Los Angeles County Combats the Flu

Do you have a tickle in your throat? Is someone nearby sneezing? What you may be noticing are not a run-of-the-mill cold, but the first symptoms of the flu.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is offering free flu vaccinations at its public health centers throughout Los Angeles County, with no appointment necessary, and many local community clinics and pharmacies in the Second Supervisorial District and across the county are offering seasonal flu vaccines for a low fee.

County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Jonathon E. Fielding urges flu vaccinations as soon as possible for all adults and children above six months of age. Flu strains change every year, making it important to get vaccinated once a year. There are two ways to be vaccinated, either through the influenza shot or nasal spray. In order to be protected from the flu with the nasal spray, one has to be a healthy non-pregnant individual between the ages 2-49.

While all people can contract influenza, medical research shows that some age groups are at greater risk of developing complications. Children under age five and adults above 50 years of age have been shown to have a greater risk of complications, studies say. Pregnancy, a compromised immune system and chronic medical conditions can also increase the risk of complications from the flu.

“Health is our priority,” says Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who encourages appropriate steps to prevention.

The common flu is highly contagious and effective ways to protect yourself and your loved ones include covering your mouth when sneezing and washing your hands before eating and after using the restroom. Additionally, if flu-like symptoms appear it is recommended that you drink fluids, stay home at least 24 hours and use over-the-counter medications.

This year has been particularly difficult; according to California state health officials, there have been 202 confirmed influenza deaths in individuals below age 65, including 26 deaths in Los Angeles County alone. In fact, this flu season is responsible for more deaths than any season in recent years. At this time in 2013, only 18 Californians below the age of 65 had died from the flu and only 106 people had died for the entire 2012-2013 season.

Click here, to find locations where flu vaccinations are currently available or call the LA County Information Line at 2-1-1 from any landline or cell phone in the county.

For health education materials including kid-friendly handouts, click here.

New Surgical Building Inaugurated at Harbor-UCLA

Walking through the gleaming new hallways, inspecting the state of the art equipment and monitors of the new emergency/trauma and surgery building at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in January,  Dr. Timothy Van Natta could not stop smiling. As the interim chief medical officer of the hospital, he remembers the challenges of performing heart surgery or operating on a gunshot wound in the cramped spaces and dated linoleum-lined rooms of the old hospital, built in 1963.

In April, however, his entire staff will be working in the new facility, which was constructed and finished on time and $10 million under budget. The expansive 190,000 square-foot facility features separate adult and pediatric emergency departments with a total of 80 treatment rooms, seven trauma resuscitation rooms, 16 operating rooms, and pre- and post-operative patient areas — significantly more than the capacity of the older facility.

“The people of the county who receive their healthcare here are going to have a much, much better experience than they have had in the past,” said Van Natta, noting that the ER has approximately 80,000 visits per year.

The new building also has a radiological suite that includes x-ray, ultrasound and CT technology housed directly in the ER so patients do not have to be transported across the hospital for diagnostic tests. The new facility forms one part of a larger, more holistic approach to healthcare that emphasizes prevention. With the Affordable Care Act, patients have more choices, so county facilities had to keep up to be competitive, noted Delvecchio Finley, chief executive officer of the hospital.

“For a long time county facilities have always been competitive on quality of care…but where we struggled a little bit was on the service side…Buildings like this, really provide a healthcare experience that complements the quality of care,” said Finley. Lastly, he noted that part of having a better patient experience includes aesthetics, so the new hospital has a vast collection of donated art hanging from its walls that is both soothing and pleasing to the eye.

The new hospital which was under construction for three years, has long been a priority for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the district where the hospital is located.

“This is a commitment on the part of the County of Los Angeles to deliver high quality emergency and trauma care in this new health care reform era,” the supervisor told a crowd of more than a hundred physicians, nurses, hospital staff and elected officials on the inauguration day. “This is a day to celebrate.”

For some patients, the new hospital is just the icing on an institution that already had excellent patient care. In December 2012, Richard Williams’ 13-year-old son Ricky was stabbed in the heart. Doctors gently warned Williams that it would be touch and go, but after several hours of surgery, Ricky was saved.

“This new building means a lot to me,” said Williams. “It signifies not only new technology, but also how many other families will be saved here.”

Lead Paint Removal Coming to LA County Homes

Los Angeles County is expected to receive more than $630 million to clean up homes that contain lead-based paint. The California Superior Court has ordered companies Sherwin Williams, National Lead and ConAgra to pay $1.15 billion into a fund to remove lead paint from homes in various counties and cities throughout the state.

The court decision is the largest public nuisance award in the history of the state and comes after 13 years of vigorous litigation. The case has already gone up to the Court of Appeal twice and the California Supreme Court once.

