- Second District
Jo Helen Graham’s son Mark was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 15 years old. Despite his parents’ efforts to find him ongoing treatment, little has been available to address his mental illness and he has suffered. A barroom brawl years ago landed him in prison when he was 19 – a tragic turn for a young man who desperately needed mental health intervention.
MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center
“Mark was never able to receive the proper mental health treatment that would have helped him,” Graham said speaking at the ribbon-cutting celebration for the new Mental Health Urgent Care Center on the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook.
She noted that her son is now out of prison but still suffers from mental health issues. “Jailing and warehousing our mentally ill is a human tragedy. But I am optimistic about the road ahead because of centers like this one.”
The newly refurbished two-story, 8,000-square-foot facility, which opened September 4, is the latest milestone towards the completion of a wellness community on the MLK Medical Campus that brings preventive and emergency care services to the region.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas celebrates the new center.
“The opening of this center is part of a broader countywide drive to expand access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment for all those in need, particularly those at risk of incarceration,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who spearheaded the effort to bring the urgent care center to the MLK campus. “Facilities like this will be most effective in promoting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.”
The center is a one-stop shop for families, individuals and law enforcement to bring a person suffering acute distress or an episode related to mental illness. Patients will receive a variety of services including psychiatric evaluation and assessment, crisis intervention, substance abuse counseling and medication support from an on-site team of experts from the county’s departments of mental health, social services, health services and public health. Adults will have a separate wing, divided by gender. Twelve to 17-year-olds will be admitted into a separate wing of the center. While there is an emphasis on serving the indigent and Medi-Cal patients, no one will be turned away.
Data has shown that nearly 50 percent of the patients in the former King/Drew Emergency Room had primary or secondary mental health issues. The Urgent Care Center provides a more cost effective and humane way to treat people with mental illness.
Although there are 15 medical professionals on staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it is not a sterile, cold and clinical setting. In fact, with its wood laminate floors, soothing yellow walls, cozy sleeping chairs and clean bathrooms, in the recovery area,it is more like a nice family living room where patients can stay for up to 24 hours.
Community leaders and elected officials celebrate.
“Twenty-four hours a day, you can bring in your loved one in,” said Luana Murphy, President/CEO of Exodus Recovery and Exodus Foundation for Recovery, which will operate the center. “Services here will be integrated. After they are discharged, no one will be sent to the street. We will have a plan.”
The Urgent Care Center will play an important role in the county’s efforts to redirect mentally ill offenders away from jails, where people with untreated illnesses currently constitute a substantial portion of the population.
Terri McDonald, Assistant Sheriff, Los Angeles County Sheriff Department
“It takes a village and mentally ill citizens are some of our most vulnerable,” said Terri McDonald, assistant sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “We can be proud of this step forward in reducing our reliance on jails to deal with our mentally ill.”
The center will be run by Exodus Foundation for Recovery, which has been providing psychiatric services in Southern California since 1989. The urgent care center brings additional medical services to the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center Campus, which already include the MLK Outpatient Center and Center for Public Health. The hospital is scheduled to open next year.
“Today, we move one step closer to the MLK Medical Campus we’ve been waiting for,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, Director of Community and Integrated Programs for the Department of Health Services, noting that the center is a model of recovery and urgent care for mental health centers throughout the region.“It is this image that makes me excited to be here today as we look forward to the services Exodus will provide with its many campus partners for years to come.”
Roslyn de la Torre was on her way to work when she saw a crowd gathered around a man who had collapsed of an apparent heart attack on the sidewalk. A registered nurse, de la Torre got out of her car and immediately began giving the man CPR. Within 4 minutes, the paramedics arrived but it may well have been de la Torre’s quick actions that saved Elbert Kirby’s life. With a person suffering a heart attack, the first two minutes can determine life or death.
“It’s amazing that CPR is the reason I am here today,” said Kirby, a 50-year volunteer with the American Red Cross.
This narrow window of timing in which life can hang in the balance, is why Los Angeles County officials have launched PulsePoint, the “AMBER alert for cardiac arrest victims.”
When a person is in cardiac distress and a call is made to 911, one of the five public safety communications centers in the county activates the app which sends an alert on the phone and gives a GPS location at the same time that local fire and emergency responders are notified. It was developed by PulsePoint Foundation, a San Francisco based organization that is building applications for public safety agencies, and supported by the Wireless Foundation, a nonprofit that includes several wireless provider companies that support wireless innovation and initiatives
Celebrating its launch, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Fire Chief Daryl Osby joined de la Torre and Kirby as well as the app founder in Inglewood joined together for the official release.
“Simply put, this app is really a life-saving opportunity,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Now qualified responders can do their part to help a heart attack victim. It is a great resource for all county residents.”
The app, which is free, is available for both iPhone and Android phones. More than 13,000 people in the county have already downloaded PulsePoint but county officials hope more residents take part.
