North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

December 27, 2001

Rural health care woes

Education summit at HSU

Fish, wildlife and billboards

Can coho be delisted?

Composting at Eureka Schools

Ferndale mayor tapped

Recycle your holidays

Academic dream team


Rural health care woes

Crisis. It's not a word elected officials use lightly, but that's just what state Sen. Wesley Chesbro did within minutes of opening a hearing on access to health care in Eureka in early December.

"We're in the middle of a health care crisis," he told the gathering.

Over the next four and a half hours, Chesbro listened as speakers offered views on why rural Californians have poor access to health care.

"Rural populations are older, poorer and sicker" than their urban counterparts, said Thomas Nesbitt, an assistant dean with the University of California-Davis Regional Outreach. To compound the problem, HMOs that had provided a reasonably priced health care option are leaving the rural areas.

Last year Humboldt County joined the ranks of counties without any HMO options. HealthNet, Blue Shield and PacifiCare all withdrew HMO-style insurance products from the local market. There are now 15 counties in California -- all rural -- without HMO products.

While HMOs have been derided over the past decade as providing low-quality, profit-driven health care, they were still popular choices because they cost about half as much as preferred provider organizations, called PPOs.

But because HMO coverage proved unprofitable for insurance companies to provide in rural areas, they have simply quit.

"It's a legal form of red-lining," said Chesbro. "If an insurer would serve Beverly Hills but not Compton, that would be -- justifiably -- illegal. But for some reason, it's legal to discriminate against rural residents."

Several at the meeting were not happy with that. Don Ziegenfuss, regional director of the California State Employees Association, said his group would like to see a program that would force HMOs to go into rural areas if they go into urban areas.

Unfortunately, state government cannot simply require HMOs to operate in a given area, Chesbro said. The most the state can do right now is "regulate how they do it -- but not if they do it."

The solution may be to foster homegrown HMOs, suggested Dr. Alan Glaseroff of the Humboldt Del Norte Foundation for Medical Care. Glaseroff said the Community Health Alliance, a nonprofit organization, is preparing to offer a way for local employers to insure workers. Within the next six months there could be a locally owned health care product on the market, he said.

"We see we can't rely on the large HMO model," Glaseroff said. "But I think it's a myth that nothing can make HMOs work in rural areas."

Such a homegrown HMO will need customers to survive, and the largest single block of potential customers in the county is represented by the California Public Employees Retirement System. That's a problem, Glasseroff said, because CalPERS does not yet consider small insurance products an option.

"We need to lean on CalPERS to be flexible enough to look at local models," he said.


Education summit at HSU

Eric Rofes thinks teachers today face a range of challenges that their predecessors never had to think about. Classrooms are more culturally diverse; kids are more media-savvy; and after Sept. 11, the delicate task of teaching the causes and effects of terrorism has become a priority.

That's why Rofes is spearheading an educational summit at Humboldt State University Feb. 8-9. Bringing in progressive educational voices from across the state and country, the summit will provide local educators the chance to see how leaders in their field are grappling with today's teaching realities.

Those leaders include the 2000 National Teacher of the Year, Marilyn Whirry. An English teacher at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif., Whirry will present the event's opening speech.

But developing Humboldt educational abilities was not the only reason for the summit, Rofes said. It was equally important to showcase homegrown innovations.

"There are a lot of exciting educational programs on the North Coast," he said.

One section will showcase some innovative programs, like Eureka's Blue Ox Millwork school and a kindergarten-level Spanish language immersion program at Morris Elementary in McKinleyville. The idea is to get people thinking about education in new ways, Rofes said.

That includes extending education outside the classroom. "We'll look at media, day care, community organizing and political activism. We see all of that as education in the year 2002."

The summit's last speaker will be uniquely qualified to speak on the educational opportunities presented by political activism. Bill Ayers, distinguished professor of education at the University of Chicago, was a member of the Weather Underground during the late '60s and early '70s.

Call 826-3731 for more information.



Fish, wildlife and billboards

After more than 20 years of trying, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are getting close to removing six unwanted billboards from their property near Humboldt Bay.

Maybe.

"We're getting closer," said Dave Paullin, the service's refuge supervisor for California. "Our attorneys have become involved, and there has been a series of letters passed back and forth." It's a long process but "we are winning the battle of letter writing."

Paullin is looking for a specific kind of letter to be produced by his attorneys before he will believe the billboards are really coming down.

