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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Racial Justice | Voter Guide

Mail-in Ballots Are On the Way

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Undated image shows the outside envelope of a mail ballot that went out to more than 1.9 million registered voters in San Diego County, Oct. 5, 2020.

After months and weeks of anticipation, registered voters in California will all automatically receive mail-in ballots in coming days. The message from officials -- send it in early. Also, as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn continue, communities across the country are seeing an upsurge in mental illness and addiction. In City Heights, a group of addiction specialists have gone online to meet with people in crisis. Plus, an investigation into a nursing home in Chula Vista finds poor state and federal oversight allows abuse to occur.

Protesters gathered at the Otay Mesa Detention Center on tuesday as part of a statewide call to action. In Otay Mesa, they draped a banner over the prison company's sign, calling it "Gavin Newsom COVID-19 Death Camp." They demanded the Governor stop transfers of detainees between prisons and jails to immigration facilities, and release those at risk of contracting the virus.

Briseida (Bree-say-duh) Salazar is a former detainee at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. She says she feared for her life while in the facility, and she rarely saw her family.

"My scariest thought was not making it out alive and not seeing my 2 year old son again. Unfortunately my family is undocumneted… due to that they weren't able to visit me very much."

Banners were placed in more than 30 locations throughout California to call attention to poor medical conditions in immigration facilities...

Chula Vista Elementary School District leaders say they will push back the planned reopening of school campuses. They made the announcement on monday at a town hall meeting. The district superintendent, Francisco Escobedo, says distance learning will remain in place until further notice.

"I want to open the schools as soon as I can, I just want to make sure we have all our safeguards ready. the rates can lower more significantly. And we are continually improving our distance learning approach. "

He says Chula Vista schools have to take extra precautions because zip codes in the district continue to have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in the county.

Voters throughout California this week are getting their 2020 election ballots in the mail. It's the first time in state history all voters are receiving a mail-in ballot automatically. It’s part of an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 by limiting contact at the polls.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla says vote early. The sooner voters fill out their ballots and mail them in, the easier it'll be for election workers.

“Every election people start asking 'when can we expect results, why does it take California so long to finish processing ballots?' So we have given counties the ability to start processing, especially the big influx of vote-by-mail ballots, earlier this go-around. No preliminary results until after the polls close, but help counties get ahead of the game."

The deadline to register to vote online or by mail is October 19th. And a reminder, the KPBS Voter Guide is live with well researched, unbiased information on state and local races, ballot measures and more. You can find the Voter Guide at KPBS dot org slash election.

The San Diego Padres lost to the LA Dodgers last night 1 to 5. The second game in the National League Division series is tonight.

It’s Wednesday, October 7th. This is San Diego News Matters from KPBS News...a daily morning news podcast powered by everyone in the KPBS Newsroom. I’m Annica Colbert. Stay with me for more of the local news you need to start your day.

As the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down, communities across the country are seeing a surge in mental illness and addiction. In City Heights, a group of addiction specialists have gone online to meet with people in crisis. KPBS’ Max Rivlin-Nadler reports.

Dr. Mario Salguero practices Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine at La Maestra Community Health Centers. He says things used to be different.
Telehealth, or, not in-person services, would be 1% or less, it was rare.
Most of the patients Dr. Salguero sees are from the surrounding community and had been receiving in-person treatment.
So Dr. Salguero and the rest of the addiction team at La Maestra, which sees hundreds of patients, shifted over 70% of their patients to telehealth.
People knew we were there, we were able to reach them out, for our sakes as well, we care for them, we care for people we help out, and also it was a huge concern how can we continue to help all these people out.
Dr. Salguero says that for anyone in San Diego dealing with depression, anxiety, or addiction issues, help is out there… and he encourages people to seek it out through the La Maestra website. Max Rivlin-Nadler, KPBS News

Over the weekend, the Hillcrest community was hit with vandalism that left a hate symbol on the sidewalk. KPBS videojournalist Andi Dukleth says one local artist took action.

J. J. Floyd was looking forward to checking out one of the Hillcrest shops on 5th street last Saturday.
But as he was walking down the sidewalk, he saw a man with black paint, painting a swastika. He asked the man to cover it up,
"This is bad, my friend"
but he would not.
But as shocking as the vandalism was, what alarmed Floyd more was how "business as usual" everyone else seemed to be.
"for me it was more devastating how dismissive and complacent people were."
"...When we allow things like this to go unresolved…
"...that's when people are encouraged to continue to do it."
He got the help of a few friends and nearby business owners
NATS: spray paint
and they were able to cover up the hate symbol with a new message: love.
Floyd says we need to be better about not staying passive when faced with scenarios like this.
Andi Dukleth, KPBS News.