“Mobile technology can help us build and safer, more resilient community,” said Chief Osby.
Added de la Torre, who is now friends with Kirby and his wife, “A few minutes can make a difference in saving someone’s life.”
For more information on CPR classes throughout LA County, residents can call (323) 881-2411 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Los Angeles County has both the largest inmate population of any county in the nation and the largest population of mentally ill people who are incarcerated. While the Board has adopted a $2 billion-jail master plan to demolish Men’s Central Jail, modernize Mira Loma Detention Center for women and construct a new two-tower Correctional Treatment Facility, that plan, however, does not allocate funding to create much-needed alternatives to incarceration for mentally ill inmates.
“Jails are no place for our mentally ill to receive help,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who called for the county to set aside $20 million to create a robust diversion plan. “We can and we must do more. We have heard from many individuals and experts and they have asked us to improve the outcome for individuals with mental illness as well as save money for the county. A diversion plan is an essential component to making our society better.”
All five board members say they fully support the creation of a strong diversion program that would redirect mentally ill offenders away from county jails, where they currently constitute a substantial portion of the population, to treatment programs. To that end, the Supervisors decided to discuss funding a diversion in September, when District Attorney Jackie Lacey is scheduled to present a plan for Los Angeles County.
Much of the board meeting on Tuesday, July 29, however, was devoted to the testimony of advocates, residents and parents of mentally ill persons calling for the board to act.
As Jo Helen Graham , a mother whose son suffers from mental illness noted in her testimony before the board Tuesday, “Why do we accept jails and prisons as surrogate mental health hospitals for our mentally ill citizens and loved ones rather than build (as the prison industry does) clinics and hospitals to care for the treatment of the mentally ill?”
A strong diversion plan would likely include training for law enforcement and emergency services providers, preventive services for those who may be at risk of getting arrested, offer post-arrest alternatives to incarceration and programs that would help former inmates re-enter society after they are released, such as job training. This plan would work in collaboration with the District Attorney, the courts, law enforcement, mental health, substance abuse and health providers and other key players to make sure it is coordinated and comprehensive.
Lawrence Foy, policy director for A New Way of Life, a nonprofit, noted that funding diversion will put Los Angeles County “on a clear path to providing a comprehensive approach to ameliorating a growing and festering crisis among those faced with mental illness.”
The U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions deprive Los Angeles County jail inmates of constitutionally-required mental health care.
Other cities throughout the country have seen impressive results with their diversion programs, including New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70 percent reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89 percent reduction in arrests, 86 percent reduction in jail time, and a 76 percent reduction in hospitalization for program participants; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45 percent reduction in jail and prison bookings.
LETTERS OF SUPPORT
Hoping to reduce emergency room overcrowding and decrease the costs of keeping stabilized homeless patients in expensive hospital beds, the Board of Supervisors approved $3.7-million in funding for a new recovery center on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook.
The MLK Recovery Center, which is expected to open by early next year, will accept patients who are clinically stable and ready for discharge, but who remain hospitalized because they are homeless. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services loses millions of dollars each year because Medicaid (and other insurers) do not cover the cost of lengthy hospital bed stays for indigent patients. In addition, there is a shortage of places in Los Angeles County where these patients can stay while they recuperate.
The MLK Recovery Center will be housed in the former dormitory for Charles Drew University medical students on the MLK Campus. It will serve as an immediate discharge option for the County’s entire hospital network, which includes four County-run hospitals and the privately-run MLK Community hospital.
The recovery center will be open 24-hours, 7-days per week, with staff providing meals, security, transportation, health services and other social services, such as housing support. It will serve approximately 900 to 1,400 patients per year countywide.
“I applaud the Department of Health Services for its innovation and leadership,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to fund the recovery center. “This project will save lives, heal bodies and save dollars. I want to be certain that every patient sent to recovery is connected to the services she or he needs to be stabilized so they can hopefully find a home.”
Joseph Baddley, 53, became homeless after being in and out of prison. Not having access to medical care, when Baddley became sick, he hit rock bottom. But thanks to a new program to build more supportive housing in Los Angeles County, Baddley has found an apartment to call home. The 43 units, spread over five formerly blighted and foreclosed properties in South Los Angeles, were specifically created for those who were homeless, veterans in need of housing, former inmates re-entering the community, those living with special needs and those with mental health illnesses.
“Many people helped save my life,” said Baddley. “I love my home and I treat it as a gift,” said Baddley.
The apartments represent the best of what government, the private sector and community organizations can accomplish when they work together. The project was sponsored by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and involved a successful collaboration among Los Angeles County, Los Angeles City, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, Los Angeles Housing Department, California Housing Finance Agency and Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health among others. The project was completed in August 2013 at a total development cost of $10.5-million. Ten of the 43 units are specifically designed for the visually, physically or mobility impaired.