"That final letter will be something along the lines of: `We've exhausted all legal options here, and we'll give you a time to remove them. If they aren't removed, it falls on our shoulders to get rid of them'."

Outdoor Systems, the billboards' owners, have already received one such letter. Richard Guadagno, the manager of the Humboldt Bay refuge who was killed in the plane that crashed over Pennsylvania Sept. 11, wrote letters July 11, 2000, notifying the sign owners they had just 60 days to get rid of the billboards.

But it hasn't proven easy to get rid of the signs. Paullin said the service had pretty much convinced 3M Communications, former owners of the billboards, to remove them. Then 3M was sold, and the process began all over .

The billboards' owner has continued to behave as if it had a legal right to the signs. Even though the company has never had a lease with the service, it continues to send checks to pay rent.

"We never kept their money," Paullin said. "We didn't want them there in the first place."


Can coho be delisted?

Opponents of federal protections for salmon won a major court case in Oregon last September, and now they're about to try it here.

The California State Grange announced it will sue the National Marine Fisheries Service to have the coho delisted, following in the footsteps of the Oregon Grange.

The Oregon group convinced U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan that mistakes in how the government treats the distinction between wild and hatchery salmon make the endangered species listing arbitrary. Hogan's Sept. 10 decision is being appealed, and the delisting it forced has been stayed by the 9th District Court of Appeals pending a court hearing.

Although the coho's federal protections aren't immediately threatened, the potential to take coho off the list has brought the California Grange to court to try the same arguments. The two cases are both being argued by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to property rights.

Why is the Grange concerned about fish science? Because delisting would increase the water supply for farming operations along coastal rivers, said George Dupray, legislative director of the California State Grange. Some farmers in the Klamath Basin were not allowed to use their usual ration of water during the past year because coho "needed enough water to flow down the river for the fish to hatch," he said.

Conservationists trying to fight the lawsuit in California are concerned that the government may not defend itself effectively. Several federal agencies have taken a dimmer view of environmental regulation under the Bush administration than under Clinton, said Tim McKay, executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center in Arcata.

"I expect the Bush administration will not defend its position very well," he said.

The NEC plans to mount its own defense as an interested party to the lawsuit.


Composting at Eureka Schools

"At first, everybody laughed. They were skeptical that kids would change their habits with garbage," said Eureka High science teacher Robert Childs.

But when Childs floated the idea of composting the school's garbage, he found that the kids in his class were not only able to change their habits -- they were eager to do it.

The students in Childs' environmental field biology class discovered, as part of a class assignment, that about 11 percent of the school's waste was compostable. When Childs told the class that the school's waste was trucked to a landfill in Oregon, several students "got a bee in their bonnet" about composting.

They designed a system to separate compostables from the rest of the school's waste stream and solicited help from Leon's Mufflers, which provided a large steel composting bin. For the last three weeks, compost has been collected and is being digested into soil. Every day, one of Childs' students makes the rounds of compost containers and prevents that 11 percent of waste from going to the landfill.


Ferndale mayor tapped

Jeff Farley, mayor of Ferndale, has been appointed president of the Redwood Empire Division of the League of California Cities.

The League helps cities deal with issues of shared concern, such as municipal sewage treatment and problems reaching compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Redwood Empire Division includes cities from Cloverdale to Crescent City.

Farley takes over from Cloverdale Mayor Bob Jehn, who is devoting his time to the race for the 1st State Assembly District.


Recycle your holidays

While your Christmas tree may only represent a hassle to you in the post-holiday season, to recyclers it means much more: potential mulch.

The trees, which can be chipped and used to control erosion, to landscape or to maintain a trail, will be collected throughout Humboldt County.

Trees can either be dropped off or, in some areas, picked up curbside for a small fee. In Scotia, call 764-2222 for more information; in Arcata, 825-5121; in Eureka, 442-4501; and in Fortuna, 725-5165.


Academic dream team

A Humboldt State University team has won the state championship game, but don't expect to read about it on the sports page. The HSU students in question thought their way to glory as contestants in the Wildlife Society Quiz Bowl.

It was only the team's first year at the contest, but the five students swept the field by answering questions about birds, bees and botany. The championship game against Colorado State was a real thriller, too. Down by 45 points at the two-minute warning, the team rallied and delivered a devastating barrage of thoughtful, well-considered answers. At the buzzer, they were ahead by 25.

"They were starting to think they had it and -- bam! -- we lowered the boom," said Professor David Kitchen, who coaches the team. "A lot of alumni betting on it were happy."


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