Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Health

Fresno heat and pets

I always worry about pets when it starts to get above 100 degrees and Tulare County has a nice tip sheet on how to keep pets safe in the heat.

Tips to Care for Pets and Other Animals During Extreme Heat

VISALIA, CA – During extreme heat, both agricultural animals and pets
are at risk of experiencing adverse reactions from the extreme heat.
HHSA Animal Control offers the following tips so that residents can keep
their animals healthy and safe this summer:

● Never leave pets in parked cars for any period of time: The
temperature in a car can reach 120° in a matter of minutes. If you see
an animal in a parked car during the summer call local animal control or
the police immediately.

● Every animal needs shade and water: Any animal that is outside
needs protection from the heat and sun, and plenty of fresh, cool water.

● Know and recognize the signs of heatstroke: Signs of heatstroke
include heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, restlessness,
excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination,
profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, and
unconsciousness.

● If heatstroke occurs, take action immediately: Take the
following steps immediately to gradually lower their body temperature
and contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
o Move the animal into the shade or an air-conditioned area;
o Apply ice packs or cold towels to the head, neck, and chest or
run cool water over them;
o Let them drink small amounts of cold water or lick ice cubes;
and
o Take your animal directly to a veterinarian.

● Limit exercise to early morning or evening hours on very hot
days: Remember that both asphalt and cement sidewalks get very hot.
These surfaces reach high temperatures, and can burn your pet’s paws.

● Pets with light-colored noses or light-colored fur on their ears
are particularly vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer, and may require
sunscreen on nose and ear tips.

These safety tips are not a substitute for veterinary care. If a
heat-related illness occurs, contact your veterinarian immediately.

For more information about summer heat safety, visit the Humane Society website at www.hsus.org.

Fresno County rates for Covered California health plans

Fresno, Kings and Madera County residents got a look Friday afternoon at premium rates they will be paying for Covered California health plans in 2014 and a chance to question the executive director of the state-run health-plan exchange.

It was the sixth town hall meeting held by Covered California, which will begin enrolling Californians in health plans beginning Oct. 1. Open enrollment will end March 31.

Under the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, people now without insurance will have plans to choose from, and more low-income will be eligible for Medi-Cal.

Three health plans will provide individual coverage to Fresno County residents: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Cross of California and Kaiser Permanente.

Premiums range from a $146 for a 25-year-old for the minimum plan to $708 for the minimum plan for a family of four.

Valley rates are higher than those in other areas, such as Los Angeles. Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, said after the meeting that the higher premiums reflect the cost of health care in the Valley. “You talk to the doctors and hospitals” about why those costs are higher, he said.

But many Valley residents will qualify for subsidies that will help pay the monthly premiums, as well as co-payments for doctor visits, Lee said.

According to Covered California, 65,000 Fresno County residents will be eligible for subsidies.

Members of the town hall audience had lots of questions about eligibility and affordability, but were particularly concerned about accessibility to coverage. Lee said Covered California plans were screened to make sure they have adequate pools of doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health providers to create “health teams” in communities.

After the meeting Lee said Covered California’s screening did not include Medi-Cal plans. The job of making sure Medi-Cal patients can find doctors belongs to the state Department of Health Care Services, he said.

A shortage of doctors accepting Medi-Cal patients has long been a problem in the central San Joaquin Valley, and members of the audience said they were worried that will increase when more people qualify for Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act is the biggest health care change since Medicare, Lee said. Valley residents have a chance to play a role in it because Fresno is the location of one of three call centers in the state. Workers at the call center will be trained to field questions about benefits, plans, eligibilty, costs.

Fresno Co: Short on water but big on mosquitoes

A sample of mosquitoes from Fresno County tested positive for West Nile virus, according to mosquito control officials on Friday.

UPDATE:
Mosquito season has arrived.

And there’s good news and bad news.

First the good: The drought means less standing water for mosquitoes to use as breeding ponds. And an improving economy has reduced the number of neglected swimming pools where mosquitoes breed.

The bad: The heat makes mosquitoes frisky and Fresno’s high temperature of 102 degrees on Sunday was perfect weather for mosquitoes to multiply.

Mosquito control officials remind that mosquitoes are more than just an annoyance. They can carry West Nile virus, which can make people sick, usually with mild, flu symptoms, but in some cases with life-threatening neurological complications.