“CRCD Apartments, with its support from both the City and the County, is a example of permanent supportive housing that works,” said CRCD Executive Director Mark Wilson, noting that residents will be eligible to receive mental health services, regular health care and an array of social services supported with intensive case management.
For women who have been incarcerated, the apartments offer an especially important place. Many women who are former inmates have trouble finding jobs and housing and end up on the street, where they are often in danger, explained Susan Burton, executive director of A New Way of Life, one of the organizations responsible for the successful re-entry efforts. A New Way of Life supports these residents by providing therapy and legal assistance at court hearings. Many women residents are mothers with children, Burton said. These mothers also receive job training services and assistance with child care.
At the recent grand opening of the apartments, Baddley invited a few guests into his home including A New Way of Life Executive Director Susan Burton and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“He invited us into his home, held back his tears best he could and told us his story,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is the face of reentry.”
Supporting affordable housing has been a focus for the Supervisor since taking office in 2008. Since 2009, the Supervisor has helped to create 1,100 units in the second district representing a total public/private investment of more than $350-million. And 295 additional units are now under construction representing an additional $121-million.
During his public remarks at the grand opening, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas focused on the economic benefits of supportive housing to the county. He noted that building housing costs far less than incarceration.
“Many talk about redemption, recovery and reentry,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The Coalition for Responsible Community Development is doing it.”
Visitors and patients of the Martin Luther King Medical Campus in Willlowbrook can now ride a free shuttle to get around, courtesy of the County of Los Angeles.
The wheelchair accessible campus shuttle runs from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday with nine stops throughout the campus including the new outpatient center, every 15 minutes.
“We want visitors get to, from and around the medical campus with ease,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has helped fund the services. “The shuttle service is intended to do just that at no cost.”
It is the latest of three shuttle services now available in Willowbrook, with one ferrying passengers to and from the Rosa Parks Transit Station to the campus. The other shuttle runs east/west from the Hahn Plaza Shopping Center to 135th Street and San Pedro Street. The route includes many stops including Athens Park, Magic Jonson Park and Carver Park.
“This shuttle service allows patients and staff to move freely around the campus, from the parking lot to all the campus buildings,” said John Huang, transit manager for Public Works, who will be responsible for making sure the shuttles run smoothly.
For more information about shuttle services in Willowbrook please visit: Lagobus.info
In yet another milestone, the nonprofit Martin Luther King – Los Angeles Healthcare Corporation (MLK-LA) has signed a 40-year lease with Los Angeles County to run and operate the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.
With the lease signed and a more than $170 million-commitment from the County, the hospital, which will be privately run by the non-profit MLK LA Board, will accelerate the pace of acquiring new equipment and hiring doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff.
A few months ago, construction of the new $285 million-hospital was completed by the County, and next month the adjacent $175 million-Outpatient Center will open its doors to the public. In addition, a new Psychiatric Urgent Care Center for those seeking mental health services is expected open on the MLK campus in the fall.
The hospital, outpatient center, and Psychiatric Urgent Care Center are part of a revitalized wellness network intended to provide residents of the surrounding communities with preventive care services to improve their overall health and avoid hospital visits.
“The County is fulfilling its promise,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who spearheaded the effort to build a new hospital and wellness facilities. “We will be good and vigilant partners. Together we will work to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars while ensuring that visitors to the new hospital and neighboring clinics will receive the highest quality of care.”
It used to take Veronica Calbio 30 minutes by bus to get her children, Genesis, 2, and Abraham, 5, for a checkup at the nearest clinic in South Los Angeles. But with the recent opening of a new health center at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center on West 58th Street, a doctor’s visit is now only 10 minutes away from her home.
“It is so much better,” she said, sitting with her children in the waiting room of the Dr. Louis C. Frayser Health Center, “because I don’t have a car I can take the bus and be here faster for the kids’ check-ups and for the dentist. This is a good clinic.”
On the fourth anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act, St. John’s celebrated the grand opening of the S. Mark Taper Foundation Health and Wellness Campus, which includes the Frayser Health Center for children and mothers, and the S. Mark Taper Foundation Health and Wellness Center for adults. The campus, located between Vermont Avenue and Hoover Street, will provide additional services for more than 30,000 patients in some of South Los Angeles’ poorest communities.
The campus is a model of modern day health care delivery that brings the best available resources close to neighborhoods in need. South Los Angeles has among the highest rates of chronic diseases in California and hundreds of thousands of its residents are uninsured; more than a third live in poverty, and health officials estimate that 16 percent of children in South Los Angeles have never been to a dentist, leading to a slew of health issues that manifest as they grow into adults. The impact of Obamacare on this population will be profound: so far, 5.3 million people have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act and with a March 31 deadline looming, it is hoped that more take advantage of it.
