Profile: Physician, Radical, William Bronston on Single Payer and How Med School Lacks Soul

At 79, Dr. William Bronston refuses to go gentle into that good night.

Born into a celebrity family, Bronston found a calling as a healer. But instead of a cushy medical career, he leaped into the struggles for the marginalized and disenfranchised: Organizing minority hospital workers, aiding the Black Panther Party movement, exposing inhumane practices in a New York state hospital system and fighting for single-payer healthcare.

“In terms of energy and in terms of purpose, I know that on some level I am profoundly different from almost everyone I know,” he said. “I’ve been a change agent and radical organizer all my life and not a drop has changed. Not ever. Not for a minute.”

Now, he is a leader in the CA Physicians for National Health Program and was a contributing author for the unsuccessful 1994 California single-payer initiative, Prop. 186. He is a graduate of USC Medical and did his Internship at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Dr. Bronston said he always wanted to be a doctor and wanted to serve. Even as a child, he had a yearning to care for others in a very deep and unconditional level. He was born in Los Angeles in 1939 and raised in Beverly Hills. His father, Samuel Bronston, was a major movie producer with films such as the King of Kings and El Cid, and he is the great-nephew of the socialist revolutionary figure Leon Trotsky.

He chose to enroll at USC Medical School in 1961 because of its preeminence for clinical medicine, and he was interested in serving poor people. But he was initially disappointed by what he was taught.

“Once I got to med school, I realized I didn’t want to be a businessman and I didn’t want to be a plumber, which is how I saw the medical community prior to making the final commitment. During my medical school career, the civil rights movement was blazing, the Vietnam War was blazing, and I hated my mechanistic medical education because it was lacking in humanity, tenderness and kindness. The culture of caring and the hidden history of progressive medical values and culture was not taught in my school, or other schools really.”

Bronston’s disenchantment quickly turned to activism as he and others organized medical, nursing and dental students nationwide into the “Student Health Organization” to push for then-Oakland Congressman Ron Dellums’ proposed legislation for a socialized healthcare system, support for the civil rights movement and demand radical professional school curriculum change, eventually expanding across the country. Activism became a major tool as his career progressed.

Then, as a conscientious objector, he began his Residency at Menninger School of Psychiatry at Topeka State Hospital where he organized an AFSCME union that seized administrative control of all Eastern mental health hospitals in an unprecedented union job action in 1968.

Moving to New York for a decade, he later told an interviewer: “I was on the street constantly, in demonstrations of every conceivable kind. I was heavily involved with the Black Panther Party, because I was the main physician to the Black Panther Party in that part of eastern New York. I was heavily involved with the new women’s movement, led by Gloria Steinem and that whole group. [Civil rights lawyer] Bill Kunstler was very close to us in a whole variety of legal rights struggles. The whole Vietnam War thing was still very much on the table.”

He became progressively involved with the emerging disability rights activists in order to connect them to a historic anti-institutional agenda. He became a clinical physician at a state-supported institution for children and adults with intellectual disability, Willowbrook State School, in 1970. The inhumane conditions shocked him, and he helped expose what was happening at the institution, which later closed due to the family outcry and a federal class action lawsuit he helped organize.

Returning to California in 1975, he became the medical director for the Department of Developmental Services and Department of Rehabilitation Services for the state of California for more than two decades.

Today, Dr. Bronston continues in, what he has called, “the perpetual struggle for justice.” He’s even more outraged by the alienating education that current medical and nursing students receive.

“It’s much worse today than when I was in medical school. There is a ‘corporatization’. There are impositions of cost and debt that are simply devastating to the medical community.” It forces doctors away from community service because it has become so expensive, he said. “Healthcare should not be for sale. What we have is a medical illness management system that essentially makes everybody a ‘hostage’ to which we pay ‘private ransom’ – we pay insurance bills.”

But corporate influence and the unceasing flow of money will not stop the single payer movement, Bronston said.

“Most of the people know that the insurance industry, Big PHARMA and the hospital cartels are their enemy. How long can that go on, while prices continue to be unaffordable, with less and impersonal care? There are stunning advances in health systems and medical research. And those developments will lead us to question, why are we not all benefiting from these advances? Why are these advances not being used universally? Why is wealth a determinant rather than being alive and human. Even though we have all the organized oligarchy money aligned against us, I think we are no more than ten years away from a radical change. It’s not going to happen in an evolutionary way, it’s going to happen in a lurch. Like every other major human rights transformation in history.”

Published for HEAL California

Diagnosing a Way Out of Jail Time

I’m doing research on mental health and reading “Is There No Place On Earth For Me?”, a book by Susan Sheehan. I picked it up because it gives an insider look at Creedmoor, a psychiatric hospital in Queens that I passed often on Grand Central Parkway as a child coming back from family visits in the Bronx and Queens.

Aside from main story, an insightful view of the system by following a patient, was an odd story of a New York police officer who shot a 15-year-old black boy in the head after the youth asked him a question. No threat. No gun. No argument. Just asked him a question.

At trial, a defense psychiatrist said the officer had a “psychomotor epilepsy” and had had a seizure during the unprovoked shooting. The officer was acquitted due to “mental disease or defect” and sent to Creedmoor. A year and half later, he was released because the psychiatrists treating him could find nothing wrong with him. Since they could only keep him if he was a danger to himself or others, they had little choice.

After being released, he also tried to get disability from the NYPD, which was denied.

It reminded me of a recent story when a psychologist suggested that a young, drunk man who killed four others might have psychological afflictions because he was too rich to tell right from wrong. He was dubbed the “affluenza teen.” He served two years.

LA Homelessness an Unprecedented Challenge

This article was originally posted at 

Los Angeles is facing an unprecedented challenge with more than 34,000 people suffering homelessness. The city is the latest municipality struggling to end the heartbreaking and vicious cycle in the face of residential and business opposition, high-housing costs and lack of available housing.  

Over the past few years, the number of homeless has skyrocketed. In 2016, the count was an estimated 28,000. By 2017, the number topped 34,000, with Los Angeles County hitting 57,000, a spike of 23 percent from the previous year. The city has the highest number of “unsheltered” homeless people, living on sidewalks, in cars, campers and tents in the country. This year’s Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count numbers have not yet been released, but it’s expected to be higher. 

A recent UC Irvine study found that the top causes of homelessness were unemployment, the high cost of housing and family problems, including domestic violence. Alcohol and drug abuse and mental health problems followed. It also found that it’s twice as expensive to care for a homeless person on the street as it is to get them into permanent supportive housing.  

Mayor Eric Garcetti called homelessness “the moral issue of our time,” saying the city planned to “end homelessness once and for all.”  

What Others Are Doing  

In the face of such high numbers, Los Angeles is looking at what other municipalities have done. 

San Diego and Houston, Texas, have pursued the “Housing First” concept, which prioritizes permanent housing and added services. At a recent meeting in San Diego, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker said that approach and other programs dramatically reduced the number of homeless in her city.  

She also said cities need to create specific solutions for each person, all of whom have their own individual problems, and not treat all as a group.  But she dismissed the idea of ending homelessness all together.  

“You cannot end homeless,” Parker said. “You can manage it. It’s like a chronic disease, and there are new people falling into homelessness on a regular and repeat basis.” 

Orange County has kicked off a campaign, called “United to End Homelessness.” Launched in February, it has brought together leaders from business, philanthropy, faith, and government. According to the Voice of OC, it’s aligned with an effort by Orange County’s association of cities to double the number of housing units with supportive services for homeless people – from 2,700 to 5,400 – within the next three years. It’s a similar approach that officials in Orlando, Florida took, which placed an estimated 3,400 homeless people into permanent housing during 2015, according to the Orlando Sentinel. 

In Seattle, Washington, the city was the first in the country to offer public land and funding to support permitted encampments.   

According to a city report, “the model is successfully serving people who have been living outside in greenbelts, on the streets, in cars and in hazardous situations.” In addition, crime hasn’t spiked near encampments, and neighbors have come to accept them. 

Part of the reason for the success is that people are not constantly moving. “In the past encampments, or tent cities, were only permitted to stay in one location for a 90-day period. The disruptive nature of the 90-day limit placed a burden on the encampment community,” the report said.  

Despite the success, critics of official encampments say it wastes funds on ensuring the safety, security, and well-being of the people living within the encampments and prevents funding from being directed to supporting and creating permanent housing and service options.  

“The formation of encampments does not represent an end to homelessness, and strategies that focus on making encampments an official part of the system for responding to homelessness can serve to distract communities from focusing on what is most important—connecting people experiencing homelessness to safe, stable, permanent housing,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.  


Funding approved by voters will help Los Angeles. Proposition HHH will provide $1.2 billion in bond proceeds over a decade to build permanent housing, and Measure H will provide an estimated $3.5 billion over 10 years for rent subsidies and services. The expectation is that the funding will create or subsidize 15,000 housing units and pay for services to support those living in them. There is also an Assembly bill proposing $1.5 billion in budget state surplus money to address homelessness across the state.  

Los Angeles City Council members are also pushing for each district to approve 222 units of homeless housing by the summer, though even if that figure is met and built, which is questionable, it is dwarfed by the units actually needed. 

The city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee recently approved proposals to streamline the building of units for the homeless population and allow participating motels and hotels to be renovated and used for supportive and transitional housing. Both would need to be approved by the City Council.   

“The bottom line is we have to accelerate our efforts to provide more long-term supportive housing and temporary, emergency housing,” said Councilman José Huizar. “The need is great on both ends and we simply must do more to meet that demand.”   

Campaign Against “Not In My Backyard” Attitude  

City officials say neighborhoods and community members throughout the far-flung city need to work together and accept that more homeless housing needs to be built throughout Los Angeles.  

“We are not going to solve or even make a significant dent in homelessness unless we are all part of the solution,” said Councilman Mike Bonin. “All of us — every elected official, every part of the city, every demographic. It’s either all-hands-on-deck, or this ship is going to sink under the weight of this crisis.” 

The city also plans to use public land, including parking lots and other places, as official, albeit temporary, homeless shelters. One pilot program will provide trailers as temporary shelter with services in a parking lot near the El Pueblo Historic Monument Downtown. That proposal has already met with swift opposition by residents.  

Olvera Street vendors blasted the plan to put the trailers on a city-owned parking lot at Arcadia and Alameda streets for up to three years, according to published reports. Vendors complained that the homeless population would increase in the area and discourage tourists from visiting. They also questioned why trailers were not being placed in other areas.   

As part of the campaign to get buy-in from community members, a United Way-led program, similar to Orange County, began on March 9 in Los Angeles. The “Everyone In” coalition will advocate for new housing and services for homeless people in their neighborhoods. Elise Buik, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, cited a recent survey showing that 70 percent of Los Angeles residents polled said they would support housing for the homeless in their neighborhood.  

“There’s a lot of talk about NIMBYs (not in my backyard) but we want to start talking about YIMBYs (yes, in my backyard),” Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “Everyone In means we’re all responsible for this.” 

City News Service contributed quotes to this article.

Years of Teaching Grade School, Prepared Blanca Rubio for CA Legislature

For Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, 16 years of teaching in elementary school prepared her for the California Legislature.

“The amount of learning you have to get through in a single day to understand the issuesbr is crazy. If you’re not prepared for it, you could be overwhelmed,” said the West Covina Democrat in a recent interview about her first year in office. “Thankfully, I was a teacher. That’s the dynamic a teacher has to deal with every day. I’m used to it.”

Elected in 2016, her district includes Azusa, Baldwin Park, Bradbury, Industry, Covina, Duarte, El Monte, Glendora, Irwindale, Monrovia, West Covina, and unincorporated areas such as Bassett, Charter Oak, Citrus, East Arcadia, Ramona, Valinda and West La Puente.

With 20 years of elected office, serving on the Valley County Water Board and Baldwin Park Unified School District Board, she built many relationships in Sacramento over the years. But once elected to the Assembly, Rubio said, she met with every member in both houses to expand on those relationships. She also learned about issues that were important to Northern California members so that they could work together.

The results: six of Rubio’s bills were signed into law in her first year. During budget negotiations, she obtained millions of dollars for San Gabriel Valley transportation projects. This included $33.7 million for a pavement preservation project to add and upgrade lanes, guardrail and improve roads on the 605 freeway from the 10 to 210; $2.8 million to resurface parts of the 605 between El Monte and West Covina; and $2.9 million for a bridge project on Peck Road.

Chairwoman of the Human Services Committee and Select Committee on Domestic Violence, Rubio has authored bills that support victims of domestic violence, help children in foster care and assist immigrant communities.

In addition, Rubio and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, recently introduced a bill to combat the growing youth homelessness problem. The proposed legislation would use $60 million from the cannabis tax fund and general funds for rapid rehousing, rental assistance, transitional housing, shelters and other assistance for minors and youth.

It’s an issue that reminds her of why she ran for Assembly. She estimated that she had more than 500 students come through her classrooms, but it was two young girls, Alicia and Aveena, she remembers often. They had to overcome major obstacles to even get to school, let alone succeed, including being hungry. Once she realized they didn’t have any school supplies at home to complete assignments and put together a take-home box of pens, pencils and other items.

“I will tell you, I have a hard time asking for myself. But if I’m advocating for a cause, I can ask for anything,” she said, when discussing the challenges of running for office as a Latina and single mother of two as well as raising money from donors. So “why am I doing this? I’m advocating for the Alicias and Aveenas of the world. There are many kids just like them.”

She has also generated some criticism from liberal groups. The California Environmental Justice Alliance and the Courage Campaign essentially gave her C grades on her voting record.

Rubio said that while she was aligned with the groups’ goals, she didn’t agree with all of their legislative aims. She said she would continue to advocate for the residents and businesses of her district. It’s critical for businesses to stay in California, she added, because they pay the taxes that fund important programs.

While Rubio bristled at the description of her 2016 Assembly election being an “upset,” she said she knew she was going to win as did many community members, she acknowledged that the lack of establishment endorsements in the campaign turned out to be a good thing.

“I can look at all sides of the issue” without worrying about being beholden to special interests, she said. She noted that the same qualities that helped her win elections, work in the Legislature. “They might have the money and the endorsements, but no one will ever outwork me.”

Published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune 

Show ‘Why’ to Earn Your Audience

For successful nonprofits, having a strong mission is only the beginning. Storytelling is one critical component.

“The starting piece, what underpins any effective communication, is knowing that your organization has a solid mission,” said Gregory Bradbard, president of the nonprofit Hope through Housing Foundation and senior vice president of strategic partnerships for National Community Renaissance (National CORE).

“Beyond that, everyone in your organization needs to know what that mission is, what specific problem they are trying to address, and why that is important.”

Hope through Housing provides supportive services to residents of CORE’s affordable, senior and market-rate properties, including financial literacy training, senior wellness, and preschool and after-school programs.

Show ‘the why’

“Nonprofits are really good at telling what they do and how they do it, but sharing why their mission is critical to recipients is the important part,” he said.

At the end of the day, what compels people to get involved, donate or volunteer, is the why, Bradbard said.

“For example, one senior, her Social Security was about $600 a month, her rent $445. The rest was for her living expenses, food, transportation and medical. One of the things we do is provide food pantries to our residents so that they have enough food to eat.”

The nonprofit could talk about how it provides housing and services like a food pantry. But it would be difficult to appreciate it without the why it is so important and how that service helps recipients.

It’s also important for nonprofits to know their audience when telling their story: “With one group, we may focus on how we can help people become selfsufficient. With another, we may discuss the numbers of people who are unhoused and the need for more housing to get more people off the streets.”

And always be looking for champions, Bradbard said: “Who in the community believes in what you do. That might be a city leader, or might even be a former client. Invite them in as ambassadors for your organization and encourage them to spread your story.”

Published in the Foothill Reader, a print product of the Los Angeles Times

Ed Hernandez and the Lieutenant Governor Bully Pulpit

Ed Hernandez has begun a five-month sprint to the June primary for lieutenant governor. But why?

Ed_hernandezThe 60-year-old West Covina state Senate Democrat has more than a decade of California legislative accomplishments behind him, a prosperous San Gabriel Valley optometry business, a daughter who has entered politics and grandchildren. As for the lieutenant governor job, the current occupant derides it as a ceremonial post with no real authority.

But Hernandez disagrees.

“I believe lieutenant governor is the most important constitutional office in the state of California, outside of the governor, and I think previous lieutenant governors haven’t taken advantage of that,” he said in a recent interview. “I want to take all those years of legislative experience and business experience into that office and make something of it.”

First elected to the Assembly in 2006, Hernandez won a seat in the state Senate in 2010. As chairman of the health committee, he was one of the primary architects behind the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California. Recently, he took on Big Pharma by passing a groundbreaking transparency law to help combat the skyrocketing and unsustainable prices of prescription medicine in California.

As an optometrist, he knows how important health care access is and how difficult it can be for some. He supports the goal of universal health care, but says there needs to be the political will to take on difficult choices:

“The real, true conversations are about market reform, and how do we control cost. The second is our two-tiered health care system, where poor people don’t have access to healthcare, and wealthy people do. Those are the conversations we have to have.”

The political climate has been especially contentious lately. The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Hernandez said the anger in the Latino community reminds him of when Prop. 187, which he fought against, was approved. The 1994 proposition cut off state services, including health care and public education, to those in the country illegally. It was later overturned.

“I’ve never seen so much political activism. I started traveling the state to talk to people about the Affordable Care Act, and there were hundreds and thousands of people showing up at town halls,” he said. “And we had done town halls before that, for Covered California, and you would get maybe at most 100. Now, these were packed houses, in gyms and high schools. There is a lot of anger out there, but also among the Latino communities and population.”

An unprecedented number of strong minority candidates are on the ballot, he noted. If all win — Antonio Villaraigosa, running for governor; Kevin de León, for U.S. Senate; Xavier Becerra, for attorney general; Ricardo Lara, for insurance commissioner; Fiona Ma, for state treasurer; and Betty Yee and Alex Padilla, running for re-election as state controller and secretary of state — all the offices would be non-white for the first time ever in California.

“I’m predicting that you are going to see a large voter turnout of Latinos that could propel these candidates to higher office,” he said.

Hernandez also said he expects that the current movement exposing and ending sexual misconduct in California, and across the country and industries, will change the culture forever.

“No one, male or female, should ever be subjected to any kind of inappropriate advances, and no one should take advantage of an individual because they have some type of influence over them for any inappropriate reason,” he said.

If Hernandez wins, in eight years, he would still be younger than Jerry Brown when he ran for governor in 2010. Would the La Puente native run for an office that has more “real authority”?

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” he said. “Right now, I’m totally concentrating to be the next lieutenant governor and supporting whoever our next governor’s going to be.”

Published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Los Angeles Daily News and Pasadena Star-News

SGV Senate Seat Money Hunt

It costs, on average, $1.1 million to win a seat in the California Senate, according to As of the reporting period ending in 2017 for the San Gabriel Valley race to replace Sen. Ed Hernandez, Mike Eng has $1.156 million; Susan Rubio $306,000; everyone else either has dropped out (Vicky Martinez) or not reported any contributions (Monica Garcia, Michael Adams, Ruben Sierra). The only other money in the race is in a fund controlled by disgraced Roger Hernandez. I hear he’s chasing the cannabis train, but who knows.

UPDATE: This is cash on hand. The candidates have spent some of the money they have raised.