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Is There a Doctor in the House?

When Scott Simmons moved to Santa Cruz County about three months ago, he had more than the usual relocation problems. His 4-year-old daughter, Joy, whom Simmons describes as "very happy," is also severely disabled, with brain damage, cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. So, as soon as father and daughter rolled into town, Simmons made the rounds to find a doctor who could oversee Joy's care. Although Joy was covered by Medi-Cal in her previous county, Medi-Cal is essentially useless in Santa Cruz--virtually no doctor will take Medi-Cal patients.

In response to this health crisis, the county created Santa Cruz Health Options, an HMO type of treatment for Medi-Cal recipients that began this year.

Simmons was still struggling to get Joy covered by SCHO when she became ill, spiking a fever of 104 degrees. Simmons went through the Yellow Pages, frantically calling every pediatrician. No one would see her. Finally, Joy was rushed to Dominican Hospital's emergency room. "I'm outraged that I come to one of the most liberal counties in the state and we can't get medical care," Simmons says.

"It takes about three months for a county transfer to happen," says SCHO's executive director, Alan McKay, explaining why Joy was still not covered.

Adding to Joy's difficulties, adds McKay, is that she is also covered by California Children's Services. "Most pediatricians look at CCS as one that will not pay very much, so it's more difficult for them to take children covered by this."

Ironically, SCHO was created to avoid just the action that Simmons was forced to take. "According to our consulting actuaries, Santa Cruz had the highest rate of emergency-room use among Medi-Cal recipients in the country, which is an indication of [the difficulties of] getting access to primary care," McKay says.

There's nothing that requires a doctor to see a Medi-Cal patient, of course, since Medi-Cal does not reimburse as well as regular insurance. Oh, and what might the median yearly income of pediatricians in Santa Cruz be? "About $100,000," replies McKay.


Is there a Surgeon General in the House?

Pregnant women may now want to visit Café Pergolesi for obstetrical guidance. At least, that's what patron Tasha Pennuto found out when she tried to order a cup of Joe. "I was told they would no longer serve me caffeine because I was pregnant," says the miffed mom-to-be.

Pergolesi manager Priscilla Ma admits that she took a stand for the unborn fetus. "She was drinking massive amounts of caffeine," Ma says. Asked if she based her judgment about caffeine's harmful effect during pregnancy on any scientific fact, Ma replied, "Well, it's pretty common knowledge."

Apparently, that knowledge has escaped the attention of local obstetrician Ritu Meister, who works with the Women's Medical Group of Santa Cruz. "There is absolutely no evidence in any scientific literature that has found any relationship between caffeine and birth defects or growth retardation," says Dr. Meister. "And there are a fair number of studies on this that are fairly conclusive."

For the record, there is no truth to the rumor that earnest coffeehouse workers will next be snatching cigarettes out of patrons' lips.


Broadcast News

For all of you free-radio observers out there, yet another unlicensed low-wattage radio station is broadcasting in the South Bay in defiance of the Federal Communications Commission. As of last Monday, Free Radio San Jose was up and running at 93.7FM, joining Free Radio Santa Cruz, Watsonville's Radio Watsón, Radio Zapata in Salinas and stations in Berkeley, Arcata, San Francisco (which has as four separate stations) and other Northern California communities.

Organizers plan to keep FRSJ on the air 24 hours a day, unlike some stations, which broadcast only at specific times. The station is using a 15-watt transmitter, but will soon upgrade to a 40-watt unit that will cover the entire Santa Clara Valley. The station broadcasts mostly in Spanish during the morning and mainly in English after noon, with prime-time slots going to community affairs programming.

According to Santa Cruz resident Tom Schreiner, who helped equip FRSJ and numerous other low-power stations, the new pirate station has a strong youth influence. "Every high school in the valley is represented," Schreiner says.

Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court hearing in Oakland pitting Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer against the FCC has been postponed until April 12. The FCC has asked Judge Claudia Wilken to issue a permanent injunction against Dunifer, barring him from further broadcasts. The FCC is also seeking payment of $10,000 in fines for past illegal broadcasts that were monitored by federal agents on Free Radio Berkeley.


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From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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