“Thousands of newly-insured patients will need healthcare, and thanks to Obamacare we have two beautiful, newly-constructed health centers in the heart of South Los Angeles to provide quality care,” said St. John’s President and CEO Jim Mangia. “This is a promise fulfilled by President Obama.”
President Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, attended Monday’s opening and declared it a great example of federal, local elected officials, residents, business leaders and foundations collaborating to accomplish something great.
“This day shows what we can accomplish when we work together,” she said.
With $9.4 million allotted, St. John’s is the largest recipient of capital funding from the Affordable Care Act in Los Angeles County. The funding, supplemented by major contributors including First 5 and the Ahmanson Foundation, helped fund the construction of 26 new exam rooms, medical and dental services for pediatric patients as well as pre-natal care, expanded services for adults, chronic disease care, a full-scope pharmacy and behavioral health services. The wellness campus houses full-scope diagnostic services including x-ray, mammography and ultra-sound services.
For Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a longtime supporter of St. John’s, the center brings a high level of service to a community in need.
“St. John’s just keeps moving forward to give people in this community a better quality of life,” he said. “This is a matter of justice. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center has seen a sharp increase in the number of uninsured patients visiting their facilities. These folks, who formerly were uninsured but now, thanks to the ACA have insurance and are finally seeing a doctor. A whopping 40 percent increase in patient visits to the nonprofit health center has challenged everyone from receptionists to medical assistants to benefits counselors and outreach workers to do more work while maintaining excellent service.
So in a rare move in today’s economic climate, St. John’s Chief Executive Jim Mangia, noting that the increased amount of work lead to greater compensation for his employees, has raised their salaries from $12 to $15 an hour, placing the nonprofit squarely in the forefront of the local and national battle to raise the minimum wage.
“The cost for these raises to St. John’s will be significant,” said Mangia. “But we felt strongly as a social justice and health care organization that it was our obligation to raise the living standard for healthcare workers locally and nationwide. We are standing up and throwing down for the $15 wage.”
The announcement, made at a news conference with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price and Bob Schoonover, president SEIU 721, pushes forward the momentum toward raising the minimum wage just as the Los Angeles City Council considers steps that would require large hotels to pay workers a living wage of $15.37 an hour.
“This commitment to provide a living wage proves that when employers and employees work together, the community is lifted. St. John’s is an employer that is leading by example – it is possible to deliver quality healthcare and also provide quality jobs,” said the Supervisor, who represents the district where many of St. John’s centers and clinics are located. “Economic health is tied to physical and mental wellbeing. This wage ensures that the workers who provide care to people that are ill, can provide that care with dignity.”
Indeed, Fabrizzio Perez, who works at St. John’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Health Center as a patient greeter, said he looks forward to the day when healthcare is affordable and available to all, and when full-time workers no longer live in poverty – having to choose between feeding their families or paying the rent.
“A living wage is transformative,” he said. “We want to live in a society where all boats rise with the tide. Our hope is that St. John’s vision spreads across Los Angeles County, the city, the state and finally the entire nation.”
For seven years, Irvin Dixon, 59, had been homeless in Los Angeles County. He slept on public benches and waited in long lines for free meals. Sal Tovar, 52, had spent nine years homeless. He remembers taking “bird baths” in the park to stay clean. But thanks to a collaboration among the city, county and several community groups, 56 new units that rent for about $50 a month are home to nearly 100 other residents such as Dixon and Tovar.
Addressing an audience assembled recently to mark the opening of the South Los Angeles Supportive Housing Program, Yolanda Vera, deputy for healthcare services for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said: “This is an example of blight made right.”
The Department of Health Services Neighborhood Stabilization Project Housing development consists of 15 formerly-blighted properties. The properties were purchased and remodeled by the City of Los Angeles Housing Department and Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles and are now operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. The project is a collaborative partnership among the city, the county, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Home for Good and the Hilton Foundation.
The new housing is aimed to help those homeless individuals who are most in need and high users of county health resources.
“Providing housing is actually money-saving for the health system,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. According to Dr. Katz, housing one homeless person costs between $600 to $900 per month whereas hospital time can cost $3,300 per day. The health services department estimates that the annual cost for inpatient services for homeless patients is roughly $70 million or $30,000 per patient.
The comprehensive project includes mental health services and substance abuse treatment. Over $12 million in newly renovated housing units were provided by the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department. $5.4 million in rental subsidies over 10 years was provided by the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles. $7.2 million over 10 years in health services was provided by the Los Angeles County Departments of Health Services, Mental Health and Public Health.
According to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “These new units are just the beginning of a revolutionary approach to heal through housing.”
Tovar does not forget his own recent struggles: Once a month he loads a suitcase full of cakes, bread and tortillas and takes it to a food bank to help feed less fortunate homeless people. He feels compelled to “pay it forward.” Tovar said, “It makes me feel good because I’m able to help them out.”