Free Medical, Dental and Vision Care for Thousands of Angelenos

Photos by Sally Ryan

Three thousand residents from underserved communities in Los Angeles County sought free healthcare at this year’s second Care Harbor mega-clinic. This marked the eighth annual clinic in Los Angeles County responsible for 101,000 medical, dental, and vision services. This year, Care Harbor introduced a pilot program to bring homeless people into the clinic providing care and services for 450 homeless people.

“Los Angeles County has 750,000 uninsured residents,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Care Harbor is a demonstration of compassion – providing free care to our most vulnerable residents. With the future of health care uncertain and 58,000 homeless Los Angeles County residents, the need for free care has never been greater.”

Care Harbor, a nonprofit, volunteer-based charity kicked off its three-day massive Los Angeles clinic at The REEF in Downtown Los Angeles on November 17. While uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act continues in the nation’s capital, preparations are underway for a second Care Harbor clinic this year to provide medical, dental, vision, and preventive care to thousands of the L.A. community’s most vulnerable — people with nowhere to turn for the healthcare they need.

“In this time of significant challenge for healthcare, this is our most ambitious clinic yet,” said Don Manelli, president of Care Harbor. “We are expanding both capacity and services, and launching new initiatives in response to L.A. County’s emerging healthcare needs. This Care Harbor LA clinic has a capacity of 1,000 to 1,200 patients per day, more than our previous events.”

In addition, Care Harbor is planning a pilot program for the homeless, working with local missions, clinics and County agencies. The initiative includes post-clinic engagement and follow-up care, all of which are special challenges for homeless people.

“Homelessness is not only the defining moral and civic issue facing our region, it is also a health crisis that affects us all,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Healthcare plays a critical role in making homeless people and fractured communities whole again.”

Several new initiatives were added to the November Clinic including a partnership with the L.A. County Department of Public Health to offer Hepatitis A vaccines as a way to address the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in the County. More than 40 percent of patients who attended the January 2017 Care Harbor LA clinic were found to be obese or severely obese, placing them at high risk. Care Harbor will record blood glucose and BMI data for all patients, provide interdisciplinary specialty exams, and offer dietary counseling to pre-diabetic, diabetic and at-risk patients.

Along with these new initiatives, Care Harbor continued to offer a full range of healthcare services, provided by nearly 3,000 volunteers. Patients needing follow-up care were connected to medical homes in the community, receiving appointments before leaving the venue.

“Most of those who come to Care Harbor are working poor, uninsured or without coverage for needed care,” said Manelli. “We work not only to meet their immediate healthcare needs, but also to provide them with the sustainable care that can lead to a healthier life.”

To date, Care Harbor has provided care conservatively valued at $15,848,600 based on mean regional costs of care (Medicare reimbursement) – a figure that does not include off-site lab services, follow-up care, or prevention resources offered at the event.

 

How ‘Killer King’ Became
the Hospital of the Future

A tough Los Angeles neighborhood shuttered its hospital,
and embraced something totally new.

Published with permission from POLITICO. Click here for the full story and photos.

LOS ANGELES — If you want a glimpse into the future of American hospitals, this corner of South Central Los Angeles might seem an unlikely stop. Caught between Compton and Watts, the Willowbrook neighborhood is better known for a history of gang violence and race riots. Its previous hospital, the old Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, was dubbed “Killer King” and shuttered in 2007 after horrific stories of patients being given the wrong drugs, preventable deaths and other incidents of mismanagement or incompetence.

Today, that building is still there, a hulking concrete carcass that represents one of the bleakest chapters in Los Angeles County’s health history. And next to it is a gleaming new hospital that opened its doors two years ago, reorganized and built from scratch.

Though King/Drew ultimately failed the community, the county-run hospital was also the only source of health care for hundreds of thousands of residents of this poverty-riven area of the city. Its emergency department had been the place mothers went to deliver babies, children were brought if they had high fevers and gunshot victims were sewn up. Its closure effectively left one of the city’s most vulnerable communities without access to health care.

So when a group of community leaders and elected officials started to plan for King’s replacement, they did something bold: Instead of even considering fixing up the old hospital, they decided to start fresh and build a new one. And to do that, they would have to rethink the very concept of what a hospital is and what it does.

