CVIndependent

Sat03282020

Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

Understatement alert: Things are weird for all of us right now.

On a personal level, this fact really hit home for me when it was a relief and even a pleasure—a temporary return to normalcy, if you will—to spend two hours today editing/proofing 8,000 words of question responses by Rancho Mirage City Council candidates.

Yay, journalism!

Normally, an editor such as myself would find a task like this to be about as enjoyable as dental surgery without anesthesia. (No offense to the Rancho Mirage candidates; the case is the same with full Q&A interviews with candidates for each and every office. The responses are important and interesting, albeit a bit rambling in some cases, but the task of carefully proofing the text is, well, bleh.)

But today, it was … nice.

A hat tip to Kevin Fitzgerald, the Independent’s staff writer, who had to transcribe all of those 8,000 words. Buy him a drink the next time you see him out and about. Y’know, in a few months.

Sigh.

Anyway, on with the news:

• Yesterday was the first time in the Independent’s history that we’ve ever sent an email to our e-subscriber list that was not specifically related to Independent content. Instead, it was about the vitally important work the Desert AIDS Project is doing now—and the fact that the organization, due to a loss in revenue and a huge rise in expenses because it opened a whole, new clinic to respond to the COVID-19 crisis—really needs our help. Find that message here, and go here if you can help: https://desertaidsproject.salsalabs.org/covid19fund/p/coachellavalleyindependent/index.html

Eisenhower has put out a call for donations of personal protective equipment. Call 760-837-8988, or click here for details. 

The city of Palm Springs has clarified the temporary rules on short-term rental and hotel bookings. To paraphrase: They’re not allowed, save for some very specific exemptions.

• Some, but not all, of the big banks have agreed to a 90-day moratorium on mortgage payments if you’ve been affected by COVID-19. As of yet, alas, the state has yet to take firm steps to protect people who rent—but Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia and others are calling for action.

• However, the city of Rancho Mirage has already taken action by issuing a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions.

• Here’s more info on what the city of Rancho Mirage is doing to boost the takeout-offering restaurants in that city.

Confused about what’s an essential business, and what isn’t, and what this all means? The city of Palm Springs has posted this helpful breakdown regarding the state order means.

The Desert Healthcare District has allocated $1.3 million to help with various issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic locally.

• From the Independent: Coachella and Stagecoach have been moved to October this year. Our Kevin Carlow thinks that should be a permanent thing.

SunLine is offering free fixed-route rides during the pandemic. Just make sure you board in the back.

• Fox and iHeartRadio are teaming up for an all-star concert, hosted by Elton John. It’s called the Living Room Concert for America, and it airs this coming Sunday on Fox.

• The Conversation brings us this fascinating piece on the mad-dash effort to find existing drugs that will help patients suffering from COVID-19.

• Meanwhile, the FDA is allowing doctors to use the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat people in the midst of the battle with the virus.

• The California Desert Arts Council has compiled a list of resources offering financial relief for artists and art organizations.

Stephen Colbert is the latest talk show to announce a return to the air—just with everyone working from home.

• Theater fans: The Tony Awards, to nobody’s surprise, have been postponed. In other, awful theater news, the coronavirus has claimed the life of the Tony Award-winning writer Terrence McNally.

• The Wall Street Journal suggests these home workouts you can do to keep yourself in shape.

• Remember that kid in that viral video who refused to stop partying, saying, “If I get corona, I get corona?” Well, he’s apologized.

• Some local restaurants including Jake’s and Dringk are starting a very cool thing: Selling food essentials in addition to prepared dishes.

• In related news, our friends at the Purple Room are offering an online virtual show tonight to go along with takeout food.

• Local treasure Joyce Perry—you may remember her as Joyce Bulifant, of Airplane! and Match Game fame—has posted this hilarious (if oddly violent video) of her son trying to show her how to use Tinder.

• DJ Galaxy—our readers’ pick in the Best of Coachella Valley as the Best Local DJ—made this video of shuttered spaces in Palm Springs and Cathedral City that are beloved by the LGBT community. I’ll admit: It made me cry.

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Eat good food. Call someone you love. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

For social media, it is the best of times; it is the worst of times.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in these unsettling, frightening times, can be beautiful things. They offer us a way to share information, pool resources and, well, sort of be together at a time when we can’t actually be together.

However … Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in these unsettling, frightening times, can also be heinous things, due to all the misinformation, ignorance and selfish stupidity spewed forth by certain individuals. Like the person who made this comment in some group the other day: “Imagine the possibilities and the happiness we could create if we just boycott the news.”

Sigh …

Comments like these—claims that all these COVID-19 precautions and closures taking place not because of the severe public threat, but instead because the media incited some sort of panic to “sell newspapers” or whatever—are offensive to me, because all of this isn’t “selling” newspapers; it’s killing them.

I belong to a couple of organizations of smaller, local independent media, and the overriding sentiments among the editors and publishers I know are 1) a push and desire to cover and serve our communities better than ever during this unprecedented time; and 2) complete fear over the fact that almost all our organizations are facing an existential threat right now.

Virtually overnight, the Independent lost about three-quarters of our advertising revenue, maybe more. I know of newspapers around the country that have suspended their print versions, because almost all the ads are gone. I know small online news publishers who work from home and are taking about not being able to pay their rent.

I say this not to complain, because a whole lot of others in varied businesses are in similar dire situations. However … those other varied businesses aren’t being blamed for causing this—hence my rant.

I’ll share more info with you in the coming days about the Independent’s plans, at least as they stand now. (I will tell you this, though: We are gonna be here serving this community. We aren’t going anywhere.)

Now, onto the news:

• Just announced: The city of Palm Springs has ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Don’t be surprised for the same thing to happen in our other valley cities here soon. They’re basically following San Francisco’s guidelines on what an essential business is; find the list of what’s exempted from that SF order here. Watch Councilwoman Christy Holstege’s page, among others, for updates.