So far, Fresno County has not detected any mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, says Tim Phillips, district manager at the Fresno Mosquito and Vector Control District. But mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus in Tulare County, he says. “If it’s in Tulare, it’s here,” Phillips says. “That’s just my gut feeling.”

So it’s time to take precautions against mosquito bites. The choices are to wear mosquito repellent or long sleeves and pants in the early evenings or avoid the outdoors when mosquitoes are buzzing. For more tips about mosquito avoidance and about West Nile virus, check out the state Department of Public Health web site.

Also check window and door screens for rips and make sure they fit tight. And report green pools (there are still lots) to a local mosquito control district so they can stock them with mosquito-eating fish.

Help at a time when you need it

In the category of things to know when bad things happen: Many homeowner insurance policies cover expenses, such as hotels and meals, when people are ordered to leave their homes during mandatory evacuations.

In light of the Springs Fire in Ventura County and the Summit Fire in Riverside County, state Commissioner Dave Jones said in a news release today that “families are already fearful of losing everything they own, they should not worry about paying for hotels, meals and other incidentals.” Many homeowners’ insurance policies cover the additional living expenses, he said.

Policyholders should check to see if their insurance policies include (ALE) additional living expenses due to mandatory evacuations, Jones said.

ALE typically includes coverage for extra food and housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage costs, telephone installation and extra transportation expenses to and from school or work, Jones said.

He also reminded Californians to be prepared for wildfires.
1. Make sure your insurance policies are up to date and you have copies in two alternate locations.
2. Conduct a home inventory that collects photos, has detailed descriptions and is easily updated.
3. Have a defensible space of 100 feet around your home.

For more information, check out the California Department of Insurance Web site.

Clovis girl reaches weight goal

Breanna Bond celebrated reaching her target weight Tuesday by attending a swimming practice.

Breanna weighed 186 pounds when, with her Clovis family’s help, she began losing weight more than a year ago.

On Tuesday, she weighed 110 pounds.

It wasn’t surprising she spent the day moving. The 10-year-old has swam, walked and jumped the weight off — along with eating a healthy diet.

Breanna’s mom, Heidi Bond, said they might plan a big weight loss party down the road, but they didn’t want her to miss out on swim practice. It was Breanna’s fourth physical activity of the day.

I first interviewed Heidi and Breanna in August 2012, early in her weight-loss effort, for a story about obese children and how they were slimming down. Since that story, Breanna’s been interviewed on local television, CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, and most recently, on The Biggest Loser.

It’s all sort of surreal, Heidi Bond said.

“We really had to fight for every pound,” she said. “But now that it’s here, the journey didn’t seem so hard.”

Below are excerpts from the August 2012 story about Breanna.

Date: Sunday, 8/19/2012
Section: MAIN NEWS
Page: A1
Edition: FINAL
Memo: WEIGHING US DOWN – THE VALLEY’S OBESTIY CRISIS

Origin: Barbara Anderson The Fresno Bee
Dateline:
Headline: THE SECRET TO THEIR WEIGHT-LOSS SUCCESS
Valley children show obesity can be overcome.
Text: Bouncing higher and higher on a trampoline, Breanna Bond reached out, touched her toes and flashed her mother a grin almost as wide as her outstretched arms.
The midair move marked another fitness milestone for the 10-year-old Clovis girl, who seven months ago weighed 186 pounds and was so out of shape she struggled when stooping to tie a shoe.

More than 50 pounds lighter and limber, Breanna showed off her trampoline skills on a recent afternoon. “Look, I’m going to do a flip, ” she said, turning upside down and landing on her feet.

“She just inspires me every day, ” Breanna’s mother, Heidi Bond, said of her daughter’s efforts.
…….
Bond, the Clovis mother, has taught Breanna how to make a low-fat pizza and other healthy meals.

For Breanna — who dropped 56 pounds in seven months — the family’s diet had to change, Bond said. They could no longer have dinners of enchiladas, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Instead, they switched to chicken breasts, couscous, fresh steamed squash with no butter and salads with lemon juice for dressing.

Breanna is limited to a daily fat intake of 20 grams. While it sounds harsh, Bond said, it’s really not. For example, she can have cereal with fat-free milk for breakfast and low-fat pizza slices with fruit for lunch. For dinner, there’s chicken tacos with lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro and low-fat cheese on steamed tortillas.