The new private, nonprofit Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital is a nearly $300 million medical center that shares the same county-owned grounds as the old hospital, but little else.

For one thing, the new hospital is much smaller, with just 131 beds compared with the old hospital’s 233 beds. Instead of being the sole source of a whole area’s medical needs, the new hospital is designed as the hub of a wide network of clinics, neighborhood outposts designed to provide the day-to-day care residents need. The hospital itself focuses instead on acute-care and highly specialized services for a smaller but sicker group of patients.

But perhaps the biggest difference is the vision. The hospital is just one part of a larger system to improve the lives and protect the health of its residents—a system that extends well beyond medical care. The county is creating new senior housing and additional services, working with the hospital to bring healthier food options and even more jobs to the area. Meanwhile, the hospital is working to provide more outpatient services outside its walls and to support the county in revitalizing the community.

In fact, in many ways, the hospital of the future is an un-hospital. Instead, it’s a wellness network with a small hospital at the center, providing critical care for the small number of acute illnesses and injuries that can’t be addressed in any other setting.

“Hospitals are actually a very small part of the solution for health in most communities,” said Mitch Katz, an internist who heads L.A. County’s Department of Health Services and oversaw the reimagining and rebuilding of the new hospital. “Because hospitals are these large buildings, people tend to equate health with hospitals when, in fact, you go to a hospital when you’re not healthy.”

The vision isn’t complete yet, but it already includes some components that might not normally fall under a hospital’s purview. On a recent day, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, widely credited as the elected leader most responsible for the hospital’s rebirth, paid a visit to the campus and pointed out what parts already exist and which are in the works.

In front of the new hospital was a farmer’s market—an effort sponsored by the county to combat the neighborhood’s lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. A new behavioral health center will soon open in the concrete building that housed the old hospital. Ridley-Thomas pointed to existing structures across the street – near the King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science – and noted plans to build a new senior center, a community library and a new Willowbrook/Rosa Parks transportation hub.

Ridley-Thomas called it “a state-of-the-art way of operating a medical campus.” By the end of 2019, the county will have invested more than $1 billion in a revitalization effort that’s expected to bring at least 2,700 jobs to the area.

That larger vision of trying to take care of the community – not just treating patients in the hospital – is what puts Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in the forefront of where U.S. health care is going, said Bruce Leff, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the university’s Center for Transformative Geriatric Research.

Leff described the new facility as having “a leg up” on other hospitals in trying to do that. Most hospitals are so established in their thinking and in their communities that it’s hard for them to rethink their mission. South Central had a chance to turn the tragedy of the old hospital’s closing into an opportunity to shed old thinking, an old facility and take a giant step into the future. And along the way it had a chance to figure out how to address the social factors that public health experts increasingly believe have more to do with your health than any hospital, factors like poverty, access to good food and education.

“Health systems are over time and into the future are going to take much more responsibility for dealing with the social determinants of health in the service of providing better wellness and better health, not just health,” Leff explained. “In my view, that’s the next frontier.”

Needless deaths

The old King/Drew hospital opened in 1972 with the best intentions. Born out the 1965 Watts race riots, which left 34 people dead and more than a 1,000 injured in an area that had no medical facility, the King hospital and its affiliated medical school, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, served as a source of pride for the neighborhood just south of Watts, which at the time was predominantly African-American. It was named after two African-American icons – King, the civil rights leader, and Drew, a pioneering physician who developed blood banks.

The hospital was a huge boon to the neighborhood. Before the original hospital opened, 83-year-old Alice Harris, a community organizer and mother of nine known in the neighborhood as “Sweet Alice,” remembers tending to her neighbors’ needs with a little bag filled with alcohol, Band-Aids, aspirin and cough medicine she made herself. “If a child got ran over in the street, he was going to die because it would be three hours before the rescue would come,” said Harris, who at the time was working as a hairdresser in her home in the housing projects.

