‘California Priorities’ panels examine health and care of kids, seniors

Posted by Kassy Perry

By Deke Farrow
The Modesto Bee
June 13, 2019

Issues of health and care as they relate to children and senior citizens were discussed by two separate panels Thursday at a downtown Modesto event. But the conversations showed that circumstances, experiences, decisions and other factors throughout life mean the two age groups themselves really aren’t that separate.

Left unchecked, childhood obesity can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and other illnesses.

People who’ve been traumatized at a young age — “who may have not had the best upbringing,” as a panelist put it — and have not received help to work through that and develop emotionally, are now raising kids of their own. And they very well may be passing along that trauma.

Adult caregivers, often for elderly family members, may be paid by the state as in-home support services workers but typically don’t get the training and certification that would make them employable. So when that person dies, the caregiver has valuable experience but no resume to go with it.

The Modesto Bee’s free California Priorities event, Focus on Health Care, lasted two hours at the Gallo Center for the Arts. Most of the first hour was on caring for children and making families healthy. Among the topics discussed were health care access vs. coverage, engaging parents, the impact of social media and screen time, and behavioral health.

Panelist Leslie Abasta-Cummings, chief executive officer of the Livingston Community Healthclinic, said the No. 1 issue she sees is lack of access to affordable, timely, quality health care services. The Affordable Care Act did a great job in extending coverage to people who historically did not have it under the MediCal program, she said, “but we now have more coverage and less access. It doesn’t do anyone good to have an insurance card and coverage if you also can’t access and get an appointment.”

What’s behind the lack of access, she and others said, is the shortage of physicians in the area. “We as providers cannot begin to address these (health care) issues without an adequate work force,” Abasta-Cummings said.

She got a round of applause from the Foster Family Theater audience for saying that providers need to support efforts like Assemblyman Adam Gray’s AB 1606 on medical school funding and creating residency slots.

On the importance of engaging parents, Deborah Kong of the David & Lucile Packard Foundationsaid the bonds formed in the early years are critical to healthy child development. She supports paid family leave in the critical first months of a baby’s life.

David Jones, executive director of First 5 Stanislaus, said there has to be love and connection at home, whether it’s from a parent or another caregiver or a trusted member of a child’s life. “Without love and connection, there’s little hope for our children … A loving, supportive environment can make up for a lot of challenges in a child’s life.”

That love sometimes has to include proactive and aggressive parenting and role-modeling on issues such as healthy eating and social media, cell phone use and other screen time. Le Ondra Clark Harvey of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies said she thinks she’s done a good job keeping her 2-year-old away from screens, and then was astonished to learn her 6-month-old took a selfie with a phone. “And where did he learn that?” she joked. Screen time can be addictive just like junk food, Harvey said. “So everything in moderation.”

Jones shared a sobering conversation he once had with two kindergarten teachers. Both said they had to do “remedial exercises” with children who had difficulty raising their heads because so much of their time was spent looking down at screens and their neck muscles weren’t properly developed. They also had to learn to use their fingers in ways other than swiping touchscreens. “I thought I’d heard everything,” Jones said, but it still upsets him to think about that talk.

The second part of Thursday’s program was on caring for seniors and focused in big part on the financial hurdles they face. Often, the people who have it toughest aren’t the poorest, who qualify for MediCal and subsidies, but those who are on fixed incomes but still face financial hardships, said Jill Erickson, a manager with the Stanislaus County Area on Aging.

Jeffrey Lewis, president and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment, agreed that “this is not about MediCal, this is about a population of people over 60, who we have to worry about everybody.” But the second population we have to worry about equally, he said, are the children of aging parents who are often asked to assist with the cost of care. They are doing out of love and respect, but it can have a long-term, dramatic economic impact on them.

Kassy Perry, president and CEO of Perry Communications Group, said the situation can result in generational poverty. Children may deplete their savings taking care of parents, only then to need their own children to assist them.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order calling for the creation of a master plan on aging. There is much work needed to get it done, Perry said, but it’s a historic opportunity to overhaul and rethink the way services to seniors are provided. “The organizations at the community level know how to do this. Nobody questions that,” she said. The problems are with “the revenue stream and the prohibition on using dollars for certain things.”

For example, when she worked under Govs. George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, she said, MediCal couldn’t provide food services. It was strictly for medical care. Now, it’s good to see that the value of integrating nutrition has been recognized, Perry said.

Asked what comes next regarding the master plan on aging, Perry urged people to go to the governor’s website, www.gov.ca.gov, to read the executive order. It calls for a stakeholder advisory committee, which will include a research subcommittee and a long-term-care subcommittee.

To get involved, send a letter, ask for an appointment, she urged. “The more the merrier. We need everybody engaged.”

The next California Priorities event will be in Fresno in October, on the topic of education.