Without the diet change, Bond said, Breanna would weigh more than 200 pounds today. In kindergarten, she weighed 100 pounds, and each year since had gained 20 pounds, reaching 186 pounds by age 9. Now, at 130 pounds and 5 feet, 1 inch, she has 15 more pounds to go to reach her goal weight of 115, Bond said.

……
Bond said she’s had to adhere to a strict exercise routine right along with Breanna to keep the 10-year-old on her weight-loss track. But that can be tough, she said, because she’d never “exercised a day in my life.”

And don’t expect children not to complain, Bond said.

Breanna balked when the family began taking a 3.8-mile walk four nights a week. The walks chafed her legs and she struggled to keep up.

Breanna said she wanted to quit. “I could barely move when I was heavier.”

This summer, mother and daughter walked six days a week for 50 minutes at a time and ran for 10 minutes. They walked another 25 minutes in the evening and ran for 10 minutes. Breanna also did two other activities five days a week. The recent bouncing at SkyWalk Trampoline Arena counted as one of those.

And she’s joined a competitive cheer team — something she never considered at her heavier weight.

Breanna still occasionally grumbles about exercising, but Bond doesn’t budge. She has motivation to keep her daughter moving. Breanna’s paternal grandfather died at a young age of diabetes.

“I want to see Breanna be a mom, ” she said. “I want her to be a grandma. I don’t want her to die early.”

Kaiser-Fresno surgeon recognized for volunteerism

A Kaiser Permanente-Fresno surgeon who has donated hours and hours of his time to patients in Africa is one of 14 Kaiser employees nationwide to receive the 2012 David Lawrence Community Service Award.

Dr. David Young, surgeon at Kaiser-Fresno

Dr. David Young told Kaiser that the people of Africa have “stolen my heart.”
Young provides free care in a place I, and likely many of you, have never heard of: Nebobongo, an area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
About every 18 months, Young travels there to help the 114,000 residents. The only hospital has 100 beds and a small staff, and few supplies — bandages and used gloves have to be steam-sterilized for re-use.
He’s helped bring medical supplies to the Nebobongo hospital through a collaboration with Medical Ministries International and he told Kaiser he plans to donate the $10,000 he will receive from the community service award to that organization.
Kaiser says the above isn’t all of Young’s contributions: He also has volunteered to perform six free hernia repair surgeries at Kaiser-Fresno. The central San Joaquin Valley residents didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford to pay for the operation. The surgeries, follow-up visits and medications were paid for with a grant provided by Kaiser Permanente Fresno’s Community Benefit program.
Young told Kaiser it’s an honor to be recognized, but from his volunteer efforts he’s “fulfilled.”

Fresno health officials remind preteens need shots

The Fresno County Department of Public Health is reminding parents of immunizations for children 11-12 years of age during Preteen Vaccine Week.
Children in sixth grade will need proof of a pertussis vaccination before entering seventh grade, and health department officials say it’s also a good time for preteens to have a complete check-up.
The following vaccines are recommended for 11 and 12 year old children:
– Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster: California law requires students to show proof of the vaccination prior to entering seventh grade. Pertussis causes a severe cough (whooping cough) that can last weeks or months. Complications can include pneumonia and may result in hospitalization.
– Annual influenza (flu) vaccine: Flu can be mild to life threatening and causes the most school absenteeism.
– Meningococcal vaccine: The vaccine protects against types of bacterial meningitis infections, which can rapidly progress to meningitis, pneumonia, and even death.
– Human Papillomavirus (HPV): The HPV vaccine protects girls from developing cervical cancer and lesions. It has been approved for boys to reduce the chances of acquiring genital warts.
– Varicella (chickenpox): Most preteens have had one dose of varicella but a second dose is recommended to boost immunity. Chickenpox is a highly contagious.

For more information visit the health department’s web site or (559) 600-3550.

Confessions of a health writer

This is the confession of a health writer.

I didn’t get a flu shot.

And I got the flu.

I have no excuse. I’m not afraid of needles. I don’t have a bad reaction to the vaccine. Time wasn’t a factor: There were plenty of opportunities to get the vaccine. The Fresno County Department of Public Health had flu-shot clinics. My doctor’s office had vaccine. On any weekend, I could have made a quick stop at a chain pharmacy and rolled up my sleeve. Even worse, The Bee had a shot clinic early in December.

I ignored them all and on Friday, I paid the price.