But over the years, King/Drew hospital’s reputation dropped to the bottom ranking among American teaching hospitals and became rocked by allegations of incompetence, medical errors and needless deaths. A Pulitzer Prize-winning series published in 2004 in the Los Angeles Times recounted appalling stories: a meningitis patient being given a powerful anti-cancer drug for four days, employees pilfering and in some cases selling hospital drugs, nurses failing to monitor patients’ vital signs. Medical mistakes, the Times reported, cost the county more than $20 million in malpractice payments from 1999 to 2003. In a particularly harrowing tale from 2007, a woman died after writhing in pain for 45 minutes on the waiting-room floor while the hospital’s surveillance cameras show a janitor mopping up around her.

To many residents like Harris, those stories were overblown and, in her opinion, unfair or even fabricated. The hospital and trauma center filled their needs, and remained a point of pride.

“We didn’t see what they seen. We didn’t see those problems,” Harris explained. “Our children were being taken care of. We had the best trauma center in the world.”

Allan Avant, who grew up in Watts, didn’t think the “Killer King” moniker was related to its reputation for poor care. “A lot of people would go in there for gunshot wounds and end up dead,” said Avant, 58, adding he always considered it to be a good hospital. But those breakdowns in care eventually caused the hospital to lose its accreditation and shut its doors. The closure forced many residents to travel longer distances for care, or simply to forgo it altogether.

Ridley-Thomas, a former state assemblyman and senator, was sworn in as a member of the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 1, 2008, charged with representing about 2 million people in Los Angeles’ 2nd District, an area that includes the hospital and some of the most marginalized and troubled parts of the county. He advocated for the hospital’s closure, calling its substandard conditions “completely unacceptable” and “indefensible.”

Today he looks at the new medical center like he still can’t believe it’s there. “When a hospital closes, particularly a public hospital closes, it does not open again,” he said. “That which has been accomplished here is, in fact, contrary to the known and lived experience of patients, as well as hospital administrators and health care providers.”

The challenges it faces are broad and deep. The new hospital’s service area – approximately a three-mile radius from the hospital that includes residents of Los Angeles, as well as nearby cities such as Compton, Carson and Gardena – has some of the worst health outcomes and inequities in the state. There’s a dearth of doctors, which is typical in underserved areas but exacerbated by the exodus of primary-care and specialty physicians after King/Drew closed. (A study conducted earlier this year found a shortage of more than 1,200 doctors in the area it serves.) Fewer than half the adults in the area speak mostly English at home, a statistic that requires the hospital to translate materials, have caregivers who speak Spanish and use technology to provide interpretation in less common languages and dialects. About a third of the region lives at or below the federal poverty level and more than 40 percent lack a high school diploma.

Health outcomes are also poor, with mortality rates for stroke and coronary heart disease about 30 percent higher than the county overall. The area lacks many of the features – access to healthy foods, safe spaces for walking and exercise – vital for good health and instead has too many liquor stores, high rates of crime and other factors that create stress and disease.

These might not seem like a hospital’s problem, but ultimately that’s where they land. Public health experts are increasingly convinced that addressing such issues—what medical and social scientists refer to as the “social determinants of health”—is crucial both for patients and for building a cost-effective health care system. Rather than just treating the illnesses that result from all these factors, they’re looking for new models of health care that can address those problems at the root, as well as deliver more traditional medical services.

“Most of the health of the community is not related to what happens in the ICU,” Johns Hopkins’ Leff said. “Martin Luther King becomes an agent of both health care and the public trust by doing this kind of work.”

New safety net

What’s new about the King hospital begins with who runs it. Most safety-net hospitals are public, run by a county or city government. The old hospital was run by L.A. County. The new hospital is governed by a private nonprofit entity. “You have a lot of existing hospital systems that build new facilities. They take a template and stamp out another hospital,” said the medical center’s CEO, Elaine Batchlor, also the hospital organization’s first hire. “What we did here is create a whole new organization, a whole new stand-alone hospital organization, from the ground up. From scratch.”

The longstanding role of the public hospital is to serve as a safety net and take care of the community’s most vulnerable patients, regardless of their ability to pay. But the bottom line is that government has been getting out of the business of running hospitals for decades because of financial and logistical challenges. California, which has 58 counties, has only 15 county-run hospitals. Most safety-net hospitals are now run by private, nonprofit entities, or academic institutions like the University of California. Overall, nearly a fifth of California’s hospitals are run by state or local governments, nearly 60 percent are nonprofit and about 22 percent are run by for-profit companies – which puts the state on par with the national average, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Martin Luther King Jr. Community is the only hospital in the state operating under a public-private partnership with its county. The arrangement came out of its unusual circumstances, but Katz, head of the county’s health services, believes what was done in L.A. County could be replicated elsewhere. “It’s a model for communities where there’s a need for public hospital, but there’s not a capability to run a public hospital,” Katz said, who knows of no other hospital structured like it. “This provides a model for how government and a private entity could open a successful hospital together.”