• Two resources to share for you if you fear you may be sick: Call Eisenhower at 760-837-8988 or the Desert AIDS Project at 760-992-0407 before you go anywhere. More info on Eisenhower’s hotline is below.

• Just as we were about to post this, we received word that the Agua Caliente tribe is closing its two casinos, the Indian Canyons Golf Resort, Tahquitz Canyon and Indian Canyon. Employees will be paid for the time being. Watch http://www.aguacaliente-nsn.gov/ for updates.

Hey, freelancers and independent contractors: Check out this amazing “an aggregated list of FREE resources, opportunities, and financial relief options available to artists of all disciplines.

• Here’s a great to-do list on how to minimize risk while grocery shopping, from Consumer Reports.

• BusinessInsider.com has a great list of resources for restaurant workers and bartenders who need some help, including the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program. A toast to Jameson for donating $500,000 to it. 

The Desert Water Agency says there’s no need to hoard water.

• While we’re at it, stop hoarding toilet paper, you goons!

• You have an extra 90 days to pay your federal taxes.

AIDS/LifeCycle 2020 has been cancelled.

• Don’t forget to make sure your phone is as clean as possible

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands, and call up a loved one or three to see how they’re doing. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Welcome to the first-ever Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest. The goal for this Daily Digest is to round up reliable, vetted news related to COVID-19 and the accompanying societal changes. There’s too much unreliable information floating around on social media (and even coming out of some elected officials’ mouths)—and in this space, we'll sort through it all to get to truthfulness and sanity.

In addition to news updates, we’ll also highlight good things happening—specials from local businesses (that REALLY need your support right now), enlightening comments from members of the community, and so on. Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have anything you think should be included.

And with that ... here's the news.

• As we were getting close to clicking send on this, the Palm Springs Unified School District announced it would be closing schools the next two weeks. They're moving up Spring Break, essentially. Parents are receiving this message right now: "Hello PSUSD families. This is Supt. Sandy Lyon. I wanted to provide you with an update on the coronavirus situation as it relates to our District. You may be aware that over the past day, there has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases here in the Coachella Valley, and there are a number of tests pending that could result in several other confirmed cases. Additionally, both the Riverside County Department of Health and Governor Newsom issued a directive to suspend gatherings of over 250 people. As a result, Palm Springs Unified School District is moving its two-week spring break. It will begin on Monday, March 16."

• Eisenhower Medical Center announced earlier today that visitors will no longer be allowed at EMC for the time being. More on what EMC is doing to protect the community can be found here.

• As of this writing, local theaters have made a split decision on whether to stay open or not. While Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, Coyote StageWorks and the Desert Rose Playhouse have cancelled or postponed shows this weekend, Palm Canyon Theatre, CVRep and Desert TheatreWorks are letting the shows go on. Read more about this in the second installment in the Independent's Pandemic Stories series tomorrow (Saturday).

As for that first Pandemic Stories installment: Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the owner of Piero's PizzaVino about the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tourney, and how that devastated her and her staff. Piero's is one of the few local restaurants to have a pop-up location at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, alongside big names like Nobu and Spago.

• As for closures and cancellations: The Palm Springs Gay Softball league has suspended practices and play through March, and the national NAGAAA Cup tourney the league was hosting at the end of March is cancelled. Other recent cancellations/closures include the Palm Desert Food and Wine fest, all Certified Farmers Markets through at least March 30 (though the Palm Springs Cultural Center remains open for now), the Palm Springs Library (though the Palm Desert Library remains open), and shockingly, The Abbey down in West Hollywood.

• From our partners at CalMatters: As the coronavirus toll rises, so do concerns about health-care workers' safety.

• Earlier today, President Trump declared a national emergency. The press conference was ... well, fascinating. At one point, after Trump said he didn't take any responsibility for the pandemic, a reporter from PBS asked him about his firing of the national pandemic response team. His response was that he didn't do it, and that this was a "nasty question." As for that firing, Snopes says it's true that it happened.

• Support local businesses! If you're comfortable with going out (while taking all the precautions that you should be), local bars and restaurants need you right now. If not, order food from a local restaurant on GrubHub or one of the apps!

• Alternately, consider buying gift cards from local businesses. Some places are offering 20 percent bonuses.

• If you found this email helpful, forward to a friend, or have them email us and we'll add them to the list. Please consider supporting the Independent, too ... we could use it!

Until tomorrow ... stay safe; support local business, and wash your hands!

Published in Daily Digest

The “2020 BNP Paribas Open Will Not Be Held” declared the emailed press release that arrived in my inbox at 6:43 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.

It came after news that a local patient was “presumed positive” after being tested for COVID-19 (aka the novel coronavirus). The unidentified patient is being treated at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage—just a few miles from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where the ATP and WTA tennis players’ favorite tournament in the world was to begin play today and run through Sunday, March 22.

The BNP Paribas Open’s cancellation came after the cancellations of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Both were cancelled on March 6 due to concerns about the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus among their hundreds of thousands of participants and attendees. Still, as of the next day—Saturday, March 7—the 2020 BNP Paribas Open, which drew 382,000 fans last year, was slated to go on.

In fact, the unofficial local kickoff of the tournament did take place, starting on Saturday morning: the traditional Kids’ Day free event, which happened simultaneously along with the Oracle Challenger Series semifinal matches for ATP and WTA pros at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. And on Sunday, the pro series continued, with the WTA final being captured by Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, and the ATP finals win going to American pro Steve Johnson. Each earned a berth in the main draw of the tournament that is no longer going to take place—at least not this weekend.

The cancellation came after Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, declared a local public health emergency on Sunday, March 8. Tournament director Tommy Haas seemed to leave the door open for the possibility of re-scheduling the tournament at some point in 2020.

“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” Haas said, according to the news release. “We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options.”

