Health News Roundup

The growing number of inmates with mental health issues, and more in this week’s roundup

Eric Westervelt, WNPR, February 25
New inmates with a mental illness arrive daily in the LA County jail system. It now holds more than 5,000 inmates with a mental illness who’ve had run-ins with the law. “When I started in 2013, mentally ill inmates were only housed on the seventh floor and the sixth floor right below it,” LA Sheriff’s Capt. Tania Plunkett says. “To date, the entire facility consists of mentally ill inmates.” Across the country, there are dozens of places like Los Angeles’ Twin Towers, warehousing people in settings with inadequate staff, services and support. It’s a culmination of decades of policies affecting those with a mental illness. Many of the nation’s asylums and hospitals were closed over the past 60-plus years — some horrific places that needed to be shuttered, others emptied to cut costs. The idea was that they’d be replaced with community-based mental health care and supportive services. That didn’t happen.

Brianna Ehley, Politico, February 20
Marc Young has been jailed three times since his 18th birthday and was homeless for most of last year. He spent much of his childhood in treatment centers, often far from home, and he struggles with developmental disabilities, aggressive behavior and mental health challenges. Unlike the high profile attempts to address opioids, fetal alcohol syndrome and the broader issue of alcoholism have few champions. Public health officials cite numerous reasons for American’s forgotten addiction crisis, including the intense stigma around expectant mothers who drink, as well as the fact that alcohol itself is legal, socially acceptable and widely used. There’s no adequate treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome; there’s not even a consensus among doctors on how to diagnose the condition that’s almost certainly underreported.
Sarah Holder, City Lab, March 11
For many people, the low-grade fear of getting the Covid-19 virus has been compounded with an urgent sense of economic anxiety. Under the states of emergency being declared in an increasing number of localities, large events have been canceled, public transit has been less crowded, bar and restaurant workers are losing out on tips and entertainers have had shows closed. In expensive coastal cities, where people can pay more than 30% of their income on housing, missing even one paycheck can mean falling behind on rent. And falling behind can mean getting evicted.

Jodie Mozdzer Gil, Connecticut Health Investigative Team, March 11
In cities throughout Connecticut, urban farms and community gardens are sprouting up to address a significant health challenge: Many people don’t have access to enough food or access to healthy food. About 13% of Connecticut residents said they did not have enough money to pay for food at least once in the previous year, according to the most recent Community Wellbeing Survey conducted by DataHaven in 2018. Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to struggle, with 23% and 28%, respectively, reporting food insecurity. In several cities, about a quarter of all residents struggle to pay for food. Studies have linked food insecurity to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes—as well as higher health care costs.
Fred Schulte and Erika Fry, Kaiser Health News/Fortune, March 9
Federal officials released groundbreaking rules that will let patients download their electronic health records and other health care data onto their smartphones. The new rules will require insurance companies and health care providers to make health records available in an easily accessible digital format for patients, in much the same way they can now access banking and other sensitive information. The rules are scheduled to go into effect in 2022.