According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, residents at nursing homes are at the highest risk of being impacted by the coronavirus. Despite taking precautionary measures, these facilities have accounted for nearly half of all deaths related to COVID-19 in California, and data released by the state suggests there have been many more outbreaks than previously disclosed.
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In the last few years, California began restoring benefits in its Medi-Cal program that were cut during the last recession more than a decade ago. And in January, Gov. Gavin Newsom had even proposed expansions and deep investments that were poised to transform the multi-billion dollar health coverage program for low-income residents.
Then coronavirus happened. And how the picture has changed.
The state’s revised budget released last week shows that the Golden State’s new economic reality will almost certainly hit the Medi-Cal program with cuts in services and provider rates, as well as rescinded expansions. The list of proposed changes is sweeping, from canceling coverage expansion to more older Californians – including undocumented seniors – to cuts in some adult dental services.
The state’s budget also proposes to cut Medi-Cal coverage for hearing exams, speech therapy, eyeglasses, podiatry, acupuncture, occupational and physical therapy, pharmacist services and diabetes prevention program services.Read More
As California ramps up coronavirus testing of the general population, the state is still about two weeks away from any mandatory testing of its most vulnerable residents: those in nursing homes.
Testing has been a significant challenge for the state and the country since the beginning of the outbreak, and today, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state had passed a “milestone” of 1 million tests – now averaging about 35,000 a day. It needs almost double that to meet its next goal.
But Newsom and his top health official later acknowledged that the state still needs more time and resources to begin requiring testing in nursing homes for both residents and staff.
“I think we’re a couple of weeks away from having this all ironed out, and it comes down to ensuring that we not only have the supplies but also the people power to get the testing done,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, head of the California Health and Human Services Agency.
Yet several experts said they believed state health officials should immediately prioritize nursing home residents – and the staff who care for them – before mass testing the general public.Read More
Amid a global shortage of face masks that could help stem the spread of the coronavirus, California officials received an intriguing call on March 23. The caller said he had access to 100 million coveted N95 masks that were sitting at the Port of Long Beach. He’d sell them to the state of California for $4.76 each — a bargain compared to other vendors asking between $6 and $12 at the time.
That was the picture painted by Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, as he explained to lawmakers today why the state wired nearly half a billion dollars to Blue Flame Medical LLC, then quickly walked back the deal. Ultimately, he said, banks involved in the large wire transfer called state officials and alerted them that the transaction seemed suspicious, and the state got its money back.
“Of the multiple checks and balances, this was one that was identified ultimately by the bank,” Ghilarducci said. “The bank’s normal vetting process caught it, reported it to the state.”
California’s frenetic Blue Flame deal with a politically connected mask supplier was first reported last week by CalMatters.
Today’s hearing of the Assembly accountability and administrative review committee provided a glimpse into California’s scramble to obtain medical supplies for a state of 40 million people. As the pandemic mounted, states found themselves competing with each other and the federal government for limited stock, amid supply chains from China that were disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak there.Read More
California lawmakers plan to probe why state officials wired half a billion dollars for masks to a medical supply company that had existed for just three days, and want to know what’s changed in the state’s vetting process since the deal collapsed.
“We really need to ensure that there are appropriate controls in place and that we are spending California’s tax dollars efficiently and responsibly,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Laguna Beach Democrat.
The accountability and administrative review committee she chairs plans to hold a hearing this month to examine the bizarre transaction that CalMatters revealed earlier this week in which California wired $456.9 million on March 26 to Blue Flame Medical LLC – then scrambled to get the money back hours later. The company was incorporated on March 23 by two Republican operatives, Mike Gula and John Thomas, with no track record in the medical supplies field.
Republican lawmakers also are seeking an audit of all the state’s spending on protective masks, including the rescinded payment to Blue Flame and a $1 billion contract the state subsequently reached with a Chinese company called BYD.
“We are concerned about the details of a rushed, half-billion contract to a company only days old and a price-per-mask contract with BYD that could be nearly 40% higher than what is available on the market,” nine GOP lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Legislature’s Democratic leaders today.Read More
More than 3 million students. Hundreds of campuses. A state higher education budget of $36 billion. As we’ve heard so often lately, California is a nation-state, and its system of colleges and universities is equally gargantuan.
Only a handful of reporters in California cover this important beat full-time. But across the state, student journalists are reporting for their campus newspapers on issues that affect them directly, from the cost of college to freedom of speech, sexual assault, and now, a global pandemic.
Student journalists are the experts on their colleges. And with the number of local news outlets shrinking, their work increasingly informs not only students but nearby communities. Now more than ever, they need support. That’s why this spring, CalMatters launched the College Journalism Network.
The network brings together student journalists from across the state to collaborate on group reporting projects, pitch and write stories for CalMatters and our media partners, and receive training. All positions are paid, so students can afford to focus on their professional development. Our goal: to broaden and deepen CalMatters’ higher education coverage, while mentoring a diverse new generation of journalists.
With the generous support of the College Futures Foundation, we assembled our first team of six talented fellows: Vanessa Arredondo from UC Berkeley, Janelle Salanga from UC Davis, Omar Rashad from El Camino College, Ethan Coston from UC San Diego, Aidan McGloin from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Adria Watson from Sacramento State. They are joined by at least a dozen more students from these and other campuses who have participated in our trainings or contributed reporting to our stories.Read More
Local governments across California have seen their budgets gutted by the pandemic-induced recession, but they aren’t likely to have much luck turning to voters for a handout. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll found that voters are not in a giving mood when it comes to new bond and tax measures.
That follows an unprecedentedly bad year for city and school fiscal measures in the March election, with voters rejecting more than half of ballot box fundraisers for the first time in decades. So just how bad a situation is this for California’s cities and what other options do locals have?
CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher will moderate a virtual discussion on Thursday, May 7, at 1 p.m. about how the pandemic is gutting California cities’ budgets.
The coronavirus has forced the entire world into disarray, but the food industry in particular. With restaurants closing or reshaping business models around slimmed-down take-out menus, the dominoes are starting to fall for the farmers who suddenly have nowhere to take their food. And, at the same time, as more people find themselves out of work, food banks are teeming with hungry families. But getting food from fields to the hungry families that need it isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Manuela Tobias, Fresno Bee reporter and contributor to CalMatters’ statewide “California Divide” collaboration, moderates a conversation at noon on Friday, May 1, on the state’s food supply chain and where it’s breaking down.
With national headlines about meat processing plants being shut down, milk being poured down the drain, and hundreds of people lining up daily at food banks, we’ll talk with people familiar with the situation about where the breakdowns are, why they’re happening, and how they can be resolved.
As California began to shut down in March, the CalMatters board of directors asked me to focus on one question: Will the virus crisis threaten our ability to deliver extraordinary journalism at a time when it’s more important than ever?
We’re a nonprofit newsroom, and economic turmoil affects each of our supporters. Foundations must address immediate, unexpected needs while assessing the longterm impact on their ability to give. Corporations face immediate, dramatic changes to their operations. Individual donors have a range of challenges to consider.
Our financial modeling showed that the crisis could leave us $1 million or more short of our 2020 revenue goal. That would force us to reduce expenses, and nearly all of our costs are employee salaries.
So when the federal government offered payroll protection loans, our board had an in-depth discussion focused on two issues:
Update May 8, 2020: As many predicted, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order today that all eligible voters receive a vote-by-mail ballot for the Nov. 3 election, whether they request one or not. He stressed the state would work with counties to ensure there are still in-person voting options for those who need it, although the order does not include specific requirements.
This coming November, every one of California’s more than 20 million registered voters may receive a ballot in the mail — whether they ask for one or not. In fact, many election administrators and advocates say it’s inevitable.
“It’s not a question of ‘if,’ said Kim Alexander, the president of the California Voter Foundation. “But ‘how.’”
California is already ahead of the curve when it comes to voting from home. In the March primary election, 75% of voters got a ballot in their mailbox. But the exigencies of social distancing are putting pressure on state lawmakers to round that up to 100%, ensuring that every registered voter has the option to cast a ballot without having to physically crowd into a polling place.Read More