Katz acknowledged that while government can do some things well, it’s not very flexible and can be mired in red tape. King’s private structure allows the hospital to make decisions like who to hire and what technologies to purchase more swiftly and efficiently. It can fundraise more effectivel, since most people don’t want to donate money to organizations they already fund with their tax dollars.

Batchlor, a Harvard graduate who received her medical degree from Case Western Reserve University and did her internship and residence at Los Angeles’ Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, served as the chief medical officer at L.A. Care Health Plan and was a vice president at the California Health Care Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropy in Oakland. She said she was drawn to King by the idea of creating a new hospital and organization, one that’s entirely separate from the medical center’s past reputation

The Affordable Care Act’s expanded coverage and the hospital’s partnership with the county and the state provide essential stability. The nonprofit hospital operates on an annual budget of about $250 million and has remained financially viable despite serving a patient population that relies heavily on government programs. Batchlor is concerned about the ongoing threat to the ACA and the future of expanded Medicaid, but says she doesn’t let that overwhelm her focus. “We’re not stressed. We’re doing fine and we manage our resources appropriately,” she said, adding that the hospital receives special funding to support its safety-net mission and has raised more than $25 million in private contributions since it opened.

Batchlor made it a mission to make sure that every doctor who works at the hospital is board-certified to help ensure the consistency and quality of care that had been lacking under the old regime. In addition, staff members called navigators or “care coordinators” are assigned to every patient on admission, regardless of the level of care needed. Other hospitals tend to use navigators just for the sickest or most complex patients.

The hospital has been open for just two years, so it’s difficult to gauge its impact on the community’s health. Many of its innovative measures take time to assess. But Batchlor is proud of early signs that point to success. Nearly 90,000 people have been treated by the emergency room, more than twice what was initially projected. While the hospital hopes soon to be able to treat more people in outpatient settings, the high volume of ER visits speaks to the pent-up need in the community for care, as well as residents’ confidence in the new facility, Batchlor said.

Unlike its predecessor, the new hospital does not have a trauma center, nor does it have any plans to build one. Trauma centers, which handle the most difficult emergency cases and require high levels of staffing with specialists, are especially costly to operate. Instead, the hospital’s leaders decided to focus on providing better preventative and primary care and to send complex trauma victims to California Hospital Medical Center, about 10 miles north in downtown L.A.

“You don’t really know what all of your needs are going to be until you open your doors and start taking care of patients,” Batchlor said. “Our doctors, many of whom had trained in hospitals that had similar patients, were surprised at how sick our patients were. Part of it’s a reflection of the fact we don’t have enough doctors in the community taking care of people.”

Drawing doctors back to the area is high on the medical center’s priority list. The hospital is working with the county to construct a new medical office building on campus to provide space for outpatient care. Meanwhile, in December, the hospital formed a medical group and opened its first outpatient center, a post-discharge clinic tucked away in temporary digs in a strip mall with a Fat Burger in nearby Compton. The medical group is small, with about a dozen physicians, but will grow, especially once it has a permanent home.

Juan Cabrales, the primary-care physician who runs the clinic, says it can be tough to recruit providers because most doctors don’t think of South Central as a place they want to work. But that’s also part of the draw. “I knew this community didn’t have a lot of resources,” said Cabrales, who trained at UCLA and is originally from Mexico. “I heard the mission and wanted to be part of the mission and bring highly trained providers, especially primary care, which is highly needed. We want to raise the level of health care delivery.”

That mission, along with building a new practice from scratch, also drew Alan Kaplan, a urologist who completed his residency at UCLA and is working on his MBA. He started working at the hospital and the outpatient clinic on Aug. 1.

“It was that ability to craft the ideal practice around, ‘What should health care 2.0 look like in a community that needs it’?” he said. “We have the infrastructure. We have the people. We have the ability to do something very unique.”