All good intentions aside, it’s likely the tournament won’t return until March 2021. So, this year’s biggest winners of the 2020 BNP Paribas Open won’t be Novak Djokovic or Simona Halep. Instead, that distinction will go to the large contingent of kids of all ages who flocked into the Tennis Gardens on Saturday morning to enjoy a variety of fun activities. (Scroll down to view photos of the fun.)

The highlight of the day was the newly introduced tennis clinic held for local kids from Coachella Valley, sponsored and facilitated by the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and its partner, Universal Tennis. More than 140 local students from local schools took to the courts accompanied by coaches and a cadre of participating WTA and ATP pros. Big swings and even bigger smiles were the order of the day for the participants.

When asked what their favorite moments during the clinic had been, three young ladies from the George Washington Charter School in Palm Desert shared their thoughts with the Independent.

“Doing the high-5,” said Gianna.

“Playing with the pros,” Melia told us.

“Trying to beat the pros,” was Kaia’s favorite challenge of the day.

Published in Snapshot

You may have encountered Brian Hess before—back when he was a child actor who told Mr. Whipple: “Don’t squeeze the Charmin!”

Hess, now 46, began acting in commercials when he was 5 or 6; his cousin was doing the same, and Hess thought it looked easy. He became an extra in several shows and worked with NBC; the acting helped pay for his education. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in the Florida Keys, Hess and his family moved to California when he was 16.

“I was an athlete in high school who realized I wouldn’t make pro,” says Hess, “so I opted to join the Air Force. My father had been in the military, with stints in the FBI and CIA. He instilled in us that caring for people has meaning and is important. He said to work hard and not look for glory or seek recognition.

“My mom retired as a pediatric nurse practitioner, and both of my younger sisters became nurses. Mom said that caring for people has meaning and is its own reward, and that we should never stop learning, giving and caring.”

Hess never told the Air Force that he suffered from shin splints, and reached the point where he could hardly stand up. He went to the base hospital and was exposed to physical therapy for the first time. Once out of the service, he began work as an athletic trainer—and realized he wanted to do more with seriously ill patients, like those with brain injuries, amputees and stroke victims.

“I found I loved it,” he says.

When an opportunity arose to enter an internship working with brain-injury patients, Hess went to Charleston, S.C., as a physical-therapy assistant.

“It was a chance to get out of Los Angeles for a couple of years,” he says, “and it was my introduction to working with patients with cognitive impairment.”

Hess returned to Los Angeles, but four years ago decided to escape “the hustle and bustle,” and moved to the Coachella Valley. His family had spent time in the desert over many years, and he decided to make the move.

“I was raised near the beach in Florida, and I love the heat,” he says.

Hess joined the staff of the Eisenhower Memory Care Center’s Adult Day Center program and is currently its program coordinator. The program’s mission is to provide day care to functionally or cognitively impaired individuals in a safe, supportive environment.

“I’m particularly impressed with the staff,” Hess says. “The program has been operating for 36 years, and there are long-time staff who are totally dedicated. You don’t do this kind of work for over 30 years just because it’s cool.”

The program is in transition, with plans to expand to a new location where it can expand its availability beyond the current 49 patients.

“It’s great for me to feel like a catalyst for the progress being made regarding dementia and related diseases,” Hess says. “The level and scope of care are different than when I worked with brain-injury patients. I’ve learned much greater patience. Doing this kind of care is a different kind of job; you can’t just clock in and then go home. For me, it’s a 12-hour-a-day commitment.

“I want to find a way to get everybody on Earth who is affected by this disease into this kind of program. It used to be that Mom and Dad had direct family support when they aged, but now we have children and grandchildren bringing them in—even in-laws and distant family members.

“It’s hard for family to let go when someone’s capabilities have changed. You have to step into the patient’s world. If you didn’t know what day it is, wouldn’t you want people around to compensate for that deficiency? I tell families, ‘So your loved one has these memory deficits. So? The sky is still blue; the earth is still round, so what difference does it really make that they don’t know what day it is?’ It isn’t about what they can or can’t do any more. Here at the center, that doesn’t matter. We expose them to fun and games, laugh at jokes, listen to music and relate to them where they are. The abilities they have lost don’t factor into the time they spend here—and it gives caregivers a break they so badly need.”

Statistics show that caregivers often die before the patients for which they are caring, in part because of the stress associated with caregiving. The Eisenhower program also offers caregiver support and education, including the importance of learning effective communication skills.

“For me, it’s about reaching that one family out there that thinks they don’t need this,” Hess says. “Come for just one time is all I ask. It will make a difference. Once families realize this is available, and it’s here to help them, the light bulb goes on. I do as many public presentations and community activities as I can. I will market our services anywhere they won’t shut the door on me. I even leave fliers, ‘accidentally,’ by dropping them in supermarket aisles.”

One of the biggest issues around dementia and other types of cognitive impairment is the stigma still associated with the illness.

“People don’t want to admit this is happening in their family,” says Hess. “They try to shelter someone rather than bringing them to a program like ours. It becomes something people hide. For every one of the people in our program, there is another family out there that doesn’t look for resources. They think they have a grasp on it, because they haven’t burned out yet.”

Hess is continuing his education; he’s currently in a licensed vocational nurse program.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and being here has been a catalyst,” he says. “I’ve seen how much nursing is involved in the care we give.

“I came on board here at a time of transition (with) this program. I actually thought, ‘If not me, then who?’ I actually jumped at the chance to do it. It’s an incredible opportunity, and I have to believe I ended up here in the right place at the right time.

“I’m a believer in doing things first and asking questions later. If you know you’re doing the right thing, just do it.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The federal government now requires hospitals to publish online its “charge description master”—a list of what the hospital charges for various services and items.

When this new policy, which took effect Jan. 1, was announced last year, it was heralded as an overdue move to promote fairness and transparency within our country’s expensive and often-confusing health-care system.

Unfortunately … that’s not how things have turned out.

