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[whitespace] Peter Demma
Wash Ways: Peter Demma doesn't like the way things get cleaned at Dominican.


Mat Matters

When Peter Demma, a dishwasher at Dominican Hospital for 15 years, told Nüz that hospital management wanted him to run dirty floor mats through the hospital's dishwashing machine, Nüz was grossed out. The practice sounded counterintuitive and maybe even unsanitary. Renee Kellythorne, Dominican's hospitality services manager, did not want to speak to Nüz other than to say the practice presented no health risks and that she would get the hospital to send us a statement.

A week later, Dr. Nanette Mickiewicz, chief medical officer for Dominican, sent Nüz an email stating that "Dominican Hospital's practice of sanitizing the floor mats in the high-temperature dish machine is commonly used by other hospitals and food establishments. This procedure has been reviewed by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency."

Ray Toshitsune, program manager for Santa County Environmental Health Services, said his agency does not encourage the procedure. "It's not a good practice, but it's not illegal. And we don't think it's a problem if done using high temperatures and separate from and after regular cycles. Nothing indicates that the practice transmits diseases."

Is he aware of any hospitals and restaurants doing it in the county?

"No, but we haven't gone checking up for that. People did it a lot during the 1970s, but today high-temperature dishwashers are going out of fashion because of energy conservation awareness."

How does Toshitsune recommend that establishments wash their floor mats?

"Send them out to a linen service--that's what we do at the county," says Toshitsune, who also strongly advises against washing and rinsing off floor mats outside and into storm drains. "It's a bad idea because that way everything ends up in the bay. And washing mats in the sink is also not a good idea."

According to Dr. Mickiewicz' email, "After cleaning the mats and rinsing in 180-degree water, the machine is taken apart, deep-cleaned and filters are replaced before the machine is used for dishes again. According to infection-control guidelines, this practice presents no danger to patients and others.'

Maybe, but the thought alone is enough to suppress whatever scant appetite we might have had for hospital food.

Tower Power

First Nüz heard that cell phones zap our brains. Now we're learning about health risks from cell phone towers. Not to worry, says telecommunications giant Sprint, which wants to erect "stealth" towers along Highway 1 North, despite opposition by Friends of the North Coast. The towers would be disguised as a windmill, a pine tree and a redwood water tank.

In a recent issue, Cabrillo College student newspaper The Voice revealed that the college, which rakes in more than $45,000 a year from leases to cell phone companies, quietly OK'd three cell phone towers on the campus without informing students.

Maybe someone should check in with University of Washington bioengineering professor Dr. Henry Lai, whose research reveals that rat brain cells suffer DNA damage, which may lead to cancer, even after brief exposure to radio-frequency radiation exposure at levels below lax FCC-recommended limits. "Maybe we shouldn't put cell antennas ... anywhere near people until we have a lot more evidence," says Lai, an opinion shared by state Senator Tom Hayden.

So who is watching out for our health? Apparently no one. The County Board of Supervisors is currently considering what to do about cell phone towers, but the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, rushed through by military and industry lobbyists, prohibits the supes from denying permits on health grounds.

Are we doomed? Apparently not, says Libby Kelley, director of the Council on Wireless Technology Impacts, who has challenged the act in federal court under the 10th Amendment. "L.A. bans cell antennas on or near schools," says Kelley, who co-produced Public Exposure: DNA, Democracy and the Wireless Revolution, a documentary film that features Lai and other researchers.

Meanwhile, since no one even seems to know where all the cell phone towers are located, watch for suspicious pine trees.

Need a Lift?

Ever since Liftline, the county's transportation service for elderly and disabled people, decreased its service area last October, John McLaughlin (not his real name) and his wife have had difficulty getting to their church on Eureka Canyon Road. "My wife and I are both disabled, and we really need this. Church really lifts our spirits," McLaughlin says.

After an audit last year found Liftline had overstepped its budget, the service has had to renege on its promise of "door-to-door transportation for senior and disabled residents of Santa Cruz County," limiting its service area boundary to 3/4 of a mile beyond existing bus routes.

"The problem," says Sam Storey, executive director of Food and Nutrition Services, which oversees Liftline, "is that there is such a patchwork of different kinds of funding, and each source of funding has unique restrictions and requirements." Funding for Liftline comes from the federal Transportation Development Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and MediCal, among other sources. TDA money is to be used on "critical rides" (rides to the Cabrillo Stroke Center, say), while ADA money has no limitations on trip types but only covers rides that stay within existing bus lines.

"Up until last October, we had a particular practice of mixing and matching," Storey explains. "We would try to group together different participants to provide the best service. But now we're trying to be more careful because of the demand." Storey estimates that about 6,000 people use Liftline, which has an annual budget of more than $4 million and gives about 150,000 rides a year.

When asked if the move by Liftline employees to join the United Transportation Union played any part in service cutbacks, Storey says, "No," adding that "since the union was recognized in January, service has gotten better. There are still a lot of cost items that we're discussing. Wages--we're talking about that. As always, spending in one place can effect service if you don't balance and meet both needs."

Meanwhile Liftline participants who need a "noncritical" ride outside the bus lines can use taxi script, available at subsidized rates through FNS. But this is little solace for McLaughlin, whose church is 14 miles from the last bus stop. "We've been taking cabs, but it's about $60 dollars round-trip, which means we have to go without groceries sometimes. It's either that or we hitchhike."

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From the June 13-20, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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