For Kaplan, technology could be a component of that mission. More than 80 percent of the people in the area have smartphones, and he imagines tapping into that in different ways to provide care and ensure follow up. “There are a lot of ways we can leverage technology and the IT we have to address the social determinants of health,” he said. But the biggest challenge, Kaplan said, is convincing people who are used to going to an emergency department for care that they can get appropriate, or even better care in a clinic or doctor’s office. Kaplan said that’s a challenge because many patients may have never had a regular primary-care doctor. They may not know they can get care in a clinic, but they know they can go to the hospital.

“There are tremendous challenges here that you just don’t have in West L.A.,” he said, referring to the wealthier side of the county. “Everything in life is uncertain: jobs, housing, food, safety, health care, transportation, child care. Everything is a challenge, so when you have a medical issue, whether truly severe or not, there is a tendency to perceive it as supersevere, when maybe it’s not.”

Hard sell

While the trend toward shifting care out of hospitals to less acute clinic settings has been going on for years, if not decades, around the country, it’s still a hard sell and a balance that’s difficult to achieve. Martin Luther King Jr. Community is attempting to build that, along with its larger vision of redeveloping the surrounding neighborhood over the next few years.

Health care futurist Ian Morrison, who serves on the hospital’s board of directors, actually floated this question to its founders before the medical center was completed: if care is being pushed outside the medical center, do they really need a new hospital at all? For now, at least, Morrison said, hospitals are still necessary. “If you look at the numbers, in even the most extreme sense of futurism, there are still going to be sick people who need acute care done on an emergency basis,” Morrison explained. So far, he described the new hospital as being successful, calling it “a hub of excellence” in a community with a long history being medically underserved.

But beyond that, the health of underserved communities need to be tackled on a broader sense. Hospitals around the country are looking at different ways to manage issues such as connecting patients with lawyers to resolve legal or landlord-tenant issues that lead to poor health, such as mold abatement, or helping the homeless find permanent housing. But a lot of these efforts are handled piecemeal.

“Although our mission is really to provide acute care for the community, we are continually finding ourselves saying to do it well, we have to go beyond the walls and into social determinants of health and population health,” Morrison said.

Morrison hopes that Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital’s more holistic approach of involving the county and other partners in transforming the neighborhood will, within the decade, yield impressive results in improving overall health status.

“This whole notion of going upstream and dealing with causal factors [of health inequities], it can get too big to manage,” he said. “That’s why having the county as a partner is so important because it speaks to such issues as housing and food security and homelessness and transportation.”

For “Sweet Alice” Harris, who never wanted the old hospital closed in the first place, she described having a new hospital back in her neighborhood as heavenly.

“We’re in Beverly Hills now. We never thought we would have something like this here,” Harris said. “This is beautiful. This will make you well when you think you’re going to die. That’s how you can help people. Give them the best. Because giving them the best will change people, and bring the love back in. That’s what the best will do.”

Victoria Colliver is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro based in California.  

Health Equity in Marijuana Regulations

As Los Angeles County prepares to craft regulations for marijuana commerce, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to look at health equity – or inequity – in communities when considering prospective retailers that want to operate there.

Board of Supervisors Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. All photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“We have to be thoughtful and deliberate about unintended consequences in communities that are already particularly vulnerable,” said Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion. “We must create regulations that lead to responsible, conscientious businesses that contribute to the health and wellbeing of the neighborhood.” He elaborates further in a HuffPost op-ed.

The County’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) held a series of listening sessions to get public input on regulations. Its coordinator, Joseph Nicchitta, said most participants raised the same questions: “How will the County address overconcentration of cannabis retailers in one community? Will cannabis retail make existing conditions worse in neighborhoods with relatively high rates of crime, high concentrations of alcohol outlets and other negative health indicators? Will commercial cannabis increase youth consumption (of marijuana)?”

LA Cunty Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) coordinator Joseph Nicchitta and Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer

The motion sought to address those concerns, directing that when the County is weighing the issuance of licenses to prospective pot shops, it should look at whether the surrounding neighborhood already has an overconcentration of alcohol sales, lower educational attainment rates, higher crime rates, and other indicators of negative health outcomes that could be exacerbated by marijuana sales. It also called for issuing the first licenses in phases.