The White House is walking away from negotiations for a new coronavirus stimulus package. CapRadio’s Nicole Nixon reports on the implications that has for Californians and state services.

Don’t expect another stimulus check or another boost to unemployment benefits — at least until after the election.
That was the message from President Donald Trump after another round of spending negotiations failed.
In California, the pandemic led to a 54-billion-dollar budget shortfall. To help fill the gap, state workers were furloughed, and courts and education saw cuts.
Lawmakers hoped a new federal stimulus package would help backfill some of those cuts. But now that’s looking increasingly unlikely before the state’s soft deadline later this month.
But now that’s looking increasingly unlikely before the state’s soft deadline later this month, says HD Palmer with the California Department of Finance.
PALMER: But the near term means we’re not going to make any adjustments before October the 15. The trigger cuts will remain in place.
Palmer says *if* the federal government passes something before the end of the year, the state wouldn’t turn down additional money.SOC

Seniors move into nursing homes expecting safety and care. A woman says she experienced the opposite at Avocado Post Acute nursing home in El Cajon.

She told KPBS's Amita Sharma she was sexually assaulted by a caregiver. A state investigation revealed that Avocado's mishandling of her case put her and others at further risk.

And a warning: This report contains graphic descriptions of content that may be disturbing to some listeners.

"I was going into shock."
Seventy-three-year-old Catherine Gotcher-Girolamo says a certified nursing assistant at Avocado Post Acute shoved her face into a pillow and sexually assaulted her early one morning in June last year during a diaper change.
"I asked him to stop and he kept telling me that he had to clean me. And I kept saying, `No, you're hurting me here.' He kept hurting me. I just went limp. It was really horrible."
Gotcher-Girolamo says she immediately told other caregivers that nursing assistant Matthew Fluckiger had sodomized her with his fingers. She says some were alarmed.
." and some of them were acting like they weren't sure they believed me."
Still, she says she was confident Avocado management would act swiftly against Fluckiger. ...." I expected them to fire him immediately."
Instead, Avocado suspended him and then allowed him to return to work three days later, according to an investigative report by the California Department of Public Health.
"That's one of the most alarming, alarming aspects of the case."
Lawyer Scott Fikes represents Gotcher-Girolamo, who no longer lives at Avocado but is suing the facility.
"She inquired about why he was back there. And she was told that he was cleared of all wrongdoing but would no longer be caring for her."
Fikes said seeing the caregiver again horrified Gotcher-Girolamo.
"She'd been through the trauma of a sexual assault. And then now you have this almost, you know, disorienting and terrifying event of seeing this person back where you live."
Avocado eventually fired Fluckiger. KPBS went to his home in El Cajon.
"Hi, we're from KPBS. No Comment. You've been accused of sexual assault...."
The delay in firing Fluckiger was one in a series of decisions by Avocado management that not only traumatized Gotcher-Girolamo, but jeopardized the safety of residents at the facility.
Every member of Avocado's staff is required by law to report sexual abuse allegations to the proper authorities within two hours. The state investigation found that the abuse was not reported within the two-hour period, nor did the facility submit an investigation of the complaint to the state within five working days, as required. This despite the fact that Gotcher-Girolamo told two staffers immediately after the alleged attack. She also met with Avocado's administrator Dina Mookini later that day. But Mookini said to investigators that she was only aware of "rough handling," not sexual abuse.
But Gotcher-Girolamo says she stated clearly to Mookini that she was sexually assaulted. "I think the people who work at Avocado and didn't report it, they should never be allowed to work in nursing homes again. That would be justice."
Avocado management also waited eight days to report the allegations to the El Cajon Police, hampering efforts to gather vital evidence. So far, no charges have been filed.
Gotcher-Girolamo says she's hurt.
"That just showed that they didn't care about me at all."
In their final report, state investigators said Avocado's failure to thoroughly look into Gotcher-Girolamo's allegation "had the potential to put other residents at risk of sexual abuse."
There's more.
State investigators also revealed that Fluckiger, had been accused of sexual misconduct at another nursing home, Parkway Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation in La Mesa, before Avocado hired him.
"It was alleged that he propositioned a patient there, that he would provide them a carton of cigarettes in exchange for oral sex."
Fikes says had Avocado's managers done a simple search of the accused caregiver's past work experience, they would have found his former employer and could have learned of his prior alleged wrongdoing.
Records also show that Fluckiger was hired at San Diego Post-Acute another nursing home in El Cajon, just weeks after Avocado fired him and he allegedly sexually assaulted another woman there.
It wasn't until last month, more than a year after his alleged assault on Gotcher-Girolamo, that the department of public health finally revoked his license to practice as a certified nursing assistant.
Lawyer Mike Dark of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform says poor pay for caregivers and lax oversight make nursing homes fertile ground for sexual predators. (B-roll of Mike Dark)
"They rarely stay beyond a few months and then they go on somewhere else, there isn't often much due diligence given to these people when they begin because they need someone who will do very difficult work for almost no money. And then the guy goes on to reoffend again."
Dark said such "atrocities" will only continue until the nursing home industry starts taking care for older people seriously.
Gotcher-Girolamo says she wishes she had been taken seriously and is now left feeling insignificant.
"I was sexually molested in what should have been a safe environment. I was not protected. And when I went for help I did not get it immediately. And of course the person who did this to me is still out there.” Amita Sharma, KPBS News.

