Don Quixote: Two-term state Senator Don Perata is so confident that his pal, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, will green-light his proposed reelection bid that he's begun trolling his donor list to contribute to his "Perata 2004" campaign. In a February 20 fund-raising missive, Perata says, "I am expecting to soon receive a formal opinion from the state attorney general to validate that I am eligible to serve another term in the Senate."
Under state law, senators can't serve more than two terms. But there's a loophole for those who were appointed or elected to fill a prematurely vacated seat: If the person filling in, in this case the Don, serves less than half of his predecessor's four-year term, his first go-round doesn't count against the term cap and he can run again.
At issue is when that partial term actually starts. The AG has yet to officially weigh in on the matter. Perhaps that's because of an anti-Perata legal opinion submitted by SoCal attorney Fred Woocher, who was hired by, among others, former Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, who wants to run for Perata's seat next year (though not against the incumbent). Woocher says Perata's legal team erred by beginning the term-clock on the day Perata actually took office. The clock really started ticking, Woocher contends, when Barbara Lee quit her state Senate post, meaning Perata served out more than half of Lee's unfinished term, which means he's outta there in 2004 due to term limits. In a similar case involving state Senator Richard Montjoy, a Superior Court judge ruled in 1999 that the proverbial clock starts when the officeholder is first elected or appointed.
If Lockyer does issue a Perata-friendly opinion, it will not have the weight of law. But the AG's opinion could prove persuasive to a trial-court judge, and it's a sure bet that the courts are precisely where this thing will end up. -- Will Harper
Postpartum depression: Last summer, we reported that Berkeley's Summit Alta Bates hospital was planning to cut back on midwifery services for low-income women who get prenatal care through local health clinics ("Alta Bates Facing a Midwife Crisis," Cityside, June 26, 2002). For these women, delivering at Alta Bates became a game of roulette -- if the baby came during the eight hours when no midwife was on call, they'd be stuck with a staff obstetrician. Well, the house recently made the odds a lot worse: On February 28, Alta Bates released a memo announcing further cuts in midwifery care. Instead of having nine midwives on call sixteen hours a day, there will now be just three midwives available eight hours a day.
The veteran midwives who've been let go say this move is further evidence of the hospital's insensitivity toward them and the poor, minority, and immigrant women they serve. "This will be assembly-line midwifery care," says one distressed midwife who is part of the group that used to work at Alta Bates (she asked that her name not be used because she still works with women who deliver at the hospital). She questions the contention of hospital administrators that the rising cost of malpractice insurance prevents them from keeping a full team of midwives on duty. "They said they were in the hole, which is hard to imagine considering how busy we are."
Alta Bates delivers about 7,500 babies a year, hundreds of them to uninsured or low-income women who can't afford private midwives. "Alta Bates Summit continues to believe in and support midwifery," says hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp. Just because a midwife isn't on duty doesn't mean clinic patients can't get one, she says, noting that private midwives accept Medi-Cal. She says the new stripped-down structure won't affect patients' experience at Alta Bates. "Quality patient care is our number-one goal."
But some patients have come away less than satisfied. Last summer Jessica Castillo, a 24-year-old from Castro Valley, gave birth at Alta Bates. She'd received prenatal care at the Berkeley Primary Care Clinic and arrived at the hospital expecting a midwife. Instead, she got a male OB, who she claims ignored her birth plan and openly disrespected her. "He basically had no beside manner whatsoever. He told me that I couldn't have this baby without him," she recalls. When Castillo raised concerns, according to a letter she wrote after the ordeal, he allegedly replied, "Too bad. This is why obstetrics came to be -- because women's bodies couldn't do childbirth naturally."
Though her labor was normal, Castillo says the doctor insisted on hooking her up to an IV, breaking her waters, and administering an epidural, all against her wishes. While paralyzed from the waist down by the anesthesia, Castillo claims she was given the contraction-inducing drug Pitocin without her permission. Several hours later, she delivered a healthy boy. But when she complained as the doctor started to stitch her up without a local anesthetic, she claims he barked at her: "This is what you wanted. You wanted to feel all the pain."
Horror stories like this are becoming more common at Alta Bates, critics say.
The aforementioned midwife claims the cutbacks have led to more difficult births for her patients. "Overnight, I have seen a dramatic increase in C-section rates. I personally attribute it to the lack of midwifery care," she says.
She believes the low-income patients are being used as "moneymakers" by some administrators and doctors, who profit from unnecessary interventions while moving patients out as quickly as possible.
Lorie Brillinger, another former Alta Bates midwife, says the hospital's latest move sends a clear message to women in her profession: "We're persona non grata." -- Dave Gilson
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