Children exposed to lead can suffer from neurologic impairments that hinder their ability to learn.  Even though lead-based paint was banned in 1978, more than 1.5 million homes in Los Angeles County still have traces of it.  In fact, the main cause of lead poisoning for children in the county is exposure to lead-based paint. From 2007-2011 there were more than 40,000 reported lead poisonings for children under the age of 21, with high blood lead levels. Nearly 500 of these children were treated for very high blood lead levels.

In 2007, while in the state senate, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas authored legislation that increased lead screenings of children at high risk of lead poisonings in California.  The bill also improved reporting to ensure that children with elevated blood lead levels are appropriately tracked and are getting the help they need.

“Lead poisoning continues to be an issue for too many families,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I am pleased that the County of Los Angeles can begin to take steps to remediate that and protect the health of our children with this court decision.”

Homes with a current or past history of lead poisoned children will be given priority. In addition to the homes where children have been poisoned, Los Angeles County plans to target more than 85,000 homes that are in low income neighborhoods. Those worried that their child has been exposed to lead can ask their physician for lead testing and parents who do not have a doctor for their child can also call the hotline for referrals to free and low-cost health services for children and teens.

“California Superior Court Judge Kleinberg’s decision is clear,” said, Dr. Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, Los Angeles County Director of Public Health and Health Officer. “Companies that knowingly manufactured and sold lead paint for interior use in residences despite knowing that it poisoned children, must be held accountable for their actions.”

For more information call the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Hotline at 1-800-LA-4-LEAD or visit: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/lead/

Construction Completed on Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital

Construction of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital has been completed, bringing the community of Willowbrook and surrounding areas closer to seeing their new health care facility become reality.

The hospital is expected to serve 1.2 million residents from all over South Los Angeles including Compton, Inglewood, Watts-Willowbrook and Lynwood. It will also create more than 5,000 jobs in the area with approximately 700 directly at the hospital. The hospital, which will be privately run, is scheduled to open to the public in early 2015 after the new staff is in place and it passes through rigorous state licensing requirements.

The hospital, which houses four operating rooms, 21 treatment bays and will include 131 patient beds, cost $285 million to build.  It will be governed by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Los Angeles Healthcare Corporation (MLK-LA), an independent, nonprofit organization that is committed to establishing and maintaining high quality medical services in the community.

Both the Hospital and Outpatient Center were constructed with more than 50 percent local worker participation.

The adjacent Outpatient Center is also near completion and is scheduled to open in late spring of 2014. The Outpatient Center, meanwhile, will have 104 exam rooms, radiology and mammogram equipment and five operating rooms and cost $175 million to build.

The Hospital and Outpatient Center are part of a medical complex that will focus on preventive care in addition to inpatient services.

The closure of the former Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in 2007 left the area without a hospital or true healthcare.  When he was elected to office in 2008, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas made opening a new state of the art hospital and outpatient center a priority.

“This medical campus is coming together as promised, with state of the art facilities, technology and highly experienced professionals,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This community deserves top notch health care facilities that will be looked upon as a first-rate, 21st century medical village.”

Mobile Eye Clinic Helps Kids See

Seven-year-old Carlos Urrutia has struggled for years to see the front board in his classroom, which always seems to be blurry. But recently, he stepped into the Vision to Learn mobile clinic to get fitted for a new pair of glasses.

“I’m excited because I’ll be able to see with glasses,” Carlos said. “Right now it looks blurry, I can’t see far away.”

In about three weeks, his new pair of glasses will be delivered to him at school.

“When I get my glasses I’m going to see my ABC’s good,” said Carlos, a 2nd grader at 52nd Street Elementary school.

Founded by former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor, Austin Beutner, Vision to Learn brings trained doctors and state-of-the-art mobile eye clinics to elementary schools throughout low-income communities in Los Angeles and provides students with free eye exams and glasses. Since the program began in March 2012, the mobile clinics have provided free glasses to more than 14,500 students and have visited 108 Los Angeles Unified School District, charter and catholic schools an average of 25 times each month.

Samuel Sanchez, also a second grader, has trouble with assignments in the classroom because he can’t see well.

“When my teacher writes words on the board, I can’t see them and I write the wrong letters,” Samuel said.

Samuel is excited about his new pair of glasses but he is a little worried he might break or lose them.

“I’m a little nervous that I’ll drop my glasses,” said Samuel. “I’m going to protect them and keep them away from my 2-year-old sister, she breaks everything.”

[raw]According to Vision to Learn, nearly one-quarter-million young children across California do not have the glasses they need to read their books, see the chalkboard, or participate in class. According to a study by the UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health, more than 20 percent of elementary school students in low-income communities have a vision problem and 96 percent of those students who need glasses do not have them.

The Vision to Learn program has changed the lives of many children, but also the doctors who drive around in the mobile eye clinic.

Ramon Vega, an optician with Vision to Learn has been with the program since it began last year.