Supervisor Hilda Solis, who coauthored the motion, called it “a first step to examining and mitigating adverse impacts, including supporting youth development and drug prevention programs, especially in communities already affected by health disparities caused by alcohol and substance use.”

“Health equity means that everyone has access to the opportunities and the resources they need for optimal health and wellbeing,” added County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, said. “Underlying that principle, though, is the fact that if you look at health outcomes today, you see enormous differences that are based on where a person lives, works, plays and, oftentimes, the color of their skin.”

The OCM plans to present the Board with recommendations for a regulatory framework in December or January. It will incorporate public input from the listening sessions, as well as the report of the Cannabis Advisory Working Group, which is comprised of community members, business owners, advocacy groups, public health experts and cannabis industry representatives.

 

Sickle Cell Treatment Breakthrough

Acting on a motion by its chairman, Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors awarded a scroll to pioneering hematologist Dr. Yutaka Niihara, whose research recently led to a breakthrough in the treatment of a painful blood condition that primarily affects African American communities.

All photos by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Working at the Los Angeles County-operated Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and at the nonprofit scientific research organization on the same campus, LA BioMed, Dr. Niihara spent almost three decades developing the first drug ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat sickle cell disease in children. Known as “Endari,” it is also first drug in 20 years for treating sickle cell disease in adults.

“The FDA’s approval of this treatment will significantly improve the lives of thousands of people in the United States who suffer from this disease, and many more around the world,” Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “We’re here to say ‘Thank you’ to Dr. Niihara for his dedication and hard work.”

Dr. Niihara expressed gratitude for the honor, but said credit should also go to the County. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happened in the LA County medical system. First of all, if it weren’t for the LA County system, I wouldn’t have met so many wonderful sickle cell patients who inspired me, and also many researchers and physicians who are so dedicated.”

Dr. Yutaka Niihara and patient Juanita Gougis

Sickle cell disease can lead to numerous complications, including anemia, recurring pain episodes, respiratory troubles, and even death. “I’m very pleased to say that starting at the end of October or the beginning of November, the 100,000 people in the US who suffer from sickle cell disease will have a way of eliminating their pain and their suffering and the incredible number of hospital stays that come along with (this condition),” LA Biomed President and CEO David Meyer, PhD., said. “In the future, more importantly, the 25 million people in the world who suffer from sickle cell disease will have a low-cost, easy-to-use therapy.”

Sickle cell patient Juanita Gougis of Inglewood said she is among those who has benefited from Dr. Niihara’s work. “I used to suffer a lot, and now, with Endari, I have fewer hospital visits. It’s just impacted my life in such a great way and I’m very hopeful for the future and very, very, thankful.”

50 Years of Community Service

Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas marked the 50th anniversary of a community service program created to help residents of Watts and surrounding neighborhoods in the aftermath of the civil unrest there in 1965.

“The Watts Counseling and Learning Center is one of a kind,” he said while presenting its leaders with a commemorative scroll at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration. “May you thrive and continue another 50 years of outstanding service.”

Sponsored and run by Kaiser Permanente Southern California, the Center has been providing mental health counseling, outreach, and educational services since 1967. One does not need to be a Kaiser Permanente member to receive services.

The program’s goal is to empower individuals and families to overcome barriers, and to strengthen local communities. Through community partnerships and grants, it also aims to improve the health of local residents, reduce health inequalities, create safe communities, improve access to health care, expand healthy food choices, and promote physical activity.

“It has really been a labor of love for the staff,” said Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s community benefit managing director, Angela Coron. “When you walk into the Center, you know that you’re in a special place with people really dedicated to helping people grow, to supporting our families and children and the community.”

Also present during the ceremony were the Center’s director, Maria Aguirre; and founding director Bill Coggins.

Every year, about 4,500 individuals participate in one or more of the 25 programs at the Center. To date, 1,125 children have completed their preschool program; 1,600 high school students have received college entrance test preparation training; and 400 professionals have been participated in the Masters of Social Work training program.

In addition, $284,000 has been awarded to 207 Watts area students through the Bill Coggins Community Leadership Award for college. Of the program’s 32 employees, many are local community members.