The Independent decided to see how this new policy is working at the three Coachella Valley hospitals. I dove into my research enthusiastically, easily locating and downloading the charge masters, as these lists are called, from the Eisenhower Medical Center (EMC) and Desert Care Network (DCN) websites.

Then … well, I opened the charge masters. Just as I thought I was gaining useful information, I discovered the downloaded documents, practically speaking, are useless to any layperson who lacks a knowledge of oft-unintelligible medical terminology. It’s also nearly impossible to compare between hospitals, since each uses its own terms and formats.

Download the Eisenhower Medical Center Chargemaster here.

Download the Desert Regional Medical Center Chargemaster here.

Download the JFK Memorial Chargemaster here.

Oh, one more thing: If you have insurance, you and your insurance company aren’t paying the amounts listed on the chargemaster, anyway.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges: “The hospital charge description master … represents 100 percent of services used by patients in a hospital setting. The use of charge masters began in the early 1950s with the advent of indemnity insurance products; in this environment, hospital rates were set based on billed charges for individual services. As the health insurance industry matured, hospitals moved to payments based on negotiated rates, and the billed charges expressed in the charge master remained largely as a rate schedule for those patients who were private pay or uninsured. … The process for updating the charge master is not intended to ensure that it is a comprehensive document for tracking relative prices. Instead, hospitals focus on adding new services and calibrating highly competitive services rather than updating rates for older services.”

Still … I wanted to ask why the charge masters from our local hospitals were so unwieldly, poorly organized and confusing.

I received no reply from Eisenhower, but I did speak briefly with Todd Burke, California director of communications for Tenet Healthcare, which runs the two valley hospitals within the Desert Care Network: Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, and JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio. He provided a corporate statement which read: “The hospitals of the Desert Care Network focus on providing high-quality, cost-effective care to all patients we serve. We understand that the costs of health care can be confusing. When looking at the charges posted to our website, it is important to know that the charges posted are a reference price and not the amount that patients or insurers actually pay. When inquiring about actual costs of care, we strongly encourage patients to speak with their insurance provider, or if uninsured or those patients who have Medicare or Medicaid, to speak with the hospital’s financial services department.”

Burke also suggested that I reach out to Jan Emerson-Shea, the vice president for external affairs at the California Hospital Association. So I did.

“You know, people often like to say, ‘Well, I shop for shoes, and I shop for cars, so why shouldn’t I be able to shop for health care, and look at prices ahead of time?’” Emerson-Shea said. “We understand the desire for that level of price transparency, and hospitals are always willing to do the best they can to provide that information. But it’s important for people to understand that these things are different, because you’re talking about a person’s individual health-care needs. So if I happen to have diabetes, and you don’t, we might be having the same health-care procedure, but mine might be more complicated and more expensive due to my pre-existing health condition. People have to understand that everything with health-care pricing is dependent on what your actual needs are as a person, and then it’s also dictated by what your insurance coverage is—and if you are uninsured, California has a decade-old law that limits how much you can be liable for in terms of your hospital care. Depending on your income level, this state law says that hospitals are required to give you either free or discounted care based on a sliding scale. So, really, no patient ever winds up paying the dollar-cost amounts that are shown on any charge master list.”

In other words … all the hospitals in the United States are complying with this requirement to post their charge masters because they’re required to do so, yet everybody involved knows that the charge masters are of no use to anyone in the patient population?

“Yes. That’s exactly right,” she replied.

Where does this leave the discussion about cost transparency within the health-care industry?

“Legally, we are complying with what the laws and regulations require,” Emerson-Shea said. “Is it fair to say that hospitals understand that this information is not very useful, and that we’re looking for ways to make it more useful? Yes. This is not an easy discussion, but I can certainly say that our association is working with our member hospitals to figure out what other options there may be. There are some hospitals in the state that have looked at new technologies to see if there’s a way to put a price estimator on their website that allows patients to go in pre-surgery and enter their information. I think it’s certainly fair to say that there’s a live conversation going on.”

She them summed up the puzzle facing all parties involved.

“If you’re faced with having a procedure done at a hospital, you’ll be going to the hospital where your doctor practices, or you’re being taken to one by an ambulance. … Are you really going to shop around for prices in that situation? I know the California Health Care Foundation has done some research on this question, and they found that, for the most part, consumers are not shopping for health care in that way. … It is not similar to shopping for any other type of a consumer product. Still, I think it’s fair to say that hospitals are looking at how to make this information more useful for patients.”

Published in Features

On June 27, the California Department of Public Health issued its first data report on residents’ participation in the new End of Life Option Act.

The law was signed by the governor in 2015 and took effect on June 9, 2016. The report reveals that 258 terminally ill California patients—diagnosed as having less than 6 months to live—started the process as called for under the law, as of Dec. 31, 2016.

Of those 258 patients, 191 were prescribed the life-ending medications, by 173 unique physicians. The report states: “111 patients, or 58.1 percent, were reported by their physician to have died following ingestion of aid-in-dying drugs prescribed under EOLA, while 21 individuals, or 11 percent, died without ingestion of the prescribed aid-in-dying drug(s). The outcome of the remaining 59 individuals, or 30.9 percent, who have been prescribed aid-in-dying drugs, is currently undetermined, as there has been no outcome reported for these individuals within the time period covered by this report.” (Full disclosure: One of the 111 patients who passed away using the new law was my mother-in-law; see “Annette’s Story,” posted at CVIndependent.com on Dec. 20, 2016.)

Kat West is the national director of policy and programs at Compassion and Choices, a national support organization for medical aid-in-dying patients and their cause. The organization just released its own, independent report on the law, covering activity through May 31 of this year.

“We were actually very encouraged by the data that came out of the state, because it showed that (the participation rate) was in keeping with our previous experience in the other authorized states,” West said. “The one piece of data we were very happy to see was the ratio of the number of different doctors prescribing the drugs compared to the group of patients requesting. That was a really good indicator that medical aid-in-dying is being what we call “normalized” and basically mainstreamed into end-of-life care.”

