The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has named UCLA Luskin Professor of Social Welfare Mark S. Kaplan to a board of experts on the prevention of violence and injuries. Kaplan will serve a four-year term on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports that 214,000 people die from injury every year in the United States, and millions who survive an injury face lifelong mental, physical and financial problems. The board will advise the federal agencies on a variety of research areas to help set priorities and improve public health. “This is an incredible career achievement,” Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams said of the appointment. Kaplan’s research has focused on understanding suicide risk factors among veterans, seniors and other vulnerable populations. The CDC reports that suicide is one of just three leading causes of death that are on the rise. Members of the Board of Scientific Counselors represent several disciplines and include epidemiologists, statisticians, trauma surgeons, behavioral scientists, health economists, political scientists and criminologists.
New CDC figures documenting the growing rate of suicide may not reflect the full scope of the problem, said Mark S. Kaplan, professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin. Many suicides are actually classified as ”accidental deaths,” Kaplan, a noted suicide prevention researcher, told WebMD. “Some are classified as unintentional self-injury when, in fact, if you take a closer look, they look more like suicide,” he said. “The true incidence of suicide is unknown.” Kaplan said the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 contributed to what he terms ”deaths of despair” by suicide. Some people, he said, never recovered economically.
UCLA Luskin Social Welfare’s Ian Holloway has received word that another of his research proposals has been selected for funding. The study, “Tobacco and Cannabis Product Use Among Subgroups of Sexual and Gender Minority Emerging Adults,” will examine trajectories of tobacco and cannabis use among sexual and gender minority young people. Previous studies of tobacco products showed higher frequency of use within LGBT communities, but less is known about specific subgroups of LGBT people or their use of cannabis. Holloway, an associate professor, said the research is timely in the wake of California’s legalization of marijuana and other cannabis products in 2016, and he was happy to learn of the funding by the California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program during the month of June, which is Gay Pride month. “This funding will help us better understand tobacco and cannabis-related health disparities among LGBT young people, which is crucial to improve both short-term and long-term health in LGBT communities” Holloway said. The award amount of $400,000 will fund research in two phases, with initial results expected in about a year. Phase I will consist of qualitative interviews about tobacco and cannabis initiation and progression with LGBT tobacco users ages 18-29 in Los Angeles. In Phase II, 1,000 LGBT young people across California will participate in an online survey about their frequency and intensity of tobacco and cannabis product use. The research will be completed in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA Food Studies Graduate Certificate Program wrapped up its 10-week “Off the Table” series on urban agriculture, food security, and food policy with a moderated discussion on the sustainability of social enterprises within the food industry led by Evan Kleiman, chef and host of “Good Food” on KCRW. She was joined by panelists Anar Joshi of Everytable, Kaitlin Mogentale of Pulp Pantry, Nick Panepinto of L.A. Kitchen and Karla T. Vasquez of SalviSoul during a gathering on Nov. 30 at the L.A. Kitchen facility in Lincoln Heights near downtown Los Angeles. Among other topics, the speakers talked about their efforts to promote healthy eating among young people. “One of our most successful programs was cooking lessons for kids,” Vasquez said during the panel discussion. “We told them, ‘You can like something, love something, or hate it. But you have to make it. There’s so much food in the world, and you get to try it all!’” Afterward, attendees had a chance to do some cooking themselves, making a vegetarian ricotta carpaccio from scratch under Kleiman’s direction. Download the recipe. View a video of the panel discussion. Browse a Flickr album of images from the event below.
On Dec. 2, 2017, UCLA Luskin Master of Urban and Regional Planning students Alexander Salgado and Ana Kobara joined with UCLA undergraduate mentees Audree Hsu and Sophie Go as part of the UCLA Luskin Food Mentorship program to participate in a volunteer effort with Food Forward. Food Forward is a nonprofit organization that works with multiple farmer’s markets in Los Angeles to collect donated food from vendors to pass along to organizations in need of fresh food. Throughout the day, the students walked a farmer’s market in Hollywood and delivered empty boxes to vendors that could fill them with produce. For the day, the student volunteers collected and organized more than 1,700 pounds of food, which was then delivered or picked up by various organizations in need. “The experience in itself was very rewarding,” Salgado said. “It was nice to see vendors so eager and willing to help others.”