Monday through Friday he leaves his home in Cudahay at 6:15 a.m. to meet fellow optician Sherry Pastor to pick up the mobile eye clinic from an LAUSD school bus parking lot in downtown Los Angeles and drives to the scheduled school for the day.

“I love my job and I love what I do,” said Vega, whose most cherished memory of his job is having children hug him to say thank you for the glasses. “I fulfill my purpose and serve my community.”

Pastor recalls distributing glasses this time last year at Rose Hills Academy Elementary in Lincoln Heights when she noticed a magnifying glass attached to a fourth graders backpack.

“I asked what it was for and the little girl said that it was to read and do her homework,” Pastor said. “I put the glass on her and she covered both hands with her mouth. She was shocked. I drove home and cried.”
After being examined, first grader, Heber Romero, 6, chose a pair of red glasses.

“I’m going to wear my glasses all day –when I do my homework, at lunch and in class,” Heber said.

Similarly, once the black glasses were placed on 7-year-old, Michael Alexander’s face he didn’t want to take them off.
“I like these glasses,” Michael said. “Now I can see.”

Star Apartments Open New Clinic

The Star Apartment project, a newly built supportive housing site for the homeless, also will be home to a new Department of Health Services primary care clinic that will specialize in providing integrated health care services to homeless people and residents of supportive housing.

The building, owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust, will house the Star Clinic on the ground level and the department’s Housing for Health offices, with 102 residential units above. Funding for the clinic was recently approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Seventy-Eight tenants already have moved into the building, located on 6th Street and Maple Avenue, with the rest scheduled to move in by the end of December. Designed by notable architect Michael Maltzan, the building is made of prefabricated residences that were placed on top of a concrete superstructure. Formerly an elevated parking garage, the building will include a basketball court and track on its former roof for the tenants. The UniHealth Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Gensler Architecture also contributed to the project.

Based on other similar projects, the Department of Health Services anticipates a 75 percent reduction in unnecessary emergency room visits and inpatient admissions for tenants who are housed in the the Star apartments.

Located along the border of Skid Row, the project has been praised by architecture and urban design experts for setting a new standard for remodeling an existing 1-story building and adding new community spaces and residential levels above. In addition, there will be a community garden in the space for residents to enjoy.

“The Star Apartments will offer high quality housing, services and amenities to help folks get back on their feet and live productive lives,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office contributed $400,000 for the project. “It is essential that we offer these types of homes for people in need across our community.”

Affordable Care Act Revisited

So much has been made about the Affordable Care Act’s troubles, that the law’s substantial benefits have largely been lost in the conversation. Here is a quick primer on how the law is benefiting millions of Americans and why California’s health care exchange, Covered California,is being held up as a model for the country to see how this law can work. 

The Affordable Care Act is a lifeline for most of the 1.7 million uninsured people in Los Angeles County.  In fact, the Affordable Care Act will help 7 out of every 10 uninsured people in our county.

There will be a small percentage of Californians who will see their healthcare costs go up, but more than 32 million Californians get to keep their preferred coverage, and another 4 million have the opportunity to become insured. Nearly 900,000 people must buy better benefits because their existing plans have too many holes in the coverage, including a lack of preventive care or plans without a cap on out-of-pocket costs. Nonetheless, Covered California estimates that one out of every three of these 900,000 people statewide who have to buy better benefits, will qualify for a tax credit to reduce their costs.

Also, it is important to remember is that the ACA is the first step toward affordable universal health care and good things take time. When Massachusetts launched its own health care law in 2006, only 123 people signed up—or less than 1percent of those who eventually signed up within the enrollment period—in the first month. With several years of health reform under its belt, Massachusetts has seen significant reductions in healthcare disparities and inequities, and now has the smallest percentage of uninsured residents of all 50 states.

Here is a basic primer on the benefits of this law:

  • For one, insurance companies have to be more transparent with their charges and their quality so you can make a better choice.
  • Your out-of-pocket expenses will be capped.
  • Insurance companies cannot deny you coverage or charge you higher rates because of your gender or because you have a preexisting medical condition, like cancer or diabetes.
  • Insurance companies must all provide you certain critical health services and must give you preventive care visits for free.
  • Insurance companies use 80-85 percent of the money you pay for health services rather than administrative costs.
  • Insurance companies must allow you to keep your kids on your plan until they turn 26.

For more information please click here

The Affordable Care Act – Have Your Say

One of our favorite ways of hearing from you on important current events is to take a camera out into the Second District and ask for your opinions. This month we asked a random sampling of district residents for their thoughts about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Take a look at the video to hear opinions that range from for and against to simply confused.