According to the Compassion and Choices report, the organization knows of 313 prescriptions that were written for medical aid in dying in the first five months of 2017. Meanwhile, 498 health-care facilities and 104 hospice locations have adopted policies supportive of patient choice, while about 80 percent of private insurance companies have covered the cost of the medications, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter and all Medi-Cal plans.

“The additional 313 prescriptions issued (thus far in 2017) were only the ones that we know about,” West said. “There are plenty of doctors who did not reach out to our organization, and there are plenty of terminally ill people who did not reach out to us. As a result, we don’t know of all of the prescriptions that may have been written in the state of California.”

Not all of the news is good for proponents of medical aid-in-dying protocols. The federal House Appropriations Committee recently voted to block funding to implement a new medical aid-in-dying law in Washington, D.C.

In California, a Riverside County Superior Court judge allowed the Ahn vs. Hestrin lawsuit, which challenges the End of Life Option Act, to move ahead into the courts, although an injunction request to put the law on hold was rejected by the judge.

John Kappos, a partner at the O’Melveny and Myers law firm, is representing proponents of the law. He said he is not too concerned about the lawsuit.

“What I find most concerning is the fact that a purely voluntary procedure like medical aid in dying causes some people to try to impose their will on others,” he said. “People can decide that they want to do it, or they can decide that they’d prefer not to do it and just die of natural causes. There’s no one here who is telling the people who do not want to participate in medical aid in dying that they need to, or have any obligation to do so. It’s very concerning to me that there are people in California who feel that they need to tell others … they have to suffer at the end of life, and potentially die an excruciating death.”

Kappos said it could take a year or longer for the case to be resolved. “It’s hard to guess at these kinds of things, but in my view, these are purely legal issues, and eventually, that will come to light, and the case should be resolved on a motion (in the defendant’s favor).”

Here in the Coachella Valley, Eisenhower Medical Center continues to deny its staff and doctors permission to write medical-aid-in-dying prescriptions for its terminally ill patients.

“I try to take the long view, and that is that change is hard,” said West, of Compassion and Choices. “But look back 20 years as an example. If you were to bring up the subject of hospice care with a group of medical professionals, it would clear the room. That’s how taboo the topic of death and end-of-life care was then. Now, of course, hospice is completely mainstream, and everyone thinks it’s great. So it’ll be the same trajectory for medical aid in dying, especially now that California has authorized it.

“Eisenhower is just going to find itself out of step with the community’s needs and desires. It’s going to find itself out of step with its own doctors’ feelings about the issue, and eventually, it will change its policy. The community clearly wants it, so it’s just the administrators. The community is already stepping up their demands, and internal champions within Eisenhower are also calling us and letting us know what they think.”

West predicted change will come to Eisenhower sooner rather than later.

“I’d say they will change their policy within a year. I do believe that,” West said. “The administrators have to pay attention to what their community is asking for.”

West suggested that everyone engage in an end-of-life-treatment discussion with their own health-care professionals.

“Our big ask of everyone is to ask your own doctor now if they would provide the protocol legalized in the End of Life Option Act—whether she or he will support you if and when the time comes,” West said.

Published in Local Issues

The quiet bustle outside of Eisenhower Medical Center’s medical campus in Rancho Mirage was disturbed by the old-school call and response of an organizer’s bullhorn and a crowd of protesters on the morning of Thursday, March 2.

“What do we want?” shouted Joe Barnes, the California outreach manager for Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group for terminally ill patients.

The crowd of 100 or so enthusiastic supporters of the California End of Life Option Act responded: “Access!”

Barnes continued: “When do we want it?”

“Now!” hollered the crowd.

The protest on the sidewalks alongside the Bob Hope Drive entrance to EMC was organized by, and for, Coachella Valley residents frustrated by the refusal of EMC administrators to allow any of their doctors, other professional staff members and facilities to participate in the new state law, which lays out the strict guidelines under which patients can obtain life-ending prescriptions, should they so choose. (Full disclosure: My mother-in-law utilized the law last year.)

Signs were waved; short and impassioned speeches were given; chants were raised; and then the group headed into the hospital building to meet with an EMC representative.

“We encourage members of our communities to speak with their doctors about what their priorities are at the end of their life, and really become a team with their doctors rather than accepting everything that the medical community just pushes out to them,” said Joan Stucker, the chairperson of the Coachella Valley Access Team for Compassion and Choices, to the Independent during the rally. “We have a hold-up (in patient access to End of Life Option services) with Eisenhower Hospital, because their doctors are employed by the hospital, and even though some of their physicians want to give their patients access, they (EMC leaders) refuse to let them do that. We want them to change that position.”

The other major-health care provider in our valley, Tenet Healthcare, operates the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, the JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio, and the Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree. These facilities will not be a target of pro-End of Life Option demonstrations, because Tenet administrators recently clarified publicly that they will allow their personnel, including doctors in their networks, to support a patient’s End of Life Act rights.

The newly released official policy statement stipulates that any Tenet personnel who choose to engage in the End of Life Option procedures must record patient interactions in the Tenet health records systems. While Tenet physicians may write prescriptions for the life-ending drugs described in the California law, patients may not fill those prescriptions in Tenet pharmacies, or take those drugs in any of Tenet facilities.

Tenet is clearly doing more to address the needs of the terminally ill patients than EMC, which refuses to cooperate with the California law on any level.

“It just doesn’t seem that they (EMC) are providing the good care that they claim to give,” Stucker said. “They’re supposed to give incredible care to their patients, and yet they’re refusing to let them have this option.”

Idyllwild resident and EMC patient Francoise Frigola turned out for the rally.

“I asked my doctor what her position was (regarding the End of Life Option Act), and she was furious,” Frigola explained while leaning forward in her wheelchair. “She was part of writing the law, and because she’s affiliated with Eisenhower down here, she cannot do anything.”

