WellSpace Health and chair of the California Primary Care Association Telehealth Clinical Task Force.

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Community

California Unemployment System Backlogged With Over 200,000 Claims

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

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California EDD

California may be reopening beginning June 15, but for many unemployed workers, the economic struggle caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near ending.

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

On May 28, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) hosted a press conference featuring constituents from his district who are seeking immediate help from EDD. Three constituents spoke about their struggles while trying to get their unemployment benefits. They experienced extremely long wait times while calling EDD and faced difficulties trying to verify their identity or correct claim amounts with the department.

The difficulties with EDD that the speakers expressed in their stories mirrored complaints the department’s service and call centers have been reporting since the pandemic began last year.

Roneisha Williams, a Gipson constituent, is waiting on an appeal after receiving an incorrect benefit amount. She described her experience communicating with EDD representatives over the phone as “confusing.”

She said that she received conflicting information from the EDD and representatives asked her for a different set of documents each time she called.

“When you call and speak with someone regarding the solution, you’re not given the same information. You can call one representative and they’ll tell you to submit a documentation. You submit that documentation. You call to confirm that it has been received. The other representative will tell you that not only you weren’t supposed to submit that documentation, but really you need to go to this step, and we need to see this documentation.”

Williams also spoke about her difficulties going through the identity verification process with the third-party company ID.me.

EDD launched the ID.me verification process in October 2020 as part of an effort to crack down on fraud. The department also suspended 1.4 million accounts last December and made some claimants verify their identities.

Since then, unemployed Californians directed to ID.me have faced delays and technical issues. Willams also expressed concern for less technologically-savvy claimants who may have to use ID.me.

“Having to contact a third party to qualify for your unemployment benefits is very stressful, especially when they do not have any human contact customer service available. With the ID.me verification, everything is done through your phone. So that in itself is very isolating. I know how to work technology but what about the constituents that aren’t familiar with it. What about the constituents that don’t have a high-powered or accurate camera on their phone to send a copy of their ID?” Williams said.

Roger Lozoya, a pipeline welder who also lives in Gipson’s district, lost his job five months ago and has had no income since. He said his identity was stolen and used to receive EDD benefits. So, when he tried to get benefits, the EDD told him that he owed them money.

Lozoya said, “I’m a welder, and I’m blessed to have a career that I worked hard to get. I pay a lot of taxes and I pay into EDD. The only thing they constantly do to me is call me a liar — that I’m stealing from them. They told me I owe them $69,000. How do I owe $69,000? At the time they were saying that I was claiming it, I was working.”

In the months without income, Lozoya said that he has sold his possessions, including his work truck and tools, to support his family.

During the press conference, Gipson called on the EDD to take measures to get through the claims backlog. He also urged the EDD to extend working hours and keep phone lines open during evenings and weekends.

Gipson also mentioned the state audits of EDD and suggested that implementing the recommendations of the State Auditor would likely help address the backlog.

“We absolutely have to do everything we can to make sure that the people who need this help the most get the help that they’re seeking to put food on the table, clothes their children’s back and also a roof over the head,” said Gipson.

In response to a California Black Media request for comment, EDD Media Services said, “We understand how challenging this pandemic has been for millions of people. Since April 2020, EDD call centers are — and have been open 12 hours a day, seven days a week — which includes evenings and weekends, among many other efforts to continually work to improve the customer experience. EDD offers useful self-help information including a 24-hour self-help line 1-866-333-4606, AskEDD and an online chatbot answering frequently asked questions, a YouTube channel with helpful videos, and many articles on at EDD.ca.gov. The call center can be reached 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week at 1-800-300-5616.“

EDD also shared the actions that the department has taken to improve the customer experience, including, “improving the online help text to clearly explain what is required by the bi-weekly certification questions to help claimants avoid delays, deploying document upload, including a mobile-friendly version, to help claimants save time over mail, launching a new feature that allows a caller to hold their place “in line” when contacting the call center until the EDD calls the claimant back, [and] continuing to monitor customer areas of confusion and trending issues and addressing them with improved public information.”

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