Below is a slideshow we hope will serve as a starting point for further research:

Care Harbor Offer of Free Medical Care Attracts Thousands

Blankets wrapped around her shoulders and a packed meal in her hand, 29-year-old Andrea Adams, a South Los Angeles resident, spent several days in the cold and the rain, waiting for the doors to open at the Los Angeles Sports Arena where she would receive a wristband that would give her access to the 5th annual Care Harbor Los Angeles free medical clinic. Unemployed now for two years, Adams has been looking for an opportunity to have her braces removed and to receive necessary dental work. As she looked at the line, snaking its way around the Sports Arena, she shook her head.

“Jobs are hard to get,” she said. “You can’t take insurance for granted. This has really opened my eyes for sure.”

[raw]Thousands of people such as Adams braved the elements—some enduring the discomfort of two days on blankets and chairs waiting on the sidewalk—for a chance to receive free medical, dental and vision care at Care Harbor Los Angeles, which was held from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3.

At Care Harbor, hundreds of doctors, dentists nurses and other volunteers provided free healthcare, prevention resources and follow-up care to thousands of uninsured, underinsured and at-risk individuals and families. No one with a wristband was turned away.[/raw]

Although the wait for wristbands was long, it is worth it for many who have not seen a doctor or dentist in years, said Howard Kahn, chief executive of L.A. Care Health Plan, a major sponsor of the Care Harbor event.

“A lot of folks are willing to wait a long time to get care,” he said. “What is striking is the diversity. You see young and old, working and not working, white, black, brown. The need is there.”

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office is co-sponsoring Care Harbor, said that the event relies on people volunteering their time to help and demonstrates how a community can come together to aid those in need.

“Care Harbor reminds us that Americans can pull together and compassionately, share their ingenuity, skills, expertise, time and money, to help those who are less fortunate,” he said.

Enrique Sanchez of East Los Angeles spent a night in line as well. Initially he hoped to get a wristband for his mother-in-law who is in a wheelchair and who needs dental care, but he thought he should also try to get one for himself, for dental care and to have a doctor look at his bad back.

“I hope to get insurance one day,” he said, noting that he was unemployed. “But for now, this is a good opportunity to get some help.”

Janet Willison and her 9-year-old daughter Lana hoped to get medical treatment for an injury. Although Lana had spent the night at a friend’s house, Willison had been in line for a day, waiting for wristbands for both of them: Lana needed to see a doctor to repair an injury she received after a ball hit her right eye, and Willison, needed a mammogram and pap smear, and to have her blood pressure checked.

“My eyesight is really bad,” Lana said, adding that she had to ask her teachers to be seated in the front of the class in order to be able to see well.”

Willison, who is a realtor in South L.A., said she and her husband had recently lost a vending machine business, making it very difficult to afford healthcare coverage. Although there are news reports about the economy turning around, Willison said she continues to see struggling.

“I deal with a lot of people losing their homes. It has been a very tough year,” she said. “I understand. After a while, you lose your pride and you do what you need to do for your family.”

Psychiatric Care Coming to MLK Medical Campus

Nearly one in four adults—or 57.7 million Americans—have a mental health disorder and need help. In Los Angeles, in desperate need of psychiatric services, yet there are too few available resources and outlets for treatment. Hospital emergency rooms have become ground zero for psychiatric patients in need of help—providing only temporary intervention at great expense.

Recently, community leaders and healthcare providers gathered to discuss plans for the Martin Luther King Jr. Psychiatric Urgent Care Center, a new facility that is expected to open next spring. The center will provide prompt, quality and culturally sensitive care to both adults and teens.

The center, which will be on the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus where the new Hospital and Outpatient Center will open, will offer psychiatric evaluation and assessment, crisis intervention, medication support and medication management. Also available will be individual and family treatment, alcohol and drug counseling and prevention, domestic violence screening and referrals to other community resources where people can seek help.[/raw]

The center will be run by Exodus Recovery, Inc., which has been providing psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment services in Southern California since 1989. The organization has developed and established several hospital-based inpatient and outpatient programs, a psychiatric and internal medicine provider group and a behavioral health managed care company.

The care received will be immediate and comprehensive including appropriate discharge within 24 hours to services spanning the entire spectrum of mental health treatment within the community,” said Luana Murphy, Chief Executive of Exodus Recovery, Inc. “This results in a significant decrease in the number of clients requiring hospitalizations, freeing up inpatient resources for those most in need.”

Although there is an emphasis on serving the indigent and Medi-Cal patients, no one will be turned away. Anyone over the age of 13 will be accepted, however, adolescents who are admitted will be housed upstairs and adults downstairs.

The approach to helping patients will be all encompassing, with psychologists, social workers, nurses, case workers and housing specialists on hand to help people get back on their feet. In addition, the center is expected to have strong ties to community centers, faith-based organizations and housing resources to continue offering services to those in need.

“Young people often react positively from the immediate attention and services provided in a more calming environment than can be found in a busy Emergency Department,” added Murphy. “They interact not only with professionals but will also be in the company of other adolescents with whom they can relate.”