Barnes told the Independent that he spoke with an EMC representative before the rally and told her: “‘You know, if you did what you said you were going to do, then we wouldn’t have this rally here today.’ Last fall, Compassion and Choices spoke to EMC representatives, who told us that they would make public outreach efforts and hold a town hall-style meeting where patients could state their concerns. But they never did anything.”

We asked Stucker what steps would next be taken regarding the lack of End of Life Option access at EMC.

“We know that getting access to medical aid in dying takes time. We know there’s a certain amount of resistance,” Stucker said. “It’s very difficult, because physicians and hospitals have not really been trained in end-of-life care. They’re very uncomfortable doing something that they’ve actually been trained not to do. But Eisenhower Medical Center is such a major player in local health care, serving a lot of patients all over the valley. We think it’s only right that their patients have a chance to get access (to medical aid in dying assistance) with the physicians that they are seeing.”

Published in Local Issues

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act in October 2015, and the law went into effect on June 9, 2016.

But for many Coachella Valley residents who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a prognosis of less than six months to live, the end-of-life option remains out of grasp—that is, unless they switch health providers.

Trust me, I know: I helped my mother-in-law through the end-of-life process last year.

No statistics are available yet regarding the number of Coachella Valley patients who have obtained prescriptions for life-ending medications since the law took effect; the initial annual report required by the law will not be issued until later this year. But according to patient, doctor and advocate feedback, the refusal of some major health-care providers in our valley to support the new law has been keeping those numbers down. Eisenhower Medical Center (EMC), with facilities located across the valley, and both Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs and JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio (the latter two owned by Tenet Health, a company based in Dallas) have been refusing assistance to terminally ill patients.

However, this picture improved in mid-February, when Tenet Health informed Compassion and Choices—a national nonprofit “medical aid in dying” advocacy organization—that the company had established a “regulatory compliance policy to define the scope of permitted participation, documentation and notification requirements for Tenet entities” in California.

Compassion and Choices California director Matt Whitaker welcomed the news.

“Tenet confirmed that their physicians are indeed allowed to participate in the (End of Life Option) act,” Whitaker wrote the Independent in an email.

Curiously, the written policy just delivered by Tenet was dated June 7, 2016. What could have caused the eight-month communication delay?

“The good news is that they (Tenet) are going to allow individuals to have access to medical aid in dying,” said Joe Barnes, the Compassion and Choices California outreach manager, during a recent phone interview. “It sounds like they are probably still having challenges about whether or not to allow people who are being treated in their hospitals to be able to be in a private hospital room surrounded by loved ones and ingest the medication to end their pain and suffering.”

Barnes said many health-care organizations are still figuring out the logistics of dealing with the new law.

“It seems some health-care systems are still working out the internal mechanics of how they are addressing the needs of their patients,” he said. “Sometimes, one side of the hospital is not communicating with the other side, and then the patient doesn’t receive the correct information. But we try to follow up with health-care systems to see what their questions might be if they have any, and also to find out what their official policy is. If a health-care system doesn’t have a written policy, then they are automatically considered a supportive health-care system.”

While Tenet is taking steps toward assisting patients with the law, EMC is apparently not. I contacted Lee Rice, the media coordinator and public relations specialist at EMC, to talk with an appropriate representative regarding the End of Life Option Act. After several days, Rice replied that no interview could be arranged. He did, however, forward to me an official statement, which read, in part: “Eisenhower Medical Center carefully reviewed and discussed the requirements of the End of Life Option Act and elected the option under the act not to participate in the process. … Eisenhower will provide information about the End of Life Option Act upon request and supports each patient’s right to make decisions about care, including the choice to accept or reject treatments that might be available.”

Compassion and Choices’ Whitaker expressed disappointment with EMC’s stance.

“We would characterize Tenet’s policy as supportive, but not Eisenhower’s,” Whitaker said. “The line that (Eisenhower representatives) keep using is that their physicians are free to do this on their own time. That’s the framing they use to say that they’re not limiting access for patients in the area: ‘We (EMC) are only limiting it during the time that they’re employed by us.’ But the way that health care has consolidated, EMC has 40-something clinics that have affiliated with them in the area, so there are not a lot of sole practitioners out there—and for folks who work in a hospital or an outpatient clinic, they don’t really have the ability to do things on their own time. They don’t have their own medical-records system. Oftentimes, their malpractice insurance is through their employer. They don’t have the physical facilities available to care for these patients. So (EMC) is kind of a broken record when they just keep pushing back, saying, ‘Well, the doctors can do it on their own time.’ That’s not what’s needed. Patients who are being seen by doctors at these clinics need to be able to receive this treatment during the course of their care.”

In an effort to influence EMC’s stance, Compassion and Choices supporters and other valley residents are planning a rally at 11 a.m., Thursday, March 2, in front of the main Eisenhower Medical Center campus in Rancho Mirage.

“Ever since Eisenhower Medical Center announced that it wasn’t going to allow people to have access to medical aid in dying, there’s been an increase in the requests for presentations to community groups and organizations across the area,” Barnes said. “The question always comes up as to what the community can do, because that’s (one of the) the flagship hospitals in the area.

“We have thousands of people who are supportive of medical aid in dying in that area. They helped us pass the law in the first place by reaching out to their local legislators and holding events to educate fellow community members to the importance of medical aid in dying. So, the natural next step is that the folks want to have a rally in front of the hospital. Many of the people who will be at the rally are also donors to the Eisenhower (Medical Center) Foundation. They’re kind of scratching their heads, because they live in the community and donate to the hospital but can’t get access to medical aid in dying, and they really don’t understand it.”

Published in Features

Linda is my wife, my best friend. She’s the daughter of Annette, who had been battling cancer for years.

