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Local News September 10th, 2009

Escondido Police Discover Meth, Heroin, and Cash During Search

On Wednesday, September 2, 2009, members of the Escondido Police Department’s Special Enforcement Team (S.E.T.) Unit and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) served a search warrant at a home in the 100 block of E. Vermont Avenue. During the search, detectives located approximately one half ounce of methamphetamine, one half gram of heroin, drug paraphernalia, and approximately $2,855 in cash.

Detectives arrested Stephanie Roseann Pontarolo, 29, of Escondido for Possession of a controlled substance, Possession of a controlled substance for sale, Possession of a dangerous drug, and a parole violation. (Photo below). Also arrested was Kellena Irene Deuel, 34, of Escondido (see photo below) for a violation of Possession of a controlled substance. Both Pontarolo and Deuel were booked into the Vista Detention Facility.

The street value of the seized narcotics is valued at approximately $550.

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Palomar Medical Center, Pomerado Medical Center and Tri-City Hospital All Have Death Rates Higher than Average for Pneumonia

In a current story in USA Today newspaper, an extensive study of nationwide hospitals shows three local hospitals with very poor results in treating penumonia with death rates among the worst in the USA.

Once, such information was impossible to come by. Data now available on USA TODAY's website and the U.S. government site Hospital Compare (hospitalcompare.hhs.gov) allow anyone to check in advance, especially those with chronic medical conditions. The hospital analysis, by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, calculated death rates for heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia at more than 4,600 hospitals across the USA. The government adjusts the death-rate statistics -- which estimate how many patients die within 30 days of being admitted -- to account for how sick patients are.

Fatalities are unusually high at Palomar Medical Center, Pomerado Hospital and Tri-City Hospital, according to the study.

In a story published last week about the state of hospitals in tourist hot spots, the paper lists three local hospitals among 24 near popular travel destinations that have "death rates among the worst in the USA."

The story points a finger at Oceanside's Tri-City Medical Center, Escondido's Palomar Medical Center and Poway's Pomerado Hospital. Each of the hospitals has an estimated death rate higher than the national average for heart failure, pneumonia or both. USA Today looked at numbers released earlier this summer that cover the period from mid-2005 to 2008. Heart-attack death rates were similar to national rates for the three hospitals listed, according to the data.

But the heart-failure death rate is listed as worse than the national average at Tri-City Medical Center. The pneumonia death rate is worse than the national average at Tri-City, Pomerado Hospital and Palomar Medical Center.

According to a separate USA Today story published in July about newly released national statistics, "at 5.9% of hospitals, patients with pneumonia died at rates significantly higher than the national average. With heart failure, 3.4% of hospitals had death rates higher than the average, and 1.2% of hospitals were higher when it came to heart attack."
Sources: USA TODAY analysis of Medicare data; The National Travel Monitor. http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2009-08-30-travel-hospitals_N.htm

Andy Hoang, spokesperson for Palomar Medical Center and Pomerado Medical Center responded to the report:

The report utilizes billing data that we send to the government for reimbursement. This type of information is misleading when used to measure the level of quality care. The mortality data for pneumonia is not a reflection of the outstanding care we provide, but rather how well we are documenting a patient’s condition.

When significantly ill patients are admitted, but their medical documentation reflects a simple, uncomplicated community acquired pneumonia, the expected mortality rate is not what it should be. Sicker patients will have a higher mortality rate. If the inaccurate documentation reflects an incorrect lower level of acuity, then our mortality rate ends up being higher than expected.

We need to do a better job with documentation. Understanding the challenges, we implemented the “clinical documentation improvement” program in May of this year, to insure our documentation accurately reflects the high level of quality care we provide.

From Tri-City Hospital, Courtney Berlin, Public Affairs and Marketing Manager:

We recognize the current report is showing unfavorable numbers and we take this very seriously.
Since we've learned of this, we have put a number of measures in place to improve our outcomes for our pneumonia patients. I will list those below but probably one of the most promising pieces of information are the latest numbers we received on our "process measures."