A sore throat that started at noon was joined that evening by a fever and a raging headache. During the night, aching arms and legs, plus the sore throat, the fever and the headache. By the third day, sheer exhaustion. Then, on the fourth day, the cough.

I’m still coughing … and tired.

But I’ve learned my lesson: I’m going to get a flu shot — Monday.

Even though I’ve had the flu, there’s more than one strain in the air and I am not going to be unprotected again.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health is holding a clinic today from 4-7 p.m. at the American Legion Hall, 3509 N. First St. Another clinic will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Sierra Vista Mall, 1050 Shaw Ave., Clovis. Flu shots also are available at the department at 1221 Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m.  That’s where I’m heading Monday morning. I don’t want to cough on others in a flu-shot line.

Information regarding other flu vaccination opportunities can also be found at www.flu.gov
or the department’s website or call the toll-free
Influenza Information Line at 1-888-993-3003.

 

Meet the Sablans, still doctoring in Firebaugh

Wednesday’s front page of the Los Angeles Times brought a familiar story of the Sablans, the husband-wife doctor team that serves Firebaugh. Read Anna Gorman’s profile of Drs. Oscar and Marcia Sablan here.

It’s always nice to see other media write about the central San Joaquin Valley. The Times’ story brought back memories of a profile of Marcia Sablan, written by Doug Hoagland for The Bee in 1999. Sablan was also the mayor of Firebaugh back then (she’s still a City Council member). Doug’s story was part of The Bee’s “Eye on the Valley” series profiling the region’s communities as we rolled toward the millennium.  We though we’d share Doug’s story with readers again:

Fresno Bee staff photographer John Walker’s 1999 photo of Dr. Marcia Sablan with one of her collages of photos of children she’s delivered to local patients.

Golden, late afternoon sunshine softens this town’s rough edges as Marcia Sablan, doctor and mayor, returns to her clinic on O Street after lingering along the river. That would be the San Joaquin. On the edge of town. Where there’s actually more than a dribble of water in the usually dry riverbed. Sablan has been to the San Joaquin to show off how Firebaugh carves pedestrian pathways and vista points — elements of a tranquil riverside park — out of the dirt and brush. The project beats back the small-minded notion that nothing ever changes here. Here being the northwestern lip of Fresno County, where the winter wind can blow hard. But not as hard as the big, billowy idealism that has carried Marcia Sablan across 53 years of life.

That idealism propelled her from the Peace Corps to the urban core to the rural poor of Firebaugh. Sablan serves as one of this city’s two full-time doctors and its only mayor.

She practices a brand of medicinal politics that lets her knit together this community’s private and public moments. Moments that catch people at their most vulnerable, frustrated, appreciative, petty, confused. Times when they’re most human.

For example:

  • Sablan does the ultrasound and delivers the stunning news to city hall secretary Martha Castaneda that she and husband, Santiago, will be the very happy and tired parents of triplets. Sablan feels her own toes tingle with excitement, but then fear knots her stomach. Triplets can lead to medical complications. Happily, mom and babies do just fine.
  • Sablan sits through a City Council hearing where an irate and dramatic citizen says she’ll seek relief from a proposed water rate increase by relieving herself in a jar at home. That way she won’t have to flush her toilet. Questionable logic, Sablan thinks, but she doesn’t argue. Sometimes, people in politics just need to listen, she says later.
  • Sablan visits a bedridden Sara Gonzales, 97, who sometimes confuses Sablan’s husband — the other doctor in town — for the pope. But Gonzales never forgets to press her palms together in prayer-like reverence to bless Dr. Marcia — as some people call her. She feels honored.
  • Sablan casts her City Council vote and ends a simmering controversy that has split the council into two factions. The quarrelsome issue: what to name two new city streets. “An embarrassment, ” Sablan says succinctly.

Through the petty and the profound, Marcia Sablan projects a presence that’s both looming and laid back. She’s 5-foot-10 and stands for even bigger convictions. One of the biggest: helping Firebaugh’s Hispanic majority merge into the middle-class mainstream. In a California culture where new faces seek equality and power, some people feel uncomfortable, even threatened by this white doctor’s brand of politics, says Craig Harrison, a Catholic priest and friend. It’s one of the subtexts of a culture caught in change.