Fifteen months prior to this August 2016 morning, Annette, then 93, had come to live out her last days with us in our Palm Desert home. Now, Linda stood at the foot of her mother’s bed and spoke softly to our cat, who had stretched herself out across Annette’s lower legs.

“Lola, honey, come on now,” Linda cajoled. “You have to get up, sweetie. Mom-mom’s no longer here. She’s gone now.”

Lola stayed put with her chin on her crossed front paws. It seemed that nothing or no one could disturb this quiet, calm and peaceful scene.

Thanks to California’s End of Life Option Act, Annette had just left behind the painful captivity of the cancer that had progressively destroyed her quality of life.


This peaceful day came after one of the most trying 15 months of our lives.

“Mom was diagnosed as having six months or less to live, and was in hospice care when she came to stay with us,” Linda recalled. “At this point, she never had a day when she felt well. So, when the End of Life Option became legal in California,” on June 9, 2016, after being signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015, “she decided that she wanted to participate in it. I went online and did a lot of research.”

Linda quickly learned the process was not going to be easy.

“What I found was that none of the hospitals out here (in the Coachella Valley) were participating in providing their patients with the support to obtain the life-ending prescriptions,” Linda said. “And that meant that none of the doctors out here, as far as I knew, were participating.”

Linda has directed information-research departments for major media and advertising companies—so her online search skills are well-honed, to say the least. However, she could find no local leads for resources to contact on her mom’s behalf.

“Actually, that isn’t uncommon, because doctors don’t want to advertise that they participate in this program,” Linda said. “I had been in contact with people in Oregon and other states where (medical aid in dying) had been legal for a while. That’s where I started to see what had come before: Doctors don’t want to be seen as ‘Dr. Kevorkians’ or doctors of death, so there are no lists. Even in places where it has been legal for 18 years, there’s no list for doctors who are participating. You have to talk to your own doctor.

“During my research, though, I came upon the organization Compassion and Choices, and I contacted them,” Linda said. “I asked if they had any contacts in California who could help us access this option, and they said that the only thing they knew was that Kaiser Permanente was participating—which meant, to me, our only recourse was Kaiser.”


Amy Thoma, the director of public affairs for Kaiser Permanente, recently talked to me about Kaiser’s participation.

“We allow our physicians to participate in California’s End of Life Option Act,” Thoma said. “Physician participation is not mandatory. Also, we allow it in other regions such as Washington and Oregon, where it’s been an option for a while now. We encourage our patients to have thoughtful discussions with their loved ones, family and friends, as well as their health-care providers, about their end-of-life wishes so that they can have whatever dignified ending they choose.”

I asked what Kaiser does to “market” the fact that it allows patients and their doctors to participate in the End of Life Option Act.

“Health plans in general are not allowed to market the End of Life Option Act in California,” Thoma said. “It’s prohibited by (the End of Life Option) law, so we do not market it to our patients at all.”

Thoma referred me to Compassion and Choices for a broader discussion about medical-provider systems in California and their participation in the End of Life Option Act. Therefore, I reached out to Matt Whitaker, the newly appointed California state director for Compassion and Choices. We asked him whether the lack of support by the medical industry in our area was atypical.

“I would say that the Coachella Valley is pretty unique in the way that there is really no access to medical providers supporting the End of Life Option Act program,” Whitaker said. “In most of the population centers across California, you have the few religiously affiliated hospitals and organizations that made the decision not to participate, but you don’t see the majority of health systems choosing not to participate.”

In particular, he focused on the fact that Eisenhower Medical Center, one of the major health-care providers in our valley, has chosen not to offer End of Life Option services—nor is Eisenhower permitting any associated doctors to participate.

“They are not religiously affiliated,” Whitaker said. “We know from our work in the community that they have a large number of doctors who want to participate and who were super-upset when the decision not to do so came down, because there wasn’t much stakeholder engagement at all prior to making that decision.”


Last summer, Linda began taking steps for Annette to move from her existing insurance plan and health-care network to the Kaiser Permanente universe.

“Mom had Medicare insurance, so what we needed to do was change her supplemental insurance to Kaiser,” Linda said. “Fortunately, if you are on Medicare, Kaiser offers open enrollment at any time, all year. … But before we joined Kaiser, I called them, and we went over everything. They told me that (providing End of Life services in California) was new to them, and that they were hiring an end-of-life coordinator for Riverside County who would take us through the entire process. So we cancelled Mom’s supplemental policy in the middle of the month, and by the first of the next month, she was on Kaiser. She got a senior (citizen) insurance plan that had no monthly fee to be paid.”

It became very obvious, very quickly, that the Riverside County end-of-life coordinator’s support was an invaluable resource provided by Kaiser. The two of them worked as a team on Annette’s behalf in the weeks ahead.

“Once I got in contact with the new and extremely helpful coordinator, she reviewed for me the criteria necessary for a terminally ill patient to qualify for the End of Life Option in California,” Linda said. “You have to prove that you are a resident of California; you need to have a diagnosis of six months or less to live; you have to demonstrate that you are in your right mind and not suffering from depression; and you must be able to self-administer the prescribed medications. Also, you must be able to confirm, both in writing and orally, that you are personally in agreement with the decision to follow this end-of-life course of action.”

The California law also stipulates that two doctors must be involved in the process of granting permission to obtain the life-ending medications.

“The coordinator told me that there would be a first-opinion doctor who Mom would see initially, and who would then evaluate her again at least 15 days following that initial in-person appointment,” Linda said. “During that interim period, she would have to visit another doctor in person for a second opinion.”

Because Kaiser’s operations in support of the End of Life Option Act in California were just beginning, there were no existing relationships with doctors in their network who had elected to participate in the program. Originally, the coordinator was able to find doctors—but they were hours away from Palm Desert. “I told her that Mom was in no shape to make those trips,” Linda said. “I explained to her that we weren’t in a rush, but that we needed to find doctors close to our home in Palm Desert.