That was reporting from KPBS’ Amita Sharma. This story is the first of a two-part series on Avocado Post Acute nursing home.

Coming up on the podcast…...Children in military families change schools often because of deployments. Now because of the pandemic, settling in is even harder.

"They haven't made friends as quickly as they normally do. They're still happy they're going to school but they did say, I mean it's different."

That story from the American Homefront Project is next after this break.

For many children of military families, changing schools every few years is part of life. Starting fresh is often hard, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the beginning of a new school year can be even more challenging.

From Tampa, Kerry Sheridan reports for the American Homefront Project.

MILSCHOOLS 3:32 soq
Moving around with her military family, Reagan McGary changed schools a lot, until a few years ago when she arrived at Plant High, a public school in Tampa where about 10 percent of kids are from military families.
Now 16, she hasn't forgotten what it's like to be the new kid. She says trying to make friends now, with coronavirus precautions in place, means there's even more to worry about.
"With masks, we are not in close proximity. And we're not doing group work at school, which is hard, because I know, like, I met a lot of my friends because I sat next to them and they talked to me. And especially with lunches since we have spaced out lunch tables, if you're a new kid, and like someone invited you and there's not enough space, like where are you going to sit?"
Plant High reopened in late August. About seventy-five percent of the students attend in person. The rest take their classes online. McGary runs a group called Student 2 Student which helps new kids get acclimated – whether they are in the military or not.
"We try and pair them with someone. If they like chorus, we'll pair them with someone in their chorus class, or if they like football we will have them talk to, like, the football coach. So stuff like that, to make it easier because it really is hard."
When military families move, the parents often focus on schools and their extracurriculars, as a way to help children settle into a new space.
The coronavirus forced many families of school-aged children to question whether it was safe to send their children to school in-person or to choose remote learning.
Chief Master Sergeant Timothy Bayes moved from F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa in July at a time when coronavirus in Florida was spiking.
"Cheyenne didn't have a lot of cases at the time. So, leaving Wyoming and heading to Florida while watching the news, you know, we were a little nervous."
Their twin, 12-year-old boys enrolled at Tinker K-8, a public school on base at MacDill.
At Tinker, about four in five children are going to school in-person. The rest chose remote, e-learning.
The boys' mom, Jennifer Bayes, says they are glad to be in school, but the experience isn't the same.
"They haven't really made friends as quickly as they normally do. They're still happy they're going to school but they did say, I mean, it's different."
In some ways, coronavirus restrictions made the transition easier for the Bayes family. Their teenage daughter, Kaylee, wanted to join the dance team at nearby Plant High. Since tryouts were postponed in the spring, she auditioned in August, and made the team, a chance she might otherwise have missed. Her dad says she never missed a beat.
"Our kids are far more resilient than I ever was at their age. And they impress me every time we move. Like Kaylee, this is her third high school."
Tinker K-8 Principal Rachel Walters offers a different take on military kids.
"I don't know if they're necessarily more resilient, but they just have more exposure to the number of times that they have to change."
After her school recently observed a moment of silence on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, a boy came to her, needing to talk.
"That sparked something in one of the students who happened to be in third grade, and his dad would be deploying the next day. And I actually was the person that had the opportunity to talk with him because I was available. And so you know, he had those fears that his dad was going to war and he just wants his dad to come home. And a lot of our students have those fears."
Walters says her school offers extra counseling to help military children navigate those big life transitions. I'm Kerry Sheridan, in Tampa.

That was Kerry Sheridan reporting from Tampa.This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

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