The same agency that puts this report out also reports on our compliance with a number of "process measures" that are based on best-practice medicine - in other words, if you follow these sets of processes for pneumonia patients, you should have favorable outcomes for those patients. We scored 100% on all the process measures for pneumonia in June of this year (the latest month we have data for). This data shows that we are taking the care of our pneumonia patients VERY seriously and are doing all the right things in terms of the care they receive while they are here. In fact, our percentages have been very high but in June we accomplished the 100% mark. We feel that since this report averages in the outcomes from the last three years that our improvements are not accurately reflected in this current report. But that we will soon see the marked difference our efforts are making - through the continued excellent, in fact, perfect compliance on all process measures that should lead to positive outcomes for pneumonia patients.

Other measures we've taken to improve the care for our pneumonia patients:

Early identification of patients susceptible to pneumonia

Electronic auto-triggers to help identify these patients

Standardized immunization order sets

Pneumonia vaccination given to patients prior to discharge.

Stepped up our community flu shot clinics. Last year, we gave appx. 2500 free flu shots to the community.

System improvements in place to prevent aspirations that have resulted in improved numbers in house.

Upon further analysis, we have also recognized that a wide percentage of these pneumonia patients expired after discharge. So we are currently looking at the aftercare/continuum-of-care, and how we can improve on what happens to our patients after they leave (because this report accounts for patients that expire up to 30 days after discharge).

Crime Sweep Targets SWAP Meet 53 Arrested So Far In 2-Day Crackdown

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who heads up the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department in Phoenix, Arizona, reports that his deputies arrested 53 people last Saturday accused of bootlegging at a SWAP market just down the street from Tent City. Deputies were concentrating on illegal bootlegs of CDs and DVDs being sold at the Mercado at 35th Avenue near Durango Road.

Prior to the crime sweep, sheriff's investigators said they had gathered information from recording industry experts in California that a number of illegal vendors may be operating bootleg businesses at the Mercado .

Undercover deputies then confirmed that as many as 15 vendors were selling bootlegged products there. Industry experts say bootleg vendors cost the recording industry tens of millions of dollars in losses each year. Of those arrested in the two-day operation, 24 were identified as illegal immigrants, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.

The Escondido Police Department generally responds to complaints from investigators from the motion picture industry regarding illegal sales of CD’s, both of movies and of music. “A couple times each year the motion picture industry will send investigators into town; they’ll check out the local Swap meet and if they see illegal activity they will contact us with a complaint and we respond. There is considerable revenue in illegal trafficking of bootleg CD’s,” says Sgt. James Lanigan, of the Escondido Police Department.

In Oceanside, the report was similar. Lieutenant Lee Steitz confirmed that the department works with the recording industry and will respond to complains. They have been involved on a number of occasions where they did, in fact, find bootleg copies of recordings. The Oceanside Police Department either confiscates the bootleg copies or assists representatives of the recording industry in confiscation.

Tax Protest Rally Draws Thousands to Oceanside

Some 3,000 protestors met at a “Tea Party Rally” last weekend at the Oceanside Municipal Pier.

The crowd was there to to let Washington D.C. know what’s really on their mind. To their pleasant surprise at least part of Washington came to them. Congressman Darrell Issa showed up to speak to the crowd and to answer questions. Rick Roberts, popular KFMB radio personality, acted as the Master of Ceremonies and moderated the day’s activities and speakers.

Congressman Issa-R-Calif. told the crowd, “Tort reform would save taxpayers a lot of money, but it’s not in HR3200,” he said. Issa did not address the fact that tort reform is really a state’s right issue, not a federal one. The Congressman hung around the event to listen, shake hands and pose for photos with his constituents.

Dr. Gary Gonsalves, who is a practicing physician and anesthesiologist, as well as a political activist who organized the rally, spoke to the “mob” from a doctor’s perspective. “Government has cut prices and continues to promise more. Only $1 in $5 goes to the doctors and who do you think they cut funds to first? Doctors.”