Sablan often promotes that change with a shrug of her shoulders and a shy smile, gestures reminiscent of another kind of woman in another time and place. Maybe somewhere in Central America. Where a woman who never has known anything but her village stands in a dusty square. And shyly responds to a stranger who speaks only English.

Sablan once was that stranger. The Peace Corps taught her Spanish and sent her to El Salvador in 1968 to work in a public health clinic. It was the right time to be young and burning with a commitment to better the lives of the poor.

For Sablan, that commitment started in the ethnic neighborhoods of south St. Louis, where her widowed mother, a hairdresser, sent her four children to Catholic school. But that education didn’t come easily. Sablan earned it by working hard for her good grades. And she’s still a striver.

Mario Sablan, 23 and the second of her four adult children, laughs and says his mother doesn’t believe in idle time. “It’s like she can’t get enough of life, of work, of progress, ” he says.

After two years in El Salvador, Sablan came back to the states. But she wrestled with a restlessness. She felt isolated as a bright-eyed, eager idealist in a cold, jagged consumer society. She blamed people for having food to eat and cars to drive. Her raging ideals compelled her to work in the toughest, poorest ‘hood of St. Louis. “Illogical, ” Sablan says today with her shy smile.

Going to medical school made more sense. So she went, with the federal government paying for years two, three and four. Her pay back: doctoring for three years in a community with too few doctors. The feds sent Sablan packing for Firebaugh in 1981. She put in her three years and never left, snared by the glue of community and a sense of belonging sweeter than a Firebaugh cantaloupe. Sablan and her husband, Oscar, simply felt at home.

Curious for a big-city woman. And even more interesting for Oscar Sablan, who was born on the Pacific island of Saipan and went stateside for college, where he met his wife. Marcia Sablan says her husband shines with “that island mentality” — nothing bothers him — which makes him ideal for medical emergencies and for listening to her political frustrations. Oscar Sablan knows politics, too. He’s on the Firebaugh school board.

But it’s ear infections, broken bones and occasional emergencies that pack the days of the Drs. Sablan. Their medical clinic bustles at 927 O St. in the city’s sleepy downtown. Diagonal parking spaces beg for cars except in front of the Sablans’ beige, tile-roofed building with the banana plants out front.

Inside the clinic, beyond the waiting room, you find the center of their medical world. Five examining rooms opening onto a reception area with tweedy-green carpet where the Sablans and their staff greet a stream of patients more steady than the irrigation water in Firebaugh’s sun-baked fields. One hundred patients come every day.

The clinic’s walls bulge with diplomas bearing stiff, fancy lettering and snapshots of patients with enough smile power to energize a year’s worth of Crest commercials. There’s also a painting of the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus, a heavenly glow painted above their heads.

Of course, it’s the miseries of earth that bring people to the Sablans’ clinic. Some problems whip the tiny space into an E.R. frenzy. Two summers ago, 29 dizzy, vomiting farmworkers were rushed in suffering from pesticide poisoning. Sablan and her husband stabilized everyone and sent them on to area hospitals. This November, a ranch foreman with congestive heart failure — who thought he had a bad chest cold — collapsed as he walked into the clinic. He survived.

In calmer moments, Marcia Sablan glides from patient to patient with a stethoscope hanging around her neck. A tranquil expression floats across her face. She’s at ease with people. People like 16-year-old Tito Espinosa, his face frozen in a sly grin. Tito’s a big man in Firebaugh because he runs so well with a football. But while playing the game, he sprains his knee. Sablan examines it, addressing Tito as mijo, the Spanish term of endearment for my son. She gently breaks the news that he won’t be playing in Friday’s big high school game. Sablan says her husband, a big sports fan, helped her understand the importance of the game to many young patients.

Sablan then moves on to the broken wrist of 16-year-old Gerardo Carmona, who fell off a tractor. He’ll get a fiberglass cast, and Sablan teases that girls at school will surely notice. “They’ll have to carry your books, ” she tells a grinning Gerardo, his chin sprouting a row of dark hairs.

Sablan supervises as Jacob Garcia, a sub-intern from the University of California at San Diego, begins to wrap Gerardo’s arm. Garcia, earnest but not too much so, works for a few weeks at the clinic and stays at the Sablans’ comfortable, cluttered house.

In that home, Garcia hears Marcia Sablan’s beloved Dean Martin lounge music. He also hears the late-night knocks at the front door from sick people. People the Sablans agree to immediately meet at their clinic.