“She found us the first-opinion doctor at the Kaiser Indio facility, and the second doctor was in Palm Springs.”

At this point, Annette was given a form that she had to complete in preparation for her initial doctor visit, and appointments were made for the first two doctor visits.

“When we saw the first doctor, it was not a long trip to Indio, and the visit was rather short,” Linda said. “(My mom) gave him the completed form, and he reviewed her medical history. Then he interviewed Mom to make sure that this was her choice, and that it wasn’t a case of anyone trying to talk her into it. He asked why she wanted to pursue this end-of-life option. She told him that she suffered from two types of cancer and never had a day when she felt well.

“Less than a week later, we had an appointment to see the second-opinion doctor in the Palm Springs Kaiser office. He asked her another bunch of questions: When was she diagnosed? What illness did she have? Was she in pain? He talked to her about other things to confirm that she was coherent and in her right mind, and that it was her choice to do this. Also, he asked if she was capable of self-administering the drugs.

“Finally, Annette had her return consultation with the first-opinion doctor. Shortly thereafter, he was able to prescribe the necessary medications.”

The cost of these medications to the patient can vary, depending on the type of insurance; in fact, the drugs can be quite expensive. However, Kaiser may be able to help a patient find financial aid if he or she can prove financial hardship.

At this stage, the coordinator made an appointment for Linda to meet with a Kaiser pharmacist manager for the drugs to be delivered into the possession of either the patient or his/her representative, and to review—in detail—the procedure for administering the drugs.

“In our case, I met him at the Moreno Valley Kaiser facility,” Linda said. “He explained that there would be three separate drugs to be ingested to complete the end-of-life protocol, and he described in great detail the procedure for taking them to ensure the intended result.”

Everything was ready for Annette to make a final decision. The process—from the time she joined Kaiser to the time when we received the life-ending drugs—took no longer than 60 days.

“It’s important to note that the patient can change his or her mind at any time during this process,” Linda said. “Even if they have obtained the prescribed medications, they can change their mind. It seems that only approximately 30 percent of the people who receive the medications actually follow through and take them. … A lot of people change their mind.

“It gives you the option to control your own passing, and that is a wonderful thing.”


Dr. Wayne McKinny is a retired pediatrician and a resident of Desert Hot Springs. He’s also a hospice patient, diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer.

In the last six months, he has written two opinion pieces published in the local press. Both decried the refusal of our valley’s three major hospitals—Eisenhower Medical Center, Desert Regional Medical Center and John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital—to participate in or allow any of their associated doctors to participate in End of Life Option medical support. He is currently working with Compassion and Choices on their efforts to get these large medical organizations to support the law—and their patients’ desires.

“Having this right available is emotional insurance for a dying patient,” Dr. McKinny told the Independent. “They know they have it, and that they won’t have any problem, and they can use it. Likewise, it’s emotional insurance for a person who does not choose this option initially, because they know that if they change their mind, they would be able to get the option somewhat easily.”

How can terminally ill and despairing patients in our valley get access to the right to choose the circumstances of their passing?

“The choices that have been made by Coachella Valley health-care systems are not reflective of the attitude of the people in the community,” said Whitaker, of Compassion and Choices. “That’s what we’re really trying to make sure those hospitals there know. Hospitals and health systems are a community resource like libraries, churches or community centers. They exist to serve their communities. For example, during the (statewide) campaign to get the End of Life Option Act passed into law, there was a huge amount of support out of the Coachella Valley. There were a lot of people who did organizing and advocacy to make the option available, and so I think that’s where a lot of the current community disappointment comes from. There’s this population there that clearly wants this option, but the bulk of the apparatus (of medical providers) that is there to serve the community isn’t doing it.

Whitaker said his organization has had several hundred people call Eisenhower Medical Center to voice their disappointment.

“We’ve tried to approach the issue with as much civility as possible, but it’s gotten to the point where people who are interested in pushing back should go to our website and sign up to volunteer and add their name to our list,” he said. “We will be holding rallies and community meetings. We have an organizer in Southern California, and the Coachella Valley is an area with a big bull’s-eye on it for him, because we need to get people out and empowered and making some noise about this issue.”


Neither Linda nor I will ever forget that August day when Annette, who had been sick and in pain for so long, chose to end her life

“On the morning that Mom chose to follow through on her decision, we sat her on the edge of her own bed in her own room,” Linda said. “We followed carefully the process the pharmacist had described. The first drug she took was an anti-nausea medication to ease the ingestion of the other drugs in the quantities prescribed. Then, about 45 minutes later, the second drug was taken; it was a beta-blocker intended to slow down the heart rate. Then about another 15 minutes later, Mom took a large dose of Seconal, which would cause death. We had opened up 90 capsules and mixed their contents into one half-cup of applesauce, which she ate. (It could be mixed into juice or other items that the pharmacist approves.) The pharmacist had emphasized that Mom had to follow the procedure closely, and that there was a certain timeframe in which the drugs had to be completely consumed to avoid any mishaps.

“After she finished taking the last of the Seconal, we helped her lie down on the bed and made her comfortable. I had an aide, who Mom had grown close to, helping me that morning, and it was a very good idea to have her there. It’s good to have someone there with you for support.

“Very quickly, like after 30 seconds, Mom closed her eyes and drifted into a peaceful sleep. Her breathing was a little labored, but that was pretty much normal for her at that point. And then in about 20 minutes, with no gasping for breath or anything, she just stopped breathing. And it was so peaceful. It was really incredibly peaceful. She had her favorite cat with her, and it was just a beautiful death. She wanted it to be very quiet. We had put her in very comfortable clothes, and it was very beautiful.

“It’s the way we all should die.”

To enroll in a Kaiser Permanente health plan and/or to receive information about their End of Life Option services, call 800-464-4000. For more information about the End of Life Option Act, visit www.compassionandchoices.org/california.

Published in Features

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