About the Series
From the Experts
For the Press
Reviews & Awards
PBS Viewer Stories
Buy the DVD
News about People and Communities Appearing in the Series
From time to time, we'll post new information about the people and places that were featured in UNNATURAL CAUSES. Updates are organized by episode.
The Louisville residents featured in the documentary attended a special premiere screening and town hall meeting in March, 2008. A video of the event, hosted by Dr. Adewale Troutman, is available online.
Jim Taylor, still CEO of University Hospital, is very proud to have been a part of the series and glad that he could help personalize the issues, even though his decision to do so was not popular with his family or organization at the time.
Tondra Young has earned her BA in Business Administration, and will be married in July, 2008. She enjoyed participating in the series, even though she was working full time and studying at the time of shooting.
Corey Anderson has been suffering from serious health problems and was unable to attend the premiere event.
Mary Turner is still very active in the Portland neighborhood community, but cannot hold full-time employment due to health problems. She reports that the issues presented in the series are evident every day in her community: “I live with it; my friends live with it; my neighbors live with it. If there’s a chance this documentary will change some thoughts, I think it was well worth it.”
Kim Anderson is putting her 20 years of experience as legal counsel, board member and manager of non-profit and for-profit entities to work as an executive consultant for non-profit organizations. Kim's daughter Danielle is entering Howard University, where she plans to study biology and African American Studies and eventually attend medical school and pursue a career in public health. Dani was recently named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/ College Board Epidemiology National Scholar, ranking 7th nationally out of 700 initial applicants.
Israel Bernal was accepted to Penn State and will be starting their summer program in July, 2008. Israel, Alfredo and Olga (who is now in the 8th grade) all have academic mentors at The Garage Youth Center and go there to study and socialize several times a week. Amador Bernal (right, with youngest daughter Maritza) still waters mushrooms at Kaolin Mushrooms and his wife Bernadita still packs boxes at To-jo Mushrooms. Kaolin and To-jo are two of the farms that are participating in the traveling health clinic program initiated by La Comunidad Hispana.
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, continues to be a leader in providing services that help foster an atmosphere of inclusion, receptivity and mutual support. “Bridging the Community” (www.bridgingcommunity.com) monthly meetings, for example, bring residents from all walks of life together to develop partnerships, offer services and seek assistance.
Terrol Dew Johnson, Tohono O’odham, is embarking with several family members on a 2,500-mile walking journey to promote indigenous solutions to the health crisis affecting Native American communities. Starting in the Native communities on the coast of Maine, Terrol will “walk home” to the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona. Along the way, he will visit dozens of Native communities, promoting traditional Native foods and fitness as an essential tool for creating community wellness.
“Reclaiming our food traditions and our cultures is a way for Native peoples to reclaim control of our wellness, identity and economies,” says Terrol. “We have everything we need to create wellness within our communities – our traditional foods, our cultural identity, our land and water, our elders and our youth. Instead of just focusing on the problems, we need to turn to the wisdom of the past to create solutions for our future.”
As co-founder and co-director of Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), Terrol has dedicated 13 years to promoting traditional foods and cultural activities as a solution to the epidemic rates of Type 2 Diabetes within his tribe and among Native peoples nationally. “On this walk, I will be working to bring TOCA’s message more deeply into my own life. It is a physical journey, an emotional journey and a spiritual journey.” To learn more and follow Terrol's progress, visit web.mac.com/treader.
High Point, Seattle, is a mixed-income community that currently includes about 800 homes – half subsidized rentals and half purchased at market rate – and a library, clinic, and thriving Market Garden. Completion of another 800 homes is expected by 2009. Monthly potlucks enable service providers and residents to meet, build relationships, and promote community interactions. A walking group organized by community members provides an opportunity for exercise and socializing and has become a hub for community mobilization efforts. Many asthma sufferers, like Lahn Truong’s son, now require fewer hospital visits, thanks to the Breathe Easy units featured in the series. The Seattle Housing Authority has received a grant to build 25 more units.
Unfortunately, not all of the old High Point residents were able to return to the new development, and some conflicts exist between mid- to higher-income homeowners and low-income tenants – exacerbated by language barriers and misunderstanding. Still, the Seattle Housing Authority and High Point community are aware of the problems and are working to address them.
Gwai Boonkeut and his family have moved out of Richmond, California, but life continues to be a struggle for them. Gwai works two jobs that average about 12-13 hours per day, 60 hours per week. His health has improved slightly but his heart is still very weak and he takes several daily medications. Until recently, Gwai's wife Kanorn worked 2 jobs, 7 days a week, sometimes as much as 14 hours a day. The family still aches over the loss of their daughter Chan; a suspect for her murder is still awaiting trial. The youngest son, Tommy, is graduating from high school this summer and hopes to attend college in the Fall.
Torm Nompraseurt and the members of the Laotian Organizing Project are working with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and others to prevent Chevron from increasing pollution in Richmond as a result of a refinery expansion project. The City of Richmond has also received a grant from The California Endowment to include health equity in its new General Plan. Groups such as the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (led by Urban Habitat) are actively involved in ensuring that environmental justice and healthy development are included in the Health Element of the Plan.
Ebeye residents still suffer from inadequate public services, overcrowding, and regular, often extended, power outages. Senators from Kwajalein (who also represent Ebeye) are fighting for more favorable terms in the lease contract for the U.S. Ronald Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein as a way to improve conditions on Ebeye. Among other things, they would like to integrate electricity and water systems, build a bridge between Ebeye and Kwajalein, relax residency restrictions on Kwajalein, and increase the amount of lease payments going to Ebeye’s public services. Then-Senator Tony de Brum spoke before the U.S. Foreign Affairs sub-committee in July, 2007, presenting the case for better terms.
About a dozen former Electrolux workers still get together twice a week for support group meetings (right). Although the union office has officially closed, Don Pellow is still there, working for Michigan HRDI (Human Resources Development) to help people who have lost their jobs find support and services. His wife, Kathy, runs their small party supplies store. Brenda Bissel has taken an administrative job at the hospital and her husband Dan is driving trucks - as is former co-worker Mitch Evans. The Bissels are getting by financially, but it’s hard on Dan to be away from home so much, especially as his aging parents are not in good health. Marcella Ort took a pastry class and now works for $9 an hour at a bakery in Grand Rapids. Her husband, Richard, still suffers from depression and health problems, but is doing better than he was when the series was filmed. The Orts benefit a lot from Richard’s pension and continuing medical coverage, but need a bit of extra income to cover rising gas expenses and pay off past debt.
Sandy Beck has benefitted from the 2007 opening of a new United Solar Ovonic (Unisolar) plant in Greenville. In April, 2008, she began working there as a new supervisor, “in a technology [flexible solar films] that is booming in sales!” She reports, “The two new plants are beautiful, people are happy, the culture promotes teamwork, and they run with your ideas. They are trying to hire the positive attitude person that works well with others.”
Overall recovery in Greenville, Michigan (right) has been mixed. The new Unisolar plant created 400 new jobs, but nearly 3,000 lost their jobs when Electrolux shut down, and plants continue to close throughout the state. Although people are resilient and most are managing, there hasn’t been much improvement in the town overall. Everyone knows someone who is still struggling to get by, or whose marriage has fallen apart from the stress. Through her job at the hospital, Brenda Bissel learned that the number of cases on Medicaid and those who don’t pay their bills at all has doubled.
The Electrolux plant has been torn down, and there are rumors that the land, located along a polluted river, will be developed into condos.