Garcia, 25, says he learns plenty of “medical things” from Marcia and Oscar Sablan. But also some life lessons in a profession that can focus on disease and procedures, not the humanity of patients. Garcia says Marcia Sablan never forgets that humanity in Firebaugh.

That’s why she started the community’s free Christmas Day dinner eight years ago. And it’s why Sablan and her husband perch in Little League bleachers when the sun shines warmer and the sounds of baseball pop and crack. Little Leaguers always need fans. She also tends roses — and yanks weeds — in the flower garden she got the city to plant at the eastern entrance to town.

For Sablan, politics swells up like a hot air balloon, big and lofty from the energy of doing something for people who need help. And if politics isn’t that, then it’s limp as a weak handshake in her mind. Satisfied to simply defend the status quo.

Sablan, of course, prefers her politics lofty. She wants an activist city government and has for her 16 years on the council. For that reason, she supported a painstaking effort to resurrect a once-dead subdivision that today is home to mostly Hispanic, mostly immigrant, first-time homeowners in north Firebaugh. It’s called Rubi Gardens.

Ten years ago, it lay vacant with a history more tortured than the mind-numbing saga of Fresno’s downtown baseball stadium. Sablan and other council members helped resurrect the subdivision when the original developer crashed in bankruptcy. The city spent money on attorney’s fees to unravel a snarled bond deal and also kicked in a $6,000 subsidy on each house (which sold for $60,000-$70,000) so low-income families could buy. Some critics said it would never work.

Sablan and her allies showed the vision and patience to prove otherwise, says city attorney Dale Bacigalupi.

The Rev. Craig Harrison, a Catholic priest, says Sablan’s commitment to social justice makes her a huge political force in little Firebaugh. Harrison served the city’s St. Joseph’s parish for seven years and recently moved to Bakersfield.

Harrison describes Sablan as “unpretentious … humble … not self-seeking.” He says she gets elected because she doesn’t talk down to people or see herself better than other people.

Of course, politics being politics, not everyone likes Sablan. Which keeps her from any Mother Theresa delusions. Mother Theresa, after all, never felt the sting of a white backlash.

Harrison says Sablan has. “Through the years, there’s been a sense of white control in Firebaugh, and Marcia treats the Hispanics as equals, ” Harrison says. “There are many upper-middle class Anglos who don’t approve of that and don’t support her in elections.”

Sablan says that’s probably true. But, she adds with no rancor, some people just feel caught in the churn of a changing California where Hispanics will soon grab majority status.

Ray Knight, a former city councilman, opposes Sablan’s politics but praises her intelligence. Knight, an insurance salesman and real estate broker, says Sablan votes to spend city money too easily. He also says she’s power hungry — leading the city to grab the chamber of commerce’s cantaloupe festival after the chamber and City Council fought over space in a city building. It’s a big mess, more convoluted and spiced with jealousy and feuds than a soap opera story line. Sablan denies Knight’s charges, and says they disagree on many things but have had pleasant dinners together.

However big-minded that makes her, Sablan sometimes wonders why she keeps running for office in a town where people fight over the darnedest things.

“I do it because I think I can take it, and I really love Firebaugh, ” Sablan says.

She loves taking care of Firebaugh’s sick people. And leading its city government, too. But when she steps into an examining room with the stethoscope around her neck, she draws a deep and wide line between the two parts of her life. Sablan says she never talks politics when seeing patients. Potholes matter. But health matters more.

“The doctor-patient relationship is more important than any political issue, ” says Marcia Sablan, the Peace Corps volunteer who followed her big, billowy idealism into the fabric and fiber of Firebaugh.

“And one more thing: I don’t hold anyone’s political views against them.”

Postscript: Doug Hoagland left The Bee in March 2009 and is the editor of Mid-Valley Publishing in Reedley.

Click to file a health complaint

There’s an easier way to complain about a health plan’s denial of coverage in California.

The state now has an online form that allows complaints to be filed electronically with the Department of Managed Health Care, the state agency that regulates managed health plans.

The online form is available in English and Spanish.

The electronic form and two videos  explaining services available through the DMHC Help Center were funded through a federal Affordable Care Act grant.

In the past, consumers had to submit a written form to ask for help.  The DMHC says each year there are about 1,700 Independent Medical Reviews of health plan denials.  Reviews are done by doctors with no affiliatiation to the health plan.