As part of the Mental Health and Public Child Welfare Lecture series, Laura Delano, founder and executive director of Inner Compass Initiative (ICI), visited UCLA Luskin on Nov. 16 to discuss her efforts to reclaim care from the “psychiatric-pharmaceutical industrial complex.” Through the ICI, Delano has worked to provide information and resources to facilitate more informed choices regarding all things mental health. Speaking to her experiences as an ex-psychiatric patient, Delano said, “I fully embraced the mental health system and my diagnosis when I was so hopeless for a solution to the pain. I thought maybe if I embrace this diagnosis and do everything the doctor says, I will be able to survive.” Delano suggested that the system must change the way it portrays mental illness as being in opposition to “normalcy” in order to put an end to patients feeling ostracized because of their medical diagnoses. Click below to view a Flickr album of photos from the lecture by Bryce Carrington.
UCLA Luskin Urban and Regional Planning master’s degree candidate Ribeka Toda has received the $10,000 Myra L. Frank Memorial Scholarship for women pursuing career paths in transportation. “Each fatal crash I had ever analyzed in a database had a mother, a father, a child, a dear friend. As a transportation planner, I feel a deep sense of responsibility that we have not done enough,” said Toda of her motivation to focus primarily on roadway safety. Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, described Toda as an exemplary student whose dedication to improving public safety in transportation goes beyond solely an interest in the technical field, but also as a vital public service. Read more about Toda and the Myra L. Frank Memorial Scholarship.
UCLA Luskin Assistant Professor Ian Holloway oversees multiple research projects. Photo by George Foulsham
Tens of thousands of Californians living with HIV would be impacted by Medicaid cuts under the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), according to a fact sheet released by the California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers in collaboration with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
The fact sheet highlights new data from the California Department of Public Health, Office of AIDS, which indicates that 45,033 people living with HIV received health coverage through Medi-Cal in 2014. These data also indicate that approximately 11,500 people living with HIV enrolled in Medi-Cal because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, covers the cost of medications that help low-income people living with HIV achieve viral suppression, which both improves their health and prevents new infections.
Last week, the U.S. Senate released the BCRA, which would make dramatic cuts to Medicaid. A similar bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would have cut Medicaid nationwide by $834 billion over 10 years.
The BCRA would radically restructure the Medicaid program by converting it to a per capita cap or block grant and effectively end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. Together, these changes would result in a massive fiscal shift from the federal government to the states and add billions in additional costs to the state of California.
“People living with HIV have complex health-care needs that require high-quality, consistent and affordable health care,” said Ian Holloway, director of the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center and an assistant professor in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
The CHPRC fact sheet emphasizes that limits on Medicaid financing and coverage would have a detrimental impact on California’s efforts to provide care and treatment for people living with HIV and to reduce new HIV infections.
“It is important for policymakers to understand the threats the BCRA poses to people living with HIV and other vulnerable communities in California,” Holloway said.
Ahmed Ali Bob discusses the Los Angeles rent stabilization ordinance before his fellow MPPs. Photo by George Foulsham
By Stan Paul
By necessity, the Master of Public Policy (MPP) students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs quickly begin learning skills and tools to complete the program and prepare for problem-solving careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
The students, working in groups, must clear one final hurdle to graduate: the Applied Policy Project presentation. Each group has 20 minutes to impress faculty and peers by showcasing what they have learned during two rigorous years of study.
Each year, a diverse group of clients “hire” the students, usually in teams of two or more, to tackle real-world problems and offer actionable recommendations and feasible solutions.
“I think one of the exciting aspects of the APP is the variety of topics covered,” said Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy and faculty coordinator of the program. “Because our students have a diverse set of interests and because we encourage them to identify their own clients, the result is an interesting variety of APP projects.”
Among this year’s clients were the Southern California Association of Governments, Covered California, Peterson Institute for International Economics and a member of the California State Assembly. Internal clients included a research center within the Luskin School, a professional program elsewhere on campus and the University of California’s Office of the President.
“The first-year curriculum of the MPP program is tool-driven,” Shah said. “What I mean by that is we try to give students a diverse set of tools — both quantitative and qualitative — that will help guide them through the APP process and ultimately go out into the real world and conduct policy analysis on issues close to their hearts.”
Shah said she was fortunate to advise a diverse set of APP groups this year. One group of students found that behavioral tools such as reciprocity and commitment devices should be implemented in schools to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in an attempt to combat obesity. Another group helped improve the service delivery model of an organization in L.A. that tries to get at-risk youth into better employment opportunities. And another group proposed interventions and policies aimed at reducing displacement and gentrification in South L.A.