He explained to the crowd that the Safeway Corporation figured out a way to provide a better delivery of care while bringing costs down. Gonsalves challenged the audience to look the Safeway group up online and examine what they were successful in doing in five years that the government has been unable to do in 50 years.

“Reward a healthy lifestyle, reward saving money. Safeway saved $550 billion in just five years,” Gonsalves said.

Once the question portion of the rally commenced, attendees vied to get their questions asked. This portion would only last 20 minutes, due to time constraints by the city of Oceanside.

The immigration invasion from the southern border is always a hot topic with Patriot groups and this rally was no different. Californians are looking to get the ‘California Taxpayer Protection Act of 2010’ on the ballot for next year’s election.

The ballot initiative would require parents to prove their legal status and cut the payments California provides for this problem that some say has caused the state to run in the red for years.

“I invited Congressman Issa to the event because at least he has been fiscally responsible and is consistent,” he said. “Our first event was a shut up and listen message to our politicians.”

Oceanside Police Deparment Team Plays Tag with Taggers

Word is spreading amongst Oceanside’s taggers that law enforcement is on their tail and will bust them, if and when they are caught. Additionally, law enforcement turns to Web tracking, stings on spray-paint sales to crack down on graffiti vandals. Recently, three teenage boys armed with a can of stolen spray paint had already scrawled their markings on five spots around town before a police officer caught them in the act late last month.

While investigators consider the arrests a victory, they say the crimes might have been prevented altogether had a local auto-parts store followed the law and kept the spray paint under lock and key.

Businesses that sell spray paint to minors have come under increased scrutiny lately as Oceanside police find new ways to combat graffiti vandals, or “taggers,” who operate in the shadows and are difficult to catch.

Borrowing from tactics used in enforcing laws on cigarette and alcohol sales, officers have started sending juveniles into stores to test how easy it is to buy spray paint. According to state law, businesses must keep spray paint locked up and can sell it only to customers 18 and older.

The Oceanside Police Department's first sting in July targeted 15 retail, hardware and auto-parts stores, with six of them being cited for unlocked displays and selling spray paint to the juvenile decoys.

“If businesses start following the rules, it would cut down on graffiti,” said Oceanside police Officer Bill Wallace, one of two full-time graffiti investigators on the force.

While creating graffiti is a nonviolent crime, authorities often point to the broken-window theory, which suggests that communities attract crime when they appear neglected and run-down. Some graffiti in the city is gang-related, and some comes from individuals or groups of people who are marking their territory or consider themselves artists, police say.

“It depreciates the value of property and lowers the self-esteem of that community,” Oceanside police Sgt. Walter McWilson said. “If you allow writing on the walls and trash on the ground, people are less likely to take a level of pride in the neighborhood.”

Graffiti is also an unexpected expense for property owners who must paint over the tags within 48 hours of reporting them.

“It's never just one building that's tagged. It's six or eight structures,” said Kim Heim of MainStreet Oceanside, the city's downtown business association. “It's pure chance and randomness who gets tagged and who doesn't, and it's an expense you can't budget for.”

To keep track of graffiti vandals and where they are tagging, police have begun using a Web-based program from Graffiti Tracker that uses GPS and photos to map and document taggers' activities. Experts at Graffiti Tracker analyze new graffiti each time a photo is downloaded into the database.

The Escondido Police Department in 2006 was the first local agency to try Graffiti Tracker. The county Sheriff's Department and Oceanside police contracted with the company this year.

“We've certainly seen an increase in the quality of cases,” said sheriff's Cmdr. Ed Prendergast, who hopes to have the entire county using the program someday. “We are focusing on those folks who are the most prolific graffiti vandals.”

The databases, which are shared among the North County agencies, have helped tie separate graffiti cases around the region to the same taggers, resulting in much larger cases for prosecution. For example, deputies recently arrested one vandal in Bonsall and discovered through Graffiti Tracker that he was responsible for 23 other cases in Escondido totaling $7,000 in damage.

The program helped sheriff's deputies link graffiti in Escondido, Vista and San Marcos to one tagging crew whose four members were arrested last month. The crew caused nearly $100,000 in damage across North County, officials said.


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