DEEP DIVES INTO ISSUES
Published excerpts from some big stories.
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He says it made him feel similar to how he felt taking Ritalin, prescribed to treat hyperactivity. The active ingredient in Ritalin is methylphenidate.
“The Ritalin calmed me down and I liked that I was calm,” Collins says, “and then when I tried meth, I was super calm, I was focused.”
He started stealing and trading his food to buy more. He realized he was an addict at age 14.
“I could see the disappointment in my dad’s eyes,” Collins says. “He’d come home from work and he’d just walk past me to his room and stay in his room. He didn’t talk to me. It’s rough because we were close. It tore it all apart. My sister moved away to Idaho to get away from me. No one wanted anything to do with me. The only reason they let me stay until I was 18 was because the law, you know.”
Collins’ early introduction to drugs is no exception. Data from the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health show more than 970 children under the age of 12 were treated for drug or alcohol addiction over the past year by Fresno County-contracted providers – around 9 percent of all cases.
Tears rolled down Frost’s cheeks as homeless advocate Dez Martinez with Homeless In Fresno/We Are Not Invisible talked about when then-pregnant Frost was found one cold, rainy day in November while food was being given to homeless people on the streets of Fresno.
“She crawled out of a sleeping bag,” Martinez said, “and a baby crawled out behind her.”
Norma Smith was diagnosed with stage-three cancer in December.
In Smith’s case, that’s the last stage of her blood cancer, multiple myeloma, which had spread extensively.
As it attacked cells in Smith’s bone marrow, an important part of the immune system, the 62-year-old was eager to start treatments to stop it. What happened instead in the months that followed was Smith’s pharmacy denying and delaying chemotherapy treatments prescribed by Smith’s medical doctor over and over again.
Smith, a retired special education teacher in Fresno, and her husband, Rodney, a retired school psychologist and director of special education, consider their “very expensive” health insurance coverage to be “the best.”
But that insurance didn’t ensure Smith would get the drugs she needed when facing CVS Specialty Pharmacy – the pharmacy their insurance required them to use. Cancer drugs prescribed by Smith’s oncologist were denied because they didn’t follow the standard protocol sequence of medications that Smith’s pharmacy benefit manager, CVS Caremark, had in their guidelines.
That means pharmacy benefit managers have the authority to trump a doctor’s medical judgment without seeing patients or knowing their full medical history, and without accountability for the consequences of what happens to sick people.
Smith is among thousands of documented cases of patients who have been denied needed medications in this way. Doctors and other medical professionals say these denials are only expected to get worse as the country’s largest health insurance companies and pharmacies are increasingly joining forces.
These elusive middlemen with the authority to deny doctors’ prescriptions based on company policies are sometimes referred to as PBMs for short. Doctors and patients believe they are causing life-threatening problems for people like Smith.
An eerie, familiar feeling came back to Brandie Campbell recently while taking her children to see her old school in Oakhurst.
Everyone in the car got quiet as they drove down a main road behind Yosemite High School intersected by Hangtree Lane, Spook Lane, and Black Road – which appear in that order, one after the other, when coming from the rural mountain town.
Campbell, who is Black, turned the car around and lost focus of why she had returned to eastern Madera County. Seeing the street signs brought her back to how she felt as a teenager when she ran by them daily for cross-country and track.
The week before Christmas, residents of the El Portal Trailer Park got letters from Yosemite National Park saying they have to remove or surrender their homes by early 2022 because Yosemite has other plans for the trailer park and is worried about power lines there that Yosemite owns.
“Thank you, Park Service,” Luke Harbin said sarcastically, shortly after heavy snowfall recently covered the mountains surrounding his mother’s home near Yosemite with a thick coat of white.
Yosemite is not paying for mobile homes that residents own or moving expenses. Letters dated Dec. 13, signed by Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon, informed them for the first time that authorized tenants have to leave within 90 days.
Harbin said his mother has worked in Yosemite for over 40 years and has lived in the trailer park for 38 years – 34 years in her current home.
His family buries their dead on their Dunlap allotment, too, and in a family cemetery on private land just down the road in Squaw Valley, digging the graves themselves with shovels. Bustamante helped bury 10 relatives over the past five years this way. One was an uncle who got Valley fever from the digging.
Returning their bodies to the Earth here is important, Bustamante said, “what we refer to when we say we’re going home, back to the land.”
But part of the homeland that’s so central to his tribe’s identity was named something he doesn’t like — Squaw Valley — by the people who displaced his ancestors. Squaw is now widely considered a slur, an offensive term that’s been used to demean indigenous women.
In his 36 years, Bustamante has had to drive by the Squaw Valley sign countless times going to and from their rural home near Kings and Sequoia National Parks. It always bothers him.
“We have to drive through Indian whore valley huh?” Bustamante said of what he thinks about when he sees the town sign. “Don’t call our women that ... Our Indian women are beautiful and strong and smart and powerful.”
Hanson describes the high-intensity fire patch he’s studying in Nelder Grove as the largest of its kind among giant sequoia groves since at least the 1870s. There’s much to learn in this relatively new frontier for sequoia science.
How well beloved giant sequoias fare after recent wildfires is setting the stage for future forest management practices in California.
What knowledge scientists glean from Nelder Grove, located along a bumpy dirt road just south of Yosemite National Park, will be critical in the wake of high-profile wildfires that burned through many Southern Sierra giant sequoia groves over the past couple years. Those include the KNP Complex and Windy Fire in 2021, and the Castle Fire in 2020, which have only brought a new sense of urgency to the debate over forest management.
Mountain Home provides a unique vantage point for looking at the effects of recent wildfires. For one thing, it’s the only giant sequoia grove – and the only forest in the Southern Sierra – managed by Cal Fire, the state agency primarily responsible for fighting fires.
Conservationist John Muir once called giant sequoias in the Mountain Home area “the finest in the Sierra.” The state of California purchased the Mountain Home tract from a logging company in 1946 to help protect more than 5,000 old-growth sequoias there. Logging still continues, but in a different capacity.