In all, 18 presentations were made. Luskin faculty watched and then asked questions that tested the students’ depth and breadth of knowledge and the thoroughness of their projects.
The range of projects is broad, including:
- Local and regional issues such as investments in electric vehicle charging stations in Los Angeles and a rent stabilization ordinance to prevent displacement of low-income minority communities in South Los Angeles.
- Statewide issues such as bail reform, insuring Californians, health care, access to water and juvenile justice.
- National and global issues like mitigating the negative impacts of trade on employment in the U.S. auto industry and improving local-level governance amid decentralization reforms in the Ukraine.
A closer look at some of this year’s APPs follows.
Gender Issues in Engineering
Applying qualitative and quantitative methods to their study for the UC’s Office of the President, Traci Kawaguchi, Yuhan Sun and Eri Suzuki focused on the need for connections in their analysis of system-wide retention by gender in engineering at the undergraduate level. They initially determined that the retention rate of female engineering students was significantly lower than for male engineering classmates across the UC system.
Their faculty adviser, Professor of Public Policy John Villasenor, also holds an appointment in electrical engineering at UCLA. He helped connect them with UCLA engineering students, which led to interviews with aspiring female engineers.
Women and men had similar levels of academic performance in the first year, but the qualitative interview uncovered that “affinity groups play a key role in affirming engineering identity and belonging in the field,” according to the UCLA Luskin students’ written summary.
“I think the big thing that came up was just the idea of fitting in,” Kawaguchi said. “When you go into a classroom that is 80 percent male … it may make you feel that you don’t necessarily belong.”
Team members analyzed policy options based on anticipated effectiveness, cost feasibility and institutional feasibility, and they recommended support for female students based on a sense of community and belonging. Adoption of residential living communities and formal peer mentoring programs for female undergraduate students in engineering were also recommended.
A Program to Help Plug-In Commuters
Another APP team focused on plug-in vehicles with a limited range on all-electric power that switch to gasoline-based power after batteries are exhausted. Specifically, the group studied how workplace charging stations in Los Angeles could increase the number of miles that vehicles travel without burning gasoline.
MPP students James Di Filippo, Mahito Moriyama, Toru Terai, Kelly Trumbull and Jiahui Zhang completed their project, “Prioritizing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Investments in Los Angeles County,” for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Their model combined commuting data from SCAG’s transportation demand study with plug-in electric vehicle registration data, information on vehicle all-electric range, and point data on existing charging infrastructure locations.
The students found that nearly 6,000 plug-in hybrid commuters could benefit from workplace charging but currently do not have access. Full support of those commuters’ vehicles would yield about 76,000 additional miles driven on electric power each day.
The potential increase is concentrated in just a few zones. Di Filippo said that the group used a tool from the Environmental Protection Agency to identify zones that fall within disadvantaged communities that might require additional support, which were more than a third of all zones identified as having potential for investment across Los Angeles County. SCAG should direct additional funding toward those disadvantaged communities to ensure that the benefits are distributed equitably, the students said.
Di Filippo said that the APP process was challenging but rewarding. “I credit my teammates for pulling together quickly, conceptualizing and delivering a strong report that offers actionable information for SCAG’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure siting decisions in only eight weeks,” he said. “My team was fortunate to have the support of faculty and peers who were invaluable in shaping our thinking on key aspects of the report.”
Healthy Food for Children
Sarah White and teammates Sydney Ganon, Hiroto Iwaoka and Jonathan McIlroy examined behavioral economics for tools in nutrition education curricula. Their goal was to promote long-term healthy food choices and habits in third and fourth grade students in light of a growing recognition of negative health outcomes of childhood obesity.
“While the field of behavioral economics is still fairly new, we read a lot of the existing literature and had reason to believe that really low-cost interventions could potentially have large impacts on getting people to make better choices for themselves,” White said.
One challenge that behavioral economics has “rarely, if at all, studied within the realm of children’s nutrition.” That made evaluating different policy options more difficult. “We had to evaluate each policy option on our own,” White said.
The group’s recommendations bundled three potential behavioral tools that are cost-effective. Giving attractive names such as “power peas” to fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria would frame foods in a way that is appealing to children. Giving students something as simple as a sticker and thanking them for choosing the healthy option would promote reciprocity. Having students set goals for eating better would make them more likely to stay committed.
Rocking his Comeback
For one student, Ayappa Biddanda, the final APP presentation was a long time in the making. In the early 2000s he left UCLA Luskin to pursue an opportunity that turned into a career in the music industry. He came back this year to do his final presentation — and thus finish his master’s degree.
Biddanda’s project evaluated the impact of an educational enrichment program called Rock the Classroom that paired local musicians with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Biddanda’s solo presentation on the final night of the APP program literally rocked the classroom with musical sound bites and his enthusiastic, informative and professionally presented argument that, in education, “art matters.”
A Fond Farewell
Wrapping up two decades of APP presentations, Mark Peterson, chair of the department, thanked the students for their efforts. “I really want you all to applaud yourselves,” he said. “The hard work that went into all of the presentations was obvious to us all, and we really just admire the time you put into all of this and the work that you did to put these presentations on a scale of professionalism that we like to see.”
The 2017 APPs ended on a bittersweet note, with Peterson acknowledging the retirement of a key player. Maciek Kolodziejczak is a longtime UCLA staff member who joined the public policy program when it was founded more than 20 years ago and has long coordinated the APP presentations.
“Sadly, this is the last time that this part of the APP program will be orchestrated, moderated and run by Maciek,” Peterson said.
From the UCLA Luskin Flickr feed:
During a Q&A that followed his lecture, Mitchell Katz, right, engaged in a conversation about the future of health in Los Angeles and the country with former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Photo by Aaron Julian
By Zev Hurwitz
Mitchell Katz, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow, knows of several projects that would demonstrate the potential for effectiveness of local government.
“When people talk about public policy, typically people think about Washington [D.C.] or they think about state government,” said Katz, MD, director of the Los Angeles County Health Agency during a talk May 9, 2017, at the UCLA Faculty Center. “I have to say I’ve never been interested in working in either because I like seeing problems directly and figuring out how to solve them. What I want you to think about is, ‘What are the opportunities to do interesting things at a local level that perhaps you could never do at a federal level?’”
More than 50 attendees also heard from Director of the Los Angeles Initiative and former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who moderated a Q&A that followed Katz’s discussion of experiences that employ creativity to improve public health.
For example, when HIV/AIDS was spreading in San Francisco more than two decades ago, Katz helped create a needle exchange program that drastically lowered the number of new infections. In order to bypass state laws prohibiting taxpayer-funded needle exchanges, Katz and his colleagues needed to be creative in finding a legal loophole.
“We came up with the idea that we would declare an emergency,” he said. “The idea was that this was the leading cause of death among men … and here was something that was a transmissible agent. It seemed to me that this cause of death was a public health emergency.”
Katz likened the response to AIDS during the epidemic to an earthquake, during which normal county bureaucratic channels would be bypassed in providing emergency services.
“You were on the County Board of Supervisors for many years,” he said to Yaroslavsky. “If there’s a huge earthquake, you don’t want Zev and his colleagues to follow the process of getting request for proposals and figuring out who’s going to clean up your street — you want everybody to waive all the rules.”
Because rules for emergencies are time-sensitive, keeping the needle exchange program alive meant renewing the emergency order every two weeks for the next nine years.
“This gives you some sense about how absurd it was,” he said of navigating the bureaucracy.
Needle exchanges finally became legal in 2011, yet today no federal funding can be used to pay for such programs.
Katz also spoke about his work banning tobacco sales in pharmacies, improving public housing for homeless and chronically ill patients, advancing teleretinal screenings and remote doctor’s appointments to reduce waiting time for specialist appointments.
During the Q&A, he and Yaroslavsky engaged in a conversation about the future of health in Los Angeles and the country.
Yaroslavsky had high praise for Katz. “One of the best decisions the Board [of Supervisors] made in my day was getting Mitch Katz to come to Los Angeles even though he was from San Francisco,” he said.
Associate Dean and Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris opened the event, which was co-sponsored by the Fielding School of Public Health, and she introduced Katz. She also discussed the Luskin Senior Fellows program, which pairs leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with graduate students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for mentorship and engagement on field-specific issues.
VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at Luskin, oversees the program, which is now in its 20th year. She noted that the fellowship program’s speaker series allows the Luskin community to hear directly from community leaders.
“The Senior Fellows Speaker Series was created to provide a public square in which these prominent community and policy leaders can discuss their roles in public service and provide insights to their efforts to solve pressing public and social policy challenges,” she said.