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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recent Work

The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at UCSF provides non-biomedical social science and humanities perspectives on health, illness, and disease. The Department, which is comprised of a History of Health Sciences division and a Medical Anthropology division, is also home to the Center for Humanities and Health Sciences which aims to foster intellectual interaction among the UC health science communities and humanities.

Association of Homelessness with Hospital Readmissions-an Analysis of Three Large States.


BACKGROUND:Individuals experiencing homelessness have higher hospitalization and mortality rates compared with the housed. Whether they also experience higher readmission rates, and if readmissions vary by region or cause of hospitalization is unknown. OBJECTIVE:Evaluate the association of homelessness with readmission rates across multiple US states. DESIGN:Retrospective analysis of administrative claims PATIENTS: All inpatient hospitalizations in Florida, Massachusetts, and New York from January 2010 to October 2015 MAIN MEASURES: Thirty- and 90-day readmission rates KEY RESULTS: Out of a total of 23,103,125 index hospitalizations, 515,737 were for patients who were identified as homeless at the time of discharge. After adjusting for cause of index hospitalization, state, demographics, and clinical comorbidities, 30-day and 90-day readmission rates were higher for index hospitalizations in the homeless compared with those in the housed group. The difference in 30-day readmission rates between homeless and housed groups was the largest in Florida (30.4% vs. 19.3%; p < 0.001), followed by Massachusetts (23.5% vs. 15.2%; p < 0.001) and New York (15.7% vs. 13.4%; p < 0.001) (combined 17.3% vs. 14.0%; p < 0.001). Among the most common causes of hospitalization, 30-day readmission rates were 4.1 percentage points higher for the homeless group for mental illness, 4.9 percentage points higher for diseases of the circulatory system, and 2.4 percentage points higher for diseases of the digestive system. CONCLUSIONS:After adjusting for demographic and clinical characteristics, homelessness is associated with significantly higher 30- and 90-day readmission rates, with a significant variation across the three states. Interventions to reduce the burden of readmissions among individuals experiencing homelessness are urgently needed. Differences across states point to the potential of certain public policies to impact health outcomes for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Cover page of Barriers and Solutions to Advance Care Planning among Homeless-Experienced Older Adults.

Barriers and Solutions to Advance Care Planning among Homeless-Experienced Older Adults.


Background/Objectives: Older homeless-experienced adults have low rates of advance care planning (ACP) engagement despite high rates of morbidity and mortality. To inform intervention development, we examined potential barriers and solutions to ACP engagement. Design: Cross-sectional qualitative study. Setting: We recruited adults who were homeless in the prior three years and ≥50 years of age in the San Francisco Bay Area, and recruited clinical stakeholders from a national meeting of homeless providers. We analyzed qualitative data using thematic analysis. Measurements: We conducted semistructured interviews with homeless-experienced older adults (n = 20) and focus groups with clinical stakeholders (n = 24) about perceived barriers and solutions to ACP engagement. Results: Participants considered ACP important, reflecting on deaths of people in their networks who had died. Participant-identified barriers to ACP included poor ACP knowledge, lack of familial ties and social isolation, competing priorities, avoidance and lack of readiness, fatalism and mistrust, and lack of ACP training for clinical and nonclinical staff. They identified solutions that included framing ACP as a way to provide meaning and assert choice, providing easy-to-read written documents focused on the populations' unique needs, tailoring content and delivery, initiating ACP in nonclinical settings, such as permanent supportive housing, and providing incentives. Conclusions: Both older homeless-experienced adults and clinical stakeholders believe that ACP is important, but acknowledge multiple barriers that impede engagement. By focusing on potential solutions, including capitalizing on opportunities outside of health care settings, focusing on the period after housing, and tailoring content, there are opportunities to improve ACP uptake.

Cover page of Higher levels of stress and different coping strategies are associated with greater morning and evening fatigue severity in oncology patients receiving chemotherapy.

Higher levels of stress and different coping strategies are associated with greater morning and evening fatigue severity in oncology patients receiving chemotherapy.


PURPOSE:A cancer diagnosis and associated treatments are stressful experiences for most patients. Patients' perceptions of stress and their use of coping strategies may influence fatigue severity. This study extends our previous work describing distinct profiles of morning (i.e., Very Low, Low, High, and Very High) and evening (i.e., Low, Moderate, High, and Very High) fatigue in oncology patients by evaluating for differences in stress and coping strategies among these fatigue classes. METHODS:This longitudinal study evaluated for changes in morning and evening fatigue in oncology patients (n = 1332) over two cycles of chemotherapy (CTX). Patients completed measures of cumulative exposure to stressful life events (SLEs) (i.e., the Life Stressor Checklist-Revised), general stress (i.e., Perceived Stress Scale [PSS]), cancer-specific stress (i.e., Impact of Event Scale-Revised [IES-R]), and coping strategies (i.e., Brief Cope). Differences among the latent classes were evaluated using analyses of variance, Kruskal-Wallis, or chi-square tests. RESULTS:Patients in both the Very High morning and evening fatigue classes reported higher numbers of and a higher impact from previous SLEs and higher PSS scores than the other fatigue classes. The IES-R scores for the Very High morning fatigue class met the criterion for subsyndromal PTSD. Patients in the Very High evening fatigue class used a higher number of engagement coping strategies compared with the Very High morning fatigue class. CONCLUSIONS:Our findings suggest that interventions to reduce stress and enhance coping warrant investigation to decrease fatigue in patients undergoing CTX.

Cover page of Oral health and access to dental care among older homeless adults: results from the HOPE HOME study.

Oral health and access to dental care among older homeless adults: results from the HOPE HOME study.


OBJECTIVES:To describe the prevalence of and factors associated with oral health measures in a sample of older homeless adults in Oakland, CA. METHODS:We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of data from a population-based study of 350 homeless adults aged ≥50 in which trained researchers conducted structured interviews using validated questions regarding sociodemographics, health-related behaviors, healthcare utilization, and health status. We assessed self-reported tooth loss, oral pain, and unmet need for dental care. We used multivariable logistic regression to examine factors associated with missing half or more teeth. RESULTS:Over half 201/350 (57.4 percent) of participants were missing at least half of their teeth. Half 191/350 (54.6 percent) reported oral pain in the past 6 months; 101/350 (28.9 percent) reported that oral pain prevented them from eating and 73/350 (20.9 percent) reported that pain prevented sleeping. Almost half, 141/350 (40.3 percent), had not seen a dentist in over 5 years, and over half 190/350 (54.3 percent) reported being unable to obtain needed dental care. In multivariate models, increased age (AOR = 1.09, 95 percent CI 1.04-1.14), moderate-to-high risk alcohol use (AOR = 2.17, CI = 1.23-3.84), moderate-to-high risk cocaine use (AOR = 1.72, CI = 1.03-2.88), and ever smoking (AOR = 2.87, CI = 1.59-5.18) were associated with an increased odds of having lost half or more teeth. CONCLUSIONS:Tooth loss and oral pain are highly prevalent in older homeless adults. Increasing age, alcohol, drug, and tobacco use are associated with tooth loss.

Unmet mental health and substance use treatment needs among older homeless adults: Results from the HOPE HOME Study.


AIMS:To examine the prevalence of and factors associated with unmet need for mental health and substance use treatment in older homeless adults. METHODS:Among 350 homeless adults aged ≥50, we examined prevalence of mental health and substance use problems and treatment. Using logistic regression, we examined factors associated with unmet treatment need. RESULTS:Among those with a mental health problem, being aged ≥65 was associated with an increased odds, while having a regular healthcare provider and case manager were associated with a decreased odds of having unmet need for mental health treatment. A first homelessness episode at age ≥50 was associated with increased, while spending time in jail/prison or having a case manager was associated with decreased odds of unmet needs for substance use treatment. CONCLUSION:Older homeless adults have a high prevalence of unmet behavioral health treatment need. There is a need for targeted services for this population.

Cover page of Association of a Workplace Sales Ban on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Employee Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Health.

Association of a Workplace Sales Ban on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Employee Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Health.


Importance:Reductions in sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake can improve health, but are difficult for individuals to achieve on their own. Objectives:To evaluate whether a workplace SSB sales ban was associated with SSB intake and cardiometabolic health among employees and whether a brief motivational intervention provides added benefits to the sales ban. Design, Setting, and Participants:This before-after study and additional randomized trial conducted from July 28, 2015, to October 16, 2016, at a Northern California university and hospital assessed SSB intake, anthropometrics, and cardiometabolic biomarkers among 214 full-time English-speaking employees who were frequent SSB consumers (≥360 mL [≥12 fl oz] per day) before and 10 months after implementation of an SSB sales ban in a large workplace, with half the employees randomized to receive a brief motivational intervention targeting SSB reduction. Interventions:The employer stopped selling SSBs in all workplace venues, and half the sample was randomized to receive a brief motivational intervention and the other half was a control group that did not receive the intervention. This intervention was modeled on standard brief motivational interventions for alcohol used in the workplace that promote health knowledge and goal setting. Main Outcomes and Measures:Outcomes included changes in SSB intake, Homeostatic Model Assessment of Insulin Resistance (HOMA-IR), and measures of abdominal adiposity. The primary associations tested were the correlation between changes in SSB intake and changes in HOMA-IR. Results:Among the 214 study participants, 124 (57.9%) were women, with a mean (SD) age of 41.2 (11.0) years and a baseline mean (SD) body mass index of 29.4 (6.5). They reported a mean daily intake of 1050 mL (35 fl oz) of SSBs at baseline and 540 mL (18 fl oz) at follow-up-a 510-mL (17-fl oz) (48.6%) decrease (P < .001). Reductions in SSB intake correlated with improvements in HOMA-IR (r = 0.16; P = .03). Those not randomized to receive the brief intervention reduced their SSB intake by a mean (SD) of 246.0 (84.0) mL (8.2 [2.8] fl oz), while those also receiving the brief intervention reduced SSB intake by 762.0 (84.0) mL (25.4 [2.8] fl oz). From baseline to follow-up, there were significant reductions in mean (SE) waist circumference (2.1 [2.8] cm; P < .001). Conclusions and Relevance:This study's findings suggest that the workplace sales ban was associated with a reduction in SSB intake and a significant reduction in waist circumference among employees within 10 months. The randomized clinical trial portion of this study found that targeting those at high risk with a brief motivational intervention led to additional improvements. Workplace sales bans may offer a promising new private-sector strategy for reducing the health harms of SSB intake. Trial identifier: NCT02585336.

Health Literacy Matters More Than Experience for Advance Care Planning Knowledge Among Older Adults.


BACKGROUND:Advance care planning (ACP) engagement is low among vulnerable populations, including those with limited health literacy (LHL). Limited knowledge about ACP may be a modifiable mediator of the relationship between LHL and ACP. Our goal was to determine whether health literacy is associated with ACP knowledge. DESIGN:Cross-sectional design. SETTING:A public health delivery system and Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco, CA. PARTICIPANTS:English- and Spanish-speaking patients (N = 1400). MEASUREMENTS:ACP knowledge was assessed with seven validated multiple-choice questions. Health literacy was measured using a validated scale. Sociodemographic measures included age, sex, language, education, race, health status, and social support. Prior ACP experience was defined as having documented legal forms and/or goals-of-care discussions in the medical record. We used Kruskal-Wallis tests and linear regression to examine associations of ACP knowledge with LHL, prior ACP experience, and sociodemographic factors. RESULTS:Mean age of participants was 65 (±10) years, 48% were women, 34% had LHL, 32% were Spanish speaking, 47% had high school education or less, and 70% were nonwhite. Mean 7-point knowledge scores were lower for those with limited vs adequate health literacy (3.8 [SD = 1.9 vs 5.5 (SD = 1.7); P < .001). In multivariable analysis, ACP knowledge scores were 1.0 point lower among those with LHL; 0.6 points lower among Spanish speakers and those with high school education or less; and 0.5 points lower among individuals of nonwhite race (P < .001 for all). Knowledge scores were 0.02 points lower per year of older age (P = .007) and 0.01 points higher per point of greater social support (P = .005). Prior ACP experience was not associated with knowledge after adjustment (P = .7). CONCLUSIONS:Health literacy and sociodemographics are stronger predictors than prior ACP experience of ACP knowledge. This study suggests that providing easy-to-understand ACP materials is paramount and should be offered even if patients have previous experience with the ACP process. J Am Geriatr Soc 67:2151-2156, 2019.

Social and Political Factors Associated With State-Level Legalization of Cannabis in the United States


© The Author(s) 2019. Thirty-three U.S. states and the District of Columbia (DC) have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and 10 states and DC have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use. This mirrors an international trend toward relaxing restrictions on marijuana. This article analyzes patterns in marijuana laws across U.S. states to shed light on the social and political forces behind the liberalization of marijuana policy following a long era of conservatism. Data on U.S. state-level demographics, economic conditions, and cultural and political characteristics are analyzed, as well as establishment of and levels of support for other drug and social policies, to determine whether there are patterns between states that have liberalized marijuana policy versus those that have not. Laws decriminalizing marijuana possession, as well as those authorizing its sale for medical and recreational use, follow the same pattern of diffusion. The analysis points to underlying patterns of demographic, cultural, economic, and political variation linked to marijuana policy liberalization in the U.S. context, which deserve further examination internationally.

Factors associated with food insecurity among older homeless adults: results from the HOPE HOME study.


BACKGROUND:The US homeless population is aging. Older adults and those living in poverty are at a high risk of food insecurity. METHODS:We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from a population-based study of 350 homeless adults aged ≥50. We assessed food security and receipt of food assistance. We used multivariable logistic regression to examine factors associated with very low food security. RESULTS:The majority of the cohort was male and African American. Over half (55.4%) met criteria for food insecurity, 24.3% reported very low food security. Half (51.7%) reported receiving monetary food assistance. In the multivariable model, those who were primarily sheltered in the prior 6 months, (multi-institution users [AOR = 0.44, 95% CI: 0.22-0.86]) had less than half the odds of very low food security compared with those who were unsheltered. Depressive symptoms (AOR = 3.01, 1.69-5.38), oral pain (AOR = 2.15, 1.24-3.74) and cognitive impairment (AOR = 2.21, 1.12-4.35) were associated with increased odds of very low food security. CONCLUSIONS:Older homeless adults experience a high prevalence of food insecurity. To alleviate food insecurity in this population, targeted